The organizers of the Indie Cup Ukraine, a charitable online indie video game festival, have announced the winners of the 2023 edition. The jury voted Oberty, a puzzle game by solo developer Dmytro Denys, as the best game; Podoba Interactive’s Blessed Burden, a brutalistic adventure game, was voted best game by a small team without a publisher; and Hollow Home by Twigames, which follows a teenager in a city under Russian occupation, won in two nominations: Most Promising Game and Critics’ Choice. The Village Ukraine talked to the teams behind these games and asked Indie Cup organizers what they thought about the best indie games of 2023.

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The Indie Cup festival raised over 437,000 hryvnias [approximately US$11,500], with a tenth of that sum donated for the Through the Nightmares platformer. The money raised was used to buy a DJI Mavic 3T drone, gear for special operations forces on the Zaporizhzhia front, and four EcoFlow Delta Max charging stations for the mechanized battalion, command and control center, and an artillery reconnaissance unit of the 22nd Separate Mechanized Brigade, the brigade where Stas Shostak, an indie video game developer, is serving.

“This year’s major trend really surfaced last year: the desire to create fully Ukrainian projects and the rejection of everything associated with Russia. We’re now seeing a flourishing, a renaissance, and a new wave of Ukrainian independent games. And this year’s crop of games really shows that the trend is here to stay,” Indie Cup organizer Stepan Prokhorenko tells The Village Ukraine.

A total of 72 games were on the ballot for Indie Cup 2023; 26 were shortlisted by the jury. In terms of the number of participants, the festival is catching up with similar events in Germany, Canada, and the UK, and the jury includes experts from CD Projekt Red (The Witcher), Remedy Entertainment (Alan Wake), Creative Assembly, Red Beat, and others.

Over the course of almost three years of Russia’s full-scale invasion, a new crop of video games has appeared: these games try to process the war. Putinist Slayer, a rather humorous game, was released in 2022, and 2023 saw three new war-themed games: Hollow Home, Zero Losses, and Glory to the Heroes.

“Demand for games about Ukraine or the war comes primarily from developers. After February 24, many people found it important to talk about Ukraine; they started seeing themselves as representatives of Ukrainian art. But I think it’s not entirely right to say that the full-scale war directly affects the audience’s preferences. Video games always help people survive difficult situations. And anyway, people can tell the difference between Russian missiles and Call of Duty,” Prokhorenko says.

This year also saw a rise in popularity of games localized for Ukraine, Prokhorenko adds. All Indie Cup participants either have already released Ukrainian versions of their games or are currently developing them. Several high-profile, foreign-made games have also been released with Ukrainian localizations, such as Baldur’s Gate 3 (Game Awards 2023 Game of the Year), Alan Wake 2, and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty. Not everyone enjoyed the way the games were localized, but the fact that they chose Ukraine is still significant, Prokhorenko explains.

“Still, we realize that 2023 was a difficult year for Ukraine’s video game industry, and 2024 will be even harder,” Prokhorenko says.

Hollow Home

Hollow Home won the Most Promising Game and Critics' Choice awards at Indie Cup 2023. The game tells the story of a teenager trying to survive the Russian siege of his hometown.

It’s a narrative role-playing game; the protagonist has to learn new survival skills and make “tough decisions” to help other residents of the town. Hollow Home’s story was inspired by the 2022 siege of Mariupol: “Our game is a work of fiction, not a documentary. We tell the story of a fictional Ukrainian city occupied by the Russian forces early on in the full-scale invasion,” Twigames founder Valerii Minenko tells The Village Ukraine.

Minenko says that the plot of Hollow Homes is similar to the events that took place in Mariupol soon after 24 February 2022, but that the game never explicitly mentions Mariupol. “We discussed this. It’s one of our references, and we think that it’s a story we have to tell. But we’re not just drawing on the events in Mariupol, but also the experiences of our team members, especially during the first days of the full-scale invasion,” Minenko explains.

Hollow Home teaser

The game has no combat but is based instead on dialogue and a complex system of quests. “You won’t see scenes of violence: the game focuses on the fallout from the war, not the details of its gory unfolding,” the Hollow Home description reads.

The game takes place over the course of a day. The player has a limited number of “action points” that they can use to complete quests, but there is always a deliberate shortage of action points: the player is unable to complete every quest or is only able to complete them imperfectly. Since the game revolves around survival in war time, the player must face some “tough decisions”. This decision-making element also means that the game has several possible endings.

“The main idea behind the narrative is to show how civilians experience these events. The stories of the characters around you might be more important than the protagonist’s story. Both the characters and the city where the game is set are composite figures,” Twigames founder says.

The game references Disco Elysium, This War of Mine, and Valiant Hearts. “Hollow Home developers are relying on the structure of popular video games like Disco Elysium to tell the stories of Ukrainian cities destroyed by the Russians. This is an important mission,” Indie Cup says about the game. Hollow Home is expected to be released in 2025.

Blessed Burden and Back to Hearth

Blessed Burden

“I think Blessed Burden is my personal favorite. Its aesthetics is amazing, it looks like a live broadcast from a nightmare,” an Indie Cup organizer says. Blessed Burden is a retro-horror platformer game. The protagonist is a priest, the only survivor of a “religious apocalypse” searching for ways to bring the rest of the world back to life.

The game is first and foremost retro, and only then horror. “We only realized it was quite similar to Quake 2 later on. We’ve looked at a whole bunch of brutalist video games, like Quake and Doom, and then we introduced religious-gothic into this concrete brutalism,” Blessed Burden sound designer and Back to Hearth developer Ivan Turmenko tells The Village.

Blessed Burden teaser

“The events in Blessed Burden follow after an extensive religious war, which wipes out humanity. We are still discussing the plot. The devil will be one of the characters, you will be able to see his heads across the game’s levels. They will ask the player things like ‘What do you believe in? What to do when everything has been destroyed?’” the Blessed Burden developer says.

Making the soundtrack

The Blessed Burden soundtrack is all about the “balance of noise, music, and silence.” “We wanted it to be so quiet at times that the player would be able to hear their own footsteps. We wanted to create the atmosphere of complete solitude, except for the times when the devil speaks to you,” Turmenko says.

Some sounds for the game were recorded in situ, like the toll of church bells in Rakhiv; choral singing has yet to be recorded. Some real-life sounds were stylized to sound more “retro”.

“An apartment block is being built right next to my building: there are all these sounds of moving cranes and concrete mixers. I just rest my phone on my windowsill and press ‘Record’. The worse the quality of sound, the better for the retro effect. Then I use those sounds to create different noises: I make the recording two to four times slower and alter the pitch. Because the original sounds are not computer-generated, they contain lots of tiny nuances and details. It would’ve taken forever to make that on my computer,” Turmenko says.

Back to Hearth

November 2023 saw the announcement of another game by Podoba Interactive, Back to Hearth, in which the  player has to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy caused by “Evil”. The goal of the game is to repair every house in the village, and bring back their inhabitants.“Evil” is an allusion to the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, Back to Hearth developer Ivan Turmenko tells The Village Ukraine. “I only realized this after I had the idea. I wanted to create something plot-driven and research-heavy, and then I realized: it was literally about the occupation,” he explains.

Each house will require a unique approach: some have to have their windows fixed, others have faulty fences, others might require you to weed the garden. Each house has its own story. By the game’s end, all the different stories and plot lines come together.

The idea for Back to Hearth sprang up when a 3-D artist working on Blessed Burden, another game by the same studio, asked her colleagues to recommend games “where you don’t have to kill anyone,” Podoba Interactive says. “Ideally, we wanted to make something like Skyrim, minus the killing. Not taking strategy and racing games into account, there aren’t many video games where you can just quietly research something,” Turmenko says.

“I grew up in a small town, I know village life very well. We came up with ideas for all 10 buildings in half a day. That was our best-case scenario. So far, we have models for four buildings at various stages of completion,” Turmenko says. The Back to Hearth beta will be released on 5 February.



Oberty, from the Ukrainian for “revolutions”, is a minimalist puzzle developed by Dmytro Denys. The player has to shuffle and remix geometric shapes. Its simple premise didn’t prevent Oberty from winning the best game award at Indie Cup. “The puzzles have very elegant premises, which at first seem simple and then start to drive you crazy,” Indie Cup organizer Stepan Prokhorenko says.

Oberty trailer

Oberty is a hardcore puzzler-solver which requires you to complete each level before advancing. You can’t just pay your way through the game: “I didn’t want to promote the model where you tell the player that they have to pay, or else they lose,” Dmytro Denys tells The Village Ukraine.

If too many players fail to complete many of the levels, Denys might introduce a possibility of choosing the level you want to play at will. He is also planning to record himself completing every level and to release the video on YouTube to allow others to repeat the feat.

“Ivan Kovalov [another indie game developer - ed.] told me a great story. He’s made two very successful puzzle games,” Denys says. “A player reviewed one of them very negatively; he said that there was a terrible level that totally ruins the gameplay and rated the game very poorly. A couple days later, Kovalov found his comment edited: he changed the rating to a 5 and wrote: ‘Level completed’.” 

Initially, Oberty was only set to be available on iOS devices, but  has since been developed for Android and Steam as well. “This game was supposed to be just for me, but I’ve somehow ended up on the indie scene – including at the festival,” Denys says. He explains that the game was inspired by On the Dot, a card game where players have to rotate cards to align the dots on them to create a particular pattern. Denys borrowed patterns for Oberty from VOI, another indie video game developed in Turkey. His game will be released on February 7.