Brandon Sheffield is a senior contributing editor at Gamasutra.
I have a hard time saying no when someone asks me to speak at a tradeshow. Sometimes I even seek it out!
It's a good way to travel without having to have a lot of money, while also meeting tons of indie devs I would never otherwise have met.
Through my travels this year, I've been privy to a bunch of interesting games that were not at all on my radar previously. And now they can be on yours!!
Missing is a flawed, but very interesting game. It's about young girls being sold into prostitution – you play as the young girl. It's made by a solo dev in India, with input from former sex workers, with the intention of raising awareness of the plight of women sold into prostitution.
As a game, it's a bit rough. Your character doesn't always go where you want, and the mechanics can feel a bit tacked on and gamey, for the message it's trying to convey. But the message itself comes across loud and clear. The game makes you uncomfortable to play it, and even the imperfections, like lack of transition between certain phases of the game, only adds to the idea of loss and misery.
It's not a fun game, but I'm glad it was made. I voted for this game to win best indie game of NASSCOM GDC, and it did, above better, more complete games. And with good reason, I think.
SEUM: Speedrunners From Hell (Pine Studio, Steam, Croatia)
SEUM is a game I was lucky to see in a few states of development. When I first saw it at Reboot Develop in Croatia, it was 2015. The game had been worked on for a few months, and was rough. It was a good idea, but I wasn't sure where it was going.
The game is designed for speed running. You have three simple inputs – move, jump, and fireball. With these three actions, you try to get to a portal at the end of the level as quickly as possible. It worked, but had a lot of annoying little things that kept me out of the experience.
Roll into Reboot Develop 2016, and SEUM is there again. And they fixed everything I complained about in 2015, and a lot of other stuff, besides. It's really one of those “man, why didn't I think of this,” kind of games, where the idea is really simple, but the execution is what makes it work. Unfortunately, it didn't really get a lot of notice, but it's good, dang it!!
My Last Friday (Gadan Games, Platform TBD, Hungary)
Full disclosure, I'm helping this game out a bit with script and business stuff, but that's something that came *after* I discovered it was so good. I discovered the game for the first time during an indie competition in Germany, and while it isn't finished, the demo that exists is extremely polished.
My Last Friday is the first game by Gadan Games, a solo developer from a relatively small town in Hungary. It's a survival horror game in which:
1) puzzle difficulty is variable
2) combat is part of the experience, and you're not limited or terrible at it
3) combat is not the focus of the experience
4) the space you're in feels real (and stressful)
5) the theme is really, really, odd.
The demo starts out with you in a bloody room, as do many – but the way the environmental storytelling basically leads you to learn that this is taking place before (or during!?) your prom is like… yikes. It's weird, man.
Asura (Ogre Head Studios, Steam, India)
Asura is the most “normal” game on the list, here. It's a roguelike based on Indian mythology (you play as Asura, he of the wrath), with snappy controls, a fun weapon leveling mechanic, and a randomly generated skill tree (though you level it yourself).
It's “just a video game,” but I like just video games! It was the best game I saw at Nasscom GDC in Hyderabad, and it's currently in playable beta.
Intifada: Free Palestine (Paco Ludo, Board Game, S. Korea)
Intifada: Free Palestine is a board game in which you play as one of several roles – student, political activist, terrorist, et cetera, trying to solve the problems between Israel and Palestine. The mechanics are not perfect, and like Missing, seem to try a bit too hard to put game mechanics into a message, but again, the message does come across.
It's one of those games that you can win, but even when you win it feels as though everyone has lost. The game is currently only available for print and play in Korean (as I understand), but the team has been working to make an English version.
I met with the team, Paco Ludo, near Seoul, at a B2B game conference. They had to come all the way over just to see us, because, well, nobody else at the conference wanted to play a game about Palestine.
Cerulean Moon (Spain)
This game is not out yet, but is already the best iOS platformer I've ever played.
these ding dong machines (S. Korea)
Riding in these stupid idiot machines made me feel like a real life mech pilot – who was also a cat who had no idea where it was. Good fun.
Void Pyramid (A. Hagen and Shea Kennedy, I think, maybe from Canada?)
A weird, curious, exploratory small RPG for your Android phone. Lots of secrets, lots of mystery. Just a cool thing you can play if you like weird stuff.
Hungry for more 2016 best-of? Gamasutra published its Top 10 Games of 2016, Top 10 Game Developers of 2016, Top 5 Trends of 2016 and Top 5 Events that shaped the year. Gamasutra contributors also each wrote up a personal top-five list -- and you can read them here: Kris Graft, Alex Wawro, Bryant Francis, Katherine Cross, Chris Baker, Alissa McAloon, Chris Kerr, and Phill Cameron.