Dec. 20, 2010 at 8:13 PM ET
After a while, so much of video gaming can feel like the same-old-same-old. One first-person shooter looks like the next first-person shooter looks like the next first-person shooter.
If you're searching for games that truly bend and even break the standard gaming formulas, then all you need to do is look to the Independent Games Festival's newly announced list of finalists for the Nuovo Award.
From a game that lets you play as the subconscious of a man waiting for his date to arrive ("Dinner Date") to a documentary game that lets you play a cat living with the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1953 ("The Cat and the Coup"), these games do things that no other games have done before.
I mean really, since when have you ever played a first-person shooter that taught you principals of philosophy, psychology and geometry rather than how to execute an accurate head shot? That's what a game called "Hazard: The Journey of Life" is all about. And though it's still a work in progress, it is already one smart, unique and awesome trip.
For the past 12 years, the Independent Games Festival — which takes place at the annual Game Developer's Conference in the spring — has highlighted and rewarded the work of indie game developers around the world. These developers are often one- or two-person operations working on the shoe-stringiest of shoe-string budgets. (I was lucky enough to be asked to be a part of this year's IGF judging panel.)
Although these games have been made far outside the mainstream corporate pipeline, past IGF finalists and winners have gone on to be some of gaming's biggest hits. Among them: the time-manipulating Xbox/PC hit "Braid," the raucous Xbox/PS3 game "Castle Crashers" and the awesome Wii/PC physics puzzler "World of Goo" (a new version of which is now sitting near the top of the iPad charts). But perhaps the greatest IGF success story of all is that of student showcase finalist called "Narbacular Drop." Yeah, that tiny little indie game went on to become famed game "Portal."
The IGF gives awards in several categories: Excellence in Visual Art, Technical Excellence, Excellence in Design, Excellence in Audio, Best Mobile Game, Student Showcase Award and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. This is only the third year the IGF has included a Nuovo Award, an honor designed to reward games that are experimental, abstract, daring and utterly impossible to categorize.
On Monday, the eight Nuovo finalists were announced, and here they are, in the words of the developer's themselves:
Monobanda (Windows PC)
Bohm is the kind of game you want to play before you go to bed. A simple and pure experience. Bohm gives you control over the life of a tree. It's a game based on slow gameplay and the act of creation. A slow and Zen-like experience without goals or a clear explanation. As a player you will explore the level of control you have. Growing, creating branches, pushing your tree into strange shapes, and discovering how beautiful and rewarding these simple processes can be. Official Website
Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now (B.U.T.T.O.N.)
Copenhagen Game Collective (Windows PC)
B.U.T.T.O.N. is a one-button party game for 2-8 players. The game consists of short rounds. In each round, the game instructs players to put down their controllers and take several steps back away from the computer. Then, after displaying an additional direction designed to add some chaos (e.g. "Lie on the floor"), the game announces a micro-challenge (e.g. "Any player whose button is pressed loses"). In a race in physical space, players rush to the controllers to press the "right" button — be it their own or that of their opponents. Official Website
The Cat and the Coup
Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad (Windows PC and Mac)
The Cat and the Coup is a documentary game in which you play the cat of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. During the summer of 1953, the CIA engineered a coup to bring about his downfall. As a player, you coax Mossadegh back through significant events of his life by knocking objects off of shelves, scattering his papers, jumping on his lap and scratching him. Official Website
Stout Games (Windows PC)
You play as the subconsciousness of Julian Luxemburg, waiting for his date to arrive. You listen in on his thoughts while tapping the table, looking at the clock and eventually reluctantly starting to eat. Dinner Date is the portrait of Julian: from his desires and doubts to reflections on his friends and his place in the world. You are not merely witnessing - by interacting with Julian and his world you gain a clear vantage point on his life. Official Website
Hazard: The Journey of Life
Demruth (Windows PC)
Hazard: The Journey Of Life is a surreal exploration puzzle game, set within a non-Euclidean labyrinth of manipulable geometry. Explore a vibrant and deceptive world, where space can change and nothing is as it seems. With a philosophical narrative, Hazard is about appreciating the simple things in life: experiencing the wonder of discovery, learning through curiosity, and the unexpected nature of a world that we do not fully understand. Official Website (SEE VIDEO ABOVE)
A House in California
Cardboard Computer (Online, Windows, Mac, & Linux)
A House in California is a surreal, narrative game about four characters who bring a house to life. These four characters are based on relatives of mine (two grandmothers and two great-grandmothers). Within the game, the player guides the four characters to engage with environments and activities drawn from a combination of memory, research, poetry, and fantasy. Playable online and game download (free full version) available at the Official Website
Nicolai Troshinsky (Windows PC)
Manipulate a series of video clips in order to create a continuous movement. Game download (free full version) available at the Official Website
Messhof (Windows PC)
Nidhogg is a 2 player fencing game with football & platforming elements. Official Website
"Running the gamut from quiet reflections on both nature and ourselves, to raucous new-arcade experiences designed to entertain onlookers as much as the participants of the game, each finalist showcases the unconventional approach of the indie community to new forms of play," IGF chairman Brandon Boyer said in a statement.
The IGF will soon release a list of the finalists in other categories as well. The winners in each category will be named at the 13th Annual Independent Games Festival Awards ceremony taking place during GDC in February. The Nuovo Award winner will receive $5,000 – money that can be critical in helping a small developer get their work out to players.
For a list of all the nearly 400 indie games entered in this year's IGF competition, check out this link.
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