The Average Gamer

Indie Rock: This Year’s IGF Finalists


I want to give an award to every single video game. I want to design categories in which every video game can be the winner because all video games are great just for existing. Some might say that undermines the efforts of the truly spectacular. I say: you win the award for best argument.

This year’s IGF Finalists were announced last week. The IGF, for people too cool and aloof to know, is the Independent Games Festival, where cool independent games get cool awards. Yay!

Now, here’s why each of the the grand finalists deserves, in their own way, to definitely win. Over to you, me:

DEVICE 6 (Simogo)

IGF entry page.
Official website.

If you scroll down the list of finalists very quickly you’ll see a blur of text and wish you’d not done it so fast, so on your second try go slow enough to read all of the words. You’ll notice that the wonderful Device 6 is present in every category as a finalist or runner-up. Rightfully so. Device 6 is great!

device_6_screen01It’s like reading an eBook that knows where you are on the page and provides feedback, but it’s a video game. It takes full advantage of being on iOS by responding to gestures you’re accustomed to using in order to control the game’s events.

Most of your interaction is puzzle solving, and they can be a little tedious (often relying on pure reading comprehension over actual mind-racking), but as an exercise of style over substance it’s unmissable. You can’t miss it. I won’t let you.

The Stanley Parable (Galactic Cafe)

IGF entry page.
Download the free demo.

In abstract, The Stanley Parable is a game about a man: but also about you. The titular “Stanley”’s actions are dictated by a disembodied voice rather than simply narrated. The player has the choice to obey or disobey at a number of branching paths, then deal with the consequences. But then, do they have a choice at all?

It mostly discusses the lie of shared authorship in digital spaces. Knowing that all paths in a game are already planned out by a designer means that the player doesn’t have much of a say on the game’s events. It also questions what we really achieve when we immerse ourselves in digital storytelling, while asking how much of modern game design is actually improving our experiences within the medium itself and even in our own lives.

Thankfully, it’s funny enough to carry all of this weight without coming across pompous.

Don’t Starve (Klei Entertainment)

IGF entry page.
Official website.

I love Don’t Starve’s title. I love Don’t Starve as a whole (and so does our editor Debbie), but the title’s what really grabs me. It displays such inevitability. It presents a single task, then the game’s mechanics makes your failure the absolute end-state. If the game goes on long enough, you’re bound to eventually die. You’re dropped into a hostile environment and you go about turning natural resources into tools and materials until you succumb to hunger, or die performing actions motivated by trying not to.

There’s no groundbreaking design here. [I disagree completely. I have never played game with such intricately connected systems and pacing before – Ed.] It’s following the trend of survival based construction games which is quickly becoming exhausted by every designer around, but this is unique at least in aesthetic. The tone is dire and depressing while the art style manages to be charming; it’s an Edward Gorey drawing that’s trying to kill you.

Jazzpunk (Necrophone Games)

IGF entry page.
Official website.

I don’t even know, dude. Jazzpunk’s entire “thing” seems to be an attempt to defy convention an expectation. Maybe this is the only game on the grand prize list that I’m unqualified to say much about other than “it looks like it might be really interesting and funny”. At first glance it evokes a lot of what Brendan Chung has done with Gravity Bone and 30 Flights Of Loving, but bigger and bolder.

Papers, Please (Lucas Pope)

IGF entry page.

Papers Please - Multiple NamesPapers Please should be boring. It’s a “checking documents simulator”. You man a border and see if people have made forgeries of passports. Doing the same thing over and over usually results in crushing tedium, but here there are stakes to your actions and a greater context. What if messing up while monotonously checking documents for errors means you don’t bring home enough money and your entire family might die from exposure? What if, in order to do what’s right, you have to break a few rules?

Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please creates justification for corruption. It forces you into a situation where you struggle to make ends meet for your family so do shady things in their best interest. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe they die because you’re so heavily committed to your sense of duty. Maybe your morals will be tested by your self-survival. Papers Please is a rare game about choice that doesn’t prescribe your actions as good or bad, it only allows you to make them.

Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!”

(Deirdra Kiai Productions)

IGF entry page.

Here’s a list of things I like:

  • Stop motion made from simple undisguised craft tools.
  • Pulpy detective fiction in black and white noir
  • Adventure Games
  • Cute singing voices

Dominique Pamplemousse doesn’t just want an award… it wants to win my heart.