In the beginning, video games were fun. They were so fun that game companies got successful, and with success came repetition.
Big game companies keep pumping out sequel after sequel of their best sellers, with little need to innovate; they were financially justified in doing so, since hash and rehash was exactly what gamers were lapping up.
The cycle continued on until at some point in time, games became either action platformers or first-person-shooters, or some combination of the two, with "RPG elements" thrown in like the ability to "level up" your skills in first-person shooting and/or platforming.
Then came the era of independent game development. If you happen to be someone (like me) who grew so jaded and bitter over the state of the game – not just any specific game, but gaming as a whole -- good news: the game is fun again. And it's back in a big way, thanks in no small part to the recent boom of indie game development.
Here are some of our favorite indie computer video games we're sure will melt the hearts of the most embittered gaming cynics.
is a website for people to post live streamed videos of their favorite games, and is usually a field dominated by frenetic first-person shooters, adrenaline-pumping survival horror scream-athons or the latest action-platforming triple-A titles from big name game development studios.
So it was a surprise that, during the first two weeks of its launch, indie farm-life game Stardew Valley dominated the internet by being the most-live streamed game on Twitch. Not only that, it was the top-selling game on Steam for weeks after its launch, and continued to reign on the Top 5 fastest-selling new game for months after its debut.
It's easy to see why. With a return to classic crop-and-relationship-building gameplay hearkening back to classics like Harvest Moon and a bright, colorful pixel art style reminiscent of all your favorite SNES JRPGs, Stardew Valley is a breath of fresh air in the gaming scene.
Before you roll your eyes upon hearing the term 'farming game,' Stardew Valley is not at all like that. Until 'farming' in video games became synonymous with Farmville's "click, then wait 8-12 hours, then click again" gameplay, farming games were like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory.
They were more akin to a traditional action JRPG - only you've traded your sword and armor for a nice set of gardening tools and a comfy pair of overalls.
There's a lot to do in Stardew Valley, from selecting the right seeds for the season, tending your crops and orchards, caring for your livestock, fishing the lakes and oceans around the valley, exploring the monster-infested mines for ore and treasure, building relationships with the locals, to maybe even finding true love and settling down to start a family.
Regarding addicting gameplay, Stardew Valley does everything right. It's easy to pick up and play for beginners, and once you've scratched the surface, there's a lot of complexity and that unquantifiable, breathtaking heart to reward even the most cynical gamer.
A global geomagnetic storm has stranded you not only on the edge of civilization, and the end of civilization. You've got the clothes on your back, a core body temperature rapidly plummeting towards freezing, and the will to survive.
There's a storm approaching, and the chill northern winds carry with them the howl of nearby wolves... Welcome to the Long Dark.
A deeply immersive survival game, the Long Dark puts survival firmly back into the survival genre. And your survival doesn't depend on outgunning zombies or aliens, or vengeful spirits or supernatural serial killers – it's just you against the wilderness. And the wolves. Maybe a bear or two.
Tear up a roll of newspaper to make tinder for a fire, find a rusty woodcutter's hatchet and chop up furniture for firewood, melt snow for water and scavenge just enough protein bars or stale crackers to keep from starving to death in your sleep (I've never been happier to find a dusty can of beans in a video game).
Getting caught in a freak blizzard not only compromises your vision, but slows you down and drops your body temperature. Wolves observe and stalk prey, before charging you just out the corner of your eye.
The Long Dark is by no means an easy game, but it's no less an engrossing one. If you're dead tired (pun intended) of how game developers think they can make anything better by putting zombies into it, we're sure you're going to enjoy your stay in the frozen, punishing wastes of The Long Dark.
Just don't be surprised if you decide to let your fire down and awaken to find the jaws of a wolf around your throat.
This War of Mine puts you in control of a group of civilians trying to survive in war-torn Pogoren, a fictitious Eastern European state.
On the surface, This War of Mine shares a few similarities to other character-management titles in the genre: your civilians have needs, such as food, rest, and health, and much of your time is spent juggling resources to manage this.
And in the midst of a city split between armed military factions, it's not as easy as it sounds. During the daytime, snipers prowl the rooftops, making it unsafe to roam the streets.
So much of your time is spent building up amenities in your home base - boarding up windows, constructing space heaters, sifting through rubble for usable supplies to build with or trade to cutthroat black marketeers, and wood to burn during those cold Pogoren winters.
When the sun sets, your survivors must go scavenging for resources, and also make sure their home base is well-defended enough against roving bands of looters – army deserters, or most often than not, other survivors just as hungry and desperate as you.
What sets This War of Mine apart is not only its rich and unremitting setting, but also the stark simplicity and sensitivity in which it renders its subject matter.
Described as "the war game that was meant to be made," This War of Mine casts players, not in the shoes of a hardened, armed-to-the-teeth super-soldier, but an average everyday civilian struggling to survive the hardships and callous cruelties brought about by a bloody modern war.
You can't help but feel for your characters as they comfort each other when one of their own falls sick, or when a group of children comes begging for what meager scraps of food you have in your pantry.
An unforgettable and deeply moving title, This War of Mine quietly asks the important question: "What will you do – and what won’t you do - to survive?”
A common thread among the most memorable (and successful) indie games out there is that they aren't afraid to try something different and make it fun. It's one thing to innovate, it's another to make the experience enjoyable, and the titles above certainly accomplish that.
Whether you're restoring a beloved farmstead or trying to eke out a survival in the frozen north or a war-torn city, it's a very good time to give the indie gaming scene a shot. You might never look at games the same way again.
Images sourced from prospective product pages on Amazon and Steam.