The lights are on
Video games and science fiction were made for each other. Both
deliver the thrill of discovering new worlds and doing things that simply aren't
possible in our modern, boring lives. Studios like Bungie and BioWare have
spent massive amounts of time and money creating sci-fi universes for players
to explore, but when it comes to the themes and ideas that the genre is built
on, most of the innovation is coming from indies.
A few years ago I wrote a feature containing all
of the nerdy features I'd like to see in my dream sci-fi game, from
exploring worlds where no man has gone before (read: procedurally generated),
to managing a ship and crew you care about (complete with the constant threat
of permadeath). To my pleasant surprise, many developers have been toying with
similar themes – but they're not the studios that have millions of dollars at
Indie developers have been fearlessly leading the charge
with ambitious games that should get any sci-fi fan excited. Here are a few
indie titles that I have enjoyed over the past few years, and a few upcoming
games that I'm watching with great interest.
XenominerThis Xbox Live Indie Game puts a sci-fi twist on the Minecraft
formula, but contains a few great ideas of its own. Due to the constant threat
of radiation, players must seek shelter underground during the day, giving the
game a bleak and hostile atmosphere. Players can also find and program robots
to help with their mining and ore collection, and craft some cool items like
gravity boots. Gristmill Studios has released a number of updates to the game,
including texture upgrades and the addition of alien, enemy mobs.
A lot of great sci-fi stories revolve around the dangers of space travel and
the mortality of your beloved crewmates. While the Mass Effect series put your
allies in mortal danger from time to time, they were always scripted affairs.
FTL might not be the most visually impressive game, but thanks to the strategy
title's incorporation of permadeath, you're always one step away from complete
disaster. Upgrading your ship and attaining new crew members provides a satisfying
carrot to the gameplay, and there are just enough surprises and variety to make
you want to start a new game when you inevitably go down in flames.
The DimensionalOuter-space dogfights are another staple of sci-fi movies
and television shows, and 17-Bit's topdown shoot-em-up focuses on putting fans
in the middle of the action. Pilots split their time between exploring procedurally
generated space and hand-designed planets. Enemies are no pushovers, as each
pilot exhibits its own AI and can evade, use the environment for cover, and coordinate
attacks with allies. I got a chance to play an early version back in August,
and the combat was already a lot of fun.
DF-9 started as one of the projects in Double Fine's Amnesia Fortnight, which
allowed fans to vote for which game they want to be made. DF-9 easily won, and
is available now in alpha form. The simulation game allows players to build the
space station of their dreams, while taking care of their crew and fending off
StarboundJust like the original Star Trek series, Starbound doesn't
take itself too seriously. The 2D RPG/platformer allows players to travel
across a procedurally generated universe, exploring planets and crafting weapons,
armor, and other equipment. The scope of the game is incredible, and features
seven playable races, including the bird-like Avians and a society of medieval
robots known as The Glitch. The PC version of Starbound recently entered beta,
but PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Vita, and Ouya versions are also planned.
Man's SkyThis promising open-world title from Hello Games was just announced
at the VGX Awards a couple of weeks ago, but it's already at the top of my must-watch
list for 2014. Similar to Starbound, No Man's Sky puts players into a universe
full of solar systems and planets to discover. The game is played from a
first-person perspective and features both outer-space dogfights and planetary
exploration. Despite the fact that Hello Games is only a four-person team, No
Man's Sky is also gorgeous. Here's hoping the developer can deliver on its ambitious
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.