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2011 IGF Nuovo Awards: Jury Statement About Finalists

Following the announcement of the eight finalists for the 2011 Independent Games Festival Nuovo award, which is intended to "honor abstract, shortform, and unconventional game development which advances the medium and the way we think about games", the IGF Nuovo Jury has released an official statement explaining and expanding upon the reasoning behind this year's picks.

The Nuovo Jury's finalist statement discussing and justifying their picks - also adding a number of 'honorable mentions' for games that were just outside the finalist selection, but had fascinating characteristics - reads as follows:

"Thanks to everyone who submitted their games to the Independent Games Festival this year, all of whom were in consideration for this award. Our larger body of Main Competition judges nominated nearly 75 games for this year's Nuovo award, all of which represented an enormous breadth of boundary-pushing ideas, concepts, mechanics and viewpoints.

This year, the Nuovo Jury discussion focused on celebrating games that not only embody a strong authorial voice, but "open the eyes of the audience (and other developers), that provoke discussion... not for the sake of being contrary, but for the sake of expanding the form, of treading on unexplored terrain."

The jury also felt Nuovo finalists should make the player "feel lost at the beginning because they've never experienced such a language before, but then should feel delight when they manage to 'understand' it, and feel eager to build on it," and should "have some obscure magic that transcends analysis and picking apart of individual design choices."

Keeping these criteria in mind, the discussion focused on the games that were most-recommended by Main Competition judges, as well as our own picks from IGF entrants. We have decided (via online discussion and jury voting) on the following finalists for the 2011 IGF Nuovo Award, each of which will receive All-Access GDC 2011 tickets and the opportunity to exhibit their game in the conference's IGF Pavilion:

Finalists

- A House in California (Cardboard Computer)
As a retro-styled point-and-click adventure, A House in California was praised for taking the mechanics of that classic genre and repurposing them "in strange and touching ways to create a game that's about stuff that games are rarely about (memory, childhood, generations, and the importance of physical places to all of these things)."

- Bohm (Monobanda)
Monobanda's reflective, zen-like tree-growing experience surprised the jury with the "audio/visual follow through" to its straightforward and ambitious concept, with one juror noting how quickly they became "immersed, despite my generally cynical attitude towards games that proclaim poetic beauty."

- Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now (B.U.T.T.O.N.) (Copenhagen Game Collective)
B.U.T.T.O.N.'s raucous approach to essentially controller-less play (bar its titular set of buttons) was praised for going "programmatically in the opposite direction" of the wider industry's take on motion controls like Kinect, Move and the Wii, which "aspire to control and discipline your movement," and was called "one of the few titles here that potentially introduce a new kind of gameplay instead of adding a new twist to existing forms."

- The Cat and the Coup (Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad)
This "documentary" game of the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran, told from the vantage point of his cat, was called out both for how "the physics system functions as a broad metaphor for instability," and its unique mix of "Islamic art and dada collage," and for perfectly embodying the Nuovo Award's various "abstract, shortform, authorial, unconventionally fun, meaningful" criteria.

- Dinner Date (Stout Games)
Stout's first-person/internal-monologue of a would-be romantic-encounter was noted not just for being "about something totally untouched by games", but for being a game that symbiotically manipulates both the protagonist's subconsciousness and that of the player as well, and was praised for being more "play as in theater or instrument than it is play as in sports."

- Hazard: The Journey of Life (Demruth)
Built on top of the Unreal engine but employing "abstract pseudo vector graphics", Hazard was said to be a textbook example of a 'Nuovo' game for using all the "storming through corridors" conventions of the first person shooter to create a deeper examination of personal philosophy.

- Loop Raccord (Nicolai Troshinsky)
A 'video editing game' involving synchronizing video clips, Loop Raccord was specifically noted for being a work that "would NEVER have been made by a commercial studio," and for taking on the Nuovo Award's challenge of "advancing the medium and the way we think about games" by dealing with aspects "more related to fine art than the gaming world."

- Nidhogg (Messhof)
Variously praised as "stylish, perverse, incredibly deep, elegant, compelling and joyful", Messhof's tug-of-war swordplay was most often called out for its "hip, lo-fi, punk" aesthetic, but more importantly, for "supporting players in expressing themselves in a variety of ways" and "creating a social space and a spectacle through its play."

Honorable Mentions

There were many titles that were recommended or advocated for by judges and received multiple votes in our final tally, but did not make the Finalist list due to insufficient votes. Nonetheless, we're happy to mention and recommend these titles as Nuovo 'honorable mentions', that those interested in alternative independent games should certainly check out:

- Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games) A deeply psychological, unique take on the first-person/immersive horror game.

- Choice Of Broadsides (Choice Of Games) A Royal Navy text adventure with deep consequences.

- Faraway (Steph Thirion) A fantastically stylish, joy-provoking arcade game of constellation creation.

- Feign (Ian Snyder) An "exploration of the metaphysics of virtual space."

- Spy Party (Chris Hecker) Like a Turing-test in reverse, a game of "acting as artificial intelligence," and a thrilling one-on-one battle of wits.

Thanks,
Daniel Benmergui, Ian Bogost, Auriea Harvey, Clint Hocking, Rod Humble, Jesper Juul, Frank Lantz, Paolo Pedercini, Jason Rohrer, Michael Samyn, Justin Smith, Eddo Stern, Eric Zimmerman [IGF 2011 Nuovo Jury]."

The Nuovo Award, which was previously won by Jason Rohrer's acclaimed abstract multiplayer title Between in 2009 and Tuning, the perception-warping platformer from Swedish indie developer Cactus, allows more esoteric 'art games' to compete on their own terms alongside longer-form indie titles.

As in 2010, a panel of notable game and art world figures -- spanning previous Nuovo award winners and finalists like Ian Bogost, Daniel Benmergui, Justin Smith and Rohrer, Molleindustria's Paolo Pedercini, Area/Code's Frank Lantz and more, have decided the finalists (and will decide the winner) for the Nuovo Award in discussion-based, juried form -- mirroring similar, artistically important awards in other industries.

All eight Nuovo finalists will exhibit their games at Game Developers Conference 2011 in San Francisco in the IGF Pavilion, and a Nuovo Award winner, alongside an increased prize of $5,000, will be revealed at the IGF Awards Ceremony on the evening of March 2, 2011.