The Inaugural Horace Awards For Forgotten IGF Entrants

By John Walker on January 8th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

The IGF 2013 finalists were announced yesterday, with many worthy nominees up for the trophies. But as a judge in the first round of voting, I spotted a bunch of games I’m disappointed to not see get further. Disappointed, and with my own website. So to fix this, I’ve pulled together the inaugural Horace Award For Forgotten IGF Entrants. The winners are below.

The real reason for doing this is to highlight some of the other games you’ll either want to pick up now, or keep an eye on in the future, since they won’t be getting the PR push from the awards. Obviously I didn’t play all seventy billion entrants – in fact, only a few. But ho boy, I came across some great looking stuff. It’s very frustrating to know there must be so much more good stuff in there I’ve not encountered, but I am but one man. Technically, we’re not really supposed to write about the games based on IGF versions, but these are not reviews in any sense. This is my highlighting aspects of the games that I feel made them nomination-worthy. And I suspect the people featured below won’t mind too much.

The Horace Award For Crazy Good Graphic Design: CradleFlying Cafe for Semianimals

Not yet complete, Cradle is a first-person adventure carries echoes of Outcast (it’s hard to defend that claim, but there’s something about the atmosphere), combined with Penumbra’s methods of interaction. Some early puzzles have you create a recipe from items hidden around the area. Or instead you can just walk out of the weird dome house you begin in and just charge off into the vast, sprawling world around it. And it’s just utterly stunning to be in. This is some of the smartest aesthetic design I’ve seen – incredible, technologically peculiar structures stretch across the landscape, while amazing architecture creates tantalising buildings, infuriatingly fenced off from access. It’s a world I just want to be in, and found myself content to head on a twenty minute walk across the fields to see if the distant mountains could be reached. They could. And then, oh gosh, the robot girl in the starting building – a genuinely beautiful creation.

The Horace Award For Just Being A Brilliant Idea: Against The WallMichael Consoli

Adam has already raved about Against The Wall, back in May 2012. I can well see why. Just like him, on my first go I was instantly hooked, despite the apparent lack of purpose beyond simply wanting to get higher. You have a vast, some say infinite, wall in front of you. Each brick can be clicked on to cause it to protrude from the wall as a horizontal column and, if low enough, be jumped up on. With the bricks being different sizes, this creates the challenge of trying to seek routes that let you ascend as you pull it out and push it back in (fnarr). But then what is already a great idea gets better as you realise this wall contains various biomes, different aspects to explore. And then the bricks start to take on new properties, and the challenge increases, and you realise all you want to do is climb climb climb climb climb. How this missed a nomination I cannot fathom, and you can see why for yourself via the free alpha. And then vote for it on Greenlight. And pre-order here.

The Horace Award For Looking Absolutely Brill: ApotheonAlien Trap

Bewildered, I am. How can this most strikingly handsome of games not have received at least a graphics nom? The 2D side-scrolling ARPG is ceaselessly stunning to look at, and that’s before you even start enjoying its remarkably involved combat. Its Grecian urn-like design is flawlessly presented, accompanied by some really lovely music. Lovely enough to leave playing in the background as I write this.

The Horace Award For Not Being Ignored For Being A Year Old Because It’s Brilliant: DustforceHitbox Team

Oh, cruel passing of time, you are a murderous mistress. It’s odd how large a part timing can play in the IGFs. An incomplete game can receive hefty nominations for exciting potential, while a completed and released game from earlier in the year can be entirely overlooked. It’s sheer insanity that Dustforce wasn’t given votes from every woman, man and sentient robot on the judging panel. We reviewed it in January of 2012, meaning it had almost an entire year to fade from people’s memories. And of course it was also entered into last year’s competition too, which can often hurt a game’s chances, but even then only received an honourable mention in Visual Art – just damned bizarre. Buy it, play it.

The Horace Award For Actually Advancing Science: FolditUniversity of Washington

Foldit may well be a few years old now, but that doesn’t change its merit in receiving a very deserved IGF nomination. In fact, at last year’s GDC it was a game that kept being mentioned in lectures I attended. It really is the flagship game for the concept of using crowds to solve complex problems. Where once ideas like SETI had used people’s computers’ downtime to achieve greater computation, Foldit used people’s uptime. It actively involved non-scientists and scientists in a united front, depicting the complicated process of protein folding in the form of a score-driven game. Where computer modelling failed, humans having fun succeeded, and the understanding of this area of science was advanced by years in a few weeks. In 2011, in three weeks, players were able to solve the shape of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus. Good grief, what more could be asked for for a technical excellence award?

The Horace Award For Being Great Despite Not Looking Massively Distinct: GatewaysSmudged Cat Games

I’ve previously ordered strict instructions that everyone should play Gateways. It’s a 2D, side-scrolling pixelly platformer, and I fear it’s that simplistic presentation that meant too many failed to recognise the game within when voting. Its combination of so many puzzle ideas, not least Portal, creates a remarkably taxing challenge, and indeed a remarkably taxing endeavour for its sole developer to balance it all. But balance it he does, and that’s why this is so deserving of merit. Your brain can certainly end up hurting when you’re time travelling five different versions of your character on screen at once, then trying to resize yourself with size-shifting portals, but think about the brain that thinks it all up. And buy it. And give him an award.

The Horace Award For Also Being Ignored Despite Having The Cleverest Puzzles: 1000 AmpsBrandon Brizzi

The two indie games I most vociferously championed this year were Gateways and this one, 1000 Amps. Brizzi’s deceptively simple-looking puzzle game hides an elaborate, deeply involving Metroidvania-esque set of challenges, involving the magic of illumination. It’s tough, but it’s always worth it, and recently it’s been updated to not run in Flash, which should encourage those put off by the awkward window. It’s on Steam and therefore you should get it.

The Horace Award For Including Too Much Weeing To Qualify Probably: McPixelSos

On what kind of God forsaken planet can McPixel – bloody MCPIXEL – not receive epic love from an independent games festival? I’ll tell you on what kind: THIS ONE. A game that involves the complete abandoning on logic, including a logic based on the abandoning of logic, and mostly weeing on stuff, deserves a damned prize. If the Nuovo award hadn’t mostly become the, “Coo, This Isn’t A Platform Game Award”, it’s the sort of place you’d hope to see this micro-gaming festival of laughing appear. Perhaps not everyone understands the sophisticated nature of pissing on stuff like I do. That’s probably it.

The Horace Award For Being Really Pretty And Sad: Pinstripe – Atmos Games

No website for this one, which is aiming to be finished by March-ish. It’s a side-scrolling adventure game, telling a sad, sad story. I shan’t give any of it away, and the playable portion entered is by no means the whole thing. But understand that there’s a sad tone to it all. And a dog talks to you. Also, there’s jumping, physics, and a blunderbuss, all within some wonderful spindly animation with absolutely perfect music. So surprised not to see this getting recognition, especially with the late addition of a narrative award.

As I say, there will be many, many others amongst the 587 entries, but obviously I can’t play them all. I will, however, gladly receive tip-offs from anyone suggesting those that also deserve a pretend Horace trophy, including if you’re the developer of said game.

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52 Comments »

  1. seagaia says:

    I’ve got a tip for a game I’m the developer of – Anodyne! http://www.anodynegame.com/ IGF Entry here – http://www.igf.com/php-bin/entry2013.php?id=178 . (We also have pre-orders open for $7 – game is out soon!)

    It’s a 2D game with Zelda-like mechanics that creates the atmosphere of a dream world using 16-bit artistic and musical aesthetics. We decided to take the mechanics from Zelda – room-based design, no free-roaming cameras, reduce the items to a minimum and see if we could use those in conjunction with the aesthetics and story in order to express some ideas we had (which are aspects I think set it apart from other games of the like).

    • hatseflats says:

      I don’t mean to be harsh, but how does that separate your game from the thousands of other 16/8bit arcade action/adventure games?

      In general I think there are too many good indie games that have too little added value. The result is disappointing sales for the developers and a lack of refreshing new games for gamers. I can’t wait till some of the indie developers make enough money to develop more extensive games.

      • seagaia says:

        Edited to explain why. For one, there aren’t a lot of indie games that stick to trying to look at level design mechanics with the Link’s Awakening style (http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=29536.0, where you design within a small room (in this case, 10 by 10 tiles) – we also try something slightly different with the item mechanics, and we try to design the game world and aesthetics in a meaningful way. Those are things I think set Anodyne apart, though I would say that it isn’t super innovative in the design department, it does try to accomplish those other goals.

        • AraxisHT says:

          It looks horribly generic, like something out of the RPGmaker forums.

          • f1x says:

            No need to be so harsh with the guy,

            be harsh with the bots instead :D

          • Doghaus says:

            Seriously, what the hell?

            Anodyne has been previewed on RPS before, and Adam Smith had nothing but positive things to say about it.

            It seems like there’s this adolescent trend on RPS of the more negative you can be about something, the cooler you are, I’m really sick of it. Did you bother playing the demo, or reading any of the write ups? Or just look at the screen shot and make the first smart arse comment that came into your head?

            This guy’s put a lot of work into this, and there’s a difference between offering criticism and just being rude.

        • kidfarthing says:

          I think it looks wicked.

          Congrats on the impending accolade of having seen a project through – from concept to completion.

          That’s not easy and, regardless of the other stuff, an achievement in itself!

      • PopeRatzo says:

        Not only are there too many side-scrolling 8-bit looking retro games (apparently, the number of middle-aged gamers trying to connect with days of their dewy youth when games pretty much sucked is near infinite), but there are too many indie games whose only redeeming property is that they are indie games (for some, it appears to be enough).

        OK, we’ve seen games that look like Commodore 64 games. But let’s not forget that the reason we bought our first SVGA computer games is because Commodore 64 games looked like ass. And now 2 out of every 3 games looks like a Commodore 64 game by design. My C64 still plays Impossible Mission. You can run Impossible Mission in an emulator if you really need it that much. (Oh, and the new XCom is way better than the original, so there).

        Nostalgia is poison for art. We’ve lost entire decades to nostalgia. Let’s not lose this decade, OK? More and more indie studios that should be innovating are skating by.

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          Hodge says:

          You must really hate Twine, then.

        • Doghaus says:

          Absolute garbage.

          There is certainly a place for games with a retro aesthetic, and a lot of these developers aren’t “indie studios,” they’re a guy or a couple of guys making a labour of love in their spare time. Simple or pixellated graphics are popular because it allows people to take on larger or more ambitious projects with limited resources.

          Maybe retro-looking games aren’t for you, great, that doesn’t mean all games should look like Battlefield 3 and to suggest that games with pixellated graphics are poisoning creativity is stupid.

          And the new XCom, good as it is, is not as good as the original.

  2. USER47 says:

    The “weird dome house” in Cradle is called a yurt:). The game takes place in the middle of Mongolian desert, if I remember correctly.

    • baby snot says:

      I’m getting a yurt! A friend had his washed away by floodwaters. Lesson learned = don’t build yurt on floodplain.

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      Rikard Peterson says:

      A yoghurt dessert? Yes, it does look interesting. I hope RPS will cover it when it’s done (or I’ll forget about it).

    • caddyB says:

      Random fact, yurt means homeland in Turkish. Because they used to live in them or something, I guess.

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      LTK says:

      I’d almost forgotten about that game, but it looked so good! From the screenshot, I immediately thought “Hey! Is that the game with the yurt?”

    • povu says:

      They have those things in Morrowind.

    • John Walker says:

      Gosh, I didn’t realise yurts could get that fancy and still be yurts.

    • Jad says:

      Pendantry: if the game is set in Mongolia, then it would be more correctly referred to as a “ger” (гэр), as “yurt” is a Turkic word. The more you know!

  3. Zeewolf says:

    I was also surprised and disappointed that Cradle didn’t even get a honorary mention. Esp. considering the serious difficulties the devs are facing, they could have really needed some good news now.

    • Sleepymatt says:

      I’m a bit surprised that I’ve never heard of Cradle before… searching RPS gives only a single article on it by craig nearly a year ago.. where’s John been hiding this one all this time??

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      felisc says:

      good to hear about the game again! that rps post one year ago got me all excited about cradle, then i forgot about it, and when miasmata released it just reminded me of it… so yay!

  4. kyrieee says:

    Apotheon does indeed look pretty

  5. baby snot says:

    Is Pinstripe aiming to finish for March-ish for PC?… because I was under the impression it was iOS.

    Disappointingly many entrants that look great turned out to be for mobile. I have no interest in mobile. I came across a few interesting games and notgames. About to try As Slow As Possible.

  6. pakoito says:

    Iconoclasts ;___;

    • Felixader says:

      Oh yeah, Iconoclast. Is that game still in the making? The last time i took a look at the website it looked rather dead, sadly.

  7. wu wei says:

    An incomplete game can receive hefty nominations for exciting potential, while a completed and released game from earlier in the year can be entirely overlooked.

    This has always been my problem with a lot of these awards, rewarding incomplete ideas that often never live up to their potential over ones that have successfully done so. The lack of inclusion of Gateways is especially sad; it’s not only conceptually brilliant, it’s technically amazing.

  8. Carachan1 says:

    This is a super great list. Props to boss.

  9. James Murff says:

    The Award for Most Unlucky Game Developer/Game – Konjak/The Iconoclasts.

    Seriously, he can’t seem to catch a break. No honorable mentions in the IGF, no mention in the very prestigious Horace Awards. Sad day.

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      Lambchops says:

      To be honest I’d thought that the Iconoclasts was cancelled, didn’t realise it had been brought back to life so I’m glad it has been mentioned here.

      If it does see the light of day then I imagine it will eventually crop up in the awards considering his last actually released game (Noitu Love 2) got deservedly nominated for the grand prize.

      I love his games I just wish he got them released more regularly (Noitu Love 2 was back in ’08) and didn’t abandon great concepts. I’m sure at one point Chalk 2 was supposed to be thing that was happening and Chalk was definitely a concept that deserved to be fully fleshed out as it was an absolutely excellent game.

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        Lars Westergren says:

        >To be honest I’d thought that the Iconoclasts was cancelled

        Joakim tweets regularly about development. Though last few days it seems he is deep into a love affair with Dark Souls.

        https://twitter.com/konjak/

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      Jackablade says:

      Didn’t Iconoclasts come out years ago? Assuming it’s the side scrolling platformy thing, I’d swear I’ve taken it for a spin already sometime in the foggy past.

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        Oozo says:

        I think what you remember is the Alpha version of the game, which could, in fact, be downloaded a good while ago. And it was a peculiar thing, at that: There was one point in that version where it just… ended. One level simply was not finished, you tried to walk somewhere, and the game threw you out without much ado.

        The peculiar thing is that up to that point, the game actually felt remarkably complete and smooth and never like something that lacked crucial features, assets or so on. I can see why you don’t even remember it being incomplete, then.

        (And it’s all the more strange that it’s still not finished. Anyway, looking forward to the actual release.)

  10. megalosaurus says:

    Red Rogue is awesome; I’ve been playing it all week. In fact, why am I here? I’m going to play it some more!

    Edit: oh yeah, in case it is not obvious, Red Rogue was on the IGF long list but was overlooked. I mean I’m not just posting here about random games or anything…

  11. noodlecake says:

    So the Seumas McNally Grand Prize is more than likely going to go to an already successful and profitable game… This didn’t used to be what these awards were about!

    • Terragot says:

      Yeah, where the hell is the nomination for Fez?

    • arccos says:

      That’s because indie games in general weren’t previously as popular or polished as most of them now.

      Do you really want to start disqualifying games because they are commercially successful? Games don’t have to be either popular or good; they can be both.

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    Lambchops says:

    “Cradle is a first-person adventure carries echoes of Outcast (it’s hard to defend that claim, but there’s something about the atmosphere)”

    If the game disappoints you’re going to have to defend it! Even loosely mentioning Outcast is enough to have me excited,

    Funnily enough two of the games mentioned here I don’t have much time for. I didn’t find McPixel particularly funny and while I liked the idea behind 1000 Amps I found the controls and navigation let it down terribly.

    Dustforce looks fun (and perhaps only hasn’t been bought because of my resolve to buy less games that I’m not going to complete) and Foldit is an admirable thing indeed (I can’t shake the feeling that the paper has been pitched really well and there’s a few more foibles than they let on but research scientist’s natural cynicism aside I still was mightily impressed by it and it is a really neat idea).

    The rest I haven’t heard of and will endeavour to have a look at/keep an eye on.

  13. Eldiran says:

    Did anyone else play Dustforce but not enjoy it? I kind of feel like I’m the only one. The overly heavy physics feel quite uncomfortable, and having all the useful actions (wallrun, etc) as context-sensitive (usable on trash only) is painful. That and having the only goal be perfect speedruns following 99% predefined routes killed the enjoyment for me.

    Am I just way too picky or something?

    • MondSemmel says:

      I love SMB and most puzzle platformers, but I didn’t enjoy Dustforce at all. I just couldn’t get to grips with the controls; the game never pulled me in like SMB still does. I think my main problem were the controls with four buttons in addition to WASD – and it wasn’t any better with a controller. I don’t understand people who enjoyed Dustforce more than SMB. That’s not meant as a disparaging comment; I just genuinely don’t understand.
      That said, the music is spectacular, and everybody should buy it. Google Lifeformed – Fastfall.

      Concerning the other games on the list, I loved 1000 Amps. Thanks a lot for bringing that game to my attention, John!

      • surreal_pistachio says:

        Personally, I loved it as much as Super Meat Boy! As challenging/fun and the graphics/music are even better in my opinion.

      • SubparFiddle says:

        I think the reason why many people didn’t care for Dustforce (compared to other precision platformers) is that movement has more weight to it. For example, when you press the jump button there is actually a frame of animation where the character bends his knees to prepare for the jump; it’s not just 1 to 1 where a press of the button equates to “Wheeeeee!!”.

        It’s kinda similar to Dark Souls in this regard. Player movement is a bit different from how most games feel and is more difficult to come to grips with, but once you get the hang of it it’s very intuitive and beautifully rewarding!

      • The First Door says:

        I really need to go back and try Dustforce because I feel I should love it, but I struggled with it for the same reasons: There were too many buttons! It just wasn’t fun to mess up a perfect run because you pressed the light attack rather than the heavy attack button at the end of the level.

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      AlwaysRight says:

      That is exactly how I felt about Dustforce at the start, but once I got used to the controls I found it much more rewarding than SMB.
      When you perfect moving around it really opens up new routes/techniques on levels, especially when using different characters. There are even hidden rooms with easter eggs and new music tracks.

      I totally understand why the controls can put people off though.

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    Lambchops says:

    So played the alpha of Against the Wall.

    It’s a weird one in that I can’t say I was enjoying myself particularly much (got as far as the windmill things) but did find myself intrigued as to what lay up there. I may perhaps be quicker to quit if I was sober right now but after a few pints it was kind of cathartic. John did mention it getting more challenging and there being changes. Can anyone who has played it further give a little hint as to what sort of things these are it would be nice to know whether this gets mechanically more interesting (in which case I’d stick with it for longer) or if it’s just the same but with prettier bricks (in which case I’ll probably not bother).

  15. McGibs says:

    McGibs here, artist for Apotheon.
    Just like to say, while I was pretty bummed out yesterday after reading the IGF nominations, seeing this today brought a big smile to my face.

    Thankyou!