Game Theory: The Sundance of Gaming

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Game Theory: The Sundance of Gaming

Every serious PC gamer needs to pay attention to the Independent Games Festival (www.igf.com). Now in its tenth year, the IGF is an annual gathering that allows small and indie developers a chance to show their wares and discuss their craft.

Since conventions and trade shows bore me spitless, I’ve never gone and probably never will. But IGF does something very, very important for the future of PC gaming. Each year, it creates a roster of nominees for the IGF Awards. Like conventions, annual awards are also low on my love list, but the IGF nominees are something different. This is the soil where the seeds of PC gaming grow. It’s what we have that consoles don’t. Anyone with a little programming ability and a lot of passion and spare time can create a PC game and get it on the web where millions of people can download and play it.

This means that anyone—lots and lots of anyones—can and do create and upload all kinds of useless and offensive crap. I have neither the time nor the patience to wade through that download dunghill looking for a stray diamond, and thanks to the IGF, I don’t have to. The festival plucks quality games from obscurity and gives them a forum to shine.

Two of the best—Crayon Physics Deluxe and World of Goo—emerged from Carnegie Mellon’s Experimental Gameplay Project, which set a goal of creating 50 games in a single semester. Each game was done in less than a week by one person to prove how quickly imaginative solo programmers can create casual games. The elegant simplicity of Crayon Physics—in which drawn objects take on physical properties—is a thing of beauty and a testament to the goals of EGP.

There are too many quality games among the nominees to really do them justice in this space. Audiosurf, Gumboy Tournament, Synaesthete, and many others are already available as demos and downloads, while others are still edging toward final builds. Major mainstream releases are well and good, but it’s the lone programmer and the passionate amateur who often produce the quirky and interesting work that is unique to PCs.

And just remember, the 2006 Student Showcase winner was a little game called Narbacular Drop. You know it better as Portal.

Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is Editor-at-Large of Games Magazine.

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