IGF 2003 Finalists

In just a matter of hours they’ll be announcing the finalists that will go on to compete at the 2003 Independent Games Festival at the Game Developers Conference this march. I’m actually nervous to see what gets picked.

On one hand i’m afraid that they’re going to pick mostly titles with $90,000+ budgets. But I’m also afraid that it’s going to be full of art house games that arent actually fun to play. Anyway, here are my picks for the games that I’d like to see go to the final round:

Alien Hominid (Ok, it’s just a sick fantasy to see a game this twisted make it to the show)
Chain Reaction
Devil Whiskey
Marble Blast
Strange Adventures in Infinite Space
Strength And Honour
Teenage Lawnmower

I’m not trying to be a dick here, but are there really such a thing of “art house” games at all, much less at the IGF? I’ve been to the GDC only three times, and each time there were some cool games (I first saw Sissyfight there), but the rest of them just looked like underbudgeted RTS or puzzle games.

The IGF always struck me as a “minor leagues” with gameplay almost identical to the big budget games. I don’t recall ever seeing anything that in any way subverted the cliches and norms of mainstream games. I didn’t notice too many with a political or social conscience either. I could be wrong, but the IGF never really impressed me as anything more than some talented people’s playable resumes to get into the industry.

Its weird, I was thinking the same thing…since the golden age of shareware came to an end, there really hasn’t been much of an “indie” game development scene, at least not outside the extreme niche markets. I think a good deal of this can be traced back to the ever increasing cost of development. In order to produce something somewhat competitive, you are going to need a decent amount of money, and once large sums of money come into the equation, you (or your financiers) are not as likely to be willing to risk it on an experimental game design. It is a shame - I’d love to see more games willing to question and subvert the tropes of modern game design - but, at least for the time being, it is also a reality.

Ah well, at least Jeff Minter is still going…

Oooh… Strange Adventures in Infinite Space looks a bit Star Control 2-ish. Have to check that out.

The Alien Hominid folks just released a new one, “Chainsaw the Children.” How nice.

Jeff Minter is still going

Like a lot of people, I like a lot of Jeff Minter games a lot. But I wouldn’t call his body of work innovative. He’s primarily known for creating a Robotron ripoff starring Llamas, two Tempest sequels, and a poorly received remake of Defender. Though he’s clearly got some technical skills, his schtick is copying classic games more or less wholesale and then updating them with trippy graphics. The one time he didn’t directly copy an old work, all he came up with was trippy graphics with no game. On the other hand, he keeps a lot of barnyard animals as pets and, by all indications, has sex with them, which certainly qualifies him for kooky outsider status.

Minter is just one of those personalities that it’s nice to have around, whether or not his games are that great.

Didn’t he design Hovver Bovver? A lawnmowing sim – that’s innovative! (Though I suppose the gameplay was in some way derived from Qix or Q-Bert.)

Whoo! If that’s what they call “subverting the tropes” nowadays, I’ll just keep my tropes verted, thank you very much.

There isn’t much. That’s not to say there is nothing at all–every great once in a while you see something really creative that’d probably never get published by a major publisher (like King of Dragon Pass) or a more conventional effort that rivals stuff that the big publishers are putting out (like Static or Terminus). But mostly it’s just card games and amatuerish attempts to make a new RTS.

I wish the games industry did have more of an indie movement, really.

I wish the games industry did have more of an indie movement, really.

Though not technically “indie”, The Sims was about as innovative a game as has appeared in the last decade or so. It also smashed it’s way into the mainstream, becoming the best selling PC game of all time. You’d think this would have energized and provided legitimacy for designers interested in pursuing crazy new ideas. But the Sims doesn’t appear to have changed the landscape much. Nobody’s even making Sims ripoffs, just lots and lots more titles targeted at the same niche of geek fetishists. That’s the biggest indication that gaming isn’t nearly ready for an interesting much less transformative indie movement.

Nobody’s even making Sims ripoffs

I’m not sure that’s true. There is that lawyer version which was released recently, can’t remember the name, which got universally panned.

I also remember at least one other sims-type game. There are certainly no shortage of rollercoaster tycoon type games…

Okay, there are a few Sims ripoffs. That French Ally McBeal game counts.

I would say that ‘Bad Milk’ qualifies as being an arthouse game, heh. A couple things I noticed about the IGF is that #1 the most promising independent games dont always make it far (or even get submitted), whitness the Battlecruiser titles or They Came From Hollywood. The other is that they are focused more on novelty than great gaming.

Something i’ve noticed over the last couple years is that we’re starting to see independent developers who are currently (or were in the past) employed at ‘mainstream’ developers and publishers. Octopus Motor, Digital Eel, Inhuman Games, Monster Studios and Rainfall Studios are just a few that come to mind. For them it’s not about breaking in, but doing the games they want to make.

Minter is just one of those personalities that it’s nice to have around, whether or not his games are that great.

I agree.

Also, while Minter’s games are far from innovative in the sense that they’re derived from classic arcade gameplay, the fact that he’s one of the few people focusing on such old school designs, rather than them there high-tech murder simulations, makes him something of an innovator in and of itself.

Edit:Oh, and of those IGF selections, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space would get my vote. It’s addictive, fun, reasonably nice to look at and can be played through in the space of a lunchbreak. Randomization means high replay value too.

I love Cheapass board games, and I love the interface to SAIS, in fact, I’ve been working on something vaguely similar so it was wonderful synchronicity to learn of its existence. However, I also agree with the reviews that it suffers from some pretty fatal playbalancing issues. The same randomization that makes the game so replayable also creates a majority of unwinnable scenarios wherein reaching the Klakar Trader to get your initial booty takes 1.5 out of the 2 years allocated to your mission only to find he has basically nothing.

Now that’s how life usually works out (at least for me it does), but I expect a degree of John McClaneish escapism in my games. Don’t spoonfeed me victory, but please please please add enough logic to the world creator to insure that victory is a solvable puzzle rather than an impossibility. I’d still be hooked to this puppy if that were the case rather than someone who hacked up the data files to stage a final mano et mano confrontation with the Yellow Kawangi so I could move on in life.

And to close my rant, I’ve always hated the IGF for disallowing us from entering our game into it because it was developed for a niche platform. Damned Systemists…

So they announced the ten titles that will go on to compete for the honors at the IGF.

Mr. Bigshot
Pontifex 2
Reiner Knizia’s Samurai
Strange Adventures In Infinite Space
Teenage Lawnmower
Wild Earth
Word 'Em Up

Average budget as reported by the developers : $43,600

Erik’s post is so very good that I have to second it. Also, it surprises me that more Sims clones haven’t appeared.


Can I third it now? Or shall we have Met_K do that?

Does Animal Crossing count as a Sims Clone? I actually played Animal Crossing a bit at a relatives place over thanksgiving … reminded me more of UO offline than Sims! But anyway… yeah, there aren’t much Sims clones it seems… just like for awhile there werent much Diablo clones til like Darkstone. Anybody know why?!?


Some Sims clones are trickling out. The Partners was like Ally McBeal, the computer game, apparently. And there’s one called, I think, Ghost Master coming up pretty soon. It certainly speaks to the unexpectedness and subtle innovation of the Sims that cloning it isn’t an easy proposition. I think we’ll see more in the years to come, however. And if at least one sticks on the market with a fraction of The Sims’ success, it might turn into a subgenre.