Friday, November 4, 2011

250 Indie Games You Must Play (a book review)

I am moderately conflicted on how I should spin this review. It is not a bad purchase to make, being moderately inexpensive and one of the only books about indie games; It even received universal praises from someone I would considered an absolute expert in all things literature and indie gaming; But there are still more then a few issues I had with this book that I want to touch on in this review, but first to the description.

250 Indie Games You Must Play is separated into three main sections with a very minimal introduction. This introduction most notably contains a few page attempt at a definition of what indie games are and a few other pages showcasing a bunch on mini interviews with prestigious indie developers. After this you are quickly thrown into the thick of things with by far the biggest section, Download Games; This section features indie games that are both free and can/have to be downloaded to be played. After this section you have Browser-Based Games and then finally Commercial Games, with all games in all sections being available for PC at the very least.

Regarding the games themselves; They are not the ones I would of chose, if only because I have not even heard of a large percentage of them and have played even less; But of the ones I do know I have some different opinions of many of them and know of many games that I would of included (not that I would expect to agree with all of the choices). Also all games are not created equal and 250 games is a lot of games, I think a more exclusive sub list could of been included within this 250 to show off the very best of indie games and provide a starting point for interested newbies; Because as it stands now, even showing its age, I would recommend's An In-Depth Indie Game Guide over and above this book for people interested in starting their foray into the world of independent games.

Every game in each of these sections takes up one page and consists of a short description, a link, and finally a single full colour glossy picture. The descriptions are all pretty much boilerplate with three paragraphs; The first describing the story, the second the gameplay, and the third is mostly dedicated to describing the game itself, including awards, competitions, sequels, and sometimes additional thoughts on the game or just anything else that did not fit into the preceding paragraphs. The entire description is quite devoid of opinion or anything even close to a review on the game and sticks to the facts. The links are all relatively short and uniform and were constructed specifically for this book and redirect to their respective articles.

So now for the bad. The writing is not unique or amazing; There is not a new and unique opinion being expressed here or even beautiful poetic writing, it is simply cold hard facts professionally written and you can get longer and more detailed posts on any one of numerous sites for free. Over and above this, the book has more then a few issues I just consider unforgivable. To start off with a few games seemed to be in the wrong section; One "Download" game in particular I spent more then enough time searching for a downloadable version of the game to come to the conclusion that if one existed I would be very much surprised. And what I don't get is that all you have to do is flow the link provided to know that these games are in the wrong section, so how do you miss that? And don't even get me started on the in-book game links.

These links seem to be designed far more to promote one of his sites,, then to actually serve the readers of his book; not that this is a horrible thing to do, of all the existing sites is the best one for this in my opinion, but the book itself is already providing a description so why link to another one? And what does he do when never did a review of the game in question, he links the review of the sequel. And many of the reviews themselves have broken links and you have absolutely no way of getting a copy of the game from them (making them basically useless). There are so many of these broken links that I would wager that most of them were present even before this book was written, which just seems particularly lazy. So is that what we have come to in this age of the internet, books are outdated before they are even released because they absolutely must contain links and no one will be bothered to even check before hand let alone maintain them after release? As far as I am concerned this make the book faulty and broken, I feel like I bought a Lego set and it came missing pieces (and my Lego recreation of Big Ben turned out looking more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa). But there is a solution to this link problem, even more then one.

The most simple and elegant solution uses the nature of the links themselves to their full potential. They are designed to be redirect links, they can be internally, silently, and quickly changed to point anywhere you want. So point them the game's homepage (or most relevant page if no official page exists); And run a automated script that checks the current links to see if they still exist; Then, if these sites go offline you a person can spend 50 seconds looking for a replacement. Using this solution you would not even have to change the book, you could implement it as is. Alternatively, you could link to a specifically designed page that contains a few links and even a archived copy of the game in question (browser and commercial games exempted) so that you can guaranty easy access to the game at all times. In this way you have a set standard quality page you are linking to and do not need to link directly to some unofficial sketchy forum post or similar, and can even include a link to the review.

In summery, I don't know what to say. It is a one of a kind book but it is also far from perfect. And I am far from comfortable critiquing a fellow indie game reviewer that is so far ahead of me in terms of success and skill. But ultimately it has its faults and at least for me they are significant. I loved the too short introduction and would of loved to see it expanded with possibly the games serving as examples to a overarching narrative instead of simply a unsorted list of games.


  1. Hi John. Not sure if you are reading this comment but I am from Pawn. I am an ex-mod and my username is Nirvana. As you should know the community is dying out fast. I am wondering how your project ZED is doing. Are you working hard? Is it dead? We are all itching to know.



  2. Hello Nirvana,
    I do read all comments on my blog. I am no longer actively helping out in the development of ZED but I know that they are making steady progress.