Top Ten Independent Games of 2003

I recently read this Game Tunnel article listing their top ten independent games of 2003, and I was very disappointed. Most of the games appear to be shoot-em-ups, and they are lauded for having good production values – in other words, for being like commercial games. This is all very honorable, and I’m sure these games are fun and well made, but I must admit to secretly harboring the hope that someone is going to make some kick-ass indie games one of these days that really explore some new directions. Which lets me off the hook for not doing the same thing in a commercial context.

Of course there is no good reason why the independent game community should give the slightest damn about my wishes, but… a man can dream.

Meanwhile, Grand Text Auto compared this top ten with the recent Independent Game Festival winners, and noted that the IGF judges seem to have a greater liking for different and innovative games.

Comments 3

  1. Aubrey wrote:

    Although that top ten is very telling, I’m also quite irked by the IGF’s some-what ivory tower stance. I remember playing Pencil Whipped – an FPS where the graphics are all drawn in a naive/cartooney pencil style. While the graphical style was certainly something to remark upon, nothing in the game was… good. Or even “okay”. No boundaries were broken in the name of innovation, and rookie mistakes were made (insta-kill invisible death traps all over the place – Christ almighty, NO!). This game made it to the finals. The FINALS. It seemed to fool judges into thinking “hey, this is just about stupid enough to be in the running!”, without any redeeming qualities except for a quirky, meaningless aesthetic. (Which is great and all, but come on! There has to be more substance than this surely?)

    It made me feel like the IGF rewards “neat ideas” (as in “wouldn’t it be neat if SPARROWS POOPED THE LOST TESTAMENT OF JESUS OF NAZARETH?!?! IGF, HERE I COEM!@”) rather than tackling truly interesting mechanics, whether or not the games *look* like typical shooters or not. Another game that made it to the finals, and actually won some awards, (Savage Earth? Can’t quite remember the name) shared essentially its game mechanic with Pokemon Snap, but because its theme made it far less likely to make any market impact, it’s suddenly “indie” and deserves recognition. Huh? Is it just me or is this just… stupid?!

    Basically, I think there *is* some degree of ivory tower snobbery that suggests, erroneously, that you can only say something with a game if that game LOOKS off the wall and unconventional, regardless of how interesting and well crafted the game mechanics are. I have a vision of someone saying “Oh. It’s a shooter. Shooters can’t possibly be innovative, or expressionistic”, and it riles me no end. It’s the game equivalent of judging a book by its cover, and kills my faith in the igf.

    As criticism and understanding of the medium gets better, though, so will the IGF. And I don’t mean to fling poop at any of the games involved in any of the awards mentioned. I’m just worried about the criterion that the games are being judged on. If they’re judged on theme, graphics, sound and plot alone, then it’s undermining games’ only unique property over other conventional art forms: the game mechanics/rules/interactive system (call it what you like). To be fair, that was a straw-man argument, since they’re certainly taking game design into account. I merely worry that an innocuous looking title may actually explore interesting ideas through its game mechanics, but that it may be ignored simply because it looks like an R-Type clone. Certainly, the game tunnel award has no such qualms with lookeelike games, but at the same time, it probably doesn’t try to look at games from some deep philosophical perspective.

    Ignoring the possibility of mechanics as evocative, in of themselves, is as good as missing the point of some of the games, which may sport conventional and/or well produced graphics/themes, but *still* have something interesting to say through their rules.

    Posted 16 Jan 2004 at 12:27
  2. Jurie Horneman wrote:

    I like your point. However, in this case I personally prefer the IGF’s approach over GameTunnel’s. But it’s important to specify that I consider this to be a personal preference, and also that this does not mean that I understand or agree with the IGF’s judging criteria. For my tastes the IGF still rewards commercial-level quality more than creative independence, but it is obvious that I would really prefer a different kind of award system altogether.

    I don’t like to reduce games to just game mechanics – this would be the equivalent of having the Oscar for best editing or cinematography be more important the the Oscar for best picture. After all, those disciplines are what distinguishes movies from other media. I think it makes sense to judge games on specific aspects such as graphics, setting, music and sound, story, or mechanics, as well as more holistically: best game (which, to me, would mean judging the integration of the parts), most groundbreaking game, most offbeat game, most sheer fun game, etc.

    But currently I am more troubled by the fact that games are included or excluded from awards depending on nothing more than a highly ambiguous boundary between different methods of financing.

    Posted 17 Jan 2004 at 12:01
  3. Aubrey wrote:

    Oops. I didn’t mean to imply that the game mechanics are the most important part of the game, just that they’re the least understood and acknowledged, and thus probably the least appreciated. That’s why I worry, since it’s a unique quality that games have, but it may be ignored if the more prominenty and conventional aspects don’t scream “Look at me! I am different!”

    Posted 17 Jan 2004 at 16:01