Every March around the time of GDC, the Independent Games Festival (IGF) celebrates the best games and developers on the indie scene. Chances are if you want to play something that’s not chock full of micro transactions or loot boxes, you’re likely to find it here.
The IGF also hosts the IGF Awards, which are given to the absolute best independent games. To give an idea of the kind of games that have won the Grand Prize at the IGF before, previous winners include Papers, Please, Her Story, Quadrilateral Cowboy, and Night In The Woods.
So let’s take a look at this year’s winners and find out where you can play some of the best indie games:
First off is the Nuevo Award, formally known as the Innovation Award, which goes to the more esoteric and unique games. For example, last year’s winner was Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy, and it doesn’t get much more esoteric than that.
The winner of the Nuevo Award was Black Room, by Cassie McQuater. It’s a bizarre concept about being an insomniac who’s nearly about to fall asleep while browsing the internet. You’ll see sprites of female video characters in strange, hallucinogenic scenes. It’s the kind of thing you really have to play for yourself as it kind of defies explanation.
You can play it rather easily as the game itself is a browser based game. The website however couldn’t have a more difficult to type URL if it tried, as it seems to be mimicking the kind of nonsense you might get if you fell asleep face first on your keyboard.
Excellence In Narrative
This award goes to the game that tells a well written story and does so with panache.
This year’s award went to Return Of The Obra Dinn, which if you haven’t played, now would be the time.
The game is made by Lucas Pope, the developer of 2014’s Papers, Please. Obra Dinn casts you as an insurance adjuster who’s sent to inspect an abandoned cargo ship in the year 1807. If that doesn’t sound exciting, you also have a watch that can rewind time and you’re there to solve the grisly murders of several crew members.
Excellence In Design
As you’d expect, this award does to games that are designed to almost perfection. Everything from level design and game mechanics are analyzed to determine the winner. 2018’s award went to Baba Is You, which just officially came out this year.
This year the award was given to Zachtronic’s Opus Magnum, a puzzle game where players are tasked with creating machines that, to quote the game’s description, “carry out alchemical processes using a variety of components.”
Excellence In Audio
This award goes to games with terrific music and immersive sound design. Games where the sound amplifies your experience.
This year that award went to Arbitrary Metric's Paratropic, a dream like horror game inspired by the blocky polygons of the original PlayStation and N64 era. It’s not hard to see how it won this award considering how its ambient sounds help to establish a feeling of anxiety.
Excellence In Visual Design
For this award, the IGF looks for the games that contain an visual style and art design that’s both innovative and stunning to watch in motion.
Mirror Drop by Ian Lilley is the winner of this year’s visual design award, and it’s pretty fair to say it deserves it. The game is a psychedelic puzzle game where you use a sphere to navigate an incredibly colourful and somewhat disorienting mirrored world. It’s pretty trippy.
Best Student Game
Before we get to the big winner of this year's IGF, it's definitely worth acknowledging this year's Best Student Game winner. This award goes to the best designed game by students in game design classes around the world. It gives future game developers a major feather in their cap and something solid to put on their resume.
The honor went to after HOURS by Bahiyya Khan, Claire Meekel, Tim Flusk and Abi Meekel from the University of the Witwatersrand. after HOURS is a FMV game that deals with the heavy subject matter of child abuse and mental illness.
Currently the game is not available to play, but according to the Youtube channel of Bahiyya Khan, it should be released by the end of October 2019.
Seumas McNally Grand Prize
This is the big one, the award that goes to the overall best game at the Independent Games Awards. Whatever wins this can be held up as one of the absolute best indie games of the year.
This was awarded once again to Lucas Pope for Return Of The Obra Dinn. In an interesting coincidence, both Obra Dinn and last year’s Grand Prize winner Night In The Woods also won for Excellence In Narrative. Pope is now a two time winner, having previously won for Papers, Please in 2014.
Again, Obra Dinn is something that must be played. An unique experience where you essentially get to be a detective, trying to piece together the events that led the Obra Dinn being lost and abandoned. It’s not worth spoiling any further, if you haven’t played it yet and you relish the chance to use your deductive reasoning, you’re in for a treat.
We at TheGamer would like to congratulate all the winners of this year’s Independent Games Festival Awards. It will be exciting to see what these developers come up with next.