It’s that time of the year folks! It’s that time when we look at lists and shit to either: A) appreciate the hard work of developers that brought us cool games in this past year or B) to glorify the game industry in spite of its many flaws, inflating our egos as we declare ourselves to be better than other media! A bunch of game sites are doing their year-end list, and you know what, I decided that I should too!
So, welcome to Indie Hell Zone’s first annual game awards, where I look back at the stuff I played this year and declare them winners of arbitrary categories! Let’s take a look at our judging panel!
…And it’s me, the sole writer of this site! When I was thinking up of dumb lists to make, I thought about doing a Top 10 type deal, but I thought that was hard to decide. And besides, I want to have fun with this. So anyway, let’s wing it!
Game of the Year: ???
Oh, jeez. I don’t know. I can’t even decide on a proper order for a top 10 list and I don’t score games to better organize things like this because review scores are arbitrary and people will always find a way to get mad about them. Like, say, you rank a game with a score that’s perceived to be too high. You get accused of being a shill, paid-off, a corrupt game journo. Rank a game for what is perceived to be too low and you’ll instead be accused of trying to incite drama for clicks; doesn’t even matter if you don’t have ads on your site, you’re a corrupt journo in the eyes of the public.
I could look toward other, more contemporary game reviewers for help, but that creates its own problems. Too many reviewers reach a consensus? People will decide that its a conspiracy, a net of money tying us all together. If you review outside of the norm? You’re a contrarian looking for clicks, one that’ll probably be accused of being a shill on top of that if your contrarian opinion is high above the norm. Basically, the reactionary gamer crowd will be unhappy with scores, let alone rankings. God forbid you criticize one aspect of a game, or you’ll be accused of trying to destroy the game, even if you’re positive on all other aspects.
The awful social structure around scores does not allow for actual criticism. Nay, scores have stopped being a marker of a game’s actual merit in the eyes of crowds such as this, but affirmation, for they only want to hear what they want to hear. People will just look at the vague number, without looking at the more specific praises and complaints. Screw scores, we read here, in this land of hell.
Anyway, I’m off-topic. Maybe I’d have an actual list if I had co-judges to deliberate with me, but alas, I am all alone.
Best RPG: ???
This is also hard. Playing RPG Maker games have pretty much been the bread and butter of this blog and I played a bunch of non-indie RPGs this year too. Well, I can certainly say that Persona 5 doesn’t deserve RPG of the year. It’s stylish, has great music, has refined mechanics of the past games and has my favorite side-characters in the series, but it’s also insincere about its main themes and the first arc is honestly the story’s high point until the end. If the main thrust of an RPG is weak, can it truly be called a good RPG? How this was even a nominee for game of the year for that Game Awards thing is beyond me. I could probably write a longer, more rambling thing about this but a lot of other people have written their own takes on Persona 5.
But yeah, let’s not do genre categories. I either played too many games of a genre that it’s hard for me to choose and for some genres, I played too little of them, so some games could win automatically. Not to mention, I need better genre sorting for the stuff on this blog… Hm, I’m getting distracted again. Well okay, after looking at examples of game award lists, I did find a few categories that I will engage in.
Best Art Direction: Even the Ocean
Finally, an actual award is given out! This probably means nothing to Even the Ocean‘s developers, Analgesic Productions, but I’m giving it out!
Even the Ocean uses a mix of art styles: paintings and pixel art. The painted aspects of the game are gorgeous, but a large reason why I suggest this game to be the one with the best art direction is how it ties in with the game’s narrative. When pixel art and tilesets show up in the game, they’re associated with the human NPCs and the man-made power plants, contrasting with the natural world represented through paintings. Even the Ocean is a game about balance, of human industry and the environment. The art styles represent this balance, with the paintings looking more natural and the game’s pixel art style being more artificial looking, tileset power plants rising out of softly brushed earth. The game’s art direction is ultimately meaningful, on top of looking nice, and its that sense of meaning that’s led me to declare it winner of this category.
Best Music: LISA the Pointless
I remember seeing a tweet that described LISA‘s music to be a mix of Earthbound music and Death Grips instrumentals. It’s kinda right, especially in The Joyful. This fangame, LISA the Pointless, continues LISA‘s tradition of bringing an odd variety of tunes that surprisingly goes hard at times.
“But wait! RPG music shouldn’t be like this!” one might say. Fools, if Persona 4 and spin-offs can do its bubble-gum J-Pop soundtrack for years and get away with it, why the hell not? There’s no AP style guide for what should pass as RPG music, no platonic ideal. Music’s a subjective thing anyway and I am now glad that I have no co-judges, because nobody can yell at me for having bad ideas. I will die on this rock.
Most Addicting: Pixel Session Vol 1
If there’s a game that I really got into, it’s Pixel Session Vol. 1, by trasevol_dog. It was a game that itch.io suggested to me, a nice collection of experiments made in Pico-8. I’m not sure what kinda genre this game is since it’s actually a bunch of games. I guess I would say “Minigame Collection”? But also, I didn’t play any other games like this this year, so it’d just win that category on default. See, I chose not to do genre awards for a reason.
What makes the games in Pixel Session Vol 1 engaging is that they all play and feel differently from each other, the only connecting factor being these tiny stick people roaming around the multi-colored game space. If I got too bored of one game, I just switched to another to see if I could beat my high-score and then came back to that later. Without variety, I’d probably would have gotten tired of it.
My favorite out of the collection was Charging Panic, this sort of RTS game where you frantically try to manage a small army of little people to keep batteries charged while protecting them from vague menacing orbs. It was a very frantic game that felt energizing to play and is the one that held my attention the longest.
(B1gBr0th3r kinda sucks though but shhhhhhh, Pixel Session was very engaging as a whole. I recommend checking it out, but I warn you that the collection is not friendly to the photosensitive.)
Most… Best… Hmm…
I’m not sure what other category to cover. Like honestly, I sort of went into this as a sort of joke thing mixed in with some sincerity. And as a single judge and sole content writer for this site, a proper award show based on the content Indie Hell Zone currently has is out of the question.
At the very least, I’m serious about the winners of the few categories I’ve chosen. The people who made these games probably don’t know or care about this shindig, but they’re winners to me. Check those games out, if you haven’t already. Heck, check many of the games I’ve covered out, there’s been a lot of small interesting stuff that I’ve played this year!
So, that’s it for the first annual Indie Hell Zone Game Awards! (blows that party horn) If I’m still doing this next year, it’ll probably be along the same lines as this year. Unless I somehow get more people on board with what I’m doing, in which case, next year could be a more proper celebration of indie games!