One of the biggest nights for indie gaming is about to hit when the curtains rise on the IndieCade 2012 Awards this Thursday hosted by Felicia Day. All of the developers from some of the best games you should be playing right now will be there in their finest attire. I will just be looking for the shirt with the fewest wrinkles.
This year, like every year, I try my hand at playing judge to some of the top awards being handed out Thursday night. And honestly, I’m terrible at this. Looking over the list of nominees this year, we have some major games that deserve more than one of these awards. I also have this nasty habit of spreading the love so no game gets more than one award.
The IndieCade Awards is one of the few nights where we all come out as winners. You get to play great games, indie developers get the recognition that they deserve, and I get to meet Felicia Day. Somehow I think Felicia loses on this deal.
And without further ado, here are my 110% accurate predictions for this year’s IndieCade 2012.
Award for Best In Visuals
Only a couple of blocks away from PAX Prime this year, you could find a gallery with some amazing video game inspired artwork from some of the greatest designers in gaming today. Each piece took on a different game with the artist bringing their own interpretation of the subject matter. Among the paintings and mixed media, there was one picture of Bontanicula. Oddly enough, it was just a screenshot from the game. But that’s the point. Take any moment of that game and you’ll find a work of art good enough for any wall.
With not real dialogue to speak of, Botanicula depends on visuals to tell the story of the heroic gang of tree creatures trying to save the life essence of their dying tree from the attacking invaders. The playful tone permeates every pixel of this little adventure as you run into both friends and foe alike. While it comes to no surprise since the same team behind the gorgeous Machinarium and Samorost series designed this game, believe me when I say that it’s a feast for the eyes that will only leave you hungry for more once you start playing it.
One part music video mixed with “what the hell is going on,” POP brilliantly mixes visuals with a kicking soundtrack that will keep you moving as each mini-game keeps you guessing what you need to accomplish. The cryptic beginning actually clues you in on the controls through TV clips and other cues, but most players will be too dazzled by the flashing lights and random pictures to even notice. From there you’re thrown into a space shuttle taking off, a car going way over the speed limit, or even a black screen that you need to fill with squares just to name a few of the sections you’ll experience. Once you finish, you can go back to any other the games to perfect your score or grove to the tunes.
As I mentioned before, it’s a game that keeps the visuals tied in close with the music. Your actions seem to fit the rhythm of music nearly perfectly and at times, it’s easy to get lost in the flow of music and action combining nearly seamlessly. Download the game today for collision of art meeting gaming.
Award for Best In Game Design
Indie games cover just about every genre that you can imagine and some that you never knew existed – except one. It’s rare to find a really good indie sports game. Maybe because the big dogs seem to have a lock on anything related to sports, it seems to be a subject most developers skip. Horka turns out to be that one exception by combining sports-like rules with a minimalistic design.
I actually played this one at the IndieCade E3 booth this year as was blown away by the simple design and how it so easily gave itself over to strategy. In teams of two pixels, your job is to move the ball into your colored area located at the opposite corners of the screen. With your one button, you can tap it repeatedly when you don’t have the ball to run or even tackle an opponent. Tap the button when you have the ball and you pass it. From there, you just figure it out with your partner, generally with lots of yelling involved.
There’s something beautiful about a well-designed puzzle. Splice almost has this angelic like quality about its design and the purity of the controls. In the beginning, it seems impossible to manipulate or solve some of these puzzles, but once you get into the right mindset, a zen that floats across the ethereal melody playing in the background, it all comes together in beautiful harmony. While it’s never stated what you’re manipulating in the game, there’s a scientific and almost biological feel behind the organism that you seem to move so easily with the move of your mouse. As you manipulate one part, the rest of the creature seems to come alive as the different segments react to your actions.
Award for Best In Technology
Every so often you come across something that makes you shout out, “Holy crap, I live in the future!”
Chroma Shuffle on the Sifeo cubes does just that by giving you a new way to play games in ways you’ve never thought possible. With three cubes no bigger than a couple of inches each, you can play a multitude of games by stacking them and connecting them in different ways. Chroma Shuffle, for instance, lets you play a little matching game with colored objects. Connect the like object and watch them disappear. What really works with Chroma Shuffle and the Sifeo system in general is combining the virtual world with the physical one through these little blocks. It’s not about pressing buttons but moving actual objects to accomplish your goals.
Asking someone out to prom is tough. It’s a game with no save points or saving throws. But Prom Week takes us back to those earlier times of teenage drama to let us relive the heartache all over again. No really, you’re going to do so much better this time.
You get to take on the role of one of a dozen or so students with only three days to ask that special someone or try to become the Prom King. Though you’re giving goals at the beginning, the game never forces you in a particular role or goal. If you’re really into making friends or turning everyone against the popular kid, that’s exactly what you can do. The technology that you’re not seeing behind the scenes is the computer muscle that it takes to figure out every little relationship and calculate how the slightest of changes can see ripples through the adolescent ecosphere. Like a real high school, Prom Week is a little playground of emotions running rampant and shifting at a moment’s notice. Alliances will rise and fall. New enemies will arise from the ashes of the fallen. Game of Thrones has nothing on this game.
Award for Best In Story/World Design
Based in the future but dipping into a culture that’s long passed, Analogue manages to create an engaging world mostly through text. While investigating an abandoned generation ship, you discover the data logs of the pervious owners and a wayward AI all too willing to help you in your investigation. As you start to dig through the digital past, you discover a culture that reflects the intensely patriarchal society of the Joseon Dynasty. Every log reveals another piece of the puzzle of life aboard this fated ship. Digging deeper into the past may prove challenging when your AI companion has her own ideas.
It comes to not surprise that Christine Love manages to deliver more characterization with a few lines and minimal animation than most games you’ll find on the store shelf. While at times, you might need a flow chart to remember all the characters and relationships within the game; Christine does a superb job breathing life into your AI companion as well as many of the characters you meet along the way. Analogue has a way through characterization and the slow but constant feed of information that draws you fully into the world that keeps a foot in the past and the future.
Sometimes you play games. This game plays with you.
The Stanley Parable puts you into the worn loafers of another office drone in this Half-Life mod. Something happens… and well… it’s really up to you. The narrator carries you through your day at the office, but you don’t have to follow his lead. As soon as you start moving off course, he’ll let you know with a couple of cutting remarks. It’s this brilliant exchange between the player and the game that shapes the final outcome. Explaining anymore than this would simply spoil the experience. Go. Play. Create your own story for a change.
Award for Best In Audio
When you’re a game that depends completely on sound, you better make sure that it’s amazing. Luckily for Blindside, they completely nailed the sounds of this seemingly foreign yet familiar environment. The audio walks you through a world of danger and a rather messy apartment. By using the sounds of the apartment -- a dripping faucet, the static of the TV, the hiss of a radiator – you’ll be able to navigate around the apartment by learning where everything is located in this sightless world. Simple controls move you around or turn your character when needed, but you’ll have to rely on the sounds in the world in order to survive.
And survive you must since this happens to be a horror game. The game starts out light but quickly turns dark, in more ways than one, once you get through the tutorial stages. Download the game and grab some headphones. You’ll need to concentrate on even the smallest sounds if you hope to survive this title.
If we learned anything from Hudson Hawk, it’s that you need rhythm in order to be a good crook. While this iOS game won’t have swinging on a star, Beat Sneak Bandit knows how to keep the beat while getting your hands on the loot. The world moves to a certain beat and it’s up to you to dance to their tune if you want to survive.
Gameplay is simple – collect all the clocks and don’t get caught. There’s a lot in this world to keep and eye on such as guards, security beams, and other such traps that will get your busted if you’re not paying attention. The 70’s mod-style and catchy music keeps you coming back even if you’re like me and don’t have any sort of rhythm to begin with. Very few games meld music and gameplay so perfectly into one fantastic ride.
Award for Best In Interaction
Ya heard me, right. Yamove looks to take the Dance Central craze up a notch with their cooperative/competitive dance game. With iOS devices strapped to your wrist, you’re looking to match your partner’s dance moves while at the same time trying to outdo the opposing team. What I love about Yamove is all the levels of play and interaction you need to take in account in order to win the game. There’s you the player shaking your groove thing or at least the iPhone in a way that makes sense. Then you have to keep track of your partner who will be following or leading this little virtual dance. Outside of all of this, there are two others in the same struggle as you trying their best to dance and match their moves. Technology meets dance, it was bound to happen.
Sometimes you don’t even need to leave your couch to interact with another person. In Super Space ____, you either work together or lose alone in this melding of co-op and all-for-one match up. You along with three other players are trying to score points by shooting random floating shapes that enter the arena. If you happen to be the last person to shoot the shape before it leaves the arena, you get the points. Of course, this means that other people will be gunning for your little shapes to steal the points. Things get a little more complicated when you find out that all four player-controlled turrets live on the same floating object in the middle of this arena. With each shot, you propel the team’s craft around the board, past dangerous objects, and work together to push blocks before getting crushed. Only one can win, but you’ll need everyone to survive.
Games need to grow up. That’s what I keep hearing from developers and gamers alike when it comes to the subjects beyond saving princesses or killing bosses. A Closed World does just that by putting you in a familiar genre but with an unfamiliar situation for many of us.
Mixed with the monsters and the battles lies a story about coming to terms with your sexuality. The real story has you coming to grips with your sexuality as your partner escapes into the woods. Facing the same persecution, you set off into the woods to find your partner as well as what’s on the other side. The monsters you face attack with accusations and vile words rather than clubs and magic. You’ll pick between such tools as logic and appealing to emotions to make your way through the monster-laden forest. A Closed World builds a world around an issue rather than tacking it on an already established gaming system. What you get in the end is something that feels closer to the issue and proves that the video game medium can deliver messages in ways no one else can.
Imagine playing a game with a dozen people; everyone trying to work together for the same goal. It’s not easy. You have to worry about communication, abilities, and the always pushy leader types. Now imagine instead of a dozen, you have dozens or perhaps even a theater full of people trying to work together for the common good. Renga is that sort of game where a whole crowd works together to accomplish what one cannot – surviving space. In this game, players use laser pointers to manipulate the world projected on the screen. Players will need to use the lights to harvest silos and protect their ship as they try defending themselves from invaders. If you ever found it hard to work with a small group of people, try coordinating 100 of them in a theater.
Grand Jury Award
How do I describe FTL without saying “awesome” twenty times?
Rouge-like exploration meets resource management in the dark inky space where no one can hear you scream, the story of FTL puts you on the run as you try to avoid the empire on your tail and the pirates right in front of you. One does not go into this world lightly since every choice comes with consequences that you don’t know about until it’s far too late. The 2D design makes it easy to manage the few rooms in your ship while attacking another vessel. Scrap doesn’t come easy in space since you’ll be using it to upgrade every system, repair your hull, buy fuel, and make sure that you’re stocked with enough missiles and men to take on the coming fleet. There’s no one strategy that will save you here and that’s just a part of brilliance of the game as you explore distress calls and other lands unknown. It’s a road that few other games dare to touch, but you’ll be rewarded if you decided to take it.
Few games ride the line between art and game quite like Dyad. Born of music and mechanics, Dyad sends you down the chute with balls of whizzing past you as you go farther down the technocolored rabbit hole. With your dual tentacles, you’ll grab at the ball of light through the ever changing rule set presented before every race. Sometimes you’ll need to match colors. Other times require you to brush up against each light to gain momentum as you race to the