The yearly Independent Games Festival that takes place at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco is a bit like the Sundance of video games. Independent developers around the world submit over 700 games to be judged by their peers in a large-scale competition with multiple categories covering art, design, and sound.
This year's took place a week ago, meaning that by now you’ve probably heard of some of the night’s big winners: multiple award winner Night in the Woods, audience choice winner Celeste, and QWOP designer Bennett Foddy’s Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy. If not, there’s some incredible stuff in the winning games line-up like meta-puzzler Baba is You and Amanita Design’s beautiful Chuchel.
Entered into the festival are thousands of developers, artists, and designers who’ve laid their hearts out on public display for all the world to see, and the vast majority of them were never even nominated for any awards. For this reason, here we've dipped into the 2018 games you might not have heard of to highlight some of the best.
Topping that list are a few games that made huge splashes in the indie PC games scene even before the IGF buzz. Blockbuster titles like Cuphead, Tacoma, Dead Cells, and Hollow Knight all stand out in a crowd of any games, not just indie titles.
For some, the real appeal of the IGF is in the weird new ideas that appear every year. This year’s Nuovo Award winner from Bennett Foddy was deeply philosophical, but in the end it was just a massive update to a game called Sexy Hiking. When it comes to weird, however, Everything is Going to Be OK truly pushes the limits of sanity. Cheap Golf is a masterwork of design and could have existed on an Atari 2600. One game that wasn’t even nominated for an award, Pig Eat Ball, mashes up a space pig princess, tennis, bugs, and vomit, all as major gameplay themes. Then there was Nuovo nominee Tarotica Voo Doo, which plays and looks like an abstract Apple II RPG.
When it comes to fun, generally, the Excellence In Design category shows off some unique experiences. The game developers who judge this competition (and there are hundreds, like the Academy Awards juries) are generally experienced players with widely diverse tastes in games. That’s why games that feature more common genre traits aren’t likely to get the nod; the focus, here, is unique fun, highly polished mechanics, and great complexity extending from simple rules. Therefore, it’s no wonder Baba Is You won this category, as it’s a puzzle game in which the laws of the game can be manipulated like switches and crates in the game world. FTL creators Subset Games were also nominated here with a far more traditional tactical war game, a la Advance Wars; Into the Breach is a decidedly original take on the turn-based tactical war game.
Then there’s Shenzhen I/O, a game about troubleshooting electronics manufacturing with a customized CPU environment, complete with programming manual. Perhaps it’s not surprising a jury of game programmers found this game worthy of nomination in the design category.
Read more about the IGF at the official site. It took place at the end of March's GDC in San Francisco. Can't wait until next year? For more indie games, attend our parent company's Big Indie Fest, newly announced for this July in Vienna.