New Indie Games for 2015: Aesthetics and Ambition Change the Landscape

No Man's Sky Beach

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="700"]No Man's Sky's beautiful art style. No Man's Sky's striking visuals are just one of many upcoming trends for new indie games. Photo from[/caption]

The last year was a strange and experimental time for indie games. Thanks to Let's Play videos, absurdist humor games reached their zenith with titles like Goat Simulator (and its expansion, Goat MMO Simulator) and Jazzpunk, nostalgia for difficult games found players with Nidhogg and Shovel Knight, and atmosphere and storytelling reigned supreme in games like Transistor and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. With a new year just beginning and a wave of successful games to follow, we have some predictions for what trends we'll be seeing in new indie games through 2015.

New Indie Games Take a Walk in Others' Shoes

Indie games have always deviated from the norm in content—many developers choose the indie route because it lets them explore themes and experiences that just wouldn't fly in the AAA world. Games like Never Alone and Gone Home (which was actually released in late 2013) pulled inspiration from sources beyond the stereotypical, ushering in a new age of games intended to expose players to different ways of thinking about the world.

The trend is likely to take off in 2015 with That Dragon, Cancer, an adventure game dealing with the loss of a child to cancer, and Life is Strange, which hones in on being a teenage girl returning home after a long absence. These are games with ambition, games that aim to move the player into new levels of understanding—they don't always work, but high aspirations and an emotional focus are often a direct response to the pervasive macho attitudes of AAA games.

Setting The Mood

Some of the most interesting indie games of 2014 were a little out there. David O'Reilly's Mountain had players scratching their heads about what it all meant, while Kentucky Route Zero set a high bar for the value of a slow pace and minimal aesthetics. In 2015, it looks like new indie games will follow suit. Jonathan Blow's The Witness will take a first-person approach to puzzle solving on a seemingly abandoned island.

The Witness Island

The gameplay looks bright and cheerful but the openness of the deserted world seems to contradict that, especially because Blow's previous work on Braid leads us to believe that not everything is as it seems. Much like their first game, LimboPlaydead's Inside looks like a compelling, atmospheric adventure. Without much to go on other than the E3 trailer it's hard to judge what to expect, but the visuals have a vaguely sinister tone and, if Limbo is anything to go by, it'll be a unique and creepy experience.

Striking Visuals Set the Stage

A unique art style is nearly always guaranteed to bring new players in, but the previous year set the bar high not just in graphic quality, but in innovation. In 2014, players loved the Escher-esque buildings of Monument Valley and the unique grittiness of Nidhogg, neither of which look like anything else on the market.There are some seriously stunning new indie games slated for release in 2014, too, including the much-praised No Man's Sky, a universe exploration game with mysterious gameplay. Campo Santo's Firewatch uses gorgeous red tones to constantly remind the player what their purpose is—to watch for wildfires in the Wyoming wilderness. Cuphead takes a different approach, employing "Steamboat Willie" style graphics with classic run-and-gun mechanics for a retro aesthetic that still feels progressive.

Most Anticipated 2015 - Firewatch

There are plenty more highly anticipated games for this year that don't fit into any of these neat little categories. So many of 2014's breakout hits were popular because they broke the mold, and there's no doubt that the same will be true of 2015's new indie games. Though unique perspectives, inventive atmospheres, and striking visuals are all trends that will likely carry on through this year, there's no telling what will catch on and inspire developers throughout this year and into the next.

What indie games are you looking forward to in 2015? What trends do you think we'll see?

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