The Niner, in Review

By: Derek Yu

On: December 31st, 2009


The prevailing idea has been that the independent games community is getting bigger each year: more games, more people, more quality, more press. Partway through 2009, however, I was getting the impression that we were in a lull. Understandable, I suppose, since 2008 saw the arrival of Braid, World of Goo, and Castle Crashers, arguably three of the most critically and commercially successful indie games ever, as well as Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, one of the least commercially successful but most awesome games ever. It’s a tough act to follow.

Of course, “big” has never been the only barometer for success in the indie community (for some, it’s the antithesis). Personally, I’m really enjoying being able to watch and be a part of a growing scene; being able to make a living making my own games and watch others do the same is extremely gratifying. So is getting to interact and work with some of the most creative, excitable, passionate, opinionated people I’ve ever met.

But no matter how you look at it – big, small, commercial, free, 2d, 3d, forward, back, or sideways – 2009 was a sleeper year for independent games, and a huge leap forward. Going back through our front page posts, skimming the forums, trolling the database, I was shocked and awed by what you guys have accomplished this year – by what I managed to get done, too, despite all the wonderful distractions!

I cringed at some of the arguments and flamewars that were had, too. But regret nothing – it’s all part of the experience, in my opinion, and the scene would be poorer without it.

2009. Oh Nine. The Niner. You will be missed!

20 Games of 2009

Indie Games 2009

You know, I’ll never understand it when people say indie games are only about platformers, or shoot ‘em ups, or art games, or 2d games, or retro games, or cactus games, or whatever else. First of all, those are a lot of really broad genres. Second of all, what about all the games that aren’t?!

A metric ton of fantastical and diverse games came out in 2009. Here are 20 of them:

Machinarium – If I had to choose a best game of 2009, this would be it. Machinarium took adventure games to another level, offering many subtle innovations to a genre that really needed some. Plus it dazzled with its fantastic artwork, audio, and puzzles. I love this game.

Hammerfight – I’ve been waiting patiently for Hammerfight ever since I played the demo in 2007. It did not disappoint. Innovative physics-based game mechanics and incredibly stylish.

Captain Forever – Farbs, who quit his job spectacularly this year to work on indie games full-time, didn’t waste a moment in putting out a great title. Captain Forever and Captain Successor combine the fun of putting together spaceships with the fun of blowing them up.

RunMan: Race Around the World – In a day and age where our platform heroes have become shiny, polished, and pre-packaged to a fault, here comes RunMan, who showed me that joy comes with rough pixel art and public domain bluegrass.

Canabalt – A great one-button game, a slick production throughout, and a testament to the flixel engine which creator Adam Saltsman released to the public… Canabalt showed us this year how to do Flash and iPhone games right.

Fl0wer – ThatGameCompany is, frankly, one of the best game companies, and followed up fl0w with a PS3 game that’s even more lovely and original.

Opera Omnia – I’ve never seen mechanics married so well with a game’s theme before. Stephen Lavelle is one of indie gaming’s most underrated and most prolific experimental developers.

Eufloria – Once called Dyson, this game started out as an entry for TIGSource’s Procedural Generation competition and turned heads for its cool atmosphere and casual strategy.

Time Fcuk – Edmund McMillen brought his A game with this puzzle platformer, which explores all sides of a dimension-shifting mechanic and comes with hundreds of user-made levels.

Minecraft – Minecraft is an epic project that might end up being a 3d massively multiplayer online Dwarf Fortress but for the moment works very well as a 3d massively multiplayer online sandbox building game.

Enviro-Bear 2000 – This is one of the funniest games I played all year, period. Enviro-Bear 2000 was the winner of TIGSource’s Cockpit Competition and is now available for the iPhone!

Small Worlds – Created for the JayIsGames Casual Gameplay Competition 6, Small Worlds was a real treat for fans of chunky pixel art. As you explore, the world gradually zooms out and reveals itself in this charming platform game.

Crayon Physics Deluxe – Winner of the 2008 IGF Grand Prize and spawner of numerous copycat clones because it is so awesome, Crayon Physics Deluxe started our year off right.

Star Guard – Fast, tough, and decidedly retro, Star Guard is a shining example of the pixel platformer genre. The narrative that develops as you play the game serves mostly as background noise, but it’s evocative nonetheless.

Time Gentleman, Please! – Funny, kooky, British. These are the words I’m using to describe Zombie Cow’s funny, kooky, British adventure game.

Zeno Clash – Zeno Clash is a weird and beautiful first-person brawler, and ACE Team, the developers, also released a black and white adventure game à la Shadowgate this year. They’re awesome.

Fatale – Love them or hate them, Tale of Tales never fails to draw a reaction, and that’s one of the things I love about them. Despite their bellyaching about games being too much like games, I like to think that they really do enjoy some of the same things that I do! I thought Fatale was surprisingly good, although I have to admit I enjoy the ensuing discussions even more.

Blueberry Garden – The winner of this year’s IGF didn’t see a lot of press outside of the festival, I thought, but it is an fun game with a charming, peculiar look.

Blue Lacuna – One of my New Year’s resolutions is to have more coverage of Interactive Fiction games on TIGSource. This year saw the release of many good IF games, but Blue Lacuna stands out as one of the most ambitious. Calling itself an “interactive novel”, the game will offer some players over 20 hours of playtime, and is recommended highly by noted IF authors such as Emily Short.

Don’t Shit Your Pants – It’s a survival horror game that really hits close to home. It’ll probably be an IGF finalist, so get your diapers ready! (Actually, I have no idea whether it will be a finalist.)

5 Tools of 2009

Indie Tools 2009

2009 was a great year for tools. Not, like, douchebag tools, but actual software tools for game development.

flixel – As if you needed another reason to love Adam Saltsman. This year he released his Flash framework flixel, which makes 2d Flash game development simple and efficient.

Unity 3d – Unity 3d gained in popularity this year, due to its simple interface, great 3d tools, and incredible cross-platformyness (Windows, Mac, iPhone, Wii, and eventually Xbox 360). The Indie edition became free this year!

Unreal Development Kit – Epic Games’s Unreal Engine 3 became free this year, as well!

Sculptris – DrPetter’s new free tool let’s you create 3d models intuitively.

Game Maker 8 – Despite controversies over its logo and the general management of its product, YoYo Games did put out another version of Game Maker. Even though it’s lacking in a lot of long-awaited features, it does have some neat improvements and it’s faster.

5 Events of 2009

Indie Events 2009

If I missed anything, please let me have it in the comments. (I know I missed some stuff. Be gentle.)

It’s a Gooey World – Even though World of Goo came out last year, I really enjoyed watching its success continue this year, when it garnered big press for its “Name Your Price” birthday sale and was named one of 2009’s hottest brands by Advertising Age. Couldn’t have happened to two better guys, and their continued success is great for all of us. Thanks, homies!

IGF – The Indie Game Summit had the funniest and most heartful talks I’ve ever seen, including the fantastic 5 Minute Rant Session, and Experimental Gameplay Workshop drew huge crowds. The award show was truly memorable, and not just because Dan Tabar took off his shirt (but that certainly helped). And IGF 2010’s record number of entries is being met by a record number of judges.

ArtXGame – Asian Pop Culture powerhouse Giant Robot teamed up with superstore Attract Mode to pair people’s favorite indie games and artists, and the result was a wet dream for everyone, not just hipsters (but mostly for hipsters). All in all, it showed that games not only belong in the gallery space, they thrive there.

Tim Langdell – Every great year brings forth a great villain to battle. Unfortunately, all we managed to dig up in 2009 was Tim Langdell, who slimed his way into all of our hearts by (allegedly) “spawning” many unhappy “licensees” with his notorious brand “Edge”. It’s doubtful this year will be the last we hear of him, but thanks to the hard work and support of many bloggers and commenters, it will hopefully be the last year he will get away with it. The Langdell discussion also called brought a spotlight down on the IGDA for its ineffectiveness in addressing developer issues (and its role, perhaps, in exacerbating them).

Blurst Changes – I never gave this the proper post it deserved, but Blurst announced a few months ago that they are abandoning their “experimental game every 8 weeks” model to concentrate on a fuller version of their most popular game, Raptor Safari. Aside from being a critical contributor to both TIGSource and IGF/IGS, the Flashbang boys put out some fun games this year and are just plain inspiring in the way they handle their shit, to say the least. I can’t imagine an indie world without them.

Tiger Sausages of 2009

The TIGverse expanded. Our forum population alone doubled from last year. TIGSource was listed as one of The Guardian’s 100 Essential Websites for 2009. Wow.

TIGJam – Our second annual TIGJam in Phoenix (hosted by Flashbang) was, dare I say it, even more fun than it was last year.

Projects – I never believed that internet forum projects could get anywhere until TIGSource. This year our two biggest and longest-running projects, Balding’s Quest and Indie Brawl, saw significant releases.

Competitions – The TIGSource competitions have become such an important part of the site, due to the insanely high volume and high quality of the entries. No prizes given, no prizes necessary – some of the games entered have gone on to become famous in their own right. Join one today!

TIGRadio – Matthew Wegner, Ben Ruiz, and Tommy Refenes hosted Edmund McMillen, Brandon Boyer, Danny Baronowsky, Colin Northway, and Adam Saltsman to end 2009 with the first inaugural TIGRadio podcast, a weekly discussion of what’s happening in the indie games scene.

TIGCast – TIGCast is a podcast that was started by Dragonmaw and godsavant, and provides a community-oriented perspective on indie games.

My Personal 2009

This was a bigger year for me than I realized, too. Aside from enjoying all the TIGSource-related shenanigans, I released version 1.0 of Spelunky, Diabolika for the iPhone, and started working on my first XBLA game. I was excited to be able to participate in the Game Over Continue show with my friends Hellen Jo and Calvin Wong, too. I’m very much looking forward to where independent games will go next year and am proud and grateful as ever to be a part.

Your Turn

Well, what did indie games mean for you in 2009? What did you or didn’t you accomplish? What are you looking forward to in 2010?

  • Will Hawthorne

    2009 was pretty significant for me. After years and years of interest and research into game development, 2009 marked the year that I actually rolled up my sleeves and made a game. It was just a small effort for the Zero Punctuation contest, but it was able to stand alone as a game in its own right. After so much learning, I proved I could actually apply what I had learned to craft an interesting experience. I look forward to building on that success going into 2010.

  • paul eres

    i think there’s a lack of glum buster in this post, but otherwise great post :)

  • Adam Atomic

    Ummm yea pretty much covered my year here for me, holy craps.

    Thank god the indie scene keeps raising the bar though; you guys inspire me so much. I can’t wait to make something new!!

  • paul eres

    oh, and 2010 in indie games for me will be

    1 – finish sd
    2 – finish a game in something other than gm, such as flash or unity or xna or something
    3 – review games for the community (tigsource, timw’s blog, playthisthing) more often than i did this year

  • Laremere

    Where’s the end of a decade post?

    Kidding aside. This year in games I entered Ludum Dare for the first time, and all three times this year (each time with a different engine, yikes). They weren’t very good, but I learned a bunch from them, so it was well worth it. I learned a bunch about programing this year, so that was very good. I hope in the coming year to apply what I’ve learned so far into a game that is larger, more polished, and something I can show to my friends knowing it will be fun.

  • Jason Dyer

    This has been a particularly good year for interactive fiction (arguably one of the best years ever), with Blue Lacuna, Make It Good, and The Shadow in the Cathedral being particular highlights (the first two are freeware, the third commercial).

  • paul eres

    the decade doesn’t end until dec 31, 2010, much like the millenium didn’t end until the end of 2000

  • Sadist

    Hopefully Revenge of the Sunfish II will be released in 2010.

  • Paint by Numbers

    2009 was a lovely year in independent games. I guess my goal for 2010 is, well, contributing something to said scene.

    I love the picture in the Tim Langdell section. You just know that he’d do that, too, if someone actually made an Energy Displacement Graviton Engine.

  • Tet

    Game maker sure is getting :awesome:

  • BeamSplashX

    My accomplishment was the creation of the term TIGERsauce for this website. I saved the banner to my computer as a reminder that funny nicknames are all you need to rule the world.

  • UDM

    I loved Zeno Clash, one of my fave games this year. I can’t believe how underrated it is, we haven’t had a first person brawler for a long time since Riddick. I only wish, though, that the team would release more mod tools to the community. UFC mod, anyone?

    And of course, Time Gentlemen Please is just what the doctor prescribed for me. The humour is spot on, and even though there are no voices, it doesn’t really matter – it harkens back to the days of adventure games on the floppies.

    And Envirobear is a stroke of genius.

    And of course in other news, I’m still playing a rather underrated post-apocalyptic car wars-inspired MMORPG :P

  • ZacharyX777X

    The Underside.

    (accidentally posted this in the TIGRadio article, sorry)

  • xot

    2009 was great for indie games. I played so many truly eye-opening gems. We are living in amazing gaming times. Games are finally stretching out and are really exploring the medium in exciting new ways.

    Next year is going to be even better. And it’s going to be the year I unleash a decent game on the world. You heard/ignored it here first!

  • Ezuku

    For me, 2009 was more about rediscovering older indy games that I’d somehow manage to not play or not get into. Like La-Mulana.

    And there’s a really serious lack of mention for one of the hottest new indy games of 2009 (and maybe even the last one of 2009) – Merry Gear Solid 2: The Ghosts of Christmas Past.

  • Jim

    2009 to me, the year indie gaming/development became a drug, that I could not shrug off. A thirst for improvement and Knowledge and the year I decided that it was time for me to be serious about what I want to achieve in life and what I will be doing for the rest of my life. I started College in the later months of 2009 in which I decided that I would strive to conquer the science of computers. 2009 has left me with a desire to improve and be known.

    2010 will be the year I try to relinquish that thirst and desire and over all accomplish and strive to all new heights.

    Tim Langdell is a twat.

  • RC-1290’Dreadnought’

    2009 was good for me. It was nice to help the Autumn Dynasty team, which went on to win the Best Student Showcase at the IGF in China. Even though I’m on the other side of the world, they’re great people to work with!

  • kachowski

    2009 was great, i finally got off my ass and did things!

    visited stockholm, berlin and barcelona, met a load of cool people at bigjam, finished university, got a job at a major games studio, made some crap games, started learning again.

    gonna kick ass and take names in 2010! this is the year the indie wave crashes in, and i’m going to be a part of it!

  • Bood_War

    The end of ’09 marks my first year of being indie. In the way of games, I accomplishd nothing this year. What did happen though, was I learned what I can do, providing a backdrop for my current game PoaRW.

    Oh, and I wasted a lot of time on TIGIRC.

    Cheers Tiggers!

  • Nitromatic

    Happy new year!

    SPELUNKY is enough to say about 2009. And Coka Cola.

  • jrjellybeans

    We’ve barely played any of those games :(

    We’ve got to start playing more games…

    Great post!

  • K. Thor Jensen

    I tried to develop 12 games in 2009. I managed to squeak out seven, just getting 2009: THE GAME in under the wire.

  • itsyoubitch

    In 2009 I created TIGSource which went on to become a great website. I also fathered Derek Yu and he helped me design spelunky with his little asian hands

  • Dan

    @Ezuku: Yeah, I’ve been wondering where the love for Merry Gear Solid’s been. The indiegames blog gave it a mention, but I’ve not seen a thing about it anywhere else.

    A real shame it’s not getting more attention.

  • Dusty Spur

    Machinarium was great up until I got to some completely illogical puzzle I couldn’t solve. I mean even for adventure game logic.

    I still have no clue how to solve it. It was some thing involving a minecart or something? Really early in the game. Completely off-putting.

  • Hannes

    Block Towers by JLJac was a another great release, that unfortunately didn’t get as much attention as it deserved.

  • increpare

    I tried out the demo of machinarium there – I had tried out little wheel earlier, and while it’s maybe not fair to compare a demo to a miniature, the latter had a much slicker interface – I found myself doing not a small amount of cursor mine-sweeping in machinarium, whereas little robot, while maybe a tad obvious and simple, didn’t have any of that.

    Inventory-handling felt pretty slick in machinarium, which was nice.

    (this is interface-talk mainly – comparing other parts of them would be a very different task).

  • Anthony Flack

    You’re probably putting the shim on the wrong minecart rail.

  • stocks

    Despite its flaws, I really enjoyed Aaaaa! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity from Dejobaan, who I will definitely have my eye on in the future.

  • xerus

    Thanks, Derek. Thanks for putting my Jottobots image right next to an ugly Langdell face. No, it’s cool, REALLY, I DON’T MIND AT ALL.

  • Praetor

    For me, 2009 was an interesting year on the indie games front… I got my project (Quanta to a reasonably complete state in time for the IGF, but looking through the first page of entries was enough to tell I never had a chance… however, the deadline was a great way to force me into working on stuff that mattered and the feedback from the judges should be helpful as well. I’m now rewriting/reimagining Quanta a bit, and I’ll hopefully have something a bit more polished and focused to enter next year.

    I also made my first attempt at Ludum Dare… and failed miserably… I didn’t finish in time, but I did do a surprising amount in the 48 hours, and I definitely intend to do it again.

    For 2010, I think I’m going to try to focus less on technical junk and more on actually designing something fun, I really love the feel of Quanta, but I need to focus less on photorealism and the lighting shaders (a simpler art style will probably look better anyways), and more on the actual design.

  • BrokenSymmetry

    No mention of The Void at all? For me, this has been the most interesting, mysterious, beautiful, and difficult game I have played in the last few years.

  • salejemaster

    can anyone provide a link to the ACE Team black and white adventure game cant find it?

  • Nikefo

    I would be suprised if we didn’t see a bit of Derek’s constant balls licking of Adam Saltsman in the list, throwing his flash framework and a mini game made with it in it.

    I mean come on, “As if you needed another reason to love Adam Saltsman”

    wtf ?

    Putting flixel in that list doesn’t sound right at all, let alone put a mini game in the 10 best indie games of the year just because it was made with it. I mean, that’s one of the best things the indie community did all year ?

    If it didn’t specify how it was made using the uber-awesome flash framework flixel, I wouldn’t really know what to think.

    As for the rest of the list, I agree with most of it, but I still feel there’s the need to realize there is life outside TIGS.

  • Nikefo

    Oh and and to mention some names that, oddly, aren’t in the list we could start with Trine, Altitude, Gratuitous Space Battles, Osmos, The Path and so on.
    As far as I know, none of their creators aren’t TIGS regulars, and any of them are quite a bit better than Canabalt, Enviro-Bear 2000, Opera Omnia, Blue Lacuna or Don’t Shit your Pants for example.

    Really, I wonder what are the standards of this site.

  • Derek

    _”As for the rest of the list, I agree with most of it, but I still feel there’s the need to realize there is life outside TIGS.”_

    You agree with most of my picks, but the few picks you don’t agree with make you question the standards of the entire site? Really, does that make any sense?

    Even though I don’t believe you thought it through very carefully, I’ll indulge you, because actually I do care about the site’s standards and want to defend them:

    1. I never said anywhere that it was a Top 20 list, even my personal Top 20. I don’t do “Top X” lists.
    2. Trine was really pretty, but not very fun to play, imo. Read my post about the game from earlier this year.
    3. I didn’t get to play Altitude enough to make a complete judgment. It seemed like a fun multiplayer game, but nothing struck me as particularly noteworthy. We covered it on TIGS already, though.
    4. GSB was disappointing (see my TIGS post).
    5. Osmos… I maybe should have included Osmos, because I like that game. I hung out with them at PAX and gave them a very positive post on TIGS.
    6. I included Fatale, which I liked better than The Path, and is by the same authors.
    7. Blue Lacuna and its creator have never been covered on the site.
    8. Don’t Shit Your Pants and its creator have never been covered on the site.
    9. Canabalt is pretty widely regarded as a great game, even in the mainstream media, and it’s seen a lot of success as both a Flash and iPhone game.
    10. Adam’s balls are a salty and delicious treat. Don’t be jealous.

  • Nikefo

    I don’t question the standards of site just because of this article.
    I visit TIGS almost everyday, and I would say about 40% of the games posted in here are made by known TIGS members or someone the editor in question knows personally and/or admires.
    This article is just another one where you can clearly say what I’m talking about.

    There are games in that list that I don’t quite understand how they got there. Then I do a small search and I find out they were made by TIGS members or made with the great flixel framework made by god-like Adam Saltsman or whatever his name is.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that people from the forums get some well deserved recognition, but in this case I just can’t help but feel that this site is horribly biased. As in, if I want my game to be known, I have to be Derek or any other editor’s friend.

    btw, those games from the list I talked about, I didn’t mention them because they were made by tigs members, I mentioned them because they are some of those games that I don’t quit understand how they could be in that list.

    And the others games I mentioned that aren’t in the list, those were the first ones that I thought of, but there are many more, most of them not as well known but still better than most of what was covered in that list.

    All this is nothing but constructive criticism, I still like this site quite a lot, or I wouldn’t visit it almost everyday.

  • Roarrr

    I made the game Flytrap. Play it, you morons!
    In 2010, I will make a game called “Nikefo”.

  • fuzz

    @ derek: blueful was posted here a while ago at my suggestion, and that was by aaron a. reed.

  • Derek

    @Nikefo: Thanks for clarifying. I do appreciate your criticism… just not particularly how you put it. I just think it’d be a lot cooler of you if you didn’t automatically assume we’re having a circle-jerk because I chose to do things differently than you would have. I’ll extend you the same courtesy.

  • Nikefo

    Roarr: I don’t know if you are implying I’m the troll who did flytrap or not, but in any case I’m not. Nor am I bitter because nobody posted my game or anything, I haven’t finished a single game for about 2 years, I don’t even have a site anymore.

    Derek: I’m not saying you are doing it on purpose, this is the kind of thing you don’t notice until someone warns you about it. It’s your site, you do whatever you want with it, it’s just that I feel the site has been losing some quality because of that.

  • Derek

    Point taken. These days the front page is reflecting the fact that it’s more of a community as opposed to a news site… I realize that can irk people who are not members of the forums, don’t/can’t go to GDC/TIGJam, etc., so I’ll take it into consideration next time I post.

    I think the bigger problem, though, is just that I don’t have enough time to play every good game that comes out.

  • Nikefo

    Exactly, I’m glad you got my point. :)

    Personally I visit the forums regularly but the more community related posts still bugger me because most of the time whatever the subject is, I’m already aware of the purpose of the post, because it was on the forums, but for everyone else it might be even worse because they are don’t have a clue what’s being talked about.

    And yeah having to play every game you come across can be quite annoying if you don’t have that much free time, I think TIGS could use a few more editors. There’s lots of people in the forums that would do a great job, I’m particularly thinking about the pixel prospector dude.

  • Smithy

    This could be offset by the “nominate games you’d like to see on tigsource” and “Write articles for tigsource” parts of the forums. They are open to anybody who has suggestions.

  • Xeno

    Played a lot of Warning Forever, Nethack, Spelunky and Tremulous.
    Got into Settlers of Catan.
    Played a bunch of original games from browsing tigsource and the like (love the competitions)
    I finished my first iPod game, Enlightenment Vision, which is pretty exciting! Most of 2009 has been spent learning Xcode.

  • Xeno

    Oh and didn’t Unity Indie go free last year?

  • Priamo

    It’s true that 2008 was an exceptional year for indie games, with several titles making a significant impact on the industry. Carx street was also one of them.

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