Nobody can really point to where indie development began. Dedicated gamers have been making their own video games as a hobby in their basements dating all the way back to the mid 80s and even earlier. This was back before they learned that if their games were good enough, they could sell them to make a profit from all of their hard work! All that was lacking was a platform to sell them on.
I know it seems like common practice nowadays, but the idea of selling a game made by a single person only goes back about ten years. That’s usually where I pin the beginning of the modern day indie gaming movement. I give all the credit in the world of Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360 for giving indie games their first true platform to sell themselves on, and 2008 is where the movement started to take off with some of the first commercial indie hits like Castle Crashers and Braid.
Nowadays, Sony, Microsoft, Steam, GOG, and even Nintendo welcome these brilliant little games with open arms!
We’re talking before that though. I want to hear what your favorite games from before the indie scene became the commercial success it is today. Whether it was from Newgrounds, a community you supported, or just a preferred developer like Jeff Vogel and the old-school RPGs he’s been making since 1994. What were some of your favorite early indie games.
As a cut-off point as well, I’m going to name drop Cave Story as the furthest into indie’s timeline as it gets. Cave Story played the biggest influence in getting the idea of indie games out there, long before Xbox Live Arcade came onto the scene, and it was the first major indie hit that many of us shared.
I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I found most of my fun on the RPG Maker 2000 scene. I was really big into many of the game engine’s earlier games, back when creating your own menu system and your own battle system was a task that only the most dedicated would ever attempt.
Kindred Saga was the game that had most people excited, and developer qheretic wore his inspiration on his sleeves for all to see. This was a game clearly inspired by Final Fantasy VII from the urban setting of “not-Midgar” and the eerie music. I remember the game not being finished though back when I was younger, and it looks like qheretic went back and completed his demo that used to make the rounds.
I’ll toss that onto the old backlog.
Plenty of other influences also leaked their way into the game. Breath of Fire and Bahamut Lagoon enemy sprites pop up everywhere due to dragon being a huge part of the game’s story, and Final Fantasy VI’s ghost train setting makes an appearance. Even the main character Slaine’s sprite is ripped from the relatively unknown Squaresoft Super Famicom game Treasure of the Rudras.
That was the way it was back then though, when indie game development was more of a hobby and not everyone could create their own sprites and settings. Nowadays, we have professionals who are paid for their work, and they don’t need the likes of RPG Maker 2000 to make brilliant RPGs like Cosmic Star Heroine and Rakuen.
Another fun little series from RPG Maker 2000 was Legion Saga from a developer by the name of Kamau. Whereas Kindred Saga was clearly inspired by Final Fantasy VII, Legion Saga unabashedly took many of its idea from the Suikoden franchise.
All of the games took place during a war, and each of them required the player to seek out and recruit allies to lead a rebellion against a war-hungry empire that the hero used to serve. Sound familiar? That’s about as Suikoden as it gets, and it carried these idea across three games.
What was interesting about the Legion Saga games though is that they evolved alongside the RPG Maker 2000 community. As players learned to evolve and come up with new ideas, many of them popped up in the latest Legion Saga game.
The first Legion Saga game only used sprites and character art taken straight from the provided RTP package. In the second game, Kamau started to add his own sprites and even original battle systems inspired by Suikoden 2’s large-scale battle and dual fights. Legion Saga III was the biggest of them all, bringing the series full circle and adding unique character sprites and even WAV music.
It took a while to download Legion Saga III back in the day.
Kamau eventually left the series behind him with two titles unfinished: a remake of the original Legion Saga and a spin-off called Curse of Silence, an action game inspired by The Legend of Zelda that used a wandering samurai sprite from Legion Saga
RPG Maker 2000 dominated my time as a young high-school teenager, and I made a number of projects I would never dare share if I had them anymore. How embarrassing!
In college, I would start to discover other games as well through a group of friends who followed the scene. Knytt Stories was the one most of them swore by, but I always found a game called seiklus to be the best. And indeed, a good many others did too. For a while, developer cly5m’s seiklus became so popular on the indie scene that it even inspired its own “-like” games. seiklus-likes… that brings back memories.
seiklus followed a young, faceless dufus who falls off a cliff after being hit by a meteorite. This sends him on a quest to collect “wisps” throughout many environments and locations throughout the world. It was about as simple as a platformer can get with no combat or any means of fighting, but most of the charm was found in the chiptunes and crudely drawn graphics, some of which look like they came straight from MS Paint.
Those are my three early indie games, and after seiklus came the inevitable encounter with Cave Story. So, what were some of your early favorites?