Game developers you should know
December 27, 2013 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Going down the line:

Shadowrun Returns is the most fun I've had with an isometric RPG since Fallout 2. I really, really can't wait for Dragonfall to come out even though apparently I have to buy the game again.

Dejobaan's Aaa... was the first game I installed on my iPad. Playing it with motion controls rather than a mouse makes it so much better an experience. Although the mouse is more precise.

Paradox picked up Knights of Pen and Paper. If you haven't played it, do. It's fun as hell even if a bit grindy and the sense of humor falls flat occasionally.
posted by griphus at 9:44 AM on December 27, 2013

I was semi-disappointed with Shadowrun Returns. I enjoyed the story and the return to cyberpunk (*) did not enjoy the save system or some of the broken mechanics. And maybe I wasn't patient enough, but I didn't find any player-made content up to the standards of the original campaign.

The campaign didn't encourage replay with different characters, or an attachment to my main character. In the course of things I had some of each and gotten to use most of the available skills and equipment already. Normally I enjoy trying different character builds and styles, but I just had no reason to.

I hope Dragonfall is better.

(*) I wound up inspired to make a couple of cyberpunk-themed characters for Champions Online, which proved to me how crucial the setting is to really get the right feel. Oh well.

Sine Mora is one of the kinds of game I suck at but it's still a pretty great experience. (I have it on PS Vita, since it was previously included on PSN+.) Nice sound and graphics and pretty decent gameplay. It makes me miss Einhander, though!
posted by Foosnark at 10:27 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dang, Device 6 looks really good. I hope it gets a release on Steam like Year Walk is getting, or at least an Android port.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:33 AM on December 27, 2013

Dragonfall will, at the very least, have a "save anywhere" feature rather than that weird checkpoint-y system they had. They're also claiming that party interaction and actual story branching (rather than picking method A, B or C to proceed to the next story beat) will be present as well.
posted by griphus at 10:51 AM on December 27, 2013

If there was a list for just lone designers, I'd make sure it had Lucas Pope on it. His release this year of 'Papers, Please' is unique and a lot of fun. I never thought being an immigration clerk who checks paperwork at a border crossing could actually be a great time, but it is. It's a combination test of memory and observation skills, where you are working for a fictional Soviet-bloc country who has recently opened up its borders, and have to deal with all sorts of characters from sad refugees to smugglers, to terrorists, all while keeping up with the ever changing and increasingly complex bureaucratic rules.

Here's a clip of the twitch streamer Bikeman having a hilarious time playing through the early demo during the summer. The full version is much larger and complex, and well worth the current $6.69 sale price.

If a guy is imaginative enough to be able to turn the drudgery of bureaucratic paperwork into a fun game, I think I feel safe in predicting that we will see good things coming from him in the future.
posted by chambers at 10:58 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was really hoping this was a list of twenty single (“lone”) developers, too.

After chambers’ Lucas Pope nomination (), I would like to nominate Jason Rohrer (on the blue, one and two) for such a list.
posted by Martijn at 11:12 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dang, Device 6 looks really good. I hope it gets a release on Steam like Year Walk is getting, or at least an Android port.

As a random person who's played Device 6 I can't speak to the changes of an Android port, but I really can't imagine a Steam port. So much of it is centered on manipulating a physical device - tapping and scrolling and physically rotating a gadget on which the game/experience is running - that I don't think it could be ported to a non-phone/tablet device without causing serious damage.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:26 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Very sad not to see Tale of Tales on this list. They've made two of my favorite games ever - The Path, and The Endless Forest. Both are so non-traditionally games that I suppose they barely register on some peoples' radars, but they are really stunning gems of what game development can be if removed from the FPS/Action/Platformer genres.
posted by strixus at 11:28 AM on December 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh yes, thirding Papers Please and Lucas Pope. Really amazing game, and I really enjoy it to no end.
posted by strixus at 11:30 AM on December 27, 2013

Argh. Chances of an Android port. I can't see changes being necessary.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:11 PM on December 27, 2013

I was really hoping this was a list of twenty single (“lone”) developers, too.

As a former game developer myself, I'm having a "No good; I've known too many Spaniards" moment.
posted by Foosnark at 12:21 PM on December 27, 2013

Oh I know about Stardock already. Their CEO is the guy who when asked by a female employee to keep to professional behavior (like no inappropriate touching) wrote an email stating, "I am an inappropriate, sexist, vulgar, and embarrassing person and I'm not inclined to change my behavior. ... I own the company. It, and your job here, exist to suit my purposes, not vice versa."

If you care about not supporting callous jerks, don't buy Stardock games. Otherwise a very interesting list!
posted by jess at 12:25 PM on December 27, 2013 [15 favorites]

Missing indie punk rock developer Vlambeer. And Cardboard Computer, who are behind Kentucky Route Zero.
posted by hellojed at 12:27 PM on December 27, 2013

The Swapper was fantastic. I loved it. Every puzzle had that forehead-slapping conclusion where you wonder how you spent 15 minutes trying other things. Really looking forward to their next game.

Vlambeer really should be on there, I agree - been playing Nuclear Throne and it's ridiculous. I'm also surprised Cactus isn't on this list.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:41 PM on December 27, 2013

Papers, Please is one of the freshest, most interesting game experiences I've ever had.

And seconding the Stardock hate. I was surprised to see them on this list; the execution on their games is terrible, in my experience. Didn't even know they were also jerks.
posted by kprincehouse at 12:45 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Galactic Civilizations was originally written for OS/2! If you don't know about Stardock by now, I don't know what to tell you. Otherwise, a great list, and now I have some games I need to buy next year.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:52 PM on December 27, 2013

Unfortunately, jess, the reality is that if I buy virtually any game from a semi-large studio, I am certainly supporting callous and sexist jerks, especially given the general culture of the game industry. That isn't to say that Brad Wardell isn't a conspicuously egregious example of what is toxic and repugnant in that industry, but the only difference between his views and the views of many other industry executives is that he put his into writing.

Which is why I am increasingly appreciating the prevalence of innovative and quality games from "independent" studios (there's a few on this list that I wouldn't really call that, Paradox and Stardock being primary among them), as well as a PC that can actually run most of these. To be clear, I'm not saying that anyone should therefore buy Stardock games or that I don't feel kind of icky for having bought a few. But I also feel icky when I buy an EA game. I wish it were a problem confined to Stardock alone, and Brad Wardell is a jackass. But you're kidding yourself if you think he's an outlier. His stated views are depressingly mainstream.
posted by Errant at 2:38 PM on December 27, 2013

Hey, just wanted to get in on the Wardell hate fest. So far this thread has only covered half the story, that he sexually harassed an employee, she sent him a nice email asking him to stop sexually harassing her, and he sent her an email back refusing to do so. The second half of the story is that when she quit and filed a sexual harassment claim against him, Wardell filed a spurious counter suit against her because, gasp, she cleaned her computer before handing it back on her last day. His counter suit was asking for 1 million in damages. So he's not just sexually harassing employees, he's also using the legal system as a financial bludgeon to keep them from asserting their rights. I'm not quite ready for our corporate overlords to bring back the right of prima noctis, so I don't buy Stardock games.
posted by Balna Watya at 2:46 PM on December 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

I like Papers, Please for spinning drudgery into fun, but its setting makes me uncomfortable in a way I can't quite articulate. Something in the way that it represents the suffering of living in a poor and authoritarian dictatorship using stock tropes about poor, authoritarian dictatorships doesn't sit right with me, as original as the game itself is. A communist dictatorship in the late 80s in a fictionalized Eastern Bloc is a lazy artistic choice. The basic conflict is between a bureaucrat's humane impulses and the circumstances which force him to suppress them, but this conflict occurs wherever bureaucracy does.

If you moved the setting forward a few years, in a fictionalized former Eastern Bloc, where the economy has collapsed and the government is run by thieves, is the customs agent's situation really much different? What if the game had taken place in a fictional first-world republic in the present day? Setting it in an old-fashioned dictatorship overemphasizes the point while, paradoxically, making it easier to miss.


Anyway, I'm glad to see Paradox on the list. I always forget what niche products their games are, because I sit firmly inside that niche. I'll have to give some of these other games a look. And Vlambeer got robbed: I can't wait for Luftrausers to come out.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:28 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is where I talk about how incredibly awesome Crusader Kings 2 is. And, if you like that sort of thing, there is a Game of Thrones total conversion mod for it, so you can play out the long history of Westeros and murder every character in it. I haven't gotten too far into CK2, because it's got a fairly steep learning curve and the "tutorial" is abominable. But it's great.
posted by Errant at 3:38 PM on December 27, 2013

And this is where I plug my awesome thread about it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:42 PM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Awesome, I missed that the first time around.
posted by Errant at 4:35 PM on December 27, 2013

Twenty game developers you don't know, but should

I know I'm being a pedant, but any article that throws out that phrasing without a qualifying "probably" before "don't know" just rubs me the wrong way. As it turns out, I'd known of all bar 3 of these and knew of games by 2 of those remaining 3.

I'm a huge fan of Wadjet Eye's stuff, particularly The Shivah and the Blackwell series.
posted by juv3nal at 7:23 PM on December 27, 2013

I'll have to return to this list on my laptop, but I was disappointed not to see Ridiculous Fishing on the list. Such a beautiful, fun, quirky game, not to mention the music. I've been going nuts over it these past 24 hours.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:26 PM on December 27, 2013

I really liked Shadowrun Returns, but has anyone found good player-made content for it? I had high hopes for community creativity but nothing's really grabbed me yet.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:30 PM on December 27, 2013

There's some decent, but unfinished stuff, but nothing OMG amazing yet.

Among those that I thought had potential/were ok: A Stitch in Time, Nightmare Harvest, Lone Star: Double Indemnity

They can all be rough around the edges especially so far as balance is concerned if you try to run a pure decker. Also, I think the dev decided to quite working on that Lone Star one, so not only is it unfinished, it probably isn't getting any more finished either.
posted by juv3nal at 12:06 AM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Glad to see Wadjet Eye on this list.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2013

In case anybody hasn't heard of them yet, Humble Bundles are a great way to explore these kinds of indie titles. (In fact, a lot of the titles from this list have made it into the past few bundles).
posted by zscore at 12:35 PM on December 28, 2013

If more than a few people here want to work on a Shadowrun Returns campaign, I'm game. I dipped a toe in, half-assed a half-assed design/plot bible over the course of two nights and some ouzo, and the editor looks dead easy to use. The hard part seems to be finding a reliable team that's large enough that you don't have to do everything yourself, is dedicated to quality, and has similar goals.

My only caveat is that I feel very strongly that a fixed amount of karma should be rewarded at the end of any level, regardless of what you do in that level. See my thoughts on that in the link above (it's near the bottom of the document in a section called Karma). And obviously the campaign should be somewhat intelligent and over thought, or else what's the point! Creation should be the better part of the fun.
posted by tychotesla at 5:52 PM on December 29, 2013

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