Recognising innovation in independent games

Danial Norjidi

The recent 23rd Independent Games Festival (IGF) Awards put the spotlight on independent
game creators.

The IGF was first established in 1998 aimed AT encouraging innovation in game development and recognise the best independent game developers. This year’s IGF Awards ceremony, which took place virtually on July 21, saw accolades presented across eight categories.

Umurangi Generation by developer Origame Digital won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize as well as the award for Excellence in Narrative.

Umurangi Generation is a first-person photography game set in the future in Tauranga Aotearoa, where the player becomes a courier, unlocking a variety of lenses and equipment throughout the game.

Speaking on winning the Grand Prize, Naphtali Faulkner from Origame Digital said, “I want to thank everyone today for the win on the grand prize at the IGF. It is a huge accomplishment. It’s blown us away.”

On winning the Narrative Award, Faulkner said, “Thank you for the win on the Narrative Award. I think the game started with no story and then it developed one along the way with the environmental storytelling in there.

Genesis Noir. PHOTO: FERAL CAT DEN
Umurangi Generation. PHOTO: ORIGAME DIGITAL
Teardown. PHOTO: TUXEDO LABS

“A lot of times indies will make these really great ideas for stories or ideas for games where the gameplay is just awesome, and then it almost feels like you need to tack on a story that ends up being text-based, which adds a lot of work and a lot of extra development time. I think the reality with this game is it won this award without any text at all, and it’s a kind of thing where I think we can all start to think about what stories mean in games and maybe try different ways of telling them.”

Another to win two accolades was Genesis Noir, a game developed by Feral Cat Den which took home the awards for Excellence in Audio and Excellence in Visual Art.

Genesis Noir is an adventure game that sees the player take on the role of No Man, a watch peddler caught in a love triangle with other cosmic beings, Miss Mass and Golden Boy.

Members from the development team spoke on winning the awards, with Evan Anthony commenting on winning Excellence in Audio, “Genesis Noir wouldn’t work without the audio and we happen to think it’s the best part of the game. We’re so happy that you agree, and thank you so much for this honour.”

Meanwhile, on winning Excellence in Visual Art, fellow team member Jeremy Abel said, “Creating the visual art for Genesis Noir was a huge technical and creative challenge and we’re so happy that the work has resonated with so many people.”

The award for Best Student Game went to narrative adventure game Vessels developed by Local Space Survey Corps, LLC.

Vessels is described as “a two- to three-hour, character-driven story, in which no one is exactly who they appear to be… even you. With the help of the enigmatic Voice, possess and control the other crew members to explore the ship. Experience atmospheric, environmental storytelling as you piece together clues on a ship reeling from a grisly death and spreading paranoia”.

The game sees players “navigate volatile conversations and unravel mysteries in this narrative adventure about trust, self-destruction, and shifting identities”.

Members from the development team spoke upon upon winning the award, including animator Caleb Mills who said, “Thank you so much for choosing us to be the best student game. We wanted to make an intriguing game; something that captures a little bit of the human experience and morbid curiosity. We greatly appreciate your support.”

Writer and director John Baxa added, “We could not be more proud of our team and excited that you would honour us with this.”

The award for Excellence in Design went to Teardown, developed by Tuxedo Labs. Set in a simulated and fully voxel world, Teardown sees players plan the perfect heist using creative problem solving, brute force and everything around them. The game features a fully destructible and interactive environment, where player freedom and emergent gameplay are the driving mechanics.

Also presented was the Nuovo Award, a prize given to the game title that makes jurors think differently about games as a medium. Emerging as winner of this category was Blaseball, a title described as an “absurdist-horror fantasy baseball game”, developed by The Game Band.

Another winner was puzzle adventure title Arrog, which garnered the Audience Award. Developed by Hermanos Magia and Leap Game Studios, Arrog is a game that involves helping a man travel though his dreams. The title features hand-drawn art and is set in a black-and-white world with colour accents.’

Game director Mateo Alayza said, “I’m very honoured to receive this award on behalf of the
whole team.

“This is a very significant prize for all of us and for the industry in Peru. We hope that we can still deliver these to you and to the world and keep talking about deep meanings in games,” he said.

The IGF Awards were held as part of the Game Developers Conference 2021, organised by Informa Tech.

On its website, the IGF states that its competitions have a diverse, industry-leading set of judges which includes representatives from mainstream games, the press, significant independent gaming websites, as well as previous winners, finalists and a number of indie veteran judges from the previous IGF judging pool.