2008’s Top (Mostly Windows-Only) Games

As many folks in the blogosphere have duly pointed out, the end of one year and the start of another is usually accompanied by a proliferation of lists. Best of this, Top Ten of that, and so on. A couple of these that have particular interest to me are Game Tunnel’s Top Ten Indie Games of 2008 and GameSetWatch’s 20 Best Freeware Adventure Games of 2008.

Throughout the year I generally try to keep track of which games are making news in the indie gaming world, but it’s still interesting to see GameTunnel’s list to find out just how closely I’ve been paying attention. As it turns out, I’ve only even heard of 7 of their top 10 — I hadn’t seen or read anything about Noitu Love 2, Battle of Tiles, or New Star Soccer 4 — and some, such as Zombie Shooter, Everyday Shooter, and The Spirit Engine 2, I have only sketchy recollection of seeing anything before. So much for being on top of things.

Perhaps even more embarrassing is the fact that I’ve only played one of the top 10 indie games, World of Goo, which I did purchase. I like World of Goo, mostly because you can tell the folks who created it (Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel of 2D Boy) did a bang-up job with all aspects of development. Slick artwork, nice audio, smooth animation and gameplay. It’s a solid game that’s heavy on style. The genre? Not so much, for me at least. I can see why a lot of people like it, but it’s not really my cup o’. In fact, that’s something that struck me about the GameTunnel list in general — there isn’t a lot there that I would consider a big draw for my tastes.

Most of them sound interesting, certainly enough to give them a shot. I’m attracted by the depth of New Star Soccer 4, for instance, even though I have little to no interest in soccer in general; Noitu Love 2, Mount & Blade, and The Spirit Engine 2 all have elements that sound appealing and worth a peek. But most of them seem to be within genres that I don’t spend a lot of time playing. Still, I like to show my support for the other indies out there and I have to admit that I haven’t done a good job of it for this group so far.

GameTunnel also has a list of their Top 5 Adventure Games of 2008, but I don’t pay much attention to it. As they admit, they group classic adventure games with platform games and “action titles that devote a lot of time to the story,” whatever that means, which is really just bizarre. The list reflect this, as there really isn’t much there that I would consider a true adventure game.

I don’t do a great job keeping up with all of the freeware adventure games out there, admittedly. So I appreciate having a list like GameSetWatch’s Top 20 to peek at, just so I know what I’m missing. I like that two of the top 20 are interaction fiction games, Gun Mute and Everybody Dies, although more likely belong on this list. The latter did great in this year’s IFComp, although it didn’t do so well in my Capture Score evaluation. It was a good example of a game that ended up being great even though it fell somewhat short in its opening. I haven’t played any of the other games on the list, although at #18 is DayMare Town 2, the second installment of Mateusz Skutnik’s awesomely simple browser-based adventure game. I didn’t realize it had been released, so that comes as welcome news.

Most of all, though, I was struck by one thing on both of these lists: the remarkable absence of Mac versions of these games.

Of the GameTunnel Top Ten, only three are listed as having Mac versions (New Star Soccer 4, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, and World of Goo), while over on GSW’s Top 20, only one of the top 16 is Mac-compatible (Gun Mute). Overall, only six on the list can be played on Macs; aside from the two IF games, the other four are browser-based.

It’s disappointing, of course, because it means Mac users need to go to extra lengths to play most of these great games, and for most Mac users that just means they won’t get played. Not surprising, of course, because I think most of the game-making industry (indie or otherwise) still mistakenly believes the installed Mac base is too small to bother with. There appears to be a growing body of evidence that this is simply not the case, particularly for non-AAA-high-end gaming. Folks like Pocketwatch Games and Prarie Games would most certainly attest to this, and even the InstantAction folks from GarageGames had to put their Mac beta on hold because “all our current information indicates that the initial inflow of Mac users will (be) huge and probably bring IA to a crawl.”

Obviously porting a game from Windows to Mac is not a simple, straighforward task, and it’s one that requires time and resources, both of which many indie developers don’t have. But it’s a deceptively large audience and I think small developers are making a large mistake by ignoring this potentially rewarding chunk of attention and revenue.

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