2013 IGF Finalists: Excellence in Visual Arts

Year Walk

Mythology is always a good mine for game ideas, and Swedish (not Norse!) mythology has been left mostly untapped over the years. It’s a shame, as Year Walk proves that those myths can provide for a dense, layered, and very personal experience. While almost all aspects of Year Walk are done well, it is the art style that first draws and captures the eye. This is a game that drags you kicking and screaming through its creepy ambiance with promises of more lovely visuals on the other end.

While most people have never been on anything as interesting as a vision quest, Year Walk refuses to be discouraged. It is about a man as he wanders through the woods and encounters strange, dream-like creatures and puzzles. Everything is stark and almost alien in texture and form, giving the game a sense of suppressed fear and paranoia. It also helps that the audio design aims to accentuate this mood constantly. There is very little emotional reprieve to be found here.

And what of the art style that earned Year Walk the visual arts nomination? It is barren and desolate, both in color and form. Year Walk is a game that makes you feel alone, even when you are not, and it does a very excellent job of isolating the player through a smart art style. While there are lots of games that do this, Year Walk is one of only a few that does so with both emotional weight and a strong sense of composition to keep things from cluttering up. Year Walk is scheduled for Apple mobile devices sometime this year.

Thomas Was Alone

Kentucky Route Zero is the last finalist in Excellence in Visual Art, and it has already been covered in the Excellence in Narrative article. Instead of covering it again, here is an honorable mention that is also very much worth playing.

At first glance, Thomas Was Alone seems like an odd game to receive an honorable mention in Visual Art. After all, the primary strength of it lies more in narration and plot, not the visuals. That first impression gradually melts away as you progress through the game and witness how creative the developers got with the minimalist style. It is also a fantastic game to boot, and that can never hurt.

I’m a bit biased, as I really love transhumanist philosophy and literature, but Thomas Was Alone has my favorite story out of any game submitted to the IGF this year. It follows a small little AI program as it learns and develops alongside a few others. Each AI is given their own personality, and despite the extremely simple visuals – characters are one-color blocks – you begin to feel for them and connect with their struggle. Even if that struggle is to reach a simple outline to teleport to the next area.

What makes Thomas Was Alone so visually interesting is how simple it is while maintaining detail. While the environment is comprised of single-color blocks and the characters are just extensions of that visual design, there are little touches that make the world feel more alive. Water flows around and gives off a subtle semi-transparent colorful fog. Light is cast and blocked by objects moving in front of light sources, changing the coloration of objects in subtle ways. It’s a good lesson in game-centric minimalism, as the clean aesthetic gives a tremendous amount of weight to the very methodical plot. You can buy Thomas Was Alone on Steam.

It’s time for the home stretch! Tomorrow we have the Nuovo finalists, a group of strange and experimental titles.

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