February 2, 2014 4:15 PM | Staff
In the wake of the IGF 2014 Main Competition finalists announcement, we've been working to shed some light on the selection process and highlight some of the games that didn't garner enough critical mass to be nominated as a finalist.
Here's how it works: the main IGF competition has a diverse panel of judges that includes representatives from the mainstream game industry, previous IGF winners and finalists, other independent game developers, and a smattering of indie-friendly game journalists.
In addition, every IGF award has its own jury staffed by experts in the contexts and disciplines that define the award. The main IGF jury recommend individual titles to these award-specific juries, who then cast votes on which games should be nominated to compete for the award.
Those well-deserved nominations shine a spotlight on a select number of IGF entrants, but there are so many great games competing for a spot on the field -- over 650 were submitted to the IGF this year -- that plenty of good entries garner meaningful praise from judges but don't reach the critical mass of votes to become a finalist.
With that in mind, we'd like to take time to highlight some IGF 2014 entrants that received at least one vote of nomination for the Best In Narrative award, but fell just short of making it to the list of finalists and honorable mentions. While they may not have made it past that round of voting, each of these games earned praise from one or more members of the IGF Narrative Jury for excellence in narrative design.
Will O'Neill's Actual Sunlight is a short interactive story about "love, depression and the corporation." The text is well-written, plentiful, and laced with dark humor so sharp you could hurt yourself if you aren't careful. O'Neill's writing conveys the perspective of someone suffering deep depression so effectively that the game includes a sort of trigger warning for players with similar thoughts, and at least one IGF judge felt it was compelling enough to merit a nod for narrative excellence.
The Kingdom of Loathing is a satirical web-based multiplayer RPG with stick-figure artwork and approximately a million lines of writing. Initially created in 2003, it has been in public open beta for over ten years.
In that time the game has been regularly praised for its comedic, surreal writing, so it's not surprising that at least one IGF judge voted for it to be considered for a Best In Narrative nomination.
Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game that asks you navigate daily life through the lens of someone living with depression. You are confronted with a series of everyday challenges and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment.
The game uses narrative choices -- or the lack thereof -- to attempt to help players understand what depression can feel like, striking out potential responses to challenges based on how the player manages the illness. IGF judges praised the game for evincing the power of depression through the denial of player agency, citing its ability to evoke strong emotional reactions with colored text as evidence of narrative excellence.
Rogue Legacy is a vibrant 2D roguelike that twists genealogy into a gameplay mechanic -- each time you die, you choose a randomly-generated heir to succeed you and inherit whatever you managed to gather in your previous life. Every heir is unique: one might be a giant, the next one might be colorblind.
Many IGF judges spoke highly of the game's innovative twist on a well-trod genre, and though Rogue Legacy fell just short of the critical mass of votes to quality for a Best In Narrative nod, its novel bloodline system transforms death into a tool for player agency and emergent narrative, rather than simply punishment.
An interactive adventure inspired by the work of 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, Cave! Cave! Deus Videt was built by Italian indie studio We Are Muesli using Ren'py, a visual novel development environment.
IGF 2014 judges played through Episode 0 of Cave! Cave! Deus Videt, which relates the story of a young visitor at the National Museum of Lisbon in Portugal who gets drawn into a mystery that revolves around a triptych painted by the afore-mentioned Dutchman. The game, which won the Bosch Art Game international competition in 2013, earned praise from IGF judges for its fantastic atmosphere and art design. Though Cave! Cave! stumbled a bit when it came to the practical execution of its narrative, the strength of the game's mystery earned it a nod from the IGF Narrative jury.
Other notable jury picks in the Narrative category include The Banner Saga, Don't Starve, Save the Date, and Perfect Woman. These games didn't make it into the final round of Narrative nominations and honorable mentions, but were nominated in other categories. More details on these games and other excellent entrants can be found on the IGF 2014 website.
[Alex Wawro wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]