Building a PC for Indie Gaming

One of the best parts of the indie gaming scene is that it’s full of great games that are often less demanding (performance-wise) than AAA titles. This allows gamers on a tight budget to still have an awesome experience without endless budgeting and saving up beforehand.

In this guide, we look at what it takes to build a PC for playing popular indie games!

The Ever-growing Indie Gaming Scene

If I briefly think back to the 90’s, indie gaming was one of those things you didn’t see much about. Consoles were king, and that typically meant only games from medium-sized or large-sized studios saw wide availability. Small-team-produced titles and indie games were more rare, less profitable, and usually relegated to small spaces in your favourite gaming magazines.

Thankfully, for us and for the developers, the internet became far more widespread! Slowly but surely, digital distribution (especially through Steam and Xbox Live Arcade) opened up everyone to a big wide world of indie gaming. Early hits like Cave Story—and later creative puzzlers like Aquaria, Braid, and Limbo—legitimized indie development as a path toward smallscale, focused success. As a result, there are more and more choices for gamers. This has benefited all gamers, but especially those on a tighter budget who still want an awesome experience.

Hollow Knight – be a bug among bugs, and fight to determine the fate of bugland!

An Indie Gaming Shortlist

To create a build that will play a whole host of indie games, we need some specifications. Which means we’re going to have to pick some games that we want the build to play!

Here’s our shortlist for games we checked before deciding on a build:

  • Super Meat Boy – Acclaimed for its precise controls, this game is designed to really test your reflexes; yet will it test your PC?
  • Stardew Valley – Building up a farm that you inherited from your grandfather, what’s not to like? An immersive, laid-back experience for easy-going players—or a test of social and agricultural optimization for the min-maxers.
  • Hotline Miami – For both Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2. Great top-down shooters which come with a surprisingly intricate story and a famously groovy soundtrack.
  • Terraria – Wait, the 2D side-scrolling version of Minecraft?! Ah, my sweet summer child. There’s a good reason why this is one of the top 20 games on Steam every day in terms of concurrent players, nearly a decade after it first released. Whether you’re looking for a creative building game or a co-op RPG, you really should give it a go!
  • Papers, Please – Glory to Arstotzka! A slower-paced game that is equal parts political intrigue and spot-the-difference puzzle; it’s an absolute classic, practically in a genre of its own.
  • Firewatch – Praised for its phenomenal voice acting work, and for good reason! We’re putting this game here thanks to its wonderful environmental graphics, too.

We could go on and on, as there are great indie games being created all the time: Hollow Knight, Bastion, FTL, The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, Shovel Knight, Enter the Gungeon, Spacechem, VVVVVV, Downwell, Risk of Rain, Dustforce, Undertale, Factorio, Into the Breach, Nuclear Throne, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. However, the selection in the list above gives us enough variation in graphics and genres to serve as a reasonable benchmark sample.

Now, you may be wondering why these games have been picked and not games like Minecraft or Ark (or even big studio games that are ***technically*** indie due to being self-published, such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and CS:GO). Well, it’s partially because a game like Ark is a huge outlier with much higher performance needs than the vast majority of indie games. But it’s also because we already have in-depth guides for each of those games specifically, which you can see by clicking on their names in this paragraph. We’ll still be looking at being able to play some of those games too, just not going super deep into exact specification requirements!

Firewatch – a narrative game with a focus on mystery

The Specification Similarities

There are a few things which stand out when looking through the specifications of all these games. First, they are almost all CPU-bound. Your GPU and RAM aren’t super critical, so long as they match up with the CPU. Which is great, as it means only one expensive component!

Now, I did say almost all were CPU-bound. The big exception, at least in our list, is Firewatch. Thanks to its fancy 3D environments, it is very much GPU-bound. Although a GT 1030 will still just about get you 30 FPS at 1080p on ultra settings, we’ll still end up going for something a little bit better to get us to 60 FPS; this should map well to users wanting a machine that can guarantee solid performance in just about any given indie game. This all means that (just to make it fiddly) we’re going to need a dual-core CPU with a decent entry-level dedicated GPU, all while making sure that the system remains balanced.

GAME CPU GPU RAM
Super Meat Boy 1.4 GHz or faster (single core) Any with Pixel Shader 3.0, Vertex Shader 3.0 1GB
Stardew Valley 2.0 GHz (single core) 256 mb video memory, shader model 3.0+ 2GB
Hotline Miami 1.4 GHz or faster (single core) DirectX 8-compatible, at least 32MB memory 1GB
Terraria 3.0 GHz (dual core) 256mb Video Memory, capable of Shader Model 2.0+ 4GB
Papers, Please 1.5 GHz Core2Duo (dual core) OpenGL 1.4 or better 2GB
Firewatch 2.0 GHz Intel i3 (dual core) NVIDIA GeForce 450 or higher with 1GB Memory 6GB

Again, we’ve picked Firewatch as a higher-end indie game graphically. As a result of this, it also uses more RAM too. Yet, if you knew that you weren’t going to play any game like that ever, then you could save yourself $90 on the build below and not buy a GPU at all. However, it is Terraria, with its procedurally generated sandbox nature, that ends up being a higher-end indie game computationally; that is, it actually has the highest CPU requirements of the group. As such, we’ve based the CPU requirements around it and gone from there.

Alright, the parameters for the PC are set. Now let’s get to the parts for our indie gaming build!

Nuclear Throne – be a mutant among mutants, and fight to determine the fate of mutantland!

The Indie Gaming PC Build

CPU: Intel Pentium Gold G5400

Who else forgot about these little things? The 2-core/4-thread baby of the Coffee Lake line-up has been (for the most part) overshadowed pretty quickly once you get to $100+

However, with it’s out-of-the-box 3.70 GHz base frequency, it does everything we need for the build. Yes, we could spend the extra $20-30 on a higher-performing CPU, yet we’re taking advantage of the single-core performance without any overclocking, which beats its more expensive counterparts.

GPU: MSI RX 560 AERO ITX 2G OC

Sitting under $100 comes “the little powerhouse that could” in the RX 560. This is one of the 1024 Stream Processors versions, as well as being an OC model. Again, we’re saving a good $40-50 over the more expensive GTX 1050 here, for only a small difference in performance.

RAM: G.SKILL Aegis 8GB DDR4 2133MHz

With not needing a pile of RAM for the system, we can happily go with this cheap 8GB stick, which still leaves us a slot in the motherboard if we want to upgrade further down the line.

HDD: Toshiba 1TB P300

With needing a little bit of storage for games, while keeping to a budget, we’ve gone for this excellently priced 1TB drive from Toshiba.

Motherboard: GIGABYTE H310M A 

An inexpensive motherboard that still has enough features for our build, especially as we’re not having to worry about overclocking. There’s some features (like an M.2 port) that we’re not using in this build, but there’s plenty of options if you ever want to upgrade in the future.

PSU: CORSAIR CX450M 450W 80 PLUS BRONZE

Our power needs for this system are low, so we can happily use a 450W PSU. This is a semi-modular power supply from Corsair, and it still has enough flexibility where we can save on build space by not using some cables.

Case: Fractal Design Core 1000 Black MATX Mini Tower

Although a simpler case, this Fractal Design shell still has nice internal design and is more than enough for our build.

Total Cost: $375

Although this will never set the world on fire, it has been designed to give us really nice 1080p 60 FPS gameplay in the various indie games we listed earlier—and many, many more.

There’s even enough room in the case and motherboard for expansion if desired, with possibilities ranging from doubling the RAM, adding a SATA or NVMe SSD, or even upgrading the CPU or GPU.

Generally speaking, although this is a build on a budget, there’s still plenty of potential, and it’s perfect for starting your indie PC gaming adventure!

Stardew Valley – for those who want the simple farmer life

Go Forth and Build!

Now before you go all bonkers spending every penny you have on these components, there are extras that you might need to finish off this indie gaming build:

  1. A copy of Windows. If you are a student or work for a big business, you might be able to get a copy for free or at a significantly lower cost. If not, we recommend Windows 10 on disc ($90) or USB ($120).
  2. An optical drive—critical if you are wanting to install Windows 10 via disc. Good thing here is DVD-RW drives are cheap these days (here’s one for $20).

We also have general recommendations for:

If you want to see other builds with higher performance, check out the main page at Logical Increments.

There you have it— a great compact build to get stuck into some indie gaming!

If you have any questions or suggestions about this build, then let us know in the comments.