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: Cradle - Flying 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 Wall - Michael 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: Apotheon - Alien 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: Dustforce - Hitbox 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: Foldit - University 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: Gateways - Smudged 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 Amps - Brandon 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: McPixel - Sos
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.