Like I was telling someone before the big IndieCade Awards, this year’s selection of games demonstrated an unprecedented amount of talent and creativity. Any one of these titles could easily take home any of these awards without anyone batting an eye. That doesn’t make me feel any better at getting every single prediction (as usual) completely and utterly wrong.
I sometimes wonder if they don’t wait until the night before to start switching games around just so I have to write the article explaining how wrong I really am. But, I will take my defeat in grace and will never shy away from any opportunity to talk about some great indie games.
Now without further ado, I present to you the award winning games of IndieCade 2012. If you haven’t played them yet, you’ll want to get your hands on them as soon as possible.
Grand Jury Award – Unmanned
It takes minutes to play, but Unmanned sticks with you for long after the credits roll. As a part of a two man team for an unarmed drone, you experience one day in the life of this man who’s tired of staring through the camera of a drone flying around the Middle East and keeping his finger on the trigger. The day starts off with you waking up from a terrible dream and ends with you counting sheep. Between it all, you go to work, deal with you attraction to your co-worker, the slow death of your marriage, your son’s ADHD, and the life of the man in your sites.
Just to keep your cortex working overtime, Unmanned splits the screen into two, with the right side often focusing on tasks such as driving or shaving and the left side asking you to make dialogue choices. For those of you already familiar with the whole left-brain/right-brain theories should already recognize that this little flash game is trying to keep both of your hemisphere’s busy as you try to follow the suspect from the air and flirt at the same time.
There’s a great line in the game where your character complains about never getting a real medal for doing his job. Your partner says that you should just give each other fake ones. After each section, you’ll receive a medal poor doing well in a certain task – even the one where you complain about not get real medals. Unmanned pushes you around to see if you’ll pull the trigger on a suspect, cheat on your wife, or let your son down. For all of fifteen minutes, you go through one hell of an emotional rollercoaster even when you’re flying high above it all.
Special Recognition - The Stanley Parable
Stanley was happy that night.
Without giving too much about the game away, The Stanley Parable follows the tradition of groundbreaking (narrative breaking?) mods coming from the Source Engine such as Dear Esther. Your days of as an office drone suddenly meet a turn for the weird as you explore the world outside your cubical. Every step, decision, and turn you make in this story meets the omnipresent narrator head on as he commentates on your choices. As you play with the mechanics, you’ll find that the game messes around with your expectations of a story what it really means to have freedom of choice in a game. Often in The Stanley Parable, you’ll find that the truth is often as illusive as the exit in this game.
Technology Award – Vornheim
Yes, a D&D manual won the technology award. He’s just as surprised as you are.
Vornheim calls itself “the complete city kit” for anyone looking to delve into their own D&D campaign but feel like they don’t quite have a handle on the urban environment. And the genius twist to all of this happens to be that with all the books on dungeons, very few people ever take the city life seriously. Between these pages, you’ll find charts for random encounters as well as little bits of information as well such as “The bartender's pet ferret is a polymorphed wizard. He doesn't know.” These little touches as well as some amazing art brings the city to life while not bringing you down with a turn-by-turn diagram of the town. Incorporating these features into your own adventures is easy. Even the dust cover quickly becomes a cheat sheet for the DM on the move.
With so many great ideas, amazing pictures, and the ease of use; Vornheim may be pushing the envelope in the way we approach D&D campaigns.
Interaction Award – Interference
You can’t blame me for not getting this one. Interference mixes one part art installation with one part game as players move wooden pegs in and out of holes in a thin metal sheet hanging for the ceiling. The object is simple, take over the most cells with your pegs. Each player stands facing each other through this sheet of metal designed with round shapes and places within each shape to place three to five pegs. As play begins, players take turns putting in a peg or moving an opponent’s peg in certain requirements have been reached. Play ends when you obtain the most cells. Here’s the catch – other people can take your pieces during the game.
As you play, other people are playing around you with their own games and using their own strategies. If they need a piece that they don’t have, they take it from another game. You therefore change someone else’s game without intending to do so. And with more and more people playing, others will take from other games and you’ll find this flow happening between games and through the game occurring. If you ever get a chance to play a game like this, do it.
Game Design Award - Armada d6
Keep it simple, stupid. Good game design shouldn’t keep you looking at the manual but should have enough depth where you feel like you bring something new to the game every time you play. While a good puzzle can exemplify purity in design and aesthetics – as my choices were this year – a little board game, Armada d6, with a couple of dice and a universe to explore took home the gold this year.
Part of the elegance comes from the ships themselves. Players use dice as their fleet. The number on top indicates everything from speed, power (the inverse of speed), colonization ability, and their special ability. Players work to place monuments on planets throughout the pre-made galaxy. Each planet has a number and you’ll need to match that total with your ships surrounding the floating body. Aggressive players get rewarded by attacking early and often, but lose out on building up their research that can be used to create technology put down any angry space dog. Armada d6 proves that some of the best games out there are still being playing on your tabletop.
Impact Award - Reality Ends Here
ARG? Card Game? Film Project? It’s all of that and more. Reality Ends Here started out as a project for USC freshmen looking to do something a little different. As the story goes, the Reality Committee will be keeping an eye on you and judging how you play the game. Players work in teams as they put together groups of cards that they receive in a packet. Cards combine to develop an idea that the students need to make happen either through film, animation, or game. Cards tell you what kind of story and what will appear in said story. Cards add points to your project, but make it more challenging with each additional item you need to include. You make it and send it in.
More than just the motto for the USC School, Reality Ends Here gave freshmen an education that extended far outside their classroom. Contestants got to meet special mentors and got their “missions” viewed by some of the top players in the business. For some it might look like a game, Reality Ends Here showed a handful of students the beginning of a wonderful life.
Story/World Design – Botanicula
This one is rather easy. Sweet, loveable, and with every click revealing a new surprise; Botanicula creates both a wonderful world where bees and twigs play in the universe and sets up a daring story of a group of unlikely heroes taking on a tree’s last hope of survival. If you haven’t played this delightful point-and-click adventure by now, go and be prepared to smile until the corners of your mouth feel as though they may never come down again.
As I mentioned before, there’s little in the way here of an actual language. Everything comes from the visuals and animation of the game to tell the story of these brave little adventurers.
Visual Design Award – Gorogoa
Go download the demo now. This isn’t a suggestion, but a demand. Gorogoa will probably take you longer to pronounce than to play through the demo, but you’ll be thrown into a world that’s utterly charming. The game consists of up to four and sometimes fewer panels that you’ll rearrange in order to solve a puzzle. But within each of these panels lies a deeper world of pastels to discover. If the story of a boy looking to unlock the secrets of a dragon doesn’t quite pull you in, the beautiful drawings and animation will keep you exploring just to find what’s around the next corner.
Honestly. Stop reading and start exploring the one game this year that’s equally beautiful as it is brilliant.
Audio Design Award – Dyad
I pegged Dyad for one of those Hollywood triple-threats – amazing sound, visuals, and gameplay. The cool synths wash over you as you coast down the seemingly endless tube with the back beat pushing you ever forward. Hit either the blue or orange nodes and you’ll pick up a quick tone that blends in the rest of the maddening electronic orchestra. Boosts will send the melody flying as you hurdle through the colors flying towards you. Just try listening to the sounds alone and you’ll even be able to pick up the differences between the nodes those tendril arms reach out to hook these little balls of light. While it may of only picked up an award for audio, Dyad is truly a feast for all the senses.