So assuming there hasn't been a massive scheduling cock-up the winner of the Indie Speed Run should have been announced before this article went up. If not, then I guess this is the announcement. Oh blimey, that creates pressure. Like it wasn't enough pressure having to pick the winner of the $2500 prize in the first place.
To my mind the most important thing was that the games actually use their random assigned theme in an interesting way, because that's the whole point. The temptation may be to re-use an old game idea you've been brewing for ages and then slap the theme words on somewhere, but the point is that you're not supposed to start thinking about what you're going to make until you have the words, until the 48 hours have officially begun. It's supposed to teach you not to get too invested in a single idea, because ideas aren't special. To paraphrase the old saying, ideas are like assholes: everyone has one and you'd make very few friends going around asking everyone to closely examine yours. It's not hard to come up with ideas. The real skill is communicating and developing them once the initial excitement of thinking it up has passed.
So having been assigned the theme of "Automation", Protein Pirates succeeded in running that theme through the core mechanics very effectively. You start off having to arduously click on cells to steal their protein, but with each stage of expansion the game automates one of the clicking tasks. It both rewards the player and gives them a great sense of growing in strength and influence, while the threat also ramps up enough that it doesn't get boring. Of all the finalists I was given to play, it was the only one I found myself wanting to play again for fun, not just for review. Very elegant gameplay balance for a 48-hour game. The assigned element of "pirate" is applied a little bit shakily - the game takes place in a body with you controlling a virus in a pirate hat - but the mechanics are basically about thievery, so I was willing to let that slide.
But all ten finalists - seven picked by my fellow judges, and three by popular vote - were strong contenders in their own way. I thought I'd take the opportunity in this column to give some brief thoughts on each one.
Cheese and Punishment:Trial and error gameplay certainly does fit the assigned theme of "Punishment" well and I liked the idea of having to use everything you've learned about what colors and sounds denote success to pick the correct button at the very end. It's just that there's basically nothing left to it once you have got the rules down. Still, a good one-time play, and the 3D work is pretty impressive for the time limit.
A Letter To My Valentine: Solid design, somewhat reminiscent of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer. But a game that you win by getting away with sexually harassing someone leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Also, an online multiplayer game is impressive, but also slightly annoying when I could only play it by enlisting an unemployed friend. Especially when he insisted on using the screen name "Sir Rapes-A-Lot".