2013 IGF Finalists: Technical Excellence

Liquid Sketch

Much like another finalist on this list, Liquid Sketch takes a well-worn concept and pushes the boundaries of what it can do. Fluid dynamics is something that has been used in quite a number of games, but few capture the way fluids move accurately and believably. Simulating water in an accurate but fun way is very, very difficult. Liquid Sketch manages to do it, though, and in the process makes a fun and social puzzle game that anyone with an iPad should get into.

Where most puzzle games of this type rely on complex puzzles using Rube Goldberg machines (a legacy of The Incredible Machine, no doubt), Liquid Sketch instead relies on the physical properties of water. For example, using a large tower filled with water to compress a stream, causing it to spray out of a nozzle, is the solution to one puzzle. Another might have you using the gyroscope to transition a glob of liquid from container to container. It looks simple in theory, but in practice Liquid Sketch tests your knowledge of physics and fluid dynamics in a thorough – and practical! – way.

It is also a very visually interesting game. Liquid Sketch sits somewhere between “graph paper” and “watercolor palette”, with colors mixing with the fluid smoothly and dynamically. This, combined with the dynamic liquid simulation, cinched Liquid Sketch for a finalist spot in Technical Excellent. I’ve never seen a game do color mixing or fluid dynamics so realistically, and it’s almost surprising that the first game to do it well came from independent developers. I’m not going to complain, though! You can get Liquid Sketch from the iOS App Store, and it requires an iPad.

Little Inferno

There’s a little bit of a pyromaniac in all of us, and Little Inferno understands that. The latest game from the folks behind 2008 indie darling World of Goo, Little Inferno is a “burning simulation” that takes torching cute little objects and makes it both fun and uplifting. This fire simulation is why it was nominated as a finalist in Technical Excellence; Fire is very, very hard to do in a way that looks both realistic and pleasing. Despite being mostly a glorified tech demo, however, it manages to convey a distinct emotional message about consumerism, technology culture, and obsession that virtually anybody can relate to.

Little Inferno follows an unnamed boy as he purchases and torches all sorts of objects, from cyborgs to wine bottles, in his fireplace. His only communication with the outside world is through letters from three people: the little girl next door, the weatherman, and the eccentric who created the Little Inferno Fireplace in the first place. All the while, he burns and burns the toys he buys, using the money that pops out to buy more toys and continue his burning. Forever.

The criticism of consumer culture and social gaming could have easily turned sour, much like Far Cry 3 or Spec Ops: The Line, but instead veers in a different direction. While Little Inferno is certainly a waste of time, it is never depicted as being awful. Rather it keeps the characters from moving forward and finding their own place. It extends childhood by asking children to burn their toys – objects which have value outside of being burned, like seed packets or fireflies – and remain in the warm confines of their home, staring at the glowing fireplace as they feed it more and more objects. But rather than hating the player for doing so, the game nudges the player into growing up and accepting that there are things beyond the glow of a fireplace (or computer screen) that are worth going after. Dream big, and when you are done, dream bigger. You can engage your pyromania via Little Inferno by purchasing it on Steam.

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