Our invitation to judge in the Independent Games Festival was withdrawn when we said we were submitting an entry ourselves. As it turns out, that was probably a smart move. Because when I had a look at each of the 301 entries in the festival, I couldn’t resist the urge to compare them with our own. And, frankly, FATALE beats them all, in every category. This is why I have only selected 4 games for each prize in the festival. The fifth game -and clear winner- of each category is our own FATALE. I’m sorry, I just can’t be objective about this.
I have based my selection on the information available on the IGF website, the game developers’ own websites, videos and screenshots. I have played demos and games when they were publicly available. But I must admit that some of my choices were based on very little data. So I reserve a margin of error. I could have missed a really great project. And I could have included a rather lousy one. Apologies ahead of time.
Apart from simply choosing the most interesting projects in each category, I have tried to limit the amount of overlap between the different categories. Which wasn’t always easy because interesting entries tend to be good in several categories simultaneously.
such as our own wonderful FATALE, for instance
Despite of the high quality of some, I have rejected games created by
DigiPen students because I don’t consider them serious contenders. The IGF has a separate competition for student work. I hope they use this category in the future.
Seumas McNally Grand Prize
Amnesia: The dark descent
I make no secret about the fact that the thing I like most about the games industry is
If I had to make an absolute judgment, I’d probably send each and every game in the IGF back to the drawing board (including our own amazing FATALE). Luckily I can suffice with a relative selection. So I have chosen games that give me hope for the future of the medium. Games that are ambitious, that try to explore interesting terrain and/or allow us to do so while playing.
Windosill brings back fond memories of computer-based entertainment’s early days, when an interactive piece could just be called a “CD Rom” instead of getting labeled “GAME”. I think we could do much worse than reconnect with that time and pick up what was so rudely interrupted: playful interaction without the need to compete or achieve. Fig. 8 is equally whimsical but more challenging. But its challenge reminds of the real-world challenge of trying to ride a bicycle as a child, so it feels a lot more natural than in most games. It’s also a wonderful illustration of how a videogame can simply be a journey. Amnesia: The dark descent is probably the most ambitious game in the festival. Its scope and aesthetic rival -and exceed- many of the productions in the commercial industry, even. This is the kind of game I would like to see more of on the independent scene: uncompromising exploration of the narrative potential of high tech. Trauma re-invents the idea of an interactive movie in a spectacular and exciting way. It combines an intuitive and beautiful control system with an intimate engaging story (expressed by means of superb voice acting).
Excellence In Visual Art
A New Zero
I was pleasantly surprised by the care that independent developers are starting to put in the aesthetic presentation of their games. The “faux amateur” style seems to no longer be a badge of honour. Good riddance, too. Because there’s a lot of work to be done.
I was also glad to see that, next to some excellent examples of traditional 3D aesthetics, several developers are starting to explore real-time 3D aesthetics in an experimental way. In A New Zero all shapes are reduced to their bare minimum covered with a seductive colour palette, that can almost make you forget you’re playing a relatively banal war game. Doppelscope adds to its simplification of shapes a new kind of sensory experience that affects the entire environment and doesn’t shy away from a bit of glossy spectacle here and there. Many entries in this year’s festival feature silhouettes as their main graphical element. But aesthetically, Limbo, is the superior game of the entire lot. Saturated Dreamers surprised me. The characters that seem to carry the story are naive art at best, and actual typography has been carefully avoided, but the playing reveals an interesting generative canvas of unlikely combinations of shapes and colours. I like the aesthetic connection it suggests between computer-based geometry and walllpaper and textile patterns.
Excellence In Audio
microsia – molecular tunes
I was not very impressed with the sound in most entries this year. Sound still seems to be very much an afterthought for most independent developers. Which is a real shame, considering how powerful its effect can be on the player.
There’s a lot of music games out there. Many use the music to structure simple gameplay (last year’s audio category winner Audio Surf seems to have influenced a lot of designers) and others allow you to create some kind of music-like soundscape through interaction. Microsia stands out by successfully combining amusing interaction with actual composition. Broken Brothers didn’t fall into the tired trap of adding soft piano music to a war game but opted for a menacing oppressive soundtrack through minimal and almost humoristic means on top of melancholic music that actually helps you concentrate on your strategies of destruction rather than making you feel oh so bad about killing the enemy. Demonica‘s musical wall of sound is probably the most atmospheric entry in the festival. Doppelscope confronts electronic sounds with human interaction in analogy with how it expresses its theme of nature preservation through a very synthetic stylized look. Makes playing with computers feel hip again, without the need to resort to retro aesthetics.
Excellence in Design
Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!
I don’t think videogames need to be games as such. But for this category, I selected videogames that I find well designed as games in the strict sense of the word. The fact that two of them are dressed up as space conquest games only illustrates how irrelevant story and meaning are when it comes to pure game design. Both Galcon and Constellation are wonderfully simple-yet-complex systems that are fascinating to interact with. Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! does have a story. Quite an extensive one, even. But it feels so much like a board game that I couldn’t resist putting it in this category. Windosill is probably the only game I selected for this category that is undisputedly at home on the computer. And in an irresistibly charming way at that. Games this playful are too rare.
hell is other people
A Slow Year
I’m considering this category as the place for art works. Not necessarily “art games” but simply artistic pieces that use game concepts or technology. Lose/Lose reminds me a lot of the some of the net.art of the 90s we used to be involved in, especially the work of Jodi. I may not be the world’s greatest fan of modern art, but I like seeing it become part of independent game development. If only because game distribution would offer media artists an alternative venue for showing their work. A venue that is more appropriate for the digital medium, in my opinion. The other games are more interesting as experiences, rather than simple conceptual statements. There’s something very melancholic about playing with people who have been playing before you but are not at the moment (hell is other people). Wait may be ugly but it has a very inspiring game mechanic (which is rare in indie games). And A Slow Year simply appeals to me because of its references to traditional painting and the link that it makes between nature and machines.
Heroes of Newerth
Amnesia: The dark descent
All videogames are small miracles. Contrary to popular belief, computer hardware is still incredibly slow, unwieldy and inaccessible. But of all software that one can make with a computer, real-time 3D games must be the most complicated and technically impressive. There’s a tendency on the independent developers scene to look down on 3D games. But I think that’s just a self defense reflex that should not impair our judgment.