The Air-Speed Velocity of Unladen Gaming
Independent Games Festival 2003
By Brad Wardell
This year I was once again one of the judges for the Independent
Games Festival. It's a really enjoyable experience as you get to
see some truly remarkable and imaginative games.
One things that most people don't realize about the IGF is that
judging focuses strongly on innovation. Innovation in design, innovation
in sound, innovation in visuals. So even if you cranked out the
world's best game, it may not necessarily win since innovation is
the key here.
This year's winners were:
Grand Prize: Wild
Innovation in Audio: Terraformers
Technical Excellence: Samurai
There were 10 finalists and I thought I'd go through and talk about
each of these excellent games and comment on what they did right
or wrong (at least in my view).
This was one of my favorite games. Essentially, as the name implies,
it's a combination of baseball and golf. A pitcher throws the ball
and you hit it and try to get it onto the green. It's fun and interesting.
From a design point of view, it was very innovative. It didn't focus
on sound and graphics that much (i.e. it's as good as any other
This is a massively multiplayer on-line game. I must confess I didn't
quite "get" this game, although it does have a considerable
following. But from an IGF point of view, it had a tough road since
there are other games similar to it. Also, its sound and graphics
are more along the lines of an enhanced MUD. But I recommend checking
it out and deciding for yourself.
This was one of the cleverest games I saw this year. It reminded
me of "You Don't Know Jack" but with stocks and markets.
If you haven't tried out this game, do so now. Pontifex 2 should
simply be called "Crack: The Game". It's evil because
it's so addictive. You load it up and it looks so unimpressive.
Sounds is almost non-existent. You build bridges and see if your
design works. Then 8 hours later you look up and realize this bastard
game has sucked you in. That night you can't sleep because you keep
dreaming of ways to solve that last bridge design problem. It won
the audience award for good reason. But again, from an IGF point
of view, it had steep hurdles since innovation in design is strong.
However, Pontifex 2 is a sequel.
Reiner Knizia's Samurai
This game won technical excellence which surprised me somewhat.
Not because it wasn't a good game -- of all the games, this was
one of the strongest -- but because it's based on an existing board
game. Nevertheless, it was still very enjoyable and addictive.
Strange Adventures in Infinite Space
This game was remarkably enjoyable. Imagine a game that combines
a bit of Star Control II and Master of Orion, but meant to be started
and finished over lunch.
Okay, I'll admit it: I liked this game the best from a fun/humor
point of view. You're a teen who lives in a white trash household.
Each day you go out and have to make money to pay for some problem
caused by your floozy mom's irresponsibility. The game would make
a pretty good arcade game. It reminds me of Paperboy in some ways,
but it's fully 3D. But the real fun, for me, was the ongoing story
of the teen as you uncover the smarmy back story about your mom
and her live in boyfriend and how she gets pregnant and so on.
This game won innovation in audio. It has features that helped sight
disabled people navigate the game world. It's essentially a 3D shooter
with a lot of good audio features.
This is the game I predicted would win and it did. That's because
it nailed all three categories quite well. First, it is an interesting
premise - you are a photographer for a nature TV show and you go
to various locations taking pictures of the wild life. Secondly,
it is visually stunning. It looks like an nVidia 3D demo or something,
except it has gameplay. Third, it has really good audio. Also, it's
just very well polished. Did I think this was "best" game?
Not necessarily. But again, IGF focuses on combining innovation
and fun together. Some may not agree, but that's what the organization
has always been about. I will say my kids love Wild Earth. It's
a game that anyone can play, it's just neat to look at, and it's
Last year these guys did Kung-Fu Chess, which was one of the best
games of 2002. Word Ninja is basically real-time Scrabble. There
are no turns; you put words down as fast as you can. It's immensely
enjoyable and obviously original. I would love to meet the developers
of these games and shake their hands. I strongly suggest anyone
who is into Scrabble to check this one out. Though we'll never hear
from you again...
Overall this year's titles were really good. Even better than last
year's, in my opinion. There were some games I wish could have made
it into the finals, games that I think would have made it into the
finals in other years. For instance one game called "Best Friends"
was particularly enjoyable. Last year it would have definitely made
it into the finals. But this year, with so much innovation, the
festival was so much more competitive.
To all ten finalists, congratulations. Even those who didn't win
this year have a lot to be proud of. Having played a lot of pre-finalist
games, I can say that competition was quite stiff.
Visit IGF's site to get links
to all the finalists.