Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Indie game awards showcase future

By Maggie Shiels
Technology Reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

video montage
IGF is seen as a showcase for the best indie talent

A topless game developer and games about nature and paint spattering were the big winners at the Independent Games Festival Awards.

The 11th annual IGF awards are seen as the equivalent of the Sundance Festival for the video game industry.

The IGF exists to reward innovation and excellence in independent games.

Fairytale exploration game BlueBerry Garden won the top prize, the $30,000 (£20,400) Seumas McNally award.

"Indie games are pushing the envelope and getting great critical acclaim," said IGF's chairman Simon Carless.

This year there were 226 games in competition with a further 145 entered for the student prize. This demonstrates a "period of massive growth in the number and quality of independent developers," Steve Swink of Flashbang Studios told the audience.

"The world is catching on. Game journalists, industry and yes players are beginning to appreciate indie games.

"The game playing public is beginning to understand that a tiny team with a brilliant vision can make better games than people with a corporate mandate and millions of dollars to spend. The world is realising that as much as they love big budget shooters, they are hungry for new types of experiences," said Mr Swink.

Mr Carless told the BBC he agreed the indie movement is moving out of the closet but that the big issue now for consumers is one of choice.

"There is an infinite amount of games, especially thanks to digital distribution. But there is a problem and that is a choice problem.

"Just like music on the web, you can get millions of different bands. In gaming the problem is for the indie to differentiate themselves from other indies. In the end it will all be down to the quality of your art," he said.

The awards tend to be closely watched by the mainstream game makers looking for new ideas because the festival is viewed as showcasing the best in the indie sector.

Previous winners have included World of Goo, Castle Crashers and Braid.

Top honours

Top honours on Wednesday went to Blueberry Garden, a fairytale exploration game set in an ever changing ecosystem.

All the drawings for the game were done by hand

Creator Erik Svedang, from Sweden, said the game was inspired "from growing up and playing in the woods and the Swedish west coast".

"It's a lot about nature and the beauty of nature. with a very singular vision."

David Lagardere who created the music said he believed their approach set a benchmark for other indie developers.

"We used a Common Licence from the internet and this is something that will get big in the indie industry given all the talk about copyright. It means you can upload your music and protect it with some sort of licence and that's really great and other developers should be encouraged to do this," he said.

Mr Svedang said winning was an "awesome honour" and the money was a great boost which he might use to create another game.

Audience Award

In most festivals the audience award is among the most coveted because it is voted for by peers. This year more than 4,000 developers took part. The clear favourite was Cortex Command, which also picked up the Technical Excellence Award.

Double winner Dan Tabar of Data Realms was so amazed that he ripped of his t-shirt when he got on stage.

Dan Tabar topless
Hamming it up for the cameras didn't result in extra votes for Dan Tabar

This labour of love has so far taken eight years and is set in the future world of "cybernetica" where a severed brain controls many types of bodies remotely from various locations like an underground bunker, spaceship and turret.

"I originally started the game to teach myself game development and here we are eight years later and I am now vowing to get it finished. It's nearly finished," said Mr Tabar.

Even though he has worked for other unnamed gaming studios, Mr Tabar admitted he liked the freedom of being an independent.

"No one else can tell you what to do. Sure it's a shoe-string budget but you are only answerable to yourself. You shoulder the responsibility yourself which can be scary but also liberating because no one is putting limits on your ideas."

Innovation Nuovo Award

This is the first year the IGF has had an innovation award, aimed at "honouring titles that are pushing the boundaries of what games are and thinking about the medium in a whole new way."

Between screenshot
Between claimed a brand new award

The IGF said these games represented "what punk is to pop, what nipple rings are to belly-button rings, and what Mohawks are to fauxhawks".

The first recipient was Jason Rohrer's two-player collaborative title Between.

"I'm amazed I won because this game is the hardest to understand and people have told me they are confused by it. It's about consciousness and isolation which I hardly even understand.

"It certainly pushed my boundaries as a creator. The whole time I was making it, I couldn't believe it I was unleashing this on the world. It was like a piece of concept art. Just something I had to do," Mr Rohrer explained to the BBC.

Point and click

The second winner, Machinarium, is a point and click game that consists of hand drawings.

"My inspiration were all those old movies and animated movies, old adventure games and mother nature itself, the best muse," said Jacob Dvorsav from the Czech Republic.

"This was a tough category and shows just how the industry is blooming and really experimenting with new ways to do games," he said.

Excellence in Audio

Sound is generally the unsung hero in gaming. It might not get as much kudos as the graphics and storyline, but it is an integral part of the game.

IGF lobo
A total of $55,000 in prize money was awarded to developers

This year's award was given to Brainpipe by Digital Eel which uses "ear tickling sound effects and immersive dreamscape music".

One of the brains behind it is Mr Phosphorous who goes by the title of Game Oracle at the company because he "provides dim illumination to my co-workers.

He told the BBC that it was truly rewarding to receive the prize and that it meant "the little guy can win and still do good and do something to be proud of and be acknowledged for".

Student Showcase

This years IGF said it received a record number of student entries, up 15% on last year to 145. They came from three different continents and ranged from ecological games to fantasy exercise games and paint spattering.

Tag: The Power of Paint was devised by six students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Seattle.

Tag screen shot
The students will get to share a prize of $2,500

Spokesman for the group, Tejeev Kholi said they were so sure they would not win that they did not even bother trying to practice pronouncing the names of the other nominees.

He admitted he hoped the prize would "open a lot of doors for them. It just shows anyone can make a game and make it for free. Then if you are good enough you will get an award".

Other awards went to KranXProductions' Musaic Box for Excellence in Design Award and Osmos by Hemisphere Games won a $10,000 prize for Direct2Drive's Vision Award.

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