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”.
Dawnseed: A pleasant little Zelda tribute with a rather clever turnaround – after a certain point, your control shifts from the protagonist to the enemies, leaving you having to counter attacks and abilities you had very recently been relying upon. The story becomes an appealingly dark reversal of the standard lone hero situation. It’s just that the inclusion of the assigned theme of “Light” was tenuous at best. I wonder if they were going to call it Darkseed until they realized there’s already a game by that name, and that they couldn’t compete with its moustache.
Soledad: A genuinely touching story vignette about a woman’s relationship with her father throughout her life, but I’m basically a Borg and refuse to let my emotions influence me at all. The gameplay is traditional adventure game-y in that its main purpose is just to briefly delay you on the way through a linear story. Good story, mind.
Hamal: Like Cheese and Punishment, Hamal is kind of done with once you figure out the one twist to the Simon-like gameplay, but it’s presented well. Also like with Cheese and Punishment it’s always impressive and a little surprising when a 48-hour game is in full 3D. Taking that option feels like holding a big sign over your head reading “Headaches This Way Please”.
The Garbage Collector: This is where my little anally retentive sphincter tightens, because as efficient as the three-tier scrolling shooter gameplay is, the theme (“Zealotry”) and element (“Garbage”) don’t seem to be acknowledged anywhere but in the accompanying text blurb. I appreciate that some themes were easier to incorporate than others, but we must have rules, or where are we? On fire. That’s where we are.
Caesar’s Day Off: As with Soledad I couldn’t in good conscious consider this one for a prize intended for a game, because it’s not much more than an interactive cartoon. But for the record, it did make me laugh, and I’m impressed by it as a humorist if not as a game critic. We didn’t have a prize for that, but, you know. Thanks.
Gnoming Around: A strong contender, this. The 2D animation was excellent and the light-based gameplay in which you must balance visibility with influencing the state of certain platforms was innovative and made good use of the random theme (“Light” again). Shame there was only one prize. As it stands I guess everything in this list won joint second place.
Spin Cycle: As I understand it this was the winner of the popular vote, and I can see why, because Super Meat Boy was a very popular game, wasn’t it. Oh, but I kid. The addition of spinning grappling hook movement does add another level to the easy-to-learn, hard-to-master nature of the platforming. But the assigned element of “Submarine” appears only once on a billboard, and that just feels like Spin Cycle wasn’t taking this seriously enough.
So, congratulations again to Protein Pirates, and also congratulations to everyone who actually kept themselves sane long enough over forty-eight hours to put out something playable. That’s a great skill to have. And the satisfaction of knowing you pulled it off should be all the prize you need. NaNoWriMo doesn’t have a prize at all. Even if you did finish a week early, not that I’m bitter.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.