Crispy Gamer

It's Not How It Looks

in

I wasn't expecting Wednesday's
Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice award shows to play out like
bona-fide award shows. I was expecting a low-key gathering in one of the
convention center rooms, something akin to a spelling bee, where people would
get called up to stand in front of the microphone and share some well-meaning
but awkward words. Instead, this was a real show in a darkened auditorium with
a host (Tim Schafer was scintillating as the host for the second half) and
'celebrity' presenters and award speeches.

What struck me were the little
vignettes that played on-screen for the nominated games in each category. Clips
for explosive games like Gears of War 2 and Left 4
Dead
might well have been scenes from big-budget action films. Clips
for many indie games, like Seamus McNally Grand Prize winner Blueberry
Garden
and Osmos, recalled the quirky humor and
strangeness of short films and foreign animations. The music is as important as
the visual style. The former games tend to be backed with sweeping orchestral
soundtracks; the latter tend to favor twee electronics and chamber
arrangements.

If you watch something like the
Academy Awards there's often a sudden transition in feeling, when the awards
for best animation are announced, from the weighty topics of 'serious' films to
the frivolous fancies of cartoons. Likewise, one might think that a game like Blueberry Garden would seem a trifle compared to the likes
of Gears 2. But the game's little beaked protagonist and
wavy lines easily held their own against Marcus and Dom's HD brows when projected
wide onstage.

I think it's because, for all
their self-conscious quirk and style, these little games serve some seriously
muscular gameplay. James Fudge and I trawled through the IGF pavilion this morning,
catching sneak peeks of games like Zeno Clash, Machinarium, Night Game and Feist. I didn't get to play Night Game,
but if it's anything like Nifflas' Within A Deep Forest --
and all signs point to yes -- there's a brutal, very physical platformer hidden
beneath that twilight surface. I did play Osmos -- which involves click-propelling a sphere over and
around obstacles -- and its calming atmosphere completely belied its tense,
verging-on-chaotic, sometimes frantic gameplay.

That feeling of intense calm, the
contradiction between what you see and how you feel, is an effect I'm not sure
I've had in another medium. It's cool that even the sweetest image can squeeze
your nerves.