August 3, 2023

Where Are They Now: IGF Grand Prize Winners That Shaped The Industry (1999-2006)

Over the past 25 years, the Independent Games Festival Awards has spotlighted some of the industry's most groundbreaking indie video games. Many of their developers have gone on to achieve massive success, while some studios have since closed their doors. But every one of these games has a place in history. Let's look at some of our Seumas McNally Grand Prize winners over the years, and where their studios are now. 

This latest year at the Game Developers Conference saw the 25th anniversary of the IGF Awards, part of the longest-running festival, summit, and showcase celebrating independent games and their creators. Cosmo D Studios’ Betrayal At Club Low won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and the Nuovo Award, which honors titles that make the awards jurors think differently about games as a medium. The 2024 IGF Awards promises an incredible group of indie games and creators, continuing the legacy that started over two decades ago.

In this three-part blog series, we will be looking at the history of the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and those who've taken home this prestigious award. Please note that some of the information is incomplete or lost to history, and there may be additional details or context not featured here. Please let us know on GDC social media if you have information that could help fill in any gaps. We also encourage our readers and attendees to support the Video Game History Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to video game preservation. 

For the first installment, let us take you all the way back to where it began. Here are the IGF Awards Grand Prize winners from 1999-2006. 

1999: Fire and Darkness

Singularity Software's Fire and Darkness—a real-time strategy game pitting two factions against one another—made history as the first video game to ever win the IGF Awards grand prize. But the game, which was in development for three years and won the award during its creation, was never actually released. In a 2013 interview with Game Developer (formerly Gamasutra), Singularity Software co-founder David Rosenthal said there had been discussions of porting the game onto tablet computers, but the plan hasn't materialized. 

2000: Tread Marks

Longbow Digital Arts' Tread Marks—a multiplayer tank combat and racing game—won the grand prize at the 2000 IGF Awards, along with awards for programming and design. The company's founder, president, and lead programmer Seumas McNally passed away one week after receiving the award, following a three-year journey with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The award was renamed the Seumas McNally Grand Prize in his honor and remains so to this day. Seumas' family continued his legacy, rebranding Longbow Digital Arts as Longbow Games, and released a series of games over the course of almost two decades. This included the Hegemony series and 2018's Golem

2001: Shattered Galaxy

KRU Interactive's (or Kru Interactive) Shattered Galaxy—a post-apocalyptic massively multiplayer real-time strategy game about humans telepathically controlling robot war machines—was a South Korean video game that's considered one of the pioneers of MMO games. The studio was originally part of Nexon, the studio behind games like MapleStory and Dungeon Fighter Online (a popular free-to-play game in China), and became independent in 2005. Kru Interactive has released a few games since then, including Clustar, but the website's last update was in 2021. The Shattered Galaxy website is still online, though the last posts were in 2010. However, according to folks in the dedicated subreddit, people are still playing the game daily.  

2002: Bad Milk

Dreaming Media's Bad Milk could be considered a Nuovo Award winner before the Nuovo Award existed. It was a CD-ROM FMV puzzle game about mortality, created by brothers Ted and Mike Skolnick as an art project. It won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and the audio award, and a piece of the game was entered into James Buckhouse's 2000 art exhibit Refresh: The Art of the Screen Saver. Since then, Ted continues to share his murals, Scratch programming tutorials, short stories, and elaborate Halloween costumes on his online portfolioBad Milk isn't available to play on any platforms, but Ted has written on his blog that has a few extra copies he "occasionally ship[s] out upon request." 

2003: Wild Earth 

Super X Studios' Wild Earth—where you play a photojournalist taking pictures of animals in Serengeti National Park—was the first educational game to win the top prize at the IGF Awards (along with awards for game design and visual art). It was released on Microsoft Windows and Nintendo Wii, and was turned into a motion simulation ride for zoos across the country. Super X Studios, which also won an Audience Award at the 2000 IGF Awards with Far Gate, went on release more games, including Greg Hastings Paintball 2 and Fields of Battle 2. For those interested in trying out this game, it was recently re-released on Steam as Wild Earth - Africa

2004: Savage: The Battle for Newerth and Oasis

This was one of two years where two top prizes were awarded—one in an open category, the other for an online or downloadable game. 

Open Category—Savage: The Battle for Newerth

S2 Games' Savage: The Battle for Newerth—an online multiplayer post-apocalyptic battle game pitting humans against intelligent beasts—outlasted its own studio. Three years after its debut, S2 Games released Savage as freeware and made its code open source before discontinuing their work on the game. The online community continued developing the game, under the name Savage XR, up until the site closed in August 2022. However, the community server continues operating to this day. S2 Games went on to release two more games in the Savage series before deciding to focus on other battle arena games under their umbrella. The studio closed in 2018. 

Web/Downloadable Game—Oasis

Mind Control Software's Oasis—a turn-based puzzle strategy game about uncovering a glyph and protecting it from enemies—won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize for a web/downloadable game, as well as the design award. The game was well received and saw renewed success in 2010 with an iPad version called Defense of the Oasis (name changed to differ from the rock band Oasis), which was put on Steam in 2020. Mind Control Software published a few other titles, including Timmy's Magic Word Garden and Field Commander, but stopped releasing new games in 2013.

2005: Gish and Wik and the Fable of Souls

This was one of two years where two top prizes were awarded—one in an open category, the other for an online or downloadable game. 

Open Category—Gish

Chronic Logic's Gish—a platformer about a ball of tar trying to rescue his human girlfriend—won the Grand Prize and an award for design. The 2005 ceremony made headlines after developer Edmund McMillen proposed to his partner during his acceptance speech (a moment you can relive in the award-winning documentary Indie Game: The Movie!). However, the studio broke up shortly after receiving the awards and a planned Gish sequel was canceled. In a 2006 interview with Animation Magazine, Edmund said he knew the team would dissolve but that they "held out to finish what we had started."

Edmund McMillen went on to develop the iconic The Binding of Isaac franchise and Super Meat Boy, and is currently working on a new game called Mewgenicsset to come out in 2024. In addition, Gish co-developer Alex Austin started a new studio, Cryptic Sea, and continues working on new games. These include the upcoming Stunt Derby and Devolver Digital's Sub Rosa, the latter of which has been in Early Access since 2021. Gish was remastered in 2019 and is available on Steam

Web/Downloadable Game—Wik and the Fable of Souls

Reflexive Entertainment's Wik and the Fable of Souls—a platformer where the main character is tasked with collecting "grubs" for a creature named Slotham—won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize for a web or downloadable game. The studio released a number of games, including the Big Kahuna puzzle series, before being acquired by and later merged with Amazon Game Studios. It looks like Wik and the Fable of Souls has since been delisted from most known platforms, including Steam and Amazon's digital game store. 

2006: Darwinia

Introversion Software's Darwinia—a real-time strategy game about a hacker trying to save an AI-capable digital world from a spam virus—won three awards at the 2006 IGF Awards, including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize (as well as accolades for visual art and technology). The game has continued to see success online, including a 2008 multiplayer sequel called Multiwinia and a remastered version that was released last year on Steam and GOG. Introversion Software went on to co-develop the popular Prison Architect franchise and is now working on a spaceship construction game called The Last Starship, which is in Early Access. 

Be on the lookout next week for the next installment in this three-part series, focusing on games from 2007-2014. For those wanting to join our history-making awards show, submissions will open later this year for the 2024 Independent Games Festival Awards.

GDC returns to San Francisco in March 2024, and the Core Concepts call for submissions is now open! For more information, be sure to visit our website and follow the #GDC2024 hashtag on social media.

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