The world of game design has changed. What once took tedious effort by a team of expert programmers can now be done with ease by inexperienced individuals using free resources. The indie game renaissance is in full swing—games made by small teams and even individuals can find success in the game market and with critics. To prove this, here is our list of the top six games made by one person only, along with some honorable mentions, in no particular order.
Best Games Made By One Person
Below is a list of the best games made by a single person:
- Bright Memory
- Thomas Was Alone
- Cave Story
- Stardew Valley
Now that you know the top six games made by a single developer, let’s take a closer look at each one.
No list of games made by one person would dare miss Undertale. This expectation subverting hit took almost anyone who played it by complete surprise. Hidden behind an apparently low-effort artstyle is a beautiful and intricate storyline, lovable and memorable characters, award winning music, and an interesting and unique combat system.
The game was created almost solely by Toby Fox, along with a few art assets provided by Temmie Chang. It took Fox nearly three years to complete after a crowdfunding campaign that raised over one thousand percent more than the original goal.
The game is inspired by some classic and beloved titles like Earthbound and the Mario & Luigi role playing games; but more than anything the game is a reflection of its creator. Undertale is unique in that it wasn’t designed by a committee.
The odd but charming corners, obtuse secrets, and quirky jokes that could have been easily sanded off in a normal production environment stayed in the game. It could be said that this game couldn’t have existed if it wasn’t made by one person, or if it did it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.
Undertale was created in Gamemaker Studio, a popular and inexpensive game design engine that makes 2d games possible for small teams and individuals.
The game has been very successful on PC and has been recently released on Nintendo Switch, and Fox is working on a sequel of sorts called Deltarune, a free demo for which has been released on PC.
Bright Memory is a 3D game made by one person, and it is the closest game on this list to a AAA studio quality video game. It proves that high quality graphics and gameplay are possible (if a little difficult) with a one person team. It features glossy visuals and first person shooting mixed with hack and slash action. The gameplay is unique and a bit tricky at first, but overall the game is an incredible product to be built by an individual.
It was created by a Chinese developer named Zeng “FYQD” Xiancheng at the beginning of this year. According to Xiancheng he developed the game in his spare time. Currently only episode one has been released so far, but Xiancheng plans to release more.
Bright memory was created in Unreal Engine 4—a powerful development tool for creating polished 3D games like this one. Unreal engine is available for free with a percentage taken in sales, so anyone could pick up a copy of this engine and produce a game of the same quality.
Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone was developed by Mike Bithell and originally released as a flash based browser game in 2010. It has since been released on PC, mobile, Playstation 3 and 4, and Xbox One. The seemingly simple puzzle platformer stars oddly shaped cubes imbued with personality by a rich narration.
The game was born from a 24 hour game jam that Bithell participated in. After the jam he wanted to create a more complete version of the game. Bithell reported that he needed only £5000 to finish development on Thomas Was Alone, which went on to sell over one million copies.
Thomas Was Alone was developed with Unity—another free engine that only charges for its use if the game is successful.
If you currently play Minecraft you’re probably wondering what it’s doing on a list of games made by one person. Today Minecraft is owned and developed by Microsoft. However, the original version of Minecraft was developed by an individual. Markus “Notch” Persson created the original game in 2009.
The game started as a personal project. Persson was inspired by Infiniminer and Dwarf Fortress. He enjoyed the blocky look of Infiniminer, but he wanted to make something that had more RPG elements. The game is procedurally generated (meaning no two worlds are the same), with different mountains and valleys, biomes, and arrangements for every player.
Persson worked on the project part-time initially, but after the success of the alpha version, he quit his day job at Jalbum.net to work on the project full-time. He continually updated the game, building on the core foundation he had created. Persson says that he didn’t develop the game alone, in that fans of the game contributed by finding bugs and suggesting new features for him to fix or implement.
Eventually, Persson founded Mojang, his own video game company to back the development of the game. At this point, he took on employees to aid in the development of the game.
In 2014 Microsoft offered to buy Mojang and its intellectual property for 2.5 billion dollars. Minecraft remains a shining example of one of the most financially successful indie games of all time. Persson is now one of Forbes Magazine’s billionaires.
The open-ended sandbox adventure title remains one of the most popular games of all time. It’s been ported to nearly every platform. Persson didn’t use a game engine to design Minecraft—he built his own using Java—which anyone can do using free tools available online.
Cave Story was developed Daisuke Pixel Amaya and released in 2004 for PC. It’s since been ported to the Nintendo DSi and the Switch.
Every aspect of the game was developed by Amaya, including, art, music, programming, and story. The development took five years, and the game is a passion project: a tribute to Amaya’s favorite games from when they were young. Even though the development took so much time and effort, Amaya released the game to the public free of charge. The PC version of the game is still free, while the ports do cost money. The game gained popularity in Japan before being translated into English for western audiences.
The game is a shining example of metroidvania games, and the game has received a cult following along with high praise from critics. The game has a compelling narrative and enjoyable gameplay with beautiful art. It is clearly a product of love.
The game is developed without an engine–Amaya designed all of the tools he used himself with C++, including a graphics engine, audio engine, and stage editor.
Indeed, no list of games made by one person would be complete without this impressive example.
Stardew Valley is first and foremost a game of passion. It was created by Eric Barone over 5 years of development time. It started with a simple idea: an improvement to the beloved and long-running farming simulation game series Harvest Moon. Barone wanted to capture the original spirit of those games, believing that the series’ current entries had lost their magic.
If Stardew Valley has anything, and it has many things, it has magic. Few games are as layered as Stardew Valley. The game isn’t just farming, it’s exploring, talking to people, making friends, discovering secrets, and even a bit of dungeon crawling. The game is filled with things to do, and it’s all based around a day schedule. At the end of every day in the game the player feels satisfied, yet hungry for the next day.
Stardew Valley is also an obvious choice for our list of games made by one person. But even more impressive, Barone had never made a game before. Barone (and on occasion, his girlfriend) was the only person to ever play test his game almost until release. Even the games publisher, Chucklefish Games, didn’t get a copy of the game before signing. In fact Barone had no idea if his game was good, he had played it so much that he lost perspective on the quality of the game.
The game was officially released for PC in 2016 and has PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch ports.
Barone described his development process as chipping away at and redesigning for five years. He would get to nearly 80% completion of the game then add a new feature. He spent thousands of hours on just the art alone, designing and redesigning the characters and environment. The game is a product of constant improvement. This is clear in every part of the game.
The game was composed using C# and the Microsoft XNA framework, with everything else done by Barone himself.
While Barone had at one time expressed a desire to never return to game design, he has announced that he is working on a new project.
Games Made By One Person: Honorable Mentions
While the above are my favorites, there are so many good and successful games made by one person that it would be a shame not to mention them.
Below is a list of the “honorable mentions” games created by one developer:
- Axiom Verge
- Papers, Please
- Meridian: New World
- Lone Survivor
- Dust: An Elysian Tale
- Retro City Rampage
- Roller Coaster Tycoon
- River Raid
- Mable and the Wood
- Knytt Underground
Now that you have the full list, let’s jump in and learn more about each of these unique games!
Axiom Verge is a Metroidvania style platformer game by indie developer Thomas Happ, released in 2015. It was nominated for Best Independent Game at The Game Awards 2015, and got an 8/10 from Gamespot and IGN.
Created by Lucas Pope, this Soviet themed fact checking simulator is as unique as it is unexpectedly fun to play.
Tetris is considered the most sold game of all time, and while it had been remade by many companies, the original was made by one person. Soviet Russian software engineer Alexey Pajitnov created it to test artificial intelligence computer hardware at the Soviet Academy of Sciences at Computer Center in Moscow in 1984. Arguably, Tetris is the most commercially successful of all the games made by one person.
Meridian: New World
New World is a full-fledged RTS designed by Ede Tarsoly. He did have some help with the cutscenes, GUI, modeling, and textures from freelancers. However, all the story, music, programming, and game design was done alone.
Love was made by indie developer Fred Wood in 2008. It was first released on the web, but also has a release for Steam and Nintendo Switch. It is a simple and minimalistic but frustratingly difficult platformer with DOS-style graphics.
Unturned is a Roblox-esque zombie survival game developed by Nelson Sexton, after a long beta phase it was fully released in 2017. Even while in early access it was one of the most popular free games on Steam, especially during 2014. The game also features multiplayer modes, for which it is most famous.
Banished is the result of a claimed 5,500 hours of work on the part of Luke Hodorowicz. Inspired by the game Anno, Banished is a city-building strategy game. It received good reviews and was released for PC in 2018, making it one of the newest games made by one person to make our list.
Lone Survivor is the brainchild of superflat games, a one-man studio run by Jasper Byrne. It is a side-scrolling survival horror game, that is as terrifying as it is charming. It received ratings at or above an eight out of ten by nearly every major reviewer.
Braid is a game made by Jonathan Blow to deconstruct current video game trends. It’s a unique puzzle-platformer that took only three years to complete, fully releasing in 2008 with artwork created by David Hellman. The game has received critical acclaim and is one of the most visually beautiful games made by one person.
Dust: An Elysian Tale
This action role-playing game was developed by Dean Dodrill (outside of the voice acting and soundtrack) and released in 2012. It was released on PC, Xbox, PS4, and iOS to highly favorable reviews.
Retro City Rampage
Retro City Rampage is a parody and homage to 80’s and 90’s video game culture: especially of the original Grand Theft Auto games. The game is a result of game programmer Brian Provinciano creating his own Nintendo Entertainment System development kit and remaking Grand Theft Auto III with 8-bit graphics in his free time. He worked mostly independently on the game, except for getting help on the artwork and the nearly two hours worth of music in the game.
Roller Coaster Tycoon
Roller Coaster Tycoon was built by Chris Sawyer, who hated roller coasters. As he built the game to overcome his fear he became obsessed with them. He wrote the game almost entirely in x86 assembly language (imagine making an entire house out of legos—it’s the only comparison I can think of) over two years, while the graphics were created by Simon Foster. It was released in 1999, and Sawyer made around $30 million in revenue.
Iconoclasts was developed by Joakim “Konjak” Sandberg. A puzzle combat platformer involving tools that have multiple functions. It was released in 2018 after eight years of development and was labeled as spectacular by critics after it’s release. Along with Banished, it is one of the newest games made by one person on this list.
Mattie Brice created Mainichi, where the player role plays day-to-day life of a transgender person, as an experiment in sharing a personal experience through a game system. The released game is freeware and was produced without writing code using RPG Maker VX and free community resources.
Carol Shaw, one of the first female game designers in the industry, created River Raid in 1982. It is a vertically scrolling shooter for Atari 8-bit (and other 8-bit consoles). It was considered the best Atari game of the year at the time of release. It used a unique system to create a large non-random map despite memory restrictions.
Spelunky was released in 2008 as an open-source game created by Derek Yu. It was released as freeware for Microsoft Windows. It is a fantastic 2D platformer about mining that received remakes and high critical acclaim.
Mable and the Wood
Andrew Stewart created this attractive 2D Metroidvania platformer. The gameplay is unique, charming, and difficult.
Knytt Underground was created by Nicklas Nygren and released in 2012. The game has two playable characters, nonlinear gameplay, multiple endings, and many secrets and side-quests.
Game design doesn’t have to be reserved for large companies or highly skilled programmers anymore. A career in game design can start with downloading an engine and reading some tutorials, or attending a coding boot camp.
Undertale was created in Gamemaker Studio. Gamemaker Studio is a popular and inexpensive game design engine that makes 2d games possible for small teams and individuals.
Making an AAA game alone would be incredibly difficult, as it takes hundreds of people to create an AAA game. However, Bright Memory is made by a single developer and is the closest game on this list to a AAA studio quality video game.
Stardw Valley was coded using C# and the Microsoft XNA framework.
The simple answer to this question is: yes! As this article shows, many high-quality games have been created by just one person.