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Missing: Have you seen these indie games lately?

4:00 PM on 04.20.2012 // Allistair Pinsof

Fez once seemed like such a dream to me, but now that it’s here, my mind wanders. Where are all those other virtual indie pals I’ve been dreaming of? Will they ever arrive or will they remain eternal in screenshots, forgotten by most.

Whether driven by fear or an immense curiosity, I’ve been digging through every forum, news post, and panty drawer in search of news of indie games gone missing. If Fez -- the Duke Nukem Forever of indie games -- can see release in spectacular fashion, I don’t see why the rest can’t.

If you have seen these games in the wild. Please call your local authorities and report it immediately. Or, better yet, send me a copy!

If found, please call: D-Pad Studio
Date of Birth: September 2008
Last Seen: GDC 2012
Home Address: PC, but XBLA is likely
Expected Return: Summer 2012

There are a lot of 2D platformers that have been floating around the net for some time, but few look as gorgeous and interesting as Owlboy. It has a world I want to jump right into, but why jump when you can fly?

The main mechanic of Owlboy is the player’s ability to fly across the game’s pastoral world in the sky. Mixing elements of Metroid, Demon’s Crest, and other beloved 16-bit action-platformers, Owlboy is clearly a labor of love and a tribute to an era of games gone by. Last fall, a demo was released for the game, winning over those long frustrated by the game’s constant delays. Dtoid's Jospeh Leray was one of them:

It taps into the pure, unadulterated joy of being unfettered by gravity. And it manages to fuse a half-dozen (admittedly simplified) systems into one game with few hiccups.

So, why is it taking so long? 

Simon Andersen, artist and director: “We go by the Miyamoto development philosophy: ‘A delayed game can eventually become good, a bad game is bad forever.’

There's been a lot of times when we could have just thrown our hands up and made something we were only halfway proud of. But that's not why we're making games in the first place. All of the people in our team wanted to create something special.

At the same time, we decided to upgrade our tools to do things the way we wanted. We now have our own level editor, a new scripting system and we created an animator that can rotate segments to animate giant bosses using just a few pieces. To put it simply, we didn't feel like the game was good enough, so we sat down and made it good enough.

I hope that by the time people actually get to play our game, the wait will be worthwhile.”

If found, please call: Konjak
Date of Birth: May 2009
Last Seen: IGF 2012
Home Address: PC
Expected Return: TBA 2013

Like much of developer Joakim Sandberg’s work (Noitu Love 1 & 2, Legend of Princess), The Iconoclasts (previously Ivory Springs) is a homage to his favorite 16-bit games. In this case, Zelda and Metroid, but it's a much more fluid experience than either of those games. Mechanic-turned-heroine Robin climbs up walls, swings across gaps with her wrench, and reflects bombs at enemies with speed and grace.

Joakim has been making games for a while now and they have only been getting better playing and better looking. In fact, I’d go as far as to say his work his better than WayForward, the current leaders of pixel art, at this point. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that he has worked for them and other commercial developers in the past.

Sandberg is often so full of ideas that he flat out cancels games that people are frothing at the mouth for -- with the release of an awesome demo, a year ago, came a message that Sandberg isn’t guaranteeing he will finish Iconoclasts. After recently putting together a jaw-dropping trailer for his IGF 2012 entry, I'm certain this guy could pull off a $300,000 Kickstarter without fail. Unlike other developers, he has proven himself more than worthy. 

So, why is it taking so long?

Joakim Sandberg, creator: “The game's taking long since I'm just the one guy making every single part of the game, and sometimes I have a problem with motivation, other times I get side-tracked with other work or lose focus!

I really want to finish it, but I really don't want to cut out parts planned.”

If found, please call: Giant Sparrow
Date of Birth: September 2008
Last Seen: GDC 2009
Home Address: PC
Expected Return: TBA

You might scoff at the idea of a first-person shooter based around paint, but there was once a time when the idea seemed awesome. In fact, it still does! At GDC 2009, there were two games that convinced us of this: Tag: The Power of Paint and The Unfinished Swan. The former got absolved into Portal 2 after Valve took on the game’s creators. The Unfinished Swan, however, has remained in obscurity with no screenshots, videos, or updates despite it having a strong reception upon its 2008 debut.

While Tag/Portal 2 used paint as a medium for special abilities, paint in Swan enables the player to navigate its world. The game takes place in an environment defined entirely by white or black, but never both in the same space. So, you must splatter paint of the opposite color to define the path before you. It’s a strange concept but one that is immediately accessible and engaging.

It’s been a long time coming, but the game is finally ready to be shown off again. With a studio behind it and some basic concepts fleshed out, The Unfinished Swan could be a beautiful thing worthy of hanging at a gallery, very soon.

So, why is it taking so long?

Ian Dallas, creator: “Sorry for the lack of updates, our publisher has asked us not to talk about the game publicly yet. That should be changing soon. I honestly don't know when, since it's all up to marketing at this point.

The game has taken so long for the same reason Fez, Journey and Diablo 3 took so long -- because making games is hard and game developers suck at estimating.”

If found, please call: Black Mesa Modification Team
Date of Birth: December 2005
Last Seen: January 2010 (PC PowerPlay preview)
Home Address: PC
Expected Return: TBA

Upon the release of Half-Life 2, came a rather lackluster Source update to the original Half-Life. The models were marginally better, but the rest of the game remained the same and looked a bit worse because of the dissonance between the original elements and new engine. Someone saw a job to be done, so Black Mesa was formed: A fan-made mod that would completely overhaul the original Half-Life in its entirety.

There are tons of mods that attempt to do this, even beyond Half-Life, but they rarely come to fruition or look any good. Black Mesa rose above the skepticism, once impressive screenshots and details came out. Things came to a head in 2008 with the release of a very professional trailer and things were never the same again.

With over two million views on YouTube and features in numerous magazines and websites, the project blew up but then disappeared into obscurity. It’s been largely thought of as vaporware, ever since. Yet, every six months, a member reconfirms its existence, posts about some progress, or does an interview. It’s entirely possible we’ll be playing Half-Life 3 by the time this mod comes out, but the team seems to still be determined that it WILL come out.

So, why is it taking so long?

In 2011 Reddit interview, level designer Jean-Paul "JeanPaul" Jarreau said: “It's been slow at times, but we are people with jobs and classes to attend, so all of our free time can't be spent on it. In the grand scheme of things, we've accomplished a lot so far. Bad, but sometimes shit hits the fan and all you can do is keep on truckin.”

If found, please call: Mossmouth
Date of Birth: September 2009
Last Seen: GDC 2011
Home Address: Xbox Live Arcade
Expected Return: Summer 2012

In the halcyon year of 2009, we gathered round and danced as we learned our favorite indie PC games would be reborn on consoles. Cave Story would make its way to WiiWare, as would La Mulana (still waiting on that). But, above all, it was a rebuilt XBLA rendition of Spelunky that captured my interest.

For those that never played the free PC version, Spelunky is a unique game that blends elements of RPGs, roguelikes, and action-platformers into a framework mostly made of random elements that keep returning playthroughs varied. The XBLA release will feature revamped graphics, a new soundtrack, and a multiplayer mode. Considering it’s an upgrade, it’s surprising it has taken so long. Maybe La Mulana understands, but I don’t.

So, why is it taking so long?

Derek Yu, creator: “We didn't think the XBLA version of Spelunky was going to take this long to finish, but there ended up being a lot more new content than we originally planned: monsters, items, deadly traps, new areas, multiplayer modes, harder challenges, more secrets, you name it. The core design of Spelunky is solid, but I wanted to blow it out into something really special that new players and fans of the original could all appreciate. Plus, there are all of the usual difficulties of developing your first console game... it adds up!

The past few years have been challenging, exhilarating, and a lot of fun - I can't wait to transfer those feelings over to you guys soon!”

If found, please call: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Date of Birth: October 2006
Last Seen: PAX East 2012
Home Address: PC
Expected Return: Summer 2012

Back in 2002, the Half-Life mod scene started to die down, but then a new champion emerged. Natural Selection was unlike anything anyone else seen at the time, in either the realm of mods or retail games. This inventive mod blended the RTS and FPS genre into a unique hybrid that, against all odds, worked. In fact, it worked so well that it became a genre unto itself with games like Savage and Nuclear Dawn.

Much like Counter-Strike, fans have been waiting for an update to the original rather than a copy-cat. They have been waiting for quite a while. After four years of development, a private alpha of Natural Selection 2 was released. Ever since, the game has been receiving incremental upgrades until it is deemed worthy of retail. No longer a mod, Natural Selection 2 is an ambitious, great-looking shooter that offers something new to FPS. Well, something old at this point, perhaps -- but welcomed all the same.

So, why is it taking so long?

Charlie Cleveland, game director: "This was the first commercial title we created. Natural Selection 1 was created as a Half-life mod back when it only took a couple developers a year or two to make a game. A lot has changed in gaming since then and games take a lot more art and technology now. So we officially started the company in 2007 (it was just two of us) then we got a little bit of funding in 2008. We grew to four people and got an office, and then started writing our own engine. We've been fighting hard to get the funding and team we needed since then, but now our core team is eight people and we've gotten the funding we needed (mostly from pre-orders!).

Most developers would spend $20 million or so on a game of this size, but we've spent a fraction of that. But with the reduced cost comes more development and iteration time! We're very happy with where we're at today though.

If you haven't pre-ordered the game and want to participate in weekly builds, you can buy it at Thanks guys, we owe you everything!"




As you can see from the above developer responses, game development is hard, especially when you don't have a publisher or successful Kickstarter behind you. It's easy to become discouraged and buckle under the enormous expectations that the internet puts upon you.

So, if you see a game you would very much like to play and are frustrated that you can't: Write an email of support, instead of demanding a release date or demo. These guys are all passionate about what they do -- so passionate that they will spend over half a decade on it to make sure they get things right. It's so easy to lose sight of that goal without a support group to fall back on.

So consider this and, as always, be excellent to each other.

[Special thanks to Dtoid user Tarvu for the awesome header image!]

Allistair Pinsof,
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