Indie Week Day Six: Nuovo Award

by Meagan Marie on Mar 01, 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.]

Created to honor "abstract, shortform, and unconventional game development that advances the medium and the way we think about games," a Nuovo Award nomination is one of the highest IGF honors. A special jury comprised of “the top thinkers on the future of art and the video game medium” cherry-picked the eight final nominees.

The panel of judges includes Jason Rohrer (Between), Paolo Pedercini (Every Day the Same Dream), Ian Bogost (A Slow Year), and Daniel Benmergui (Today I Die), Clint Hocking (Creative Director, LucasArts), Eric Zimmerman (Diner Dash), Eddo Stern (TekkenTorture Tournament, Cockfight Arena), Frank Lantz (Creative Director, Area/Code), Jesper Juul (The Ludologist), Justin Smith (Enviro-Bear 2000), Rod Humble (Executive Vice President, EA Play), and Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn (Tale of Tales).

"This year, the Nuovo Jury discussion focused on celebrating games that not only embody a strong authorial voice, but 'open the eyes of the audience (and other developers), that provoke discussion...not for the sake of being contrary, but for the sake of expanding the form, of treading on unexplored terrain.'

"The jury also felt Nuovo finalists should make the player 'feel lost at the beginning because they've never experienced such a language before, but then should feel delight when they manage to 'understand' it, and feel eager to build on it,' and should 'have some obscure magic that transcends analysis and picking apart of individual design choices.'"

Other Nominations: N/A
Developer: Monobanda
Platform: TBA
Release Date: TBA
Price: TBA

A fantastic first example of a Nuovo nominee, Bohm is touted as a title you’ll want to play before bed. The game tasks you with nurturing the life of a tree. Intentionally slow and methodical, the focus of the game is to obtain a “zen-like experience without goals or a clear explanation.” Patience and relaxation are key, so don’t expect instant gratification.

As the tree’s caretaker you are able to grow it in size, spawn branches and leaves, and contort it into unique shapes with analog stick controls. Collecting clouds ensures the nutrition of the tree, which is indicated by the vibrancy of the grass at the trunk’s base.

Music changes dynamically as you make decisions, resulting in what the developer hopes is a poetic experience and an “interactive homage to the beauty, slowness, and peace of nature.”

There is no way to “win” Bohm, but eventually your journey will come to an end and you’ll have the opportunity to start anew. With experience comes control and eventually the ability to visualize and realize specific end results.

Check out the dreamlike execution of Bohm below.



[Next up: B.U.T.T.O.N encourages bad behavior]

Other Nominations: N/A
Developer: Copenhagen Game Collective
Platform: Xbox Live Indie Games, PC
Release Date: Xbox Live Indie Version Available Now, PC Coming Soon
Price: 80 Microsoft Points, TBA

Despite the long-winded name, B.U.T.T.O.N. is quite simple in execution. Intended for a party setting with two to eight individuals, the game is playable with a single button press and unfolds in short and frantic rounds.

Every round begins with players putting down their controllers and stepping away from the screen. The players are then further instructed to perform a physical task that makes the round more challenging, such as laying down on the floor or completing a set amount of pushups. The game then issues a challenge, such as “any player whose button is pressed loses,” or “the first person to hold their button for seven seconds wins.” Physical space now becomes a hot commodity as players must rush to regain their ground and win the round. Sabotaging other players is encouraged.

Chaos is inherent to play, as rounds usually result in mad grabs for controllers. As the name of the game indicates, unfair tactics are totally acceptable. In fact, the more unfair you are, the higher your chances of winning.

While the concept and visuals are quite simple, B.U.T.T.O.N. has received accolades for fostering meaningful social interactions and engaging users in a way that most multiplayer games can’t replicate.  

Still a bit foggy on the details? Check out B.U.T.T.O.N. in action below.


[Next up: The Cat, The Coup, and the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran]

Other Nominations: N/A
Developer: Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad
Platform: PC, Mac
Release Date: TBA

The Cat and the Coup is an example of games being used to a more serious end – in this instance, to educate the player about a historical figure through an interactive biography.

In the Nuovo nominee you play as the feline companion to the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh. The experience begins at Mossadegh’s deathbed and asks the player to coax the Prime Minster into reliving his most significant life events. New events are uncovered through simple interactions within confined spaces, such as knocking objects off of shelves, scattering papers about the floor, or simply scratching Mossadegh. We'd be hesitant to call them puzzles, but rather each exchange is a catalyst to the next bullet point in Mossadegh’s life.

The experience itself is very short, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in intrigue. The stark soundtrack is punctuated with relevant sound effects such as the sound of an unsettled mob rising. Aesthetic influences are drawn from a variety of sources and compiled in a collage of Persian miniatures, 3D renders, photographs, and more.

While gameplay mechanics are a bit abstract, the potential for a meaningful and engaging educational experience is where The Cat and the Coup excels.

Check out The Cat and the Coup’s unique vision below.



[Next up: A Dinner Date for one]

Other Nominations: N/A
Developer: Stout Games
Platform: Windows
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $6.78

Stout Games offers another example of experimental play in Dinner Date, an interactive narrative that subjects you to the subconscious of a man in the midst of being stood up.

Intended to provide a portal into the most private thoughts of Julian Luxemburg, the player will discover his deepest hopes and darkest fears as the clock ticks by. Luxemburg's thoughts eventually wander to his vocation, friends, and even his place in the world. Interacting with Luxemburg and the environment will yield glimpses into every facet of his life, initiated through tapping letters on the keyboard that correspond to floating thought bubbles.

Dinner Date includes 25 minutes of voiced inner dialogue in a carefully crafted experience. So carefully crafted, in fact, that Stout took the time to pair a wine with the game in order to fully engross the player. They recommend a bottle of Otra Vida Merlot, if you’re curious.

Join Luxemburg for dinner below.


[Next up: Life is full of hazards ]

Other Nominations: N/A
Developer: Demruth
Platform: Windows
Release Date: TBA
Price: TBA

Hazard: The Journey of life is a tough game to wrap one's mind around, let alone describe. This is compounded by the fact that Hazard prides itself in being deceptive world where nothing is as it seems. A first-person exploration/puzzle game with surrealist overtones, Hazard presents the player with a maze where geometry can be manipulated. On a more philosophical note, Hazard is intended to foster an appreciation for life’s simplicities such as discovery and learning through curiosity.

Trial and error are essential to learning the vocabulary of the world. Players can manipulate the maze with various guns, each changing how they interact with the geometry of the level. Don’t let the inclusion of firearms fool you, however. There are no hidden action or shooter overtones in Hazard. Using the guns to solve puzzles requires lateral and logical thought on the part of the player. If a puzzle proves too difficult when you first encounter it, running down an alternate path will teach you mechanics in a more digestible fashion.

Depth is Hazard’s goal, not accessibility. As you proceed through the game space will wrap around upon itself, paths will change destinations, obstacles will disappear, and walls break apart and reform. Once you’ve trained yourself to think within the confines of this abstract and engaging world, Hazard: The Journey of Life shines as a truly unique game that challenges traditional game design.

Check out Hazard: The Journey of Life in action below.


[Next up: A House in California beckons]

Other Nominations:
Developer: Cardboard Computer
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Release Date: Available Now
Price: Free

A House in California uncovers what’s truly at the heart of a home through the exploration of four characters. The characters are based on the developer’s real life relations and the loose narrative resembles a poem about family and memory.

The player interacts with the environment through simple point-and-click commands such as “look,” “play,” “remember,” “forget,” “catch,” “cook,” “befriend,” and more. Combining commands with objects in the minimalist setting will yield different results. "Looking" at the moon will reveal a whimsical thought about its size, while "remembering" the moon transports the player to a new area to explore. Most of the intended interactions are discovered through experimentation, but the player is rewarded with thoughts and memories even for “incorrect” pairings. All interactions provide further context to the character, however, and aid in solving the light puzzle elements of the game.

Both the sound design and visuals are quite simple, but have a pleasant ambiance to them that complements the slightly foggy and abstract nature of the game.

Take a peek at A House in California below.


[Next up: Loop the Raccord]

Other Nominations:  N/A
Developer: Nicolai Troshinsky
Platform: PC
Release Date: TBA
Price: TBA

Loop Raccord is by far the most abstract of the Nuovo nominees, but it is no less engaging for it. The “video editing game” instructs the player to manipulate a grid of clips in order to create continuous movement between panels. This is done through careful timing to ensure that motions are synchronized.

For example, if a ball were to bounce off the right side of the first clip’s window, the player would need to start and stop the adjacent clip to align the motion – perhaps of a person falling down.

Inspired by experimental cinema and independent animation, Loop Raccord “tries to use cinematographic language as gameplay.” The clips come from various sources and layer audio on top each other, creating a cacophony of sounds and motions.

Developer Nicolai Troshinsky notes that Loop Raccord marks the debut of his “Recycling Games” project, which will focus on creating experiences from preexisting audio and visual material.

[Next up: Be on guard with Messhof's Nidhogg ]

Other Nominations: Excellence in Design, Seumas McNally Grand Prize
Developer:  Messhof
Platform: PC
Release Date:  TBA
Price: TBA

Nidhogg is shaping up nicely. So nicely, in fact, it was nominated in three unique categories. Read our original IGF preview here, or check out a humorous look at Nidhogg's "hollywood connections" below.



Nuovo Award Honorable Mentions: Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games), Choice Of Broadsides (Choice Of Games), Faraway (Steph Thirion), Feign (Ian Snyder), Spy Party (Chris Hecker)