One is a zen-like game about creating a tree. One is a beautiful, abstract fencing game. Another sees its players fighting physically to win. In another of 2011's Independent Game Festival Nuovo Award nominees, you play as a dictator's cat.
The Independent Games Festival Awards special prize, the Nuovo Award, exists to reward "abstract, short-form, and unconventional game development," to honor the more esoteric art games competing in the annual indie game competition.
"There's a crucial and growing sub-segment of the indie games community that's devoted themselves to these new areas — documentary and autobiographical games, meditative games, games where the 'video' part of videogames is far less important than the 'game' that's actually happening amongst the players themselves," said IGF chairman Brandon Boyer in advance of the nominee announcement.
He hopes the highlighted Nuovo nominees will "broaden the minds of people that haven't seen what videogames can do other than what they're shown on retail shelves and in damning media reports on the violence and violence and ever-present violence of games."
In 2011, eight games are being nominated for the Nuovo.
- Bohm, created by Monobanda - Gives you control over the life of a tree. It's a game based on slow gameplay and the act of creation.
- A House in California, created by Cardboard Computer - A surreal, narrative game about four characters who bring a house to life... with environments and activities drawn from a combination of memory, research, poetry, and fantasy.
- Nidhogg, created by Messhof - A 2 player fencing game with football & platforming elements.
- Dinner Date, created by Stout Games - You play as the subconsciousness of Julian Luxemburg, waiting for his date to arrive. Youlisten in on his thoughts while tapping the table, looking at the clock and eventually reluctantly starting to eat...
- Loop Raccord, created by Nicolai Troshinsky - Manipulate a series of video clips in order to create... continuous movement.
- The Cat and the Coup, created by Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad - A documentary game in which you play the cat of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran.
- Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now (B.U.T.T.O.N.), created by Copenhagen Game Collective - A one-button party game for 2-8 players. ... rather than let the computer carry out all the rules, the players are themselves responsible for enforcing (or not enforcing) the rules.
- Hazard: The Journey Of Life, created by Demruth - A philosophical first person single player environmental puzzle game. The game presents no goals directly to the player, but they create goals for themselves based on what they know of the world.
Brandon Boyer, IGF Chairman, tells Kotaku the games singled out by Nuovo Award nominations bear "distinctive qualities about the games themselves that don't lend themselves easily to clear nominations in other categories," offering "the sense that these games come from a place where a more traditional, commercially minded studio probably wouldn't tread."
"Which isn't at all to say that these games are inapproachable by the wider gaming audience," Boyer says. "I think there's a really regrettable sense amongst players outside a smaller indie circle that 'art games,' however you want to define them, are trying to pull a fast one over on 'hardcore gamers,' that they're being intentionally obscure and blaming the audience if they don't 'get it."
"Honestly, in all of my experiences, they're actually super open, thoughtful, warm and genuinely funny people who are simply trying to push "games" in directions we hadn't thought to try before. And I think this is reflected in this year's selection," Boyer explains.
That list of nominees includes games as varied as the one-button party game B.U.T.T.O.N. and the delightfully weird, but approachable Nidhogg, two games in particular where social multiplayer components feature prominently.
"If you've seen either played in public," Boyer says, "you know that the experience is as valuable to the observers as it is to the players themselves, and that's a pleasure that for the past few decades has been reserved almost entirely for the deep, hardcore fighting/dancing game underground."
Boyer says his "hope for the Nuovo Award is that it exposes more people to games that aren't necessarily doing what games normally do, and helps erase this perceived 'high brow/low brow' gap."
"Videogames have as much capacity to be as transcendentally wonderful and surprising and beautiful as every other medium, and my hope is that the IGF serves to help expose people to all of that wonder and beauty!"
In addition to the eight Nuovo nominees, the IGF also recognized five additional games with honorable mentions, including Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games), Faraway (Steph Thirion), Feign (Ian Snyder), Choice Of Broadsides (Choice Of Games), Spy Party (Chris Hecker).
The Nuovo Award, a $5,000 USD prize, will be announced at next year's Independent Games Festival Awards on March 2, 2011 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, during Game Developers Conference 2011. All Nuovo finalists will be playable at the IGF Pavilion at GDC 11 from March 2nd to 4th.