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2011 Independent Games Festival: Jury Statement on Main Competition Finalists

Following the announcement of the finalists for all remaining categories of the 2011 Independent Games Festival, each panel has released further details on the discussion, illuminating the thought process behind their respective finalist choices.

The finalist statements, a counterpart to the original, earlier statement from this year's Nuovo jury, are collected below from various members of our lineup of 2011 jurists, and read as follows:

Seumas McNally Grand Prize

Frictional Games' first person horror-adventure Amnesia was praised for its "interesting, visceral, tactile interface" and "incredible atmosphere and tension". Wrote one jurist: "I can't play it more than an hour at a time, even though I'd like to." Meanwhile, QCF's Desktop Dungeons, mashes rogue-like and puzzle-game play in a way "so fun and elegantly designed" that jurists didn't hesitate to deign "pure genius".

Mojang's successful first person creation/excavation game Minecraft was the subject of much discussion across the board, with the Grand Prize jury concluding that it should be noted as a familiar its table-turning design: "Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to craft a lavishly decorated stage set on which the player has a series of entertaining experiences, Minecraft grows a complex world out of asmall set of finely-tuned rules... It shows what games are good at - abstraction, compression, emergence, boiling a worldful of psychedelic soup out of a handful of logical stones."

Messhof's tug-of-war fencing game Nidhogg was praised here for not just for balancing controls "simple enough for absolute beginners, but still deep and interesting over 20 minutes," but for "the fact that it's also an amazing spectator sport" -- "a public spectacle where 2 people battle to the death while a blood-thirsty crowd cheers on."

And finally, the jury called Chris Hecker's Spy Party "one of the most original and fun multiplayer experiences I've had since Street Fighter 2," and "the pinnacle of independent game development: an insane idea wrapped in crazy accessibility issues tied around something that seems impossible to market, which ends up being one of the most interesting, sublime, intense and FUN gaming experiences you can have."

Excellence In Visual Art

In the Visual Art category, jurists praised SuperGiant's adventure game Bastion's artwork for the way it gave the game "a real childhood, fairytale atmosphere", with a lushness that can often "blast eyeballs with more detail than it can handle," but "rendered well enough that it doesn't obstruct the player" -- concluding that it was "an incredibly brave art style for a small team to pick."

The same was said for two more aesthetically retro-styled games: Gaijin's Bit.Trip RUNNER, for its "cohesive and bold 3D art style from start to finish, a game that looks "so retro yet so fresh at the same time", and Nicalis's 2010 edition of indie classic Cave Story, which one jurist described playing for the first time and thinking "This is more than perfect, this is the work of a details-oriented genius."

The claymation/stop-motion approach taken by Cockroach's The Dream Machine itself was noted as an "underutilized" style in independent games, but was praised for being "gimmick" free: said one jurist, "somebody really had a vision for how this game should look." And finally Honeyslug's Hohokum was praised for simply being "exciting to look at" and for exhibiting "a neat tension between the playful visuals and the apocalyptic tone of the game".

Technical Excellence

The jurists in the Technical Excellence category long debated precisely what aspects of a game's underlying science should be praised and rewarded, before settling on a definition revolving around implementation of that technology.

"Games that are 'technically excellent' are also usually a testament to craftsmanship and taste," remarked one jurist. "In other words, having a super-duper particle system is one thing, but using that particle system in a way that supports the gameplay is a more impressive use of tech."

To that end, Frictional's Amnesia was again selected by a jury not just for its impressive underlying engine, but, for example "using its lighting system to create the atmosphere that makes it the great game that it is" -- for "using shader effects and nonlinear projective mappings... to convey claustrophobia and anxiety."

SpikySnail's Confetti Carnival, too, was praised for its polish and intuitiveness, and for "perfect tweaking a well-studied piece of technology." Said one jurist: "crafting a mass-spring system such that it behaves like a continuum is a hard problem, and the continuum 'hack' these guys implemented works great."

Meanwhile, jurists also praised Marc ten Bosch's fourth-dimension exploring puzzler Miegakure for using game mechanics to "provide a space for the exploration of a technically complex and fascinating concept," and generally serving "as a demonstration of why games are unique among other technical mediums, able to illuminate ideas through interaction in a way that nothing else can."

And finally, two games that explore similar themes of shared creative space. Mojang's Minecraft was selected for the way it "demonstrates how the interaction of simple systems can create beautifully complex and emergent consequences", and for "the uncertainty of the procedural terrain algorithm, coupled with the genius decision to limit the player to the same grid that the terrain generator operates on," while Robot Loves Kitty's Neverdaunt:8Bit was highlighted for "the sheer depth of what you can create" and for details like its "explicit logical gates" and "dynamic surfaces".

Excellence In Design

Design jurists agreed that the category would reward games that demonstrated not only "originality" and "elegance" in their underlying design, but things "mainstream developers are UNWILLING to do" -- something "risky, personal, arty, unconventional, niche, or dangerous"

QCF's "perfectly compressed" Desktop Dungeons was just one of those games, by offering "an entirely new design idea: literally everything in the game is a commodity to be managed", and for "keeping the exterior or interface simple (weapon power, level, health, and magic are your only stats - the only control is mouse clicks) but having enormously complicated and interesting choices to make", while Steph Thirion's Faraway, a game praised for being "lovely, deep, and elegant," within its "severely limiting" underlying one-button play.

Messhof's "riotously fun" Nidhogg here, too, was selected for its "clean, simple controls, and new concept", and for "capturing a vibe of high action and adventure, and reproducing some real swordfighting dynamics," while Vlambeer's retro-styled Super Crate Box was described as "reductive hardcore action shooting platforming brilliance" for its juggling act of three core goals "stay alive, get crates, prevent enemies from reaching bottom."

Finally, Mojang's Minecraft here was praised for aspects of its design including an appeal "the creative side of people," and a first-person "living Lego" sense of imagination, and also more minute specifics, such as its crafting system that inspires deduction by requiring the player to create recipes "spatially and logically." Said one jurist: "I truly don't know what I'm going to find: this is an untouched world that is mine to live and die in... [other, more traditional open-world games] feel like an authored world created by repeating the same cookie cutter pieces."

Excellence In Audio

The Excellence in Audio jury also selected Frictional's Amnesia for making use of discrete elements to conjure its mood and horror, saying its audio was "essential to the believability and enjoyment of the game" and created "a palpable fear that rivals the best survival horror gaming experiences I can remember." Said one jurist: "The whole effect could have been ruined and seemed either too boring/minimalistic or too campy/overdone. Instead, it strikes a perfect balance, and shows just how crucial audio can be, specifically with regards to terror and suspense."

The creative use of narration in SuperGiant's Bastion earned it "top points for execution", with one jurist saying that aspect, "combined with earthy music, leads to a very interesting Legend-Of-Mana-by-way-of-Southern-Yarn experience that is essential to the game -- I would not have continued playing it for as long as I did if not for the soothing rumble of the Narrator."

Gaijin's Bit.Trip BEAT was praised for enhancing what otherwise might seem to be a "modern variation on Pong" via its synchronized and "enthralling" soundscape, one called "absolutely integral to the experience". "This is the game we musician-gamers always thought would be doable when we first saw Pong", added one jurist. The soundscape in Oxeye's Cobalt was also praised for "giving it the amount of life it has", with "immersive sound effect work that absolutely sells the atmosphere," and a soundtrack that "stays away from melodic motifs to let the overall ambience take center stage."

Finally, Vblank's NES-stlyed Retro City Rampage was praised as a game "chock full of audio personality", with "every bit, clink, and bang lovingly rendered in gorgeous square and sine waves" that crucially added to its faux-"authenticity". "I LOVE that the music and the SFX were all done with tracker sheets," added one jurist. "It is admirable that they went to the extra trouble for authentic audio, when there are so many easier ways to make 'passable' approximations."

Best Mobile Game

In the Mobile category, jurists gave Nonverbal's Colorbind high marks for giving what appears to be a simple game "surprisingly deep complexity", and for blending its "original mechanic" with "lovely, lovely presentation", while Stfj's "smart, abstract, enjoyable, friendly and meditative" Halcyon was praised for its "beautiful" mix of procedural/interactive music, well-executed minimalism and addictive play, particularly in cooperative mode.

Ratloop's "line of sight" puzzler Helsing's Fire was called out for being "a very polished game with an unusual game mechanic that emphasizes deduction with a pinch of action", that was a "perfect fit for the iPhone," while Mikengreg's Solipskier was praised as "independent gaming at its best" for "balancing coarse controls for beginners with detailed controls for expert players", and giving off "drama, feel, and life in spades."

Finally, Erik Svedang's original multiplayer iPad design Shot Shot Shoot was called "possibly the most elegantly-designed multiplayer game I've ever played" and "something brand new, and very old at the same time". Added one jurist: "It's the stripped-down vision of one guy, with all the superfluous stuff left out in order to allow a simple, pure concept to shine in a way that only games can."

All of the finalists announced will be playable on the Expo show floor at the historic 25th Game Developers Conference, to be held in San Francisco starting February 28th, 2011. In addition, nearly $50,000 of prizes in various categories, including the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize will be awarded to these games at the Independent Games Festival Awards on the evening of March 2nd.