Indie Week Day Four: Excellence In Audio

by Matt Miller on Feb 27, 2011 at 07:00 AM

[Welcome to Indie Week at gameinformer.com. We’ve got a full seven days of indie game coverage leading up to the 2011 Independent Games Festival Awards. Check back daily for coverage of the top independent games of the year.]

Try to imagine Star Wars without the music of John Williams. Or consider Bioshock without the evocative sound effects and voiceover. It's just not the same thing. A quality audio experience can catapult a good piece of entertainment into greatness.

Several previous winners of the prize have gone on to more public success after the award, including Everyday Shooter, Fret Nice, and PixelJunk Eden.

This year, the Excellence in Audio award will be judged be a diverse group of industry professionals. Daniel Baranowsky helped craft the audio for 2010 audio finalist Super Meat Boy. Vincent Diamante was the composer behind Flower. Jordan Fehr was the sound designer for such diverse projects as Super Meat Boy and Donkey Kong Country Returns. Dylan Fetterer will judge the same category he won back in 2008 with Audiosurf. David Lloyd and Larry Oji will jointly represent game music remix site OverClocked Remix. Matt Piersall is the founder of GL33K. Emily Ridgway directed music and audio on great games like BioShock and Brutal Legend. William Stallwood and Dain Saint created the unusual and intriguing Auditorium. Also joining the judge's staff are independent composers Rich Vreeland and Josh Whelchel.

A WORD FROM THE IGF JUDGES: "The Excellence in Audio jury also selected Frictional's Amnesia for making use of discrete elements to conjure its mood and horror, saying its audio was 'essential to the believability and enjoyment of the game' and created 'a palpable fear that rivals the best survival horror gaming experiences I can remember.' Said one jurist: 'The whole effect could have been ruined and seemed either too boring/minimalistic or too campy/overdone. Instead, it strikes a perfect balance, and shows just how crucial audio can be, specifically with regards to terror and suspense.'

"The creative use of narration in SuperGiant's Bastion earned it 'top points for execution,' with one jurist saying that aspect, 'combined with earthy music, leads to a very interesting Legend-Of-Mana-by-way-of-Southern-Yarn experience that is essential to the game - I would not have continued playing it for as long as I did if not for the soothing rumble of the Narrator.'

"Gaijin's Bit.Trip BEAT was praised for enhancing what otherwise might seem to be a 'modern variation on Pong' via its synchronized and 'enthralling' soundscape, one called 'absolutely integral to the experience.' 'This is the game we musician-gamers always thought would be doable when we first saw Pong,' added one jurist. The soundscape in Oxeye's Cobalt was also praised for 'giving it the amount of life it has,' with '"immersing sound effect work that absolutely sells the atmosphere,' and a soundtrack that 'stays away from melodic motifs to let the overall ambiance take center stage.'

"Finally, Vblank's NES-styled Retro City Rampage was praised as a game 'chock full of audio personality,' with 'every bit, clink, and bang lovingly rendered in gorgeous square and sine waves' that crucially added to its faux-'authenticity.' 'I love that the music and the SFX were all done with tracker sheets,' added one jurist. 'It is admirable that they went to the extra trouble for authentic audio, when there are so many easier ways to make 'passable' approximations.'"

Other Nominations: Technical Excellence, Seumas McNally Grand Prize
Developer: Frictional Games
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $19.99

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is good. So good, in fact, it was nominated in three unique categories. Read our original IGF preview here, or check out this humorous video of a gamer playing Amnesia below. Those with sensitive ears may want to stay away, as more than a little adult language comes into the mix.

[Next up: Explore the strange and broken world of Bastion]

Other Nominations: Excellence in Visual Art
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platform: TBA
Release Date: TBA
Price: TBA

Bastion is shaping up nicely. So nicely, in fact, it was nominated in two unique categories. Read our original IGF preview here, or check out a handful of stunning screens below.

[Next up: Fall into a trance with Bit.Trip Beat]

Other Nominations: N/A
Developer: Gaijin Games
Platform: WiiWare, PC, Mac, iOS
Release Date: March 16, 2009
Price: 600 Wii Points (WiiWare)

Take Pong and ratchet up everything about it, and you'll begin to know what to expect from BIT.TRIP BEAT, the first installment of Gaijin's Games addictive series of innovative games.

As pixilated balls hurtle across the screen towards you, you must maneuver the paddle into place to bounce them away. Easy right?

There's a good bit more that makes things more complicated. Different items bounce off your paddle in different ways. The music keeps perfect time with the action onscreen. The better you're doing, the more the screen begins to flash and embellish the visuals, forcing your mind to concentrate on the ever more complicated pattern of approaching dots.

After a few minutes, it's hard not to feel transfixed by the affair. The game drops you into a trance, but doesn't lose a touch of difficulty or challenge in the process.


[Next up: Half human, half robot, and all fun. You are Cobalt.]

Other Nominations: N/A
Developer: Oxeye Game Studio
Platform: PC/TBA
Release Date: TBA
Price: TBA

Cobalt is a brand new 2D action platformer coming from Oxeye Game Studio in Sweden. The high octane game puts players in charge of a cool little guy/girl named Cobalt -- an entitry that has a robot body and a human brain.

Cobalt's sci-fi story has him navigating a strange alien world with a huge variety of weapons and other equipment, which can be purchased and expanded throughout the course of the game. From matter guns to the ability to hack robots, Cobalt has a huge array of actions to help clear the field in front of him and allow forward progression.

Along the way, you'll not only be treated to some pretty constant explosions and fun sound effects, but there's also an incredibly cool soundtrack that mixes the best traditions of chiptune music with more traditional electronica. Just try not to bop your head up and down as you play.

Cobalt's core combat and traversal experience is fast and fun; the game has a quirky style that is immediately appealing. Check out the game's teaser trailer first. The second video offers a more detailed look at some of the interesting things that this little robot can do in the game.

[Next up: Have a laugh at Grand Theft Auto's expense in Retro City Rampage]

Other Nominations: N/A
Developer: VBlank Entertainment
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare
Release Date: TBA
Price: TBA

VBlank's Retro City Rampage is a strange beast. Part top down action game, and part parody, the game lampoons everything from open world crime games like Grand Theft Auto to classics like Bionic Commando. Even so, it's all done with tongue firmly in cheek. It's clear that game maker Brian Provinciano loves these old games as much as we all do.

In Retro City Rampage, you control The Player, a character that makes his way through the retro-inspired world sewing chaos wherever he goes. The 8-bit graphics will immediately call to mind early top down action games, but there's plenty of modern complexity thrown into the mix. The game rolls out into a massive open world with over 40 vehicles and 20 weapons

Fantastic sound and chiptune-style  music accompany the adventure, which can be played in either a campaign story mode, or through a fast paced "Spree Mode" to build up your score. It's a truly massive independent game, especially when you consider that the whole thing was crafted by just one developer.

See the game in action in the video below.


Excellence in Audio Honorable Mentions: Bit.Trip Runner (Gaijin Games), Cave Story (Nicalis), Jamestown (Final Form Games), NightSky (Nicalis), Planck (Shadegrown Games)