2012 in Review: The Texas Indigenous Game Development Population
I sound like a broken record when I say, "Texans got talent." But, it's true. We obviously talk a lot about filmmakers here at Slackerwood, but it's time to show some love to our local game developers. You (hopefully) already know that Texas is second only to California in number of developers and maintains a solid presence in the state dating back to the birth of the industry. In an article from last February, UK game magazine Edge hyperbolized that "it's impossible to overstate the impact Texas has had on videogames." (For a great overview of the local industry, read the full Edge article.)
This past year continued the reign of our interactive artists, bringing both critically acclaimed and financially successful games, ranging from atmospheric iPhone projects to big-budget Xbox games. And, as a Texan (if you're reading this, consider yourself honorary), it's your duty to support your local game developer. Rising tides raise all ships, you know!
Below is a small list of notable video games that Texas developers had a hand in creating in 2012. Hopefully it will inspire you to stretch those thumbs on your gaming device of choice. BTW, if I hear anyone say, "The last game I played was Pong," I'm going to out you for the Words With Friends player I know you are.
- God of Blades (pictured at top)-- Austin's White Whale Games brings us an iPhone and iPad homage to those 1970s fantasy novels we won't admit to reading. The game even gives you bonus material if you play it at an actual library (and I'm not talking about Barnes & Noble). This little-game-that-could was funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and really is the true definition of an indie garage game. Even though it's small, it stays true to its "action" genre while still accessible enough that even beginner gamers will enjoy.
- Pirate 101 -- From the creators of Wizard 101 comes this family-friendly online game about learning to be a pirate. Arr! Kingsisle Entertainment manages to bring to life characters that -- I dare say -- are adorable and engaging all at the same time. Embrace your inner child and let it be a pirate (on your computer).
- Hundreds -- My time-suck du jour. This very simple, yet highly addictive iPhone and iPad game comes from Semi Secret Software in collaboration with Canadian musician Scott Morgan and Chicago-based artist Greg Wohlwend. The sleek, minimal design tricks you into thinking you're not doing anything wrong when you spend an hour playing rather than working. Just remember, touch red and you're dead.
- Dishonored -– Aimed at the more traditional gamer, Dishonored welcomes even the likes of me with its steam-punk alternative London setting and its option to play the game in stealth mode. Arkane Studios has been praised for its new IP launch, including winning a Spike Video Game Award for Best Action Game of the year -- honorary Texan Jessica Alba presented the award! And, for all those film-nerds out there, Dishonored uses the talents of many great actors, including Chloe Grace Moretz, Brad Dourif, Susan Sarandon and Carrie Fisher.
- Borderlands 2 -- Another game meant for the hardcore gamer, Borderlands 2 follows a group of hunters trying to protect the planet of Pandora. The game is the work of Dallas-based Gearbox Software with help from Austin's Aspry Media for the Mac version of the game. Borderlands 2 is complete with a sassy talking robot that feels like Wall-E's rougher and tougher cousin. Just type "Claptrap" into YouTube for proof. Keep in mind, he's NSFW.
- Waking Mars -- In an interview with Wired magazine, Creative Director Randy Smith described an initial version of the game as "Doodle Jump in reverse." You can certainly see the influence on Waking Mars, but I've never felt as guilty soaring my Doodle Jumper off a cliff as I do accidentally ramming my astronaut into the caves of Mars. Tiger Style Games made a name for itself two years ago with the hit Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, and continues to impress with its very accessible game that leaves the player with a deep need to discover what's in the belly of the red planet.
Clearly, this list is too small, but it's impossible to represent all the great work that came out of Texas in 2012. And, unfortunately, I spent too much time playing Hundreds instead of writing this guide. But, to make up for it, I bring you Juegos Rancheros, your way into the world of local interactive art. The collective of developers, gamers, filmmakers and neophytes has sprung up over the last year, bringing salon-style events to Austin. They're a great way to get a glimpse into the indie game industry.
So, don't be afraid to expand your horizons and pick up a locally grown game (they're organic!). Happy gaming, wherever your thumbs land.
[Photo credit: "God of Blades" by White Whale Games; "Pirate 101" by Kingsisle Entertainment.]