It’s been a while since I last wrote a round-up of indie and other curiosities I’ve come across during the year, and it is truly incredible how much the landscape has changed since I last wrote.  Since then, Kickstarter has truly come into its own, and a huge variety of games have used it to successfully crowdfund, many of which have either already released or are approaching solid beta and release candidates.  Steam Greenlight has seen hundreds of indie games come onto the platform, and its own semi-crowdfunding program, Early Access, has brought many of the same alpha-funding benefits of being able to follow dozens of games throughout a good portion of their development, and in some cases help shape them with your input.  Indie Royale has run several more alpha and indie-debut bundles, and the bundle scene has taken off to the point that I now have a truly ludicrous amount of games available.  As a result, there are probably more things I can talk about than I can reasonably get to, but here are a few updates on interesting things I’ve been interested in this year.

-First, some updates on the games I talked about previously.  Overgrowth is still under development, and its release date is still unknown.  I haven’t really touched it lately, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a lot of brilliant features and excellent animations still waiting for something to cohesively tie it together.  Minecraft is still huge, still occasionally updated, and still without a proper API.  I still visit it every once in a while.  Interstellar Marines did not, in fact, meet its demise, and has now been released on Steam Early Access in multiplayer-only form.  Proteus was fully released, and while I still think the concept has a ton of promise, the actual execution was a bit too sparse and limited to hold my interest.  A Valley Without Wind apparently disappointed its players greatly (I had some fun with it, but eventually grew tired of its repetitiveness), to the point that the developers actually created a sequel to address issues with the first one and gave it to all of the purchasers of the first game.  Starfarer was renamed to Starsector, and continues its slow but steady progress, although Escape Velocity it’s not.

-Speaking of Escape Velocity, I got EV:Nova running again on my Mac, which I’m very happy about, and I’ve continued to look into games that have at least a similar top-down spacefaring mechanic.  I’ve recently tried one of them, the somewhat odd Space Pirates and Zombies, which has a bit of the same feel in some parts, but is procedurally-generated and has much faster-paced combat.  There’s also Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages, which looks both quite strange and quite promising, although I admit I haven’t had a chance to play it yet.  About the closest I’ve found so far is the not-really-at-all-close ARPG-in-space Drox Operative, which has been one of my more heavily-played and heavily-frustrating games of the year (although, as with EV:Nova, it is eminently moddable, and I’ve been able to tweak it more towards the style of play I expected).  There’s also an interesting one called Transcendence, but again I’ve not had a chance to do anything but look at its intriguing webpage.

-Ah, yes, Kickstarter.  I haven’t really written a whole lot about it thus far, but now and then I’ve backed some games that I personally found interesting.  Knowing my interest in open-world sorts of games, it’s probably not a surprise that a lot of the games I’ve supported are around various aspects of that.  Interestingly enough, only one game I’ve supported so far has actually failed during development – a project called Cult:Awakening of the Old Ones.  Admittedly, I was more interested in the procedural world-generation code than the game itself, but there’s talk that the code will eventually be open-sourced for it.  Most of the other projects are indeed making progress.  Planet Explorers and 3089, both procedural open-world games, already have playable betas that are largely functional.  They are joined by Planetary Annihilation, which I supported due to my love of the Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander franchises, the block-based RTS Dysis acquired for similar reasons, and the colony-sim game Maia, based on my interest in similar management games back in the day.  I also supported a few other games based on various levels of nostalgia: from fond memories of playing Daytona USA in the arcades, I backed “the 90s arcade racer,” which has been making steady progress, and my love of side-scrolling, actually-good Sonic games led me to support Freedom Planet, which is also progressing.  And, of course, my adoration of the original Pro Pinball games led me to support the incredibly high-resolution resurrection of its tables (the first kickstarter failed, but the second one for a single table succeeded, and is now in development).

-Open world block-based games, both 2- and 3D, have also been exploding recently.  Terraria, a game that has the prime position as the go-to 2D block game for me (as Minecraft is for 3D), released a massive expansion that I’m almost afraid to dive back into.  In addition, it will soon see competition from the next big game in that genre, Starbound, which just went into the first beta stage this week.  It’s joined by Edge of Space and Asteria (and probably others) in that category, and while the latter have been hit and miss, Starbound promises to be almost as revolutionary as Terraria was when it first appeared.  In the 3D space, the long-awaited Cube World went into early release – I picked it up, and while the environments and characters are gorgeous, there’s not a whole lot of actual game in it yet.  Competing with it is the voxel-based game Vox, which has a little bit more to do, but on a somewhat more limited scale (as of my last play, the world size was fairly small and only a few quests were in).  In the more sci-fi category, there’s the aforementioned 3089 (robot combat on a procedural world with smooth terrain) and Planet Explorers (open-world exploration where you can build or import almost anything), along with the ambitiously-scoped but currently largely empty early-access version of Starforge.  There are also a ton of multiplayer-arena games in this category, like Ace of Spades or Guncraft, but they’re not that interesting to me and so I haven’t followed them that closely.

-There have been a gazillion bundles, to the point I almost don’t even know what games I have anymore.  That’s obviously a good thing in some respects – affordable games lowers the bar to entry and gets more people interested – but it also means I now have a library of hundreds of games, many of which I can barely remember how I acquired or what kind of gameplay they have.  Nevertheless, a few recent ones I’ve had a chance to dive into have been interesting.  The aforementioned Space Pirates and Zombies has a lot of promise but plays a bit on the slow side (I have a couple of hours in and just finished the tutorial).  Waking Mars was an interesting but also fairly glacial platformer that I had a hard time getting into beyond the initial play session.  Thunder Wolves, a helicopter-combat game with “easy” controls, is a surprisingly fun romp, helicoptering about, dodging missiles, and blowing the holy hell out of everything in sight.  Scribblenauts Unlimited is… weird, but can be quite fun when you come up with a particularly unique solution to one of the puzzles.  Paranautical Activity, a sort of cross between the original Quake and a roguelike, is by far my favorite roguelike of the year, although top-down shooter roguelike-like Nuclear Throne, now in early access, has a lot of promise (and hopefully an ever-so-slightly easier mode at some point!).  I played FTL, was complete rubbish at it, and stopped.

-The big-name games.  I picked up Far Cry 3 in a sale, and surprisingly it became one of my more-played games this year.  It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination (and the developer who decided to make the main battles be awful QTE-filled pre-orchestrated nonsense seriously needs to be fired, as it took away from the story, was completely bogus, and gave you no satisfaction whatsoever, and the stupid stealth section, and ARRGHH why did you kill off the only interesting villain so freakin’ early!!!), but it was just open-world enough to put it squarely in my wheelhouse.  It held my interest for longer than the arguably much more artful Bioshock Infinite.  I didn’t finish either, but I remember my time in FC3 more fondly, as while Infinite’s world was quite impressive, the levels were linear and repetitive, and the combat feels like a step backward from the Bioshock series.  Other bundle-included big games included The Sims 3 (which I found incredibly boring), Battlefield 3 (played through the single-player campaign, found it to be largely tolerable, and afterwards concluded that developers who include quick-time events in their games should be subjected to increasing electric shocks while the person administering them yells loudly in their ear, “PRESS E TO MAKE IT STOP!!!”), and Medal of Honor (played through one level at the unimaginably awful, inappropriate, and unchangeable 55-degree field of view, decided I’d rather keep my dinner inside my stomach, and never touched it again).  The only (mostly) slam-dunk big-name game I played this year was Saints Row IV, which, while it began to drag a bit after a while, delivered pretty much everything I expected of it: open world, insane superhero navigation of said world, ludicrous weapons and vehicles, over-the-top everything.  I doubt it will keep me as gripped as more immersive, heavily moddable things like Fallout:New Vegas and Skyrim, but it’s up there among my most-played games this year (and if they do in fact release their promised modding support for it, it is entirely possible that SRIV might join that esteemed group, especially if someone manages to recreate Stilwater in the updated engine).

Contraption Maker, the spiritual successor to The Incredible Machine (and built by the team that created the original), was released to early access this year.  Given that it was the absolute favorite game of my childhood, I can’t express how happy I am that even more people will now be exposed to one of the best 2D creation games ever.

I’m sure there’s something or other I’ve missed in this roundup, but I think that just about covers my experience in gaming this year.  Well, that and pinball, which I’ve already covered in detail previously, and my occasional console involvement (I have a 3DS with a whopping 5 games for it: cartridges for Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Mario Kart 7, and a trio of Zen Pinball collections from the online shop, and it mainly gets play when I need a quick break or am waiting for an appointment/in line/on transit, etc.).  All in all, it hasn’t necessarily been a banner year for computer gaming, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in the sheer breadth of development, and the large crop of promising small-studio and crowdfunded games that are fast appearing on the horizon.