This Wednesday, March 19th, the 16th Annual Independent Games Festival will take place at the San Francisco Moscone Convention Center, honoring the very best in independent game development. The creme de la creme are awarded $30,000 and the prestigious Seumas McNally Grand Prize. This year’s nominees are some of the best we’ve seen in a long time. Each one pushes the boundaries of what a video game can be, proving that games are so much more than FPS massacres or time-wasters: they are works of art. Check out the nominees below.
1. Device 6
Simogo’s Device 6 is one of the best apps to hit the iTunes store since…well, since the last game Simogo released. Mixing short story narrative form with noir elements and interactive, multimedia puzzles, Device 6 redefines what a good mobile game is. It takes full advantage of your phone or iPad’s capabilities, blending audio, screen manipulation, text, and image into a seamless gaming experience. Definitely give this bad boy a look.
2. Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!”
Another game in the noir vein, Dominique Pamplemousse is an eccentric point-and-click mystery adventure opera starring an androgynous claymation detective on the hunt for a missing pop star in a black-and-white cardboard dreamworld. And I’m fairly certain its about the economic recession. That’s about as close as I can get to characterizing it, but that’s the beauty of the game: it delights in subverting and defying your expectations. It’s all about showing us what games (and people) can be, and for that alone it deserves its nomination.
3. Don’t Starve
Before there was Rust or Starbound, there was Don’t Starve, an unsettling and amusing take on the survival genre. Despite its inviting animation style (picture across between a Tim Burton flick and an Edward Gorey illustration), Don’t Starve is anything but your friend. In fact, it doesn’t give two dimes if you starve or not. There are no tutorials, no goals, no breaks, and no apologies. If you die, you die. All of the hours you spent building up your new wild life will be lost. It’s that special sort of game that asks everything of its players and gives them one fantastic experience in return. If you’re a masochist or play Dark Souls, you’ll love Don’t Starve.
I think it’s important to start this off by pointing out just how funny this game is. Think about that for a moment. A game…that’s funny. There are definitely games that elicit a chuckle or two, but it’s a rare day when a game can make you belly laugh from start to finish. Jazzpunk is one of those exceptions. There were a couple of moments in this game when I was straight-up crying from laughter. It’s basically a collage of pulpy influences, cheap gags, and hilarious, tangential mini-games, all of which take place in a Cold War world after the Japanese win WWII. If you have any sense of humor whatsoever, you’ll give Jazzpunk a try.
5. Papers, Please
You go into this game thinking you’re a good person, a person with a pretty black-and-white understanding of right and wrong, and this game just shatters that into tiny, miserable pieces. You play as an immigration official, and the whole game consists of you navigating an endless list of cold, bureaucratic laws that dictate who can come in to Arstotzka, your great and glorious homeland. Each new immigrant presents you with a moral quandary that tests your ethical mettle in painful ways. After awhile, it becomes impossible to maintain a sunny disposition. You will turn away good people, people who need your help, and you won’t even care that you did. Want to understand the meaning of the phrase, “I was just following orders”? Then check out Papers, Please.
6. The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable has sparked an almost nauseating amount of debate since its release, and it’s easy to see why. Like Device 6 and Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable’s primary focus is narrative and how video games manipulate it. There are various endings, dozens of paths, and an endless number of choices to make. You play as Stanley, a bland, wallflower sort of guy, who has suddenly found his bleak office space completely empty. The only company you have is an acerbic (and genuinely funny) narrator who takes great pleasure in your confusion. I could tell you more, but that would ruin the fun. Just know this is one hell of a game.
Featured image via npr.org