Our Favorite Indie Game Projects From GMTK Game Jam 2023

The life of the indie game developer is a tough one. It’s an existence that is haunted by missing lines of code, usually hampered by a lack of regular sleep, and the pressure of an entire project resting on your shoulders.

It’s not an enviable position, but the end product after all these hardships tends to be worth the strain, because, as regular IGC readers will know, indie games are able to do something that AAA games just can’t do — provide passion-led, eclectic, and unique experiences without the influences of corporate figureheads and marketing executives. This is a process that usually takes years, all to produce one single game. But what if you could produce an eye-catching indie over the course of a single weekend?

Well, for those unaware of what a Game Jam is, this is a format where incredible game devs come together and effectively speedrun development to create concepts for games based around a particular theme, and of all those game jams, it doesn’t get much bigger than the GMTK (Game Maker’s Tool Kit) Game Jam. This jam has been the birthplace of concepts that would grow to become some truly groundbreaking indie titles. Plus, it’s a ton of fun.

Every year thousands of applicants submit their work, and this is rated and ranked by the community based on enjoyment, creativity, and presentation. But with so many to choose from, it’s hard to know which projects are actually worth your time. So I aim to help solve that conundrum. Without further delay, here are Our Favorite Projects From GMTK Game Jam 2023!

What’s The Theme?

An important thing to know before you jump into this list is the theme of the jam. Each jam gives developers a prompt, and in GMTKGJ 2023, the prompt was ‘Role Reversal.’

Obviously, this can be interpreted any way that you choose, as is the nature of the competition, but generally, this led to concepts that put you in the shoes of a character or entity you wouldn’t normally play as.

Our Selection Criteria

Before we showcase what GMTK Game Jam 2023 had to offer, I need to run through some admin. You may be wondering what sort of criteria I’m using to mercilessly cull the thousands of entries into a neat handful representing the best in class. Well, these are the factors that helped me create this list:

  • We will be taking the competition’s creativity, enjoyment, and presentation scores into account, but this won’t just be a note-for-note list of the highest scorers.
  • We will only be considering concepts that we feel could be realistically nurtured into a fully-fledged release
  • We will only include the best example of certain types of games, as there is some overlap
  • Relevance to the theme will be considered

Okay, enough talk. Let’s scout for the indie game breakthroughs of the future together!

#1 – Bricker Breaks Free

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Angry Armadillo Games

Overall Score: 4.569

Genre: Bullet Hell

We begin with a game that flips the script on the old Brick Breaker games of old. You know the ones. The evolution of Pong, where you volley a little ball to clear the screen of bricks. Well, what if those bricks were sentient and decided enough was enough?

This is the concept of Bricker Breaks Free that sees you tasked with avoiding innumerable balls, and maintaining your brick count to clear a stage. You can fire bricks to take out enemies, but it all depends on how many you have left, because when they’re gone, it’s over. So clever, so fun, and I would love a full version.

A great alternative to this from GMTK 2023 was Arkannoyed

#2 – UVSU

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Dietzribi, Mothense

Overall Score: 4.552

Genre: Puzzle/Shooter

Puzzles are usually you versus enemies, or you versus the environment. However, what if the hurdle in your way was you? UVSU has you complete simple platforming/combat sections where you must control angels that need to exit the stage, and demons that must stop the angel from doing so.

The game layers these events, and the goal here is to avoid the bullets you fired as the demon and clear the stage with the angel. It’s all about timing, pre-planning, and platforming prowess. I could easily see this one being fleshed out into a full game.

Oh, and it’s from the makers of Toodee and Topdee, which perhaps goes some ways to explaining why it’s so damn clever.

#3 – Ragdolf

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Weenter Makes Games

Overall Score: 4.259

Genre: Puzzle Platformer

What happens when you swing a golf club and hit a ball? The ball usually goes flying, right? Well, in Ragdolf, connecting with a golf ball sends you flying instead, allowing you to ragdoll across levels and eventually get to the hole at the end of the stage.

All the principles of a golf game remain, such as controlling the power of your swing, aiming carefully, and trying to complete the stage in as few strokes as possible. However, the unique variable here is while in the air, you can swing your club again and control your flight to the end goal. I’ve never been much of a fan of golf, but if I got to soar through the air like this, I could definitely see myself getting on board.

A great alternative to this one from GMTK Game Jam 2023 would be Arrowhead.

#4 – My Daily Decapitation

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Jenceslav, Hesik, Lioh

Overall Score: 4.518

Genre: Puzzle Platformer

Killing enemies and chopping off their heads is a lot of fun, but have you ever stopped to think about what happens to them after you wander away after satisfying your bloodlust? Well, My Daily Decapitation shows the process of how these fodder enemies are patched back together and sent back out into the fray to be slaughtered again.

This puzzle platformer has you use the environment to help a Skeleton’s skull navigate the underworld and reattach itself to its headless body. Whether it has the legs to be a full game is perhaps a little questionable in its current form, but I could definitely see this tweaked to be a very enjoyable puzzle title.

#5 – The Last Piece Standing 

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Sandroleon, Deuspanda

Overall Score: 4.489

Genre: Chess/Puzzle

This one is going to alienate a few, because if you don’t know the rules of chess, then this one is probably not for you. However, if you know how to play the oldest game on earth, then you’ll probably appreciate this flip of the script.

Usually, the aim of the game is to protect your king at all costs, using more capable pieces to do so. However, in The Last Piece Standing, you play as the king and must stop all other pieces from getting to your side of the board.

It’s a format that’s a little like Checkers, but also serves as a pretty traditional level-based puzzle game, starting slow but building into a real test of your chess mastery. As I said, it’s limited by the fact that it’s a pretty niche concept, but for those who love Chess, this is a potential indie smash hit.

#6 – Ledgepainter

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Charlie Wagner, Adrien Dautel

Overall Score: 4.449

Genre: Puzzle, Automation

If you have played an action-adventure game that even partially involves climbing, then you will be all too aware of the trope that slathers yellow paint over ledges to indicate to players, ‘hey, you can climb this!’ Well, Ledge Painter takes this concept and marries it with the process of game testing, putting you in the shoes of a tester that must ensure the AI can navigate the path from start to finish in each stage.

It’s essentially a puzzle game version of the testing that has been going on for years at OpenAI, but unlike that testing, it’s hands-on, and it’s fun to play around with. It’s a window into the world of gaming AI, and it’s well worth checking out.

#7 – Chambered Fate – Be The Bullet

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Strange Ape Games

Overall Score: 4.435

Genre: FPS/ Puzzle

In Max Payne, we had Bullet Time, The movie ‘Wanted’ showed us how to bend the bullet, and now Chambered Fate asks us to literally be the bullet. This title has you fire yourself out of the barrel of a gun and guide the bullet through a stage, taking out targets in as few shots as possible.

You’ll have to shoot open doors, use explosive barrels to conserve ammo, and generally be capable of making every bullet count. It’s FPS action, meets puzzle, meets golf in a lot of ways, and it also looks staggeringly good for a game that was created in 48 hours. In short, you need to try this!

#8 – Sneakerdoodle

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Pulni, Lithimlin, Katamarang Art, Andrground, Nikkar, VexenD, MokeyMokeyKing, Aviv Youker Harel, Jenny Schukin

Overall Score: 4.293

Genre: Puzzle/Stealth

We have been trained as gamers to avoid cones of detection at all cost, unless we want to throw stealth to one side and go guns akimbo. However, in Sneakerdoodle, you play as a dog that runs around each stage, triggering all of these cones of detection, but ultimately avoiding being caught, as they need maximum pets and love. Seems pretty accurate.

This leads to frantically circling stages to attract everyone, or planning routes under tables and around furniture meticulously to guarantee optimum belly rubs. It’s a delight, trust me.

#9 – Rollstation

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Arthur740210, Angelwang945, Markchen0819

Overall Score: 4.424

Genre: Rhythm

Easily my favorite of the bunch, not only because it looks staggeringly good and offers a pumper of a backing track, but also because it’s so damn clever. The ‘Role Reversal’ in this game is that you must repeatedly switch between mouse movement controls and WASD controls, which I will admit is a pretty weak interpretation of the theme. However, in terms of quality and enjoyment, the game is an absolute joy.

The player must rotate their dial to line up with the beats on screen, akin to the likes of Synthriders or Beat Saber, and while its a much more simplistic take on those high-concept VR titles, you can’t deny, it’s a powerful and trippy couple minutes.

#10 – Magnetism Rally

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Mokadevs

Overall Score: 4.395

Genre: Narrative-Driven/ Point and Click

As someone that absolutely loves simple Point and Click games like When The Past Was Around and Behind The Frame, I am always excited when developers find a new way to put a spin on the antiquated point-and-click genre, and Magnetism Rally is certainly in that bracket.

This game sees you play as a dog as you accompany your owner on a date. A date they are ill-equipped for, and you must do all you can to guide them through it. You must solve simple puzzles that have you bark to stop her from talking nonsense, or wrestle items from their bag to help the pair find common ground.

It’s only a smattering of what could be a much more fleshed-out premise, but from what I’ve seen, I would 100% be keen for more!

11 – Descriptionary

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Fingerclap, TofuPeach, Hahcheu

Overall Score: 4.363

Genre: Puzzle

If you have been to a forced and awkward family gathering, then you undoubtedly know what Pictionary is. This is a game where you are given a topic and have to draw what’s on the card, while the other party guesses what you are depicting on the page. Through games like Drawful, we have seen group gaming formats where this works a treat, but what about a single-player experience where the game tells you what to draw, and you guess what it is?

Descriptionary uses themed instructions that have you gradually create a drawing on screen, and then, when you have carried all of these out, you must then solve the puzzle by stating what you have just drawn. It’s essentially a puzzle game where you craft your own solution. Plus, you don’t need to be a mercurial artist, just someone who can follow step-by-step instructions. It’s Pictionary without the entire family criticizing you for relying on stickmen too much, and I, for one, am all for that!

#12 – Pause To Play

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Rhett Pilcher

Overall Score: 4.310

Genre: Puzzle Platformer

Ah, the pause menu. A safe haven in the heat of battle. A means of stopping the action to go stretch your legs to make a sandwich. It’s a handy function, but it rarely offers any sort of benefit to the player in-game. That all changes in Pause to Play, where the pause menu is your primary tool to solve puzzles and clear stages.

You’ll be able to use the textboxes from the pause menu as platforms, and you’ll be able to use the options menu to make use of gravity, zoom, and time sliding bars to help you navigate each level. It’s meta, it’s clever, and it’s a concept that could easily be made into a complete title.

#13 – Licence To Heal

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: The Strange Melon

Overall Score: 4.222

Genre: Puzzle

When a gun goes bang, you can be pretty sure that whoever was in the firing line is probably bleeding on the floor. If that wasn’t the case, then Call of Duty wouldn’t be quite as high-grossing; I can assure you of that. However, that doesn’t mean taking this aspect of gunplay away can’t lead to an interesting game. In License to Heal, you play as a gun that must use recoil to navigate a grid stage, and must fire bullets to break projectiles, and, get this, heal people.

To complete the stage, you must heal all the fallen folks lying around and reach the end of the stage without running out of bullets. It’s simple, it’s intuitive, and it’s a fun take on the theme of Role Reversal. What more could you ask for?

#14 – I Overscoped

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: NitramiuZ

Overall Score: 4.608

Genre: Puzzle platformer

Want things to get really meta? Well, what about a game that sees you play an unfinished Game Jam entry where you must code the game and create the assets for yourself with the help of pixel art? It sounds like a lot of work, but through excellent design and an injection of humor, I Overscoped proves to be a fun, quick way to build your own 2D platformer from scratch.

The coding puzzles are very clever, the implementation of create-your-own asset sections gives the player autonomy over their own experience, and overall, this is a game that could easily be tweaked into a fourth-wall-breaking, satirical look at life as a game developer.

#15 – Firehose

Screenshot by Callum Marshall

Developer: Grobaworks

Overall Score: 4.486

Genre: Arcade

Then lastly, we finish up with a game that takes a leaf out of the old high-score chasing arcade games from the eighties. In this title you play as a fireman who must navigate a city in your firetruck and use your fire hose to set fire to everything. That’s right; it’s a literal fire hose. There’s your twist.

You’ll need to burn down buildings to collect gems, you’ll need to pick up fuel to recharge your fire hose, and you’ll be able to pick up powerups like speed boosts too. Where’s the challenge, you ask?

Well, you’ll be tethered to your firetruck thanks to your hose, so you’ll effectively have to navigate the city like a dog on a leash.

It has that ‘one more play’ feel that an arcade game should have, and it’s a joy to play. Also, if you want a fun GMTK 2023 alternative, then check out Walkies.

Honorable Mentions

Whether it’s a game that had a much better game that went for a similar central theme, a game that was just slightly below the standard of those listed above, or a game that I personally didn’t like but can see the appeal of, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve at least a small mention. So here is the rest of the rest that you should also check out:

The Future Generation

There you have it, a look into the future at what concepts could possibly serve as the seed that grows into the biggest indie title of the year. They won’t all turn out that way, but usually, a handful of games from this Jam do become fully-formed indie hits, so watch this space. I hope that you enjoyed our selection from this huge list. However, if you want to check out the full range of projects, then be sure to head over to Itch.Io now and take a gander at the rest! As always, thank you for reading Indie Game Culture!

FAQ Section

#1 – How Many Entries Were There?

There were a staggering 6,738 entries for The Game Maker’s Tool Kit Game Jam 2023, all of which were completed in the space of just 48 hours.

#2 – What Was The Theme Last Year?

The theme was ‘Roll of the dice’, which saw developers create interesting titles that centered around random acts of fate and chance. Top submissions that year include Randomancer, Fire and Dice, Holomancy, and many more. Check them out here

#3 – Can Anyone Partake in GMTK Jam?

Yes, this is a completely open competition, and while active, experienced developers are encouraged to partake, there are plenty of budding newbies who try their hand too.

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