For those video game enthusiasts, yes, this game was developed by the same Carol Shaw who was one of the first female game designers and programmers in the video game industry. River Raid is one of the early examples of a video game with a procedurally generated world. Players fly a fighter jet over the River of No Return and can only move horizontally to avoid obstacles and enemies.
River Raid went on to receive the award for “1984 Best Action Videogame” and a Certificate of Merit at the 5th annual Arkie Awards. It also was the first video game banned for minors in West Germany in 1982 by the Federal Department for Writings Harmful to Young Persons, now known as the Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors.
A quintessential video game in history, Tetris was born from Russian software engineer Alexey Pajitnov, who had been tasked with testing the capabilities of new hardware. He wanted to use computers to make people happy, get to know one another more, and change their ways of thinking. Inspired by a puzzle game from his childhood, Pajitnov centered the game around tetrominoes, geometric shapes composed of four squares.
The title was created from a combination of “tetra,” meaning four, and “tennis,” his favorite sport. When he presented the first playable version to his colleagues at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, they easily became addicted. Thus, the popularity of Tetris was born!
It’s no surprise that the RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise began with a single developer, Chris Sawyer. Looking for a sequel to his Transport Tycoon, he traveled through Europe and the United States to visit theme parks. There he gained his love of roller coasters and decided on RollerCoaster Tycoon as a sequel. The original game focuses on creating and maintaining a successful amusement park. Players can hire staff, build attractions that include more than just roller coasters, and alter the terrain. Since the original, there have been 12 games within the RollerCoaster Tycoon series, including spin-offs.
Fun Fact: This game was called White Knuckle during most of its development.
Cave Story is centered on a robot named Quote, who suffers from amnesia and must fight and explore to discover his history and escape a cave. He must power up weapons and gain access to new areas while learning from non-player characters about the world and fellow inhabitants. Japanese developer, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, spent five years creating Cave Story. Heavily inspired by Metroid and Castlevania, it received high praise from critics for its narrative, compelling characters, and gameplay.
This 2D, roguelike platformer was originally published as freeware for Microsoft Windows in 2008 by sole developer Derek Yu. From the roguelike genre, it has randomly generated levels, few save points, and easy deaths. Meanwhile, from the platformer genre, it includes real-time interactions with enemies.
Inspired by the Super Mario series, the player controls the spelunker as they explore tunnels and gather treasure. The player also encounters damsels in distress trapped in the caves, who can be picked up and carried to an exit. More so, players can unlock the damsel as a playable character, which includes identical gameplay, but the player then rescues the spelunkers. The original Spelunky included a level editor, that enabled players to create their own non-random levels to share with others.
In this 2D platformer, players take on the role of fiveEight who wakes up in a world where everything has been replaced by machines. With no memory of what occurred, they must survive long enough to find the end and hope answers lie there. While the original game was popular, it was revamped with Love+, which added new graphics, game modes, and levels. It has come a long way since its original release to its own website, even being released to the Nintendo Switch in 2019.
Wanting to ignore the current video game trends, Jonathan Blow created a puzzle platformer that brought up moral and philosophical questions. Within three years of development, Blow used $200,000 of his own money towards the game. Traveling from the city to multiple worlds, the protagonist must solve puzzles to save an abducted princess.
What makes Braid so popular is the protagonist’s ability to manipulate time. Its art style is painterly, which adds a unique view as players change the world around them by rewinding it, experiencing parallel realities, and more. In a game that you can never die or lose, Braid is filled with challenging puzzles and worlds, both of which change the way players think and engage with their own worlds by making them ask, “What if?”
One of the most popular video games as of 2021, Minecraft earned over $410 million in 2020. While it has a team of 600 working on the game now, it was originally created by one person, Markus Persson. Which, considering that Minecraft worlds are procedurally generated, is incredible. For those unknowing, Minecraft is a sandbox game where players explore a blocky, 3D world that goes on to infinity. There are two main game modes: survival (players must acquire resources to build the world and maintain health) and creative (players have unlimited resources). The best part of Minecraft is the ability for players to modify the game in anything from items, assets, and gameplay mechanics.
If you love Minecraft, check out our review of TikTok hacks for Minecraft!
Much like the translation of the title, Japanese for “every day”, Mattie Brice developed a personal role-play game which is free to play on Windows and Mac. The player takes on the role of Brice, a transgender woman, as she faces the everyday difficulties of being different in today’s society. Mainichi was integral in the 2012-2013 movement that focused on video games that focused on the emotions, tragedies, and minds of marginalized groups.
Aside from its powerful character, the game ends without a credit screen, enticing players to find the hidden secrets and play again. However, while gameplay is slightly varied after the first play-through, there are no hidden secrets. It’s purely provider the player experience the day-to-day of being a transgender woman.
Jasper Bryne is another multi-talented developer, as he wasn’t just the developer of Lone Survivor, but also the artist and composer for it. In a post-apocalyptic survival horror game, players control the protagonist through a disease-filled city. A single play-through could last up to eight hours, achieving one of five endings. With retro-styled 2D graphics, players solve puzzles, find resources and food, and avoid or kill mutants.
Lone Survivor also implements a sanity mechanic, which requires players to return to the protagonist’s apartment to sleep or take pills (which might do more damage to mentality). Truly an immersive experience, Lone Survivor is a game for those who love to beat insurmountable odds.
Dean Dodrill is a self-taught illustrator and animator who spent over three-and-a-half years developing Dust: An Elysian Tail. Inspired by games such as Metroid and Golden Axe, Dodrill created an action role-playing game set in the fictional world of Falana. Originally he planned to make it 8-bit style, however, the hand-painted graphics are what make this game so unique. The plot of this game centers on a mysterious warrior named Dust, as they travel the world to uncover the past. It’s a truly beautiful platformer, even to just watch be played!
This minimalistic 2D platformer blends music and voiceover narration within a video game. It tells the story of the world’s first sentient AIs as they work together to emerge into the world. Bithell first created the game during a 24-hour game jam (a contest to make a game from scratch) that included only himself. He based the game on friendship and was inspired by the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? which included the idea of people chained together to work as one to escape. While it’s a complex narrative, the gameplay is simplistic, with a group of rectangles as the main characters.
Inspired by Grand Theft Auto III and the pop culture of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Brian Provinciano used his free time to create Retro City Rampage. In the city of Theftropolis in 1985, "The Player", is hired as a henchman of a major crime syndicate led by the Jester. Three years later, during a bank heist gone wrong, The Player runs into a time-traveling telephone booth, which he then steals. Upon arrival in 20XX, a man named Doc Choc arrives in his own time-traveling vehicle and rescues the Player, mistakenly believing him to be a time-traveling hero.
The Player must then find all the parts to repair the time booth and encountering various 1980s pop culture references while avoiding Doc Choc’s rival, who wishes to use the time machine to control the electronics market.
One of the main features of Retro City Rampage is the various elements incorporated from different genres, including multiple graphical filters such as the NES, C64, and Apple II.
Nygren’s Knytt Underground is a 2D adventure platformer that builds upon his previously published games Within A Deep Forest and Knytt series. The game offers two playable characters, nonlinear gameplay with multiple endings, and numerous side-quests. Humans have abandoned the planet after its war-induced near destruction, leaving it to magical beings to live in mysterious tunnels underground. Players take on the role of Mi, a mute sprite, who develops her powers as she tries to save the world from destruction.
Unique from any of the other games on this list, Michael Townsend created an open-source text-based role-playing game. With no graphics other than text, players use environmental cues to make decisions. In fact, the most prompting players get are from the text such as, “Builder says leather could be useful. Says the villagers could make it.” While you start off only able to tend a fire in a room, as the game progresses players collect resources, interact with strangers, and explore the world. As someone who just started playing A Dark Room, I can see why such a basic type of game can become so enthralling.
While many games avoid political controversy or topics, Lucas Pope did not. Sole developer of Papers, Please, the game was inspired by the immigration and passport inspectors he encountered in his life. Set in the fictional totalitarian country of Arstozka, players take on the role of an immigration inspector and must make choices that affect the world around them. While the daily task to inspect documentation may seem boring, the characters and random events immerse players into feeling morally conflicted about their choices, both for Arstozka and for their in-game families.
Nearly every gamer has at least heard of Flappy Bird, the mobile game that was so addictive it was taken down from the App Store and Google Play by its own creator. Players take control of the bird Faby and are tasked with navigating him through pipes, with the goal in mind to get as many points as possible. Game artist and developer Dong Nguyen couldn’t have anticipated that his side-scrolling game, which was originally inspired by the act of bouncing a ping pong ball against a paddle, would become so popular. In fact, it was developed in under three days and the bird character, Faby, was originally designed for a canceled platform game.
It took Mark Essen over four years to develop this two-player side-scrolling game. At the same time as development, Essen also freelanced, went to graduate school, and taught at the University of Southern California. Nidhogg was titled after the Norse mythology creature of the same name, which does appear in the game as well. Players fight in a more refined way than others in the fighting genre, taking on a fencing style with melee attacks.
With over 5,500 hours of development, Luke Hodorowicz created a city builder and strategy game, heavily inspired by the Anno video game series. What makes Banished different from its counterparts is that there are no skill trees or currency. All players can use to develop and prosper are the resources they collect. You can build anything at any time, so long as you have the resources to do so. Plus, support for mods is included, meaning there are endless possibilities for players to create their own society.
While Five Nights at Freddy's is a popular series that includes not just video games, but novels and anthologies, the origination of the first game is either amusing or inspiring. I’ll leave you to decide. Scott Cawthon had received poor reviews for Chipper & Sons Lumber Co., a construction, and management game, which both players and critics found the characters to be unsettling and terrifying. Rather than be discouraged, Cawthon decided to embrace it and make an intentionally scary game. Thus, Five Nights at Freddy’s was born in only six months. The legacy of one solo developer’s choices is going even as far as a film adaption, set to start filming in 2021.
Financed through Kickstarter, Toby Fox created Undertale with the sole motto of connecting the storytelling and gameplay mechanics. Original art, music, comedy, and story make this game so popular. Some key points made by Fox about the game? There are at least five dogs, you don’t have to kill at all, and you can date a skeleton. With your choices developing the story and simplistic design, Undertale is a unique experience for everyone, including its sole developer!
Undertale is on sale for $4.99 in Steam’s Summer Sale! Check out our guide to the sale now!
Not only is Thomas Happ the sole developer of this action-adventure platformer, but he’s the sole artist and musician as well! The story revolves around Trace, a scientist who suffers from a crippling injury, and awakens in the alien world Sudra. Critics praise Axiom Verge for its balanced mechanics and storyline, especially for how challenging but not frustrating the game is.
If you’ve never heard of Stardew Valley, then you’ve probably been living on a farm with no Wi-Fi for the past five years. Ironically, that’s what this game is all about! By inheriting your grandfather’s farm, you’ve got to repair and build the farm back into profit. This farming simulator is my personal favorite on this list. Eric Barone, the sole developer, wanted more than the Harvest Moon games he loved and wanted to improve on what they already offered. Thus, Stardew Valley was born!
Solo developer, Nelson Sexton, really is the proof that video games can positively affect teenagers. Unturned was released when he was 16 years old! Before that, he was the creator of two of the most popular games on Roblox.
Free-to-play, Unturned is a survival multiplayer game where players must fight against zombies and other player characters. It also allows players to create custom maps using an in-game editor and has support for mods, all of which can be published to the Steam Workshop! It is confirmed that Sexton is developing a newer version of Unturned, currently titled Unturned II, which has been in development since 2017.
This platform game took eight years to develop but has been revered for its graphics, storyline, and characters. A 2D platformer, Iconoclasts is a game for a variety of players. Whether you like exploration, combat, or solving puzzles, there’s something here for you to love. Join renegade mechanic Robin to uncover the secrets of a dying planet, while playing through a personal story about faith, purpose, and the challenge of helping people.
Unlike many Metroidvania games, Andrew Stewart created a unique action-adventure platformer. Resurrected by a mysterious cult, players take on the role of Mable to hunt great beasts and save the dying world. What’s unique about this platformer is that players don’t just fight as Mable herself, they must use Mable’s shape-shifting abilities. It’s up to players to decide if the cult or the beasts are in the right, providing a strong moral dilemma as they play through the story. There are even secret paths that enable players to finish the game without killing anything, bosses included.
As an avid lover of ghost-hunting reality TV, this cooperative psychological horror game is one of my favorites of recent years. Take a role in a team of four investigators to hunt down evidence and conclude what type of ghoul is haunting the location. With proximity microphone capabilities, players are forced to communicate. Unless a ghost is hunting, in which case, keeping quiet is key to survival. Dknighter, founder and sole member of Kinetic Games, created Phasmophobia on their own and only recently announced bringing in more people to help continue to develop and improve the game.
You can even track upcoming features and bug fixes on a public Trello board!
Bright Memory is a game that combines the genres of first-person shooter (FPS) with action. Players take control of Shelia, who not only has guns and a sword but also has supernatural abilities like psychokinesis. Agent Shelia must prevent SAI, a military organization, from acquiring a legendary ancient power to reawaken the dead. Most negative remarks about Bright Memory have to do with the poor translation from Chinese to English, but overall the gameplay is greatly enjoyed. If you’re into FPS or hack and slash games, check out Bright Memory for yourself!
In homage to previously published air combat games, Sala developed The Falconeer. This is a single-player game that immerses you into an open world as a Falconeer. What makes this game special is that it allows you to replay and align with different factions or change the character’s backstory. The Falconeer is a solo-developed game that looks and plays as if it were a AAA title.
A particularly frightening game, it wasn’t the jump scares that surprised me about Find Yourself. I recommend this horror game to anyone who prefers a scary story with a solid narrative that utilizes gameplay mechanics creatively. Reshetnikov is also the creator of multiple other horror games as well, all of which received a positive response as well.
Players take on the role of the main character who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by their childhood. With a blend of occult magic and puzzles, players must navigate through memories to find what happened and break from a trance-like state.