The Independent Games Festival

Rory McDonnell

Being the judgemental old codger that I am, I find myself more and more turning my nose up at mainstream games. They just don’t do it for me anymore. It seems to me that a corner has been turned in the gaming industry. Where before games were lovingly assembled by a group of innovative coders, writers, and designers who took great pride and passion in their work to the present day, where all the aforementioned coders and designers have been replaced by a cookie cutter of a tall, burly man holding “the biggest gun”.

And who could blame them? If you had a choice of ensuring success without being innovative or being innovative with no certainty of success, which would you choose? Those of you who chose the latter are now my close, personal friends and I invite you to approach me at any stage and give me a big man-hug.

One can understand so, why the Independent Gaming Festival just so happens to be one of the many highlights of my incredibly complex yet enviable year. It’s nice to see the games I’ve so enjoyed get the recognition they deserve and even nicer to be introduced to some new games I can sink my fingers into. The IGF festival, now in it’s 13th year, gives independent game developers a stage to strut their stuff and battle it out for awards in audio, visual, and design categories, and the coveted Seumas McNally award (so named after a grand prize winner who died tragically in 2000 just weeks after winning). This year is particularly exciting for me as two of my favourite games are up for the McNally award; Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Minecraft.

I could talk in depth about all the contestants but my word count looms over me like a strict mistress and I dare not provoke her. Instead I will talk a little about the main contenders for the top spots.

The Dream Machine is a quirky point&click adventure game, similar in style the The Neverhood, in that it is made entirely using claymation and cardboard. The game follows a young couple who move into a new apartment.

In the market for a technical excellence award are my boys, Minecraft and Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Amnesia is a survival horror that should be sold with a free pair of underwear. It is incredibly scary, to the point where I don’t want to play it because it’s so nauseatingly freaky. The protagonist suffers from amnesia and finds himself lost in a seemingly derelict castle, struggling to piece his former life together. There is no combat, no method of defence other than running and hiding like a child – this game is the essence of survival horror.

Minecraft on the other hand is a bouncy, cuddly type of game where you gather resources and use these resources to build houses, castles, underwater biome spheres and giant tree houses in a world where creatures come out at night – seek and destroy style. You’ll need to keep your wits about you because you never know when you’ll be attacked by an exploding creeper or a skeleton archer riding on a spider. Alternatively you could just build a giant castle out of cacti on an island in the middle of a lava lake and never go outside … that would do the trick too.

Both Amnesia and Minecraft are up for the McNally award and the technical award with Minecraft in the running for the Design award and Amnesia up for an Audio award.

I hate to say it but I reckon Minecraft and Amnesia are gonna pretty much clean up this year. But there are a handful of games that are more than worth mentioning.

Super Crate Box is a Metroid meets Mario versus Donkey game that is incredibly addictive. Taking place on tiny, one screen levels, you control quirky looking Mr. Potato characters bombarded with an array of enemies who try to thwart you in your quest to collect the randomly generated boxes that appear around the screen. Each box contains a weapon with more and more weapons becoming available to you as you collect more boxes. The humble revolver, the shy, yet seductive laser rifle, and the massive man-appendage that is the mini gun, that literally blows you across the screen every time you use it. Each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses that you must use to your advantage. Hours, NAY! DAYS of fun from this one.

Another game I really enjoyed is Faraway. Brilliant for chilling out in your room after a long days study, this piece of indie gold puts you in control of a comet that you control by latching onto the groovitational pull of nearby stars and launching yourself into nebulae where you can create your own constellations join-the-dot style. Really chilled soundtrack and an interface that incorporates a whopping ONE BUTTONS! A really good game for the insomniacs among us.

Madame W.Count is stroking her whip so alas I must depart. If you want anymore information on the IGF you can check out their website where you can get links to the developers sites and download most of these games for free or at prices well within every ones means. The Independent Games Festival will take place from the Feb 28th – March 4th with the winners being announced in late March. In the mean time check out indiegames.com and show the indie game some love.

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