When Nomado Studio held an exclusive preview for ‘Gris’ earlier this month, the event was more art exhibition than video game reveal. Set in the Foley art gallery in New York City, guests were treated to a visual array of beautiful paintings before realising that these were screenshots for a video game. After weeks of waiting, the Barcelona-based studio finally released to the public, a reveal trailer for their debut project yesterday, sending entertainment websites abuzz with delight. It was clear that the desire here had been to create something that transcended the barrier between art and games with jaw-dropping watercolour visuals and almost poetic movements in illustration.
“We’re really seeing video games as a form of art,” Roger Mendoza, co-founder of the studio, said in an interview with Polygon. “We don’t think there are so many differences between movies and art. The same way that you see movies about everything, there should be games about everything.”
Video games are now generally accepted as platforms for wherein high art can be achieved. The industry received its stamp of approval when, in 2012, the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased 14 games to be exhibited in its permanent collection, including Pac Man and Sim City. Indeed, the hunger for immersive and rich storylines has led many mainstream developers to hire award-winning screenwriters to flesh out their content, as well as star-studded casts to voice act their characters.
However, without the enormous budgets or infinite industry resources, independent game developers must seek to implement pioneering creative and technical skills to make their products stand apart from the rest. For this reason, indie games are usually the ones that offer the most emotional and artistic experiences. We take a look at some of the best indie games created and why they deserve to be called works of art.
Jonathan Blow’s 2008 masterpiece is celebrated as one of the most important titles of the indie scene, inspiring the rebirth of the industry into some far more artistic and holistic then had ever been seen before. It laid the groundworks for what developers could achieve this side of the millennium, without the constraints of publishers breathing down their necks. It is an incredibly well-crafted puzzle game. Its visuals — all hand-drawn and immaculately coloured, paired with an unforgettably moving violin music — set the bar for all independent video game makers thereafter.
If Braid laid the foundations of the indie gaming renaissance, then Limbo was the game that spearheaded it into unchartered commercial territories. Millions of people have fallen in love with the story of the small boy who journeys through a strange monochromatic world. Praised for its minimalistic art-style and narrative interpretation, Limbo has proven that games could possess incredibly rich, artistic and atmospheric experiences without any colour or dialogue at all.
Dear Esther is less video game and more ethereal visual literary experience. Journeying through an uninhabited and ghostly Scottish Hebridean island, the player explores and discovers new locations in tandem with listening to a voice harrowingly narrates letters he has written to his wife Esther, presumably dead. A metaphor for the tormented mind, the setting of the game has received critical acclaim for its attention to detail in design. Sublime visuals, near perfect musical compositions with a bold, unforgiving narrative makes this game a high artistic endeavour that unfortunately many will miss.
In Firewatch players assume the role of a Shoshone National Forest fire lookout named Henry in 1989, following the Yellowstone fires of 1988. A month after his first day at work, strange things begin happening to him and his supervisor Delilah. What unfolds is a slightly meditative experience and if not slightly eerie, as you explore a beautifully crafted national park, all whilst having no human contact other than with Delilah, through your walkie-talkie. Developers Campo Santo create a truly emotional and rare piece of artwork with the help of stunning visual design, strong voice acting and wonderfully scored music
Many people stay clear of run-and-gun platformers due to the dated mechanics of such games. However, Cuphead connected with millions of people around the world and was a sensational hit upon release from family-owned and operated Studio MDHR. Entirely hand-drawn, watercoloured and produced with impeccable video and sound design, the game harked back to early 1930s cartoons, emulating the pioneering artistic form of Walt Disney and Fleischer Studios characters, like Betty Boop. The game received great reviews for both its incredible art and striking visuals as well as for being one of the most difficult games to complete.
Although not yet released, Sable has already caused a wave of excitement among indie gaming enthusiasts. With looks that draw upon French comic book artist Moebius, as well as the various masterpieces of Studio Ghibli, Sable looks to set yet more precedents in blurring lines between video game and high art. Created by two lifelong friends who have worked out of a shed out in their parents’ garden, Sable is a gorgeous looking coming-of-age adventure that has no real objective other than to explore and learn of the world’s history and cultures.