The majority of games represent the combined efforts of huge teams of programmers, artists, sound designers, and writers among many others. Though once in a while, out of sheer madness or a desire to craft a unique, personal experience, developers go at it alone as a one person team. Coming out of the process as disheveled, sleep-deprived shells of their former selves, these men and women invest their time, resources, and passion without any guarantee of commercial success.
In honor of these tireless pioneers who adopt a hermetic lifestyle, forego social interaction in the pursuit of making unique works of art, here are six of the best one-person made games. In order to include a couple of unmissable titles than more or less fit the bill, we’ve stretched the rules a little to include creators who’ve had snippets of outside help, for example when it came to composing music for their games. The assistance was nevertheless extremely limited and the bulk of the work was completed by one person.
Iconoclasts was developed by Joakim Sandberg over the course of 8 long years resulting in a compelling platformer with whimsical overtones, but much deeper themes such as the potential power of unchecked religious fervor. Firmly rooted in the Metroidvania tradition, Iconoclast follows the story of mechanic Robin, who because of her eagerness to help others is chased by One Concern, a maniacal religious authority. With exploration, fantastic boss battles, and challenging puzzles, Iconoclasts is a testament to one man’s dedication. Sandberg, exhausted by his travails, spent time in hospital following release due to his self-imposed hermetic lifestyle and the pressures of finally releasing his work into the world.
An oldie, but a goodie, RollerCoaster Tycoon was developed by Chris Sawyer over the course of two years back in the late 1990s with only minimal input from select experts from the theme park world and artist Sam Foster. The game was released to critical acclaim and sparked a franchise that persists to this day. RollerCoaster Tycoon is somewhat of a cult phenomenon and it’s hard to find gamers who weren’t enthralled by the management sims addictive gameplay during their younger years.
Eric Barone, also known as Concerned Ape, is among the more prominent one-man development teams out there. Barone spent the better part of 5-years creating his vision, foregoing countless nights of sleep and financial security, all in the vague hope the game would be successful. He made everything from the soundtrack to the detailed pixel art. The critical and commercial success of charming farming sim Stardew Valley is well documented by this point, the standout indie success of this decade. Barone has stated that he plans to continue working solo on future projects.
Braid was more pivotal in its wider impact on the gaming industry than any other indie game ever made. It heralded a shift in appreciation for smaller, low budget titles, created out of love rather than for financial gain. Developer Jonathan Blow initially created Braid back in 2005 with all the narrative and gameplay elements that would feature in the mass released 2008 version, but later on received a helping hand from artist David Hellman who bestowed the platformer its unique visual style. Braid’s unique time-bending mechanics and unyielding difficulty remain iconic to this day. It marked a refreshing move away from the player-must-be-led-by-the-hand trope that was pervasive at the time.
Solo efforts seem particularly suited to the Metroidvania-style platformer and Cave Story is no different. Daisuke Amaya developed Cave Story over the course of five years whilst working full time. He is responsible for every single facet of the game without exception. Players navigate the caverns of a floating island beset by crazed-rabbits who’ve ingested a flower with mind-altering powers in order to defend themselves against an invading force of robots. Cave Story was released for free in 2004 to critical acclaim. In many ways Amaya was the very first indie developer capable of supporting himself financially through work not guaranteed by a triple A studio or publisher.
Minecraft is the brainchild of Markus Persson who only enlisted help for the soundtrack in creating one the most popular games ever made. Going from strength to strength after initially being released as a prototype on an indie dev forum, Minecraft erupted into the mainstream spurring Persson to dedicate himself full time. Minecraft ubiquity across multiple platforms and the game choice for a whole generation of young gamers is testament to the game’s cultural significance. Though now backed by a genuine team of developers, Minecraft continues to be updated to this day and has been the subject of several spin offs and expansions.