The road to IGF: The students and the innovators

In the days leading up to this year's Game Developer's Conference and the Independent Games Festival, Polygon will be speaking with the Student Showcase winners and the finalists for the festival's prestigious Nuovo award. The Nuovo award honors "abstract shortform and unconventional game development."

Check back daily during the week for the stories of these student developers and shortform artists.

Bientôt l'été is part thought experiment, part video game, all art

It is a computer game almost by accident, a work of art that happens to use this particular medium to attempt to deliver a single magical moment that will touch its players in a sublimely introspective way.

Bientôt l'été delivers gamers to a pale golden beach under a powder blue sky. There, players guide a hooded figure dressed all in white along the sand, tracing the rhythmic back and forth of the surf. Occasionally odd phrases pop up on the screen and then fade away. If you walk far enough you'll come to a bench, as you approach it the ordinary sky begins to darken, moons, nebula and...

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Playing with fire: How Tomorrow Corporation's IGF-nominated Little Inferno came to be

In a world gone cold and demanding heat, Tomorrow Corporation's game equips players with the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace and tasks them with burning some of their favorite things to survive.

Polygon interviewed the developers of the 2013 Independent Games Festival-nominated Little Inferno to learn about the company, the game and the unexpected controversy that arose when the National Fire Protection Association condemned it.

It's been almost 10 years since Allan Blomquist, Kyle Gabler and Kyle Gray met.

At Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, the trio...

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Vesper.5: Finding meaning in rituals

The game was created in a week by Brough as part of a game jam with the theme "ritual." Speaking with Polygon, he says his IGF-nominated game was created with the intention of being a "spiritual experience," not in the sense that the game is powerful and moving, but in a subtle, meditative way that requires players to set aside some time each day to engage with it and reflect.

"There's not very much to the game, and that's intentional," Brough says. "I could have put traps or enemies, but I wanted this to be more about what you bring to it, rather than having it all in the game itself.

"...

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Shouting crazy science fiction terms with Spaceteam

Indie developer Henry Smith's space themed, cooperative screaming match is one of eight finalists in IGF 2012's Nuovo category which honors abstract or unusual games. As a team of two to four, Spaceteam players rattle off orders to each other while trying to escape an exploding star. Smith's goal was to create an asymmetric multiplayer with the feel of a board game. As a result, each person has a different control panel and therefore a unique role to play.

The idea, Smith said, came to him in a dream.

"A dream [is] kind of cliché," Smith said. "The idea of seeing something on one screen...

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Zineth: A colorful celebration of speed, motion, Twitter and cell phone obsession

"I don't believe any of us owned a Dreamcast," said Russell Honor, one of Zineth's creators, said in an email interview. "Sometimes when making decisions about how the game controlled or looked we would actually try to deviate from what [Jet Set Radio] did, but that was hard since most of us never played it.

"But from the little I knew about it from seeing it in gaming magazines 12 years ago, it's had a lasting effect on my idea of what is rad."

Jacob Knipfing, another Zineth co-creator, points to the Dreamcast era as influential, acknowledging the influence of games like Jet Set Radio...

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A game of two moons: MirrorMoon

The creators of MirrorMoon want you to get lost. Lost and lonely and very curious.

MirrorMoon is a first-person adventure game heavily influenced by science-fiction, says the development team. Players will wander a near-empty world with very little guidance, similar to thatgamecompany's Journey, and figure out for themselves what makes the world tick.

Developer Santa Ragione, made up of designer Pietro Righi Riva and artist Nicolò Tedeschi, and Paolo Tajè of indie studio Bloody Monkey met at the 2011 Global Game Jam held in Verona, Italy. Riva and Tedeschi have been working together since...

Coffee grounds and concrete: Cart Life's struggle through simplicity

The problem with simplification in games, Hofmeier says, is that in order to be understandable, it has to kill what it loves.

Hofmeier's monochrome retail simulator, Cart Life, is nominated in three categories in this year's Independent Games Festival: Excellence in Narrative, Nuovo and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. Hofmeier's own life inspired the game's details, from the mundane specifics of each character's life to sweating rent payments. Being a street vendor was a fantasy he'd always harbored. Creating Cart Life convinced him otherwise.

"I knew I wanted to make this game because it...

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7 Grand Steps through the history of humanity

Keith Nemitz decided to do that with his upcoming game, 7 Grand Steps. The title serves as a description of the game's arc and the idea itself — "ambitious" is one word you could use to describe Nemitz and his game, but the adjective seems somehow inadequate. The nomination of 7 Grand Steps for the Independent Games Festival's Nuovo Award, which recognizes "abstract and unconventional" games, seems apt for its unique, staggering concept and presentation.

In 7 Grand Steps, you begin at the dawn of Western civilization, with the objective of propagating your family line forth through the...

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Seeing the world as a blind girl in Team Pixel Pi's Pulse

And like the vision-impaired star of their game, they're figuring it out as they go along — with some help.

Team Pixel Pi made Pulse in three months last spring as the final project for the Vancouver Film School's game design program. The team consisted of five core members — Maxwell Hannaman, programmer; Richard Harrison, level designer; Leanne Roed, scripter and effects artist; Michael Cooper, environmental artist; and Lala Fuchs, project manager and artist — who were assisted by two sound design students, Alessio Mellina and Jamie Robb.

Pulse's protagonist, Eva, lost her sight in...

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The Mindful XP Volume is an experiment in creating meaningful games

The idea was to develop meaningful games over the course of one semester. Mindful XP began as the collective effort of Felix Park, Dan Lin and Michael Lee, three students from Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center who worked together during their Spring semester at the school to complete 10 standalone games that would be as mechanically and stylistically diverse as they could make them. The idea, they say, was to use games as a medium for communication; to portray meaning through specific attributes that can only be found there.

"we were striving to communicate some...

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A game within a game: ATUM

At some point players realize they can help him, although not by doing anything within the game. The player has to step out of the game — out of the darkness with the silhouetted man — and into a different game: the meta-game of a virtual character playing the game on a virtual computer.

Developed by Sassybot Studio and Team Cupcake, a development team from NHTV IGAD's University Gamelab in The Netherlands, ATUM explores the idea of a game within a game and the ways in which players can affect one game world by influencing another.

"We introduced the idea of recurrence and we wanted to...

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Homesick for Iran, a student explores Persian carpet rolling puzzles in Farsh

A clever, soothing tile-based puzzle game, Farsh was also a remedy for its creator. Homesick for his native Iran, the game's 20-year-old designer found solace by losing himself in development of the Independent Games Festival-nominated game.

"When I came to the Netherlands six months ago, for the first time in my life I was living alone, far from my family in Iran," Bahrami says. "The only thing that helped me to not become homesick was focusing on making Farsh. I was so involved in making the game that I completely forgot about the changes that had happened to my life."

"I had the idea...

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Filling the RPG void: Knights of Pen and Paper

The game is not only a straightforward, turn-based role-playing game (a genre seemingly made for touch devices but surprisingly underrepresented) in true Final Fantasy fashion. It also emulates, quite literally, the experience of playing a tabletop RPG like Dungeons and Dragons. The player creates the quest that his heroes will go on. He chooses the enemies his players will battle. He chooses the snacks on the table, granting his heroes certain bonuses.

Brazil-based Behold Studios, founded in 2009 by student developers Saulo Camarotti and Pedro Guerra, addressed a question that's been on...

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From film school to video games: The story of Blackwell's Asylum

"Easy now, Nellie," he says. "We've been through this before. It doesn't hurt a bit."

He administers the shot somewhere you can't see.

"There, there," he says. "That wasn't so bad now, was it Nellie?"

The world blurs into blackness.

Blackwell's Asylum is provocative, designed to make players uncomfortable and provoke reactions. Judging by the buzz that surrounds the game, it's working.

Created by a group of students from the Danish Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment under the direction of Claudia Bille Stræde, the game is a finalist in the Independent Games Festival's 2013...

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A walking nightmare: Back to Bed

A group of students from the Danish National Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment are bringing their perilous puzzle game Back to Bed to the 2013 Independent Games Festival. One of eight finalists entries in the competition's Student category, Back to Bed centers on a man with terribly inconvenient narcolepsy wandering an equally inconvenient, dreamlike landscape.

"The initial idea was just to create a game around sleepwalking, and see how we could make a video game [about it] that would be fun," project manager Klaus Pedersen told Polygon. "We took that premise and came out with...

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