Book Review: Indie Games

Plenty of art books have been published about indie games, but unless I’m mistaken I don’t believe very many, if any at all, have been dedicated entirely to providing a broader, in-depth overview of all aspects of indie game creation.

But now there is thanks to Indie Games by Ablaze Publishing and writer Bounthavy Suvilay, a coffee table art book that chronicles indie gaming from the early days in the 80s, before the term “indie” was even a thing, when developers like Jordan Mechner and Éric Chahi were creating games on their own, to the late 2000s boom, when indie classics like Braid, World of Goo, and Castle Crashers rocked the scene, to the modern golden age of indie game development.

Based on more than 50 interviews conducted with leading independent studios primarily from Europe as well as North America and Australia, Indie Games celebrates not only the artistry and innovation of the prominent indie games on the market today but also the passion, talent, and craftsmanship of the developers, graphic designers, musicians, audio specialists, and marketing consultants behind their creation.

Some of the games and studios featured include: Motion Twin (Dead Cells); Amanita Design (Machinarium, Samorost, Botanicula); Frozenbyte (Trine); Tribute Games (Flinthook); Might and Delight (Shelter, Meadow); Stoic Studio (The Banner Saga); Team Cherry (Hollow Knight); Thatgamecompany (Journey); StudioMDHR (Cuphead); The Game Bakers (Furi); Swing Swing Submarine (Seasons After Fall); Upper One Games (Never Alone); Ustwo (Monument Valley); Subset Games (FTL: Faster Than Light); and Heart Machine (Hyper Light Drifter). Those amount to but a fraction of the games and developers you’ll find covered in some form within these pages.

The book spans five main chapters, starting off with a brief history of the indie game as well as testimonies that describe some of the trials and tribulations indie studios must survive throughout the development process, whether its the struggle to find financing, personality conflicts amongst the team, problematic working conditions, design choices that turn out to be more difficult and time-consuming to implement (e.g. Trine 3‘s jump to 3D gameplay), or unfortunate instances of plain bad luck, such as the burglary of laptops containing game code.

Three additional chapters are each dedicated to a different facet of game design. The Gaming Experiences chapter delves into the distinguishing characteristics of mechanics, narrative, and art focused games. The chapter on Visual Art Direction shifts the spotlight to the broad range of graphical styles common to indie games, from pixel art and paper craft to voxels, traditional 2D animation, and stylized 3D. Naturally, this chapter also contains the largest volume of images. Last but certainly not least, Music and Sound Design focuses on different audio motifs (chiptune, synthwave, instrumental, etc) and the technical limitations and resource constraints indie creators must contend with, and the creative solutions to overcome said limitations.

Each of these chapters also ends with a full-length interview with a specific creator–Ian Dallas from Giant Sparrow (Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch), Rex Crowle from Foam Sword (Knights and Bikes), and Yoann from Motion Twin (Dead Cells). The book concludes with a longer interview with Éric Chahi, plus small sections honoring IndieCade and the works of international studios from Africa, Asia, and South America.

As gorgeous to look at as it is fascinating to read, Indie Games complements its insightful commentary and fun anecdotes with hundreds of screenshots, pieces of concept artwork, draft sketches, and behind the scenes photos. In a few spots the book could’ve been organized a tiny bit better so that the images on each page matched the game(s) currently being mentioned in the text, but that’s a minor detail. Overall the book is presented beautifully to showcase every image in exquisite detail. The way images are laid out and formatted within the text is very well done. The spreads and chapter pages are especially stunning.

As its title so succinctly points to, Indie Games is a book dedicated to the indie game. What is an indie game? Who makes them? What are the challenges that go into their development? Where did indie gaming all begin and how has it progressed to today? These are just some of the topics you’ll get to explore should you make the wise decision to buy a copy of this meticulously researched and lovingly presented book. Do so and you’ll come away with an even stronger love and appreciation for the indie games that you play and the creative minds that brought them into your life.

Buy From: Amazon for $39.99 each.

Disclosure: A free copy of Indie Games was provided to VGBlogger.com for review consideration by Ablaze Publishing.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!