As video games become increasingly prevalent as an art form, game development is becoming more accessible to the masses. Professional developers, students, and artists of all areas are able to write, design, and create games, often for free. Here is a list of seven successful independent games made in Canada with programs available to game development students and hobbyists alike.
N is a fast-paced platformer made for Adobe Flash by Metanet Software in Toronto—a two person company. Published first in 2005, the game is still free to play today on a handful of websites. N puts players in control of a ninja and forces them to make quick decisions to dodge bombs, missiles, and other deadly obstacles while simultaneously collecting coins and navigating to an exit. Due to massive popularity, Metanet later ported the game with new levels and multiplayer modes to Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, and Playstation Portable as N+. Earlier this year, a new sequel N++ was announced to be in development for Playstation 4. That’s some wild success for a game based off Flash.
Speaking of Flash, this 2012 Independent Games Festival (IGF) finalist was built primarily with Flash and a couple free physics engines. Developed by Colin Northway and his wife, Sarah, in Vancouver, Incredipede is an imaginative, physics-based puzzle game. Players control a multi-limbed eyeball with the ability to grow or retract legs at the player’s will. Imagination is the limit, as legs can be grown onto other legs for the sake of puzzle solving, or perhaps for the player’s own lust for limbs. Incredipede is as weird as it sounds, and its distinct art (done by Thomas Shanan) is a perfect example of artistic collaboration.
Developed by krangGAMES in Vancouver, Ishst is a short (less than 20 minutes) game about a person and their zombie girlfriend. Each of its fifteen levels of platforming (and zombie shooting) are accompanied by short narrative quips telling a story of love and devotion. It’s funny, charming, and backed by an excellent soundtrack. Better yet, it’s built on Flash and free to play on any computer. Earlier this month, KrangGAMES promoted their new game, Emerald, a story-driven space adventure, on their Kickstarter crowdfunding page. Emerald is being developed on popular multiplatform engine Unity. A free version of Unity is available at Unity3d.com to anyone and everyone.
Team Pixel Pi originally built first-person survival game, Pulse, as a project for their game design program at Vancouver Film School. Players control Eva, the blind protagonist, who is guided through darkness via echolocation; footsteps, water drops, and other sounds reverberate through the darkness and light her way. Built using only the Unity engine, Pulse was an ambitious project that earned the team a spot as one of IGF’s 2012 Student Showcase finalists. In May, Team Pixel Pi earned funding through Kickstarter to develop a full version of Pulse with an estimated release of November 2014.
Analogue: A Hate Story
Not interested in complex 3D game development? Still want to design a game to tell an interactive story? Toronto-based writer, Christine Love’s, successful interactive fiction series shows you can do just that. Tackling dystopian futures, “transhumanism,” and LGBT themes, the series’ engaging and impressively well-written story is backed by stellar art. Love’s three games use Ren’Py, a free game engine for designing visual novels. Ren’Py uses a simple script language, but also supports Python script for more comfortable writers. Interactive fiction alternative, Twine (also free to download), is available for anyone wanting to create an interactive story without hassles like visuals and coding. Analogue: A Hate Story is currently available on Steam with a free demo, and an iOS port is coming this year. Remember: it’s a visual novel, so be prepared to read. A lot.
Developed by Matt Rix using the free Cocos2D engine, this simple iOS game has a lot of shine. Players control a train yard, building tracks and guiding multiple trains into colour coordinated gates. Adorned by a polished UI, the game’s puzzles allow for multiple solutions, and the difficulty curve is enough to keep players of any age interested. Oh, and all the stages are titled after Canadian cities. It is obvious when playing that Rix took a lot of effort to make the game look and feel nice with the Cocos2D engine, just going to show that not all simplistic puzzle games have to be throwaway cheap. You can pick up Trainyard for $3 on the iTunes App Store, but a free version (sans 100 stages and the level editor) listed as Trainyard Express is available as well.
To the Moon
“Short steps and deep breaths.” I saved the best for last. To the Moon is a 2D story-driven RPG developed by Canadian studio Freebird Games. Developed in the $30 RPG Maker XP, this game earned the highest user score for a PC game on Metacritic for 2011 and was nominated for Best Writing in the 2012 Canadian Videogame Awards. This is not an open-world, quest-driven, battle-fest—it’s a quaint, emotionally driven game that I don’t want to spoil. The game’s official website summarises it as a story “about two doctors traversing through the memories of a dying man to fulfill his last wish.” Pause your Game of Thrones marathon this weekend and take four hours to play this game. If you come out of it dying to make a game, go download the free version of the easy-to-use RPG Maker and make us proud.