The landscape of independent video games is vast and diverse. Without the restraints of studio oversight, indie creators have built some of the most unique experiences in gaming. While they may lack the budget of AAA titles, the teams behind their production pack plenty of heart and soul into every pixel. Most of these games are passion projects, and it shows in every tiny detail. Most people often forget that the first video games weren’t big-budget blockbusters, but small passion projects, often programmed in someone’s basement or garage. This legacy has carried on into modern gaming, creating some of the most beloved moments in modern gaming.
With the upcoming adaptation of Five Nights at Freddy’s by Blumhouse, there has been renewed attention given to indie studios and their IPs. Some of these experiences only work as a video game, with the player’s interaction with the virtual world being pivotal for the story to have an impact. Other stories, though, are perfect for the big screen. The following 15 indie games, some of the best and most popular on the market today, fall into that latter category. With the right director and creative team behind them, these games have the potential to make the leap from console or PC into the grander world of film.
Produced by Thunder Lotus Games, Jotun is the kind of over-the-top blockbuster story that Hollywood loves to make. The player takes control of Thora, a Viking warrior who died an inglorious death. In order to earn her place in Valhalla, Thora must travel the realms of the Norse gods to battle Jotun. These giant monstrosities represent the elements themselves and pose the greatest challenge of Thora’s afterlife. Nevertheless, she presses on, facing down five giants and a god in the course of her adventure.
Jotun gained much of its popularity from its gorgeous hand-drawn animation style and tough-as-nails battles, but many overlook the story. That is, because outside a few text boxes, Thora’s tale takes a backseat to the lightning-fast combat. Admittedly, the story isn’t that unique among those inspired by Norse mythology, but the potential is definitely there to tell a compelling, character-driven narrative about a woman attempting to earn her afterlife. Combine that with the chaotic set pieces in the battles with the Jotun, and you have a film that would fit right in alongside the films of the MCU and other mythological epics like Clash of the Titans.
One thing that is fairly consistent with indie games is their level of difficulty. Because they aren’t restricted by the expectations of a broader gaming audience, they can craft experiences that are more personal to certain groups of gamers. Hades is one of those games. A brutally difficult rogue-like, Hades follows Zagreus, the son of the titular god, as he attempts to escape his father’s realm in order to visit his mother, Persephone. Hades has set up several defenses to keep the residents of his realm imprisoned there, but with the help of the other Olympians, Zagreus takes the battle to his cruel father.
Supergiant Games created a masterpiece with Hades. With most rogue-likes, the story is overshadowed by the difficult gameplay, often left up to the player’s interpretation. Hades is very straightforward with its story, telling an interesting tale of familial love and abuse. Much like Jotun, the right director could turn Hades into a mythological powerhouse of a film. Whether animated using Supergiant’s gorgeous house style or made into a brutal, live-action adventure through the depths of Greek hell, this game needs its own movie.
Following two hyper-difficult, combat-focused games, Disco Elysium is a much calmer fare. A dense, choice-driven RPG, the story of Disco Elysium follows an amnesiac detective as he attempts to uncover the person behind a series of murders. Set in the science-fiction city of Elysium, the game is unlike many on this list. There is no real combat, just decisions and skill checks like those found in tabletop role-playing games. It is this calm, more introspective storytelling that has drawn fans into the game since it first released, and though players have a lot of reading ahead of them due to the dense lore, dialogue, and world-building, it is definitely worth the effort.
With the popularity of films like Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, we have seen what directors can do with dense role-playing games. Disco Elysium has all the makings of a great film already, taking plenty of cues from the detective noir genre and infusing it with a bit of Blade Runner flair. The game already has such a deep story and lore. The right creative team simply needs to translate it for a larger audience. Yes, telling the story of this game traditionally takes away how choice affects the story, but perhaps we explore a new area of Elysium or a new case. Even if they stick with the original story, though, there could be plenty of ways to play into the unreliability of the main character that would match the game’s original agency.
From a choice-driven, sci-fi detective story to a pixelated farming sim, Stardew Valley has become one of the most popular indie games ever made. The player character inherits a farm in the small town of Stardew Valley, a town that has fallen on hard times. By taking care of the farm, interacting with the townsfolk, gathering materials, and fighting monsters in the nearby caves, the player begins to help rebuild Stardew Valley into its former glory. Players can even get married and raise a family as they develop their farm.
Created solely by Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone, Stardew Valley is absolutely beloved by its fan base. Players return to it again and again to build new farms, new relationships, and to simply experience the beautiful world within the game. While a film about building a farm may not sound that interesting at first, a film about a newcomer helping to restore a small town and interacting with bright personalities is the plot of so many movies already. Barone’s town is so alive already, with plenty of drama, secrets, and wonder hidden around every corner, so the only issue a potential film would have is capturing the charm of the original game on the silver screen.
You can learn a lot about the premise of Hotline Miami from its original development name, Super Carnage. The game is a brutally violent arcade shooter set in 1989 Miami. The Russian Mob has taken over the city, and a mysterious group called “50 Blessings” attempts to stop their growth by hiring unwilling assassins. Their first is simply known as “Jacket,” who is sent on countless massacres into mob territory. The game is bloody, fast-paced, and manic, with the player racing around the map trying to take out the mob forces before they are killed themselves. Because in the world of Hotline Miami, one stray bullet is enough to take you down.
With the success of other hypermanic shoot-em-ups and assassin films like John Wick, The Punisher, and Kill Bill, Hotline Miami would fit perfectly into the modern movie market. The video game film could even dig deeper into the story behind “Jacket” and his personal life. Was he chosen by 50 Blessings for a specific reason, or was it simply a random chance? If it was the latter, why is he so willing to kill for this group? There is so much of the story that is unexplored due to the fact that gameplay takes the most focus. With the game’s cult following, a film adaptation would answer so many of these important questions and give fans the action-packed thrill ride they’ve always wanted.
Indie games have a penchant for exploring dark themes and horrifying events, and these elements make up the heart of Darkest Dungeon. The game puts the player in the role of the inheritor of an old estate. The previous owner, an ancestor of the player character, sought great knowledge in the dungeons beneath the manor, and in so doing, he released terrible monstrosities upon the land. Now, with the aid of hired adventurers, the player must put their life and sanity on the line as they attempt to rid the world of this ancient evil. Your heroes will die, lose their minds, and leave the battlefield scarred, but it is all worth it in order to stop the evil your ancestor released.
It’s in the name, but Darkest Dungeon is probably the darkest game on this list. Not only is it reflected in the gritty comic book art style, but in the many Lovecraftian themes at play. While film typically struggles with adapting Lovecraft’s work, namely the elements of loneliness and slow descent into madness, Darkest Dungeon could fix all that. It is an action RPG game, meaning that these warriors are facing that slow descent while fighting literal monstrosities. This would give filmmakers the chance to infuse the story with thrilling battles with creatively designed creatures, while also exploring the depths of madness these warriors have to experience.
The indie gaming scene is perfect for dense, rich storytelling, and 2016’s Inside is considered one of the best. However, much of this story is shrouded in mystery. The player controls a nameless young boy as he breaks into a futuristic compound. While there, he stumbles across several bizarre experiments and legions of people seemingly under mind control. The boy must evade the compound’s security guards and machines in order to reach the game’s mysterious ending. There are many debates as to the meaning behind this ending, but it and the game as a whole have gone down in gaming history.
Inside is a brilliant work of meta-fiction, exploring character agency and control while also acting as a semi-horror experience. There are no jump scares, but the main boy is defenseless against every threat in this world. This creates a compelling story as the player must use every trick at their disposal to puzzle their way through the experience. Viewers love films with incredibly clever characters. Simply look at the success of the Home Alone franchise. Inside follows a character whose only weapon against the threats before him is his mind. Not only that, but the chance to deeply explore the mysteries of this world in a film is something that will draw many fans in.
Indie survival games are a dime a dozen these days, but Subnautica stands out above the rest. Set on a distant planet, the player takes control of Ryley Robinson, the maintenance chief for the spaceship Aurora. While investigating the oceanic planet, a mysterious weapon destroys the Aurora, but Ryley escapes and crash lands on the planet’s surface. From there, he must find food, drinkable water, and a way to contact home. However, Ryley has more to fear than the local fauna, and as he discovers more and more of an alien culture, he must prepare for any eventuality.
Subnautica had a significant cult following during its long early access and beta testing phase, and that following only grew when developer Unknown Worlds Entertainment released the full game in 2018 and the sequel Below Zero in 2021. This following alone should draw the attention of film studios, as it almost guarantees box office success. The story of isolation and survival on an alien planet is incredibly compelling. Ryley isn’t the deepest character ever explored in gaming, but a film adaptation could do a better job exploring him and his interactions with the watery world. What matters here is the story of exploration, of discovery and facing the deadly odds. We have seen that work before, and it would work even better with this IP.
The world of indie gaming is full of several underrated horror gems that have redefined the genre. Among these, Little Nightmares is one of the best. Controlling Six, a young girl in a yellow rain jacket, players must navigate through a massive, sprawling ship in the middle of the ocean. Six is not alone, though, as massive, grotesquely mutated humans chase her through the halls of the ship. The story of Little Nightmares is largely unclear, told mostly through environmental details left to the player’s interpretation. What is clear, though, is that Six must do everything in her power to survive.
Adapting Little Nightmares to film is a no-brainer. Six’s story is already so compelling and horrifying that the right script could propel this indie gem into a film masterpiece. The film would definitely have to be more grounded, and focused more on exploring this terrifying world and understanding its denizens. What happened to these people? What caused their mutations? More importantly, why are they capturing children? Fans have poured over every detail of these games, piecing the story together for themselves. Given how compelling the game already is, a film would be slated for success.
Even among indie games, Papers, Please is one of a kind. The game puts players in the shoes of a border officer for the fictional country of Arstotzka. Every day, the player is responsible for checking the identification and immigration papers of those trying to enter the country, and every day, the rules for what is acceptable change. Arstotzka is very clearly based on the Soviet Union, so during the course of gameplay, players will have to interact with corrupt government officials, political extremists, and terrorists seeking to destroy the country and rebuild it from the ground up.
On the surface, Papers, Please is a very simple game. Point and click on IDs, check that the information is correct, and accept or deny the person attempting to cross the border. At the heart of the game lies a story of political corruption and rebellion, one that plays out slowly and takes player choices into consideration. A film focused on this story has a ton of potential already. It might be boring to just watch a man sitting in a cubicle checking papers all day, but a director can focus the story around the real person behind the desk. Even if their political opinion is never fully voiced, seeing them dealing with both sides of the debate could be fascinating.
One genre that has cropped up on the indie scene is the lovingly dubbed “walking simulator.” These games are meant as slow, somber experiences that allow the player to experience a world and emotions in ways that feel surprisingly realistic. The controlled characters aren’t action heroes, just everyday people trying to solve an issue. Such is the case with Gone Home. Gone Home follows Katie Greenbriar as she returns home from time overseas to an empty house. As players explore the house and find journal entries from Katie’s missing sister Sarah, they learn that the Greenbriar family has begun fraying at the seams.
Gone Home surprised many players. The cover art and marketing make this game look like the next great horror title, and for the first few hours, every dark shadow in the house is unsettling. You expect a monster behind every corner, but the real horrors of the story are much closer to home. The story deals with a young girl coming out to her parents, about a failing marriage and the difficulties of losing that sense of home. The unsettling atmosphere never leaves, just shifting into a new form. While Gone Home may only work as a walking simulator, the story itself is so compelling. A film could explore more of Sarah’s story to heighten that sense of drama. No matter the direction, though, a Gone Home adaptation needs to happen.
There is no doubt that you have heard of Rocket League. The game that combined sci-fi car racing and soccer has taken the gaming world by storm. Even players that aren’t sports fans flock to Rocket League due to its fast-paced gameplay and creative mechanics. With the game’s massive popularity, though, many will be surprised to learn that it is an indie title. Developed by Psyonix, the game was self-published on the PlayStation Network after years of development. This just goes to show that a small team, with the right skills and passion, can create a legacy just as massive as any AAA title.
While Rocket League has no real story behind it, it is a science-fiction sports game. This would allow for a number of interesting storylines if the right creative team was at the helm. A film could explore the deeper aspects of this game’s futuristic world, the explosive action of a tournament, or even just the rise of an unknown star in the racing circuit. There are plenty of options for a Rocket League story, all pulled from the extensive history of sports films. However, the futuristic visuals and unique world-building would help a Rocket League film stand out far above the rest.
Return of the Obra Dinn
The visuals of Return of the Obra Dinn aren’t the only compelling element of this game. The story takes place in 1807. Players take control of a Chief Inspector for the East India Company who is investigating the strange disappearance of the Obra Dinn ship five years earlier and the sudden reappearance of the ship with the entire crew dead. As the Chief Inspector, players have access to a magical stopwatch that allows them to witness the exact moment and cause of death for each body on board. Using pure logic and this magical ability, players must discern the names of each of the crew members and what exactly happened on board this ship.
While there are many aspects of this game that wouldn’t necessarily translate well to film, Return of the Obra Dinn is one of the most compelling experiences in modern gaming. Perhaps the film takes notes from Christopher Nolan’s Memento, telling the story in reverse. Filmmakers could expand the powers of the Memento Mortem stopwatch, allowing a Hercules Poirot-type investigator to see full glimpses of the past. There are many possibilities for this type of film, but the conclusion is clear: we need a Return of the Obra Dinn movie. Hollywood, make it happen.
Spiritfarer is so much more than it appears. It isn’t just a side-scrolling platformer or a resource management sim. It’s a deep, calm, sobering experience that focuses in on themes of death and the afterlife. Gamers play as Stella, the newest Spiritfarer to take to the high seas and ferry souls to the other side. Along the way, Stella encounters many familiar faces in unfamiliar forms. The spirits of loved ones past take on animal forms, and with her newfound magical abilities, Stella must help them come to terms with their lives and deaths in what is one of the most emotionally charged stories in video games.
To be completely candid, it may not be possible to adapt Spiritfarer into a film. Much of the emotional impact from the story comes from the dense interpersonal relationships that the player builds with each of the spirits they encounter. These relationships develop within the hours of gameplay, and condensing that down to a feature-length film would be incredibly difficult. This one might be better served to become a television series. Either way, though, this incredible story needs to be passed along, and the right studio could make this an epic adventure.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
It is time to talk about one of the biggest indie games ever produced. Amnesia: The Dark Descent released in 2010, and since that initial release, it has earned incredibly positive reviews across the board and spawned three equally beloved sequels. Frictional Games stumbled onto a horror masterpiece with this series. Players take control of Daniel as he explores the dark and mysterious Brennenburg Castle, but there are more than cobwebs in the dark, shadowy recesses of its hallways. Monsters stalk the halls, and if Daniel wants to discover the secrets of the castle and regain his memories, he will have to manage his sanity.
One of the best Lovecraftian-inspired video games of all time, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is perfect for the big screen. The game’s emphasis on sight and sound over gameplay would translate incredibly well to film. Daniel is incredibly clunky to control on purpose. He is meant to feel defenseless. An adaptation of the game could be a terrifying experience, especially as Daniel’s sanity wanes, and he begins to see hallucinations. More than that, the plot line of Daniel and his struggle to navigate the castle as well as his own failing memory is incredibly interesting, leading to some of the most shocking revelations in gaming. A film would simply make them more accessible to a larger audience.