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Independent Games Festival 2009 – Review and Results

[lightbox http://nixiepixel.com/media/blogs/a/famous/indie-games-awards.jpg [IGA Stage]]iga stage[/lightbox]

Out of everything that I saw at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco this year I was most excited by the diversity and quality of independent games on display. Imagine indie games are like a having a girlfriend who’s a sexy art student that’s just the right amount of crazy, and attending the annual Independent Games Festival was like having a date at the Circus with her and some Carnies. It was awesome!

I was introduced to some extremely intriguing games the entire week and that highlights what seems to be a problem to me – there is very little media coverage of independent games or games released by small publishers. During this year’s GDC, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell talked about this problem in two ways in his “Stardock on the PC Hardcore Scene as Indie” lecture.

He said that games media covers what members of the media like more than what is popular and/or sells well; or as he glibly stated the media would be covering The Sims 24/7. So first-person shooters get much more coverage than other games, even though they are not necessarily the top sellers. He also said that independent game developers, in general, are not very good at getting the word out about their upcoming titles. What this means to you and I is that we often do not hear about great games from small developers unless they start to sell extremely well through word of mouth.

I want to do my part to help people who are hungry for innovation and diversity in games, and game developers who desperately want their titles to be noticed by a wider audience, to meet each other. I have some ideas on how to do that, including making an effort to seek out new usch games on a regular basis, but for now let me introduce you to some of the most interesting games from the IGF; think of it like the Sundance Festival of the gaming industry.

[lightbox http://nixiepixel.com/media/blogs/a/screenshot/best-idie-game-2009.jpg [IGA Stage]]blueberry garden wins[/lightbox]

Blueberry Garden was the winner of the IGF 2009′s Seamus McNally Grand Prize for Best Independent Game. I had a lot of fun learning about the game since info on it is so hard to come by. The player gets to explore a minimalist, charming world where player actions affect the resident creatures and other living things. For example, blueberries seem to be an important food source in the world, and giving access to certain creatures can affect the well-being (or extinction!) of others. Erik Svedäng, the developer of Blueberry Garden, describes his game: “A fairytale made out of play, set in an ever-changing ecosystem. Fly away through the clouds, explore a strange world and uncover the mysteries of Blueberry Garden – your presence could make all the difference.” The game is currently unavailable, but should be released for the PC “soon.”

Update: Erik agreed to an interview about Blueberry Garden so keep checking back to get a handle on this elusive game! :P

Osmos by Hemisphere Games won the D2D Vision Award through its serenity-inspiring gameplay. You play a small mote made of matter; you grow through absorbing more matter, but you eject matter as you move, making you smaller. Patience is rewarded in this game. Ambient electronic music and dreamlike visuals help make this a peaceful, relaxing game to play.

Cortex Command by Data Realms won both the Technical Excellence Award and the Audience Award. It is a side-scrolling strategy game where you control various “bodies” (like robots, but actual humans with detached brains) that mine for gold, fire various weapons, and do your bidding as you see fit. Up to four players can play side-by-side, and while it is currently not finished a version is available at a discount (this discount will go away as more features are added).

[lightbox http://nixiepixel.com/media/blogs/a//Cortex-Command.jpg [Cortex Command and IGA Photoshop]]cortex command audience award[/lightbox]

This is what happens when developer Dan Tabar loses a bet that his game will not win more than one award. *snicker*

I love adventure games, so it really made me happy to see Machinarium by Amanita Design win the Excellence in Visual Art Award. I am eagerly anticipating this full-scale flash adventure game. The animation and visuals are just stunning.

[lightbox http://nixiepixel.com/media/blogs/a//machinarium_indy-screen.jpg [Machinarium Screen]]independent games machinarium wins[/lightbox]

I had the opportunity to not only watch the play-by-play of the awards (I hope you enjoyed the live Twitter coverage!), but also to wander around the IGF displays at the Expo and chat with a number of different indie developers. I will have much more to come in the next few weeks as I talk more about some of the games that caught my interest and get more in-depth with information and interviews from game said sleep-deprived developers.

Don’t worry if you’re into only into mainstream games, I got enough AAA game and tech info that it would make you feel like you’re a nerdy kid in a candy store, so stay tuned for more thoughts from GDC 2009!