One person. A handful of pixels. And a really great game.
We live in a golden age of video game development, in which solo visionaries have the tools to share their ideas with the world at large. Thanks to the widespread adoption of digital distribution on game consoles, personal computers and mobile devices, a lot of the barriers between a game creator's brain and players' thumbs have vanished.
Of course, indie games have been around for as long a games have been around. In the good ol' days, it wasn't uncommon for an Apple //e blockbuster adventure game to have been developed by one person in their spare bedroom.
Funny how things have come full circle.
Once again, great games are being made by a single person, often in their free time.
And those blocky, pixelated graphics are back in vogue, sometimes as a deliberate nostalgic tip of the hat to the 8-bit games of yesteryear, and sometimes because it's just a lot less work to keep things simple.
Here are four recent games that have all these things in common. Each was developed primarily by one person working alone, each has wonderful old-school visuals and music and each can be had for just a few bucks. Oh, and they're all pretty darn awesome, too.
Retro City Rampage (PS3, PS Vita, PC - $14.99)
A decade in the making, this labour of love by Vancouver's Brian Provinciano blends 8-bit visuals with Grand Theft Auto-style gameplay and a buttload of winks and homages to video games, movies and TV shows. Despite the old-school visual style, it's one of the most technologically advanced games by a solo developer, not to mention the most widely distributed, with versions also headed to the Xbox 360 and Wii.
10000000 (iOS -- $1.99)
From the ultra-retro graphics to the familiar slide-to-match gameplay that made Bejeweled famous, 10000000 (say it as "10 million") doesn't seem all that intriguing at first glance. But this freakishly addictive game has some clever underlying design, thanks to Brit developer Luca Redwood spending a year's worth of his spare time prototyping the game to perfection. Incidentally, my high score is 17.9 million. Have at it.
Home (PC -- $2.99)
Toronto's Benjamin Rivers created this thought-provoking take on the horror/adventure genre, in which players take control of an amnesiac who wakes up in a creepy old house. Next to a dead body.
Don't be fooled by the jaunty 8-bit visuals ... it's surprisingly chilling, and the ending will make you question everything that came before. Back-to-back playthroughs are recommended.
McPixel (iOS, Android, PC, Mac -- $2.99/$4.99)
The first game to be released via the Steam Greenlight project, McPixel is the brainchild of delightfully twisted Polish indie developer Sos Soskowski, who combines the quick-thinking weirdness of WarioWare with a point-and-click adventure.
It's also a meta-parody of SNL character MacGruber (himself a parody of MacGyver), except with even more wanton acts of mayhem and violence. And kicks to the groin. Lots of kicks to the groin.