The Boing Boing Guide to the 2010 Indie Games Student Showcase

By Brandon Boyer

maroon.jpg Though the announcement this week of the Student Showcase winners in this years Independent Games Festival might seem necessarily secondary to the main festival's competition, it's important to remember that some of gaming's recent best has been plucked directly from its former finalists. Most notably, Valve's much-beloved Portal was borne from 2006 student entry Narbacular Drop, the same year that Cloud would propel thatgamecompany forward to create their PlayStation 3 art-games flOw and Flower. 2007's And Yet It Moves is currently one of the upcoming lynchpins of indie representation on Nintendo's downloadable service WiiWare, and de Blob would later be revamped as a cult success for publisher THQ, while 2008's The Misadventures Of P.B. Winterbottom is just weeks away from an Xbox Live Arcade release from BioShock publisher 2K, and 2009's The Unfinished Swan still remains one of the most anticipated games to come from the festival. The point being: while the main IGF entrants are still the best temperature gauge for what the indie scene is up to, the student entrants are no less important a guidepost to the teams that will be moving it forward in the years to come. And so, as with Boing Boing's guide to the main IGF finalists, below is a breakdown of the ten student showcase finalists -- with links to downloads for nearly all the games to play yourself -- which this year brought a refreshing amount of genuinely compelling and moving experiences:
brscreen31.png Boryokudan Rue • PC • UCLA • www Can I Play It Right Now? Not yet. Following very confidently in the point and click tradition of dramatic adventure classics like Beneath a Steel Sky, the unfortunately titled Boryokudan Rue is a year 22xx cyber-noir thriller that manages to even get the occasional drop on Hideo Kojima's Snatcher for nailing Blade Runner's broken grey future. Fantastically atmospheric with its limited pixels and challenging without losing accessibility, it does a stellar job of keeping the point and click tradition alive. Continuity • web • Chalmers University of Technology / University of Gothenburg • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! Continuity should look familiar to regular readers: it was previously featured as the web hit of the week in early December, for its smart and simple platforming action split into and laid across a deck of cards that you rearrange like a classic slide-puzzle, and a wickedly bombastic synthed-out score counterpointed with the card-shuffle's light ambiance. Devil's Tuning Fork • PC • DePaul • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! Devil's Tuning Fork isn't a half step away in concept from last year's student showcase finalist The Unfinished Swan, for taking standard first-person platforming fare and turning it into an exercise in feeling your way through a discomforting void. In Fork's case, though, that void is even more frightening by design: its midnight blackness can only be navigated by echolocation -- or how we might visually translate the sensation of actual echolocators -- and the stuffed-toy objects it's your goal to collect are each crying out in childrens' voices about monsters and pain, adding to the overall sense of primal scared-of-the-dark dread. Dreamside Maroon • PC • DigiPen • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! Easily the best surprise of this year's showcase, Dreamside Maroon is 2010's version of the first time you played a thatgamecompany game: it's visually arresting, effortlessly stylized and quietly evocative in a way that's still too rare in gaming today. Your Dreamside goal is to grow a single vine to the moon, with no real enemies or challenges standing in your way, but the game truly opens up in a smell-the-roses sense as you realize that the gorgeous painterly floating islands you're surrounded by have lanterns that can be lit, each of which unlocks a small poetic verse and attracts groups of fireflies to collect and bring along in your journey upward. Utterly unmissable, if you can only bring yourself download one game from this list, make it this one. Igneous • PC • DigiPen • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! DigiPen's other strong showing this year outside Dreamside Maroon is Igneous, which is gaming's equivalent to Indy Jones's trademark boulder-chase scene, stretched out across a series of increasingly harrowing levels. Playing the part of a miniature rolling totem, all the game asks you to do is go -- and fast -- escaping from a wall of lava constantly nipping at you from behind, jumping over rivers of magma and ground that's continually falling out from beneath you: a game happily unforgiving and consistently nervewracking. Paper Cakes • PC/Mac • Utrecht School of the Arts & USC • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! Created as part of a student design challenge for Wacom's ongoing efforts to bring fun to their pen/tablet interface (but still just as fully playable with only a standard mouse), Paper Cakes is an adorably ingenious point-a-to-point-b puzzler about leading your sketch-drawing player to cake. To do so, as the other half of the title would suggest, you guide by drawing paths and -- here's where the clever comes in -- by origami-folding the paper the character lives on to its flip side, which can cover up obstacles, join floors, and open new routes to cross otherwise inaccessible routes. The character's post-cake-binge "itis" snooze is probably the cutest thing you'll see in the Indie Games Fest this year. Puddle • PC • ENJMIN, France • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! Between the main IGF's entry Vessel, Q-games' recently released PixelJunk Shooter and Puddle, it seems as though fluid dynamics modeling is becoming this year's "it girl" mechanic. Played out with only your joystick's shoulder buttons to tilt levels left and right, Puddle sees you guiding an amount of liquid through devilishly difficult laboratory levels, with bunsen burner flames and pitfall cracks draining your allotment along the way. Puzzle Bloom • PC • DADIU, Denmark • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! Somewhere on par, thematically, to the Oddworld series and Flower, Puzzle Bloom brings an environmental and anti-industrial message to puzzle mechanics that see you hopping from character to worker-drone character, taking control of their bodies to work through switch-gates and hit checkpoints that cause factory control rooms to bloom with greenery. Created in Unity, it's a good showcase (alongside the work of Flashbang and Infinite Ammo) of where 3D web gaming is headed. Spectre • PC/Mac • USC Interactive Media • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! One of this year's most narratively ambitious games, Spectre attempts nothing less than telling the story of one human's life from start to finish, spread out metaphorically through various 2D platforming challenges. Each playthrough lets you select nine memories -- and your goal is to avoid the darker bits of main character Joseph's past and concentrate on the glowing brighter ones -- with over fifty end-game themes and a uniting theme that's there for you to uncover via repeat play. Ulitsa Dimitrova • PC • Kunsthochschule Kassel, Germany • www Can I Play It Right Now? Yes! Finally, Ulitsa Dimitrova might be the most surprisingly affecting game entered this year that uses the least amount of mechanical ingenuity to make its point. Watching the guided-tour video above will give you basically the entirety of what it attempts to do, but it might be better told through your own discovery. Cheerfully drawn in broad, broad and utterly bleak ballpoint pen strokes, it's a character portrait of homeless Slavic seven-year-old Pjotre, capturing a slice of life that consists of little more than nicking Mercedes hood ornaments and stealing huffable glue and cheap liquor, all to trade away to support his chainsmoking habit. There's no winning, the city loops endlessly in classic Hanna Barbera style and echoes the nihilistic pointlessness of Pjotre's life -- all you can do is keep moving and repeating each empty day, because stopping means freezing to death in the St. Petersburg streets.

Published 5:55 am Fri, Jan 22, 2010

About the Author

Just trying to live a wild, pure, simple life.

18 Responses to “The Boing Boing Guide to the 2010 Indie Games Student Showcase”

  1. simonbarsinister says:

    Just watched Pjotre’s pointless life end.
    “There’s no chance for you to win”.
    I’m so depressed now.

  2. Torley says:

    That single screenshot of Boryokudan Rue brings back immersive memories of Access Software’s Tex adventures, including Mean Streets. Some other gems I haven’t heard of ’til now… so thankya Brandon and I’m off to check ’em out!

  3. CANTFIGHTTHEDITE says:

    Puddle and Puzzle Bloom look awesome! Has anyone here played those yet?

  4. jacord says:

    Nifty, thanks for the reviews, Brandon.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good interview with the Devil’s Tuning Fork guys here:

    http://www.uncommonassembly.com/?p=1182

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always found it suspicious that DigiPen is the “Platinum Sponsor” of the student showcase and games from their school always win.

  7. Anonymous says:

    ^ maybe thats because, aside from this year, DigiPen has by far had the best games. This year seems like there is really good competition for them, but the two games this year are extremely fun and well polished, and definitely deserve to win.

  8. Anonymous says:

    ^ maybe that’s because DigiPen has always produced the best games? Aside from this year, the DigiPen games have always been a large step up on all the other games. This year might not be so easy for them, but the two games they have in are both very fun and extremely polished, and definitely deserve to win.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Digipen students do produce some good games, but it is definitely a conflict of interest that the school is the main sponsor of the student award, and that its faculty participates in the judging process.

    Also consider that Digipen owns the IP of the games its students create, So if, say, Valve or Sony or some other publisher expresses an interest in publishing our acquiring some of this IP, Digipen will get its cut.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Actually, just to clarify, Digipen faculty has been involved in judging the awards in previous years and there was one Digipen judge this year, but they have never (obviously!) been allowed to vote for their own games – they are allocated other titles. And they are one of tens of judges, obviously, so we’re careful on conflict of interest there.

    As for sponsorships, obviously, the student winners are voted on by tens of external judges, and they certainly don’t care about who sponsors the awards.

    Simon@IGF.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Far be it from me to be the guy that asks for tech support in the comments on a post on a third party site, but…

    Has anyone tried Puddle? Has anyone been able to get past the screen asking you to press any button? It works not with gamepad, mouse, or keyboard as far as I can tell.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Dude digipen is like bootcamp for video game creaters there is no one night to where im up till 12am doing work. This school pushes you to your limits that is why digipen games are so good.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Can you update the igneous video? It’s like 9 months old o_0

    • Brandon Boyer says:

      I’ve updated it to one that just came out this week (after the original article was published!).

  14. Poe Briggs says:

    I would all kinds of download “Ulitsa Dimitrova” if I had a pc (rather than a mac).

  15. Anonymous says:

    I believe Igneous was done through Vancouver Film School – that’s where I first saw it presented.

  16. Anonymous says:

    “I believe Igneous was done through Vancouver Film School – that’s where I first saw it presented.”

    Definitely not, we go to DigiPen ;)

  17. Anonymous says:

    Ulitsa Dimitrova is very impressive. It’s these kinds of emotionally involving games that expand the art of videogames. And it’s these kinds of games that the ESRB and the censorship organizations of other countries will guarantee will never be seen by most of the public. If the authors attempted to submit their game for classification, it is doubtless that they would find it impossible to release. Just a single adult character smoking can get a game automatically rated M. A child smoking, and indeed the player having to cause the child to smoke, would be entirely unacceptable. The hopelessness of the situation would also be unacceptable. Until it were edited to impart almost no emotional message whatsoever, they would prohibit it from being released with a marketable rating (keep in mind that even in the US, where “there is no videogame censorship”, all 3 console manufacturers have declared that they will never allow an AO rated title to boot on their systems, and circumventing their approval process to make a game run on those systems runs afoul of federal law). It is disgusting that the public has accepted videogame censorship in nearly every western nation. The upcoming generation will be forced to abandon videogames as a medium for any serious expression of art.