IndieCade’s Red Carpet Awards: Full of Surprises

on Friday, Oct. 5th

IndieCade, the International Festival of Independent Games, capped day one of the festival by handing out their Red Carpet Awards last night in true indie fashion. The ceremony itself was plagued by some technical and timing glitches, at times it was difficult to understand host Felicia Day–who did an excellent job– because of the way she was mic’d. One award recipient was ungracious enough to remark that the ceremony didn’t live up to his Hollywood fantasies. Which, admittedly, was better than last year when one of the winners cussed the whole audience out.*

(I don’t even like bringing this stuff up, but spare the rod… )

What really matters are the awards themselves, which in many cases were the true surprises of the night. Not the least of which was when the role playing game BOOK Vornheim: The Complete City Kit took home the Technology award. It was easy to tell that something different was about to happen when the presenter for the award– one of the few to come out solo– told the audience that the awards committee was as surprised by the selection as they were about to be.

Perhaps that has something to do with the definition that IndieCade gives to their Technology Award:

The craft of game development is inseparable from the medium in which it exists. This award honors the use of the medium to create an expression that simply couldn’t have been possible otherwise. A iPad game that leverages multi-touch input as an integral aspect of the experience, or a game that builds upon a computer’s processing abilities to make a digital work that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, this award honors bold and unexpected experiments with the affordances of the medium that transform technology to magic.

Vornheim’s creator Zak S. was as shocked as anyone could possibly be. From the stage he offered to trade awards with someone else since he didn’t know how he was going to explain this.

Now there are a couple of ways to interpret this choice on the part of the jury. One would be as a not-so-subtle chastisement of the current crop of designers for failing to push the limits of the technology currently available to them. That’s the cynical path, and maybe there’s something to that. Yet I’m favoring a different interpretation, one that two of the other awards: Game Design and Impact, I think bear out.

The Design award was picked up by Eric Zimmerman and John Sharp’s board game Armada d6. Impact went to the team at the University of Southern California behind the ARG Reality Ends Here. Both are off-beat choices that show that the cutting edge of play is happening outside of computer science labs.

While I’ve yet to get any hands-on time with any of these three games… and it will be difficult to have a full experience with either Vornheim or Reality Ends Here over this weekend… my old gamer instincts tell me that the secret here lay in the craftsmanship. I suspect that Vornheim earned it’s Technology award for an act of transformation. Let me try an analogy here:

If you’ve ever watched the cooking show Chopped, you know that the judges put  a lot of emphasis on the way in which the competing chefs transform their ingredients. Sure, you can throw mountain yams, asparagus, bay oysters, kale and candy corn on a plate and call it a Mountain Bay Halloween Cobb Salad… but you’re gonna lose and lose big. Find a way to have those elements transcend their normal properties and you’re well on your way to taking home the grand prize.

With Vornheim, Zak S. may very well have taken the humblest of gaming ingredients: the paper and pen RPG, and transformed it into something far more intricate. There’s only one real way to tell: I’m going to have to get my hands on the Vornheim book for a while and try some city building out.

The crop of winners showed the breadth that IndieCade has become known for: major indie console releases, storytelling experiments, and games that are as far from video as you can get. It’s a sign that the heart of the game industry has it’s head in the right place: the play remains the thing.

The Full List of IndieCade 2012 Award Winners:

Grand Jury: Unmanned— molleindustria, USA

Special Recognition: The Stanley Parable Davey Wreden, USA

Technology: Vornheim— Zak S., USA

Interaction: Interference— Eric Zimmerman & Nathalie Pozzi, USA

Game Design: Armada d6— Eric Zimmerman & John Sharp, USA

Impact: Reality Ends Here: Jeff Watson, Simon Wiscombe, & Tracy Fullerton, USA

Story/World Design: Botanicula— Amanita Designs, Czech Republic

Visual Design: Gorogoa— Jason Roberts, USA

Audio: Dyad— RSBLSB, USA

*A TIP TO GAMEDEVS: I ignored the game whose dev cursed out the hall last year, and will likely ignore the game whose dev was ungracious this year. There’s only so much time in the world, and I have no intention of rewarding people who act like ungrateful jerks with attention.

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