SJ GDC Awards 2017!

We played weirdy indie games and now we're making up awards for them. It's a yearly event! 

By Urian Brown March 08, 2017

Last year, I boldly proclaimed that it was the "Year of VR." This year, I'd like to boldly proclaim the exact same thing. But even more boldly. The race to dominate the virtual space has gone into overdrive and not only did every other booth have some sort of VR-centric gadget, there were massive booths dedicated to the cause. It reminds me of when the Wii came out and motion controls were all the rage. Then there were 3D TVs. And now VR. Hard to tell if VR's gonna stick around, but one thing's for sure--some real money is being put behind it. Without further ado, here are the awards for GDC 2017! 

Best GDC-themed Dessert
GDC Crêpes

Gdc Crepes

GDC Crêpes destroyed the competition this year with their delicious, yet light and fluffy crêpes. I believe this is their first year at the con, but I doubt it will be the last as there was a constant line of hungry patrons. In my opinion, they even beat out the candy cart lady, who has the perfect location spot right by the exit door and a cart filled with heavenly delights, many of which are in sandwich bags with plastic ties. Old- school style! 

Proof Mankind Can Not Survive
Ultimate Chicken Horse

Ultimate Chicken Horse

If mankind is ever going to survive, we have to learn to work together. Something we as a collective species have not been able to do. In the game Ultimate Chicken Horse, you have to work with up to three other people to build levels allowing your character to reach the goal. Each of the players gets to pick a piece before the game begins, then you get to place it wherever you see fit, so long as it's not in the same place as another piece. The pieces can be helpful things like platforms or steps or hurtful things like saw blades or projectile launchers. You don't have much time to make up your mind when choosing. Levels can start very hard or easy depending on what piece people choose and where they place it. If mankind naturally worked together as a species, it would be easy to get through levels. But because we are what we are, each level becomes a more increasingly complex death trap until it's near impossible. But it's a lot of fun and a lot of laughs trying to get through a level that literally changes each time. A great party game that had complete strangers laughing and having fun with each other. Maybe there is hope for us! 

You can help people get past levels or hinder them by picking up this game right here

Most Frustratingly Funny Frog Game
Frog Climbers

Frog Climbers

In the time-honored tradition of humorously hard-to-control characters like Octodad comes a game about frogs that can't climb very well. In real life, many frogs are expert climbers. They can climb vertical surfaces with ease due to their sticky hands and feet. But these frogs' legs are useless! Leaving only their awkwardly bendy arms to do the work. The goal of the game is to scale randomly generated cliffs and be the first to the top. But the unintuitive controls and floppy frog body makes it hard. Each arm is controlled separately. Push down to pull up with one arm, then with your free hand try to reach the handhold. If you can wrap your head around it and get in the rhythm, it gets a little easier. Until you miss and fall down several feet, or get grabbed by another player or two and end up a big tangle or ridiculous looking frogs. As frustrating as it is funny and a perfect party game. 

You can flop around as a frog and get frustrated by grabbing the game here

Most Adorable Frog Game
Un Pas Fragile


It was a big year for frogs at GDC! Another frog-focused game that caught my eye was Un Pass Fragile. In this game, you play a frog that wants to become a ballerina. And this frog is adorable! One of my favorite things about the show is going to the Independent Games Festival area and checking out the student games. Since they don't have to worry about making money off their projects, they can create games that are more experimental and push the boundaries of what a video game is. In this game, you must guide Camille through the challenges of her life by playing various mini games. The focus isn't on the gameplay, but the emotional experience as she navigates the complicated waters of fulfilling her dreams. The design of the characters is outstanding as is the music and emotional impact. And it's cuuuuuuttteee! Like Japanese-level cuteness, and they are masters of cute. 

You can learn more about frogs becoming ballerinas right here

Practically Made For Manga Award
Lady Killer in a Bind

Lady Killer

As longtime listeners of the SJ Podcast know, I sometimes have a hard time figuring out the gender of characters in a manga. This isn't that outlandish considering the androgynous nature of some of the characters. But I'll admit, there have been a few times where I definitely got clowned for thinking a guy was a girl or the opposite. That's why I felt extra silly about getting the genders of many of the characters wrong in this game. But the person demoing the game made me feel a little better because some of characters are cross-dressing! The setup is straight out of a manga--you have to assume the role of your rich brother and pretend to be him and go on a cruise with all his classmates. But! Some of them cross dress, play sophisticated social games and generally make it hard to figure out what to say. One of the interesting things about manga is its willingness to play with gender and trick the reader, which this game definitely does. Even the art style is influenced by manga. 

You can go on a cruise and get confused by picking up the game here

Snappiest GDC Fashion Accessory
GDC Arm Socks

Arm Socks

Yes, arm socks! Almost as cool as leg sleeves! Great for people who have legs for arms. It happens! (Does it happen?) Each year, the GDC store has a bounty of cool GDC-themed goodies, most of which are shirts, backpacks, socks and whatnot. But arm socks are new! And cheap! Only $10 for a pair, which works out to five dollars an arm. Not bad. Unless you're an octopus, then you're in trouble! Arm socks! 

The Game That Will Finally Get People Into VR
Super Furry Neon Cat Heads

Neon Cat Head

The barrier for VR is a little high right now. The VR sets aren't cheap! Plus, there are multiple head sets all vying for the number one spot. And some of the technology is complicated for the average joe. But mostly, there hasn't been that one game that has broken through the early adopter crowd into the mainstream one. That may change with Super Furry Neon Cat Heads. Why? Cats! The Internet loves cats! Crazy old ladies love cats! People also like pretending they're a cool DJ. Imagine if you could combine people's love of cats with being a cool DJ. Well, now you can! All you need is this game, a VR headset and a cat tower with special sensors. In the game, I was a DJ smacking neon colored mice to the beat as they ran over the censors. Below me, a crowd of happy cats was going wild. I've never felt this cool! If this doesn't get people into VR, nothing will! All joking aside, it was pretty neat being in that weird world playing music for cats for awhile. Still, that's quite a setup for the average joe to invest in! 

You can check out the game and DJ for cats at their website right here

Best Hair Award
Little Hawk


One of the most interesting things about going to GDC is seeing the games that may or may not make it. These are the dreams of hardworking folks who aren't backed by major studios and are doing it for themselves. And one of those games that caught my eye, because of the beautiful graphics, smooth gameplay, catchy music and cool hair was Little Hawk. A game after my own heart! If you've ever been to a Shonen Jump panel, you'll know that I often have a brightly colored mohawk as part of my costume. Why? Mohawks are cool! Duh! And this game puts a mohawk on a cute little caveman! As a platformer, the controls were outstanding. Very smooth. The wall jumps felt great, the air dash was intuitive and the overall presentation was professional level. I am hoping this one makes it! 

You can check out his cool hair on their Kickstarter, right here

Slowest Loading Game


I don't know what this game was, but it took forever to load! I eventually gave up and left! Just kidding! Actually, it was a genius attention grabber for a company called Incredibuild which claims to be able to reduce game development time by 90%! That's a lot! Props to their marketing person for the skeleton behind a computer though. Now that's funny! 

Game That Sucked the Most
Close the Leaks (to prevent imminent death)


This game sucks! Literally! It's got four hoses that suck air into them and you have put your hand over it to stop the flow of air to help a spaceship navigate away from danger. And you must also work with three other people who each have their own hose and control one side of airflow to the ship. Teamwork and communication are key to guide your ship to safety. And it's hilarious! There's something magical about playing crazy games with total strangers. And it's all part of the new Alt.Ctrl.GDC exhibition that showcases unorthodox ways to play video games. Like covering your hands with hoses, for instance. Fun stuff! 

Find out more about using airflow to make fun games right here

Hefty, Hefty, Hefty Award
Fear Sphere

Fear Sphere

The winner of all the Alt.Ctrl.GDC entries. While this game may look like a giant inflated Hefty bag from the outside, inside it's something else. Something...terrifying! There's a person inside armed with a specialized flashlight controller. This projects a beam of light and shows a little bit of the virtual world they're in. There's another person on a laptop outside that can see what their controller shows. The person outside has a set of blueprints and must help guide the person inside to safety while being pursued by a monster. Being cut off from the world in a dark place while pursued by a monster definitely, falls under the scary category. And if you're claustrophobic--fuggedaboutit! 

You can get more info on their unique project here

Most Memorable Game
Lily Colors of Santa Luz


Once in a while, a game comes along and reminds you of the potential games have to make people think about more than just shooting bad guys or jumping on mushrooms. Lily Colors of Santa Luz is one of those games. In the game, you play a dad trying to get your young daughter out of a war-torn city with as few bad memories as possible. She has a mind of her own, so she's prone to run off towards danger and it's your job to stop her. Along the way, events that she witnesses will be shown as beautifully illustrated pages of her diary. The more bad things she witnesses, the more color she loses until it's all gone. And her diary will be filled with only bad memories. In other words, you've failed. This game does a wonderful job of shining a light on the horrific effects seeing war firsthand has on children. And it does so with a charming storybook art style, professional-level graphics and solid gameplay. And it was made by students! Nice job! 

You can play the game for free right here

Face/Off Award
Bellus3D Face Scanning

You never know what new gadget you'll find walking the floor at GDC. It is a go-to destination for companies trying to drum up support for new products or things that haven't even come out yet. And one of those things is a camera that will attach to phones that lets you make a 3D scan of your face. These scans can be used to make exact replicas of your face in games or you can print them out of 3D printers and scare your friends. Or recreate dramatic scenes from the cinematic masterpiece Face/Off starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. Or take selfies to the next level! The possibilities are endless! 

3 D Faces

More info on their product here

Best in Show


Sally the friendly land whale has been trapped! You must work with your friend Death to try and save her! But first you must pick which head, gun and backpack to take along on your journey. There are several of each and they all change the gameplay quite a bit. After you choose, it's time to jump into the snake's mouth, get swallowed and pooped out into a level! How fun does that sound? GoNNER is the perfect example of what makes indie games great. It's weird, inventive, artsy and above all—fun! Armed with whatever combo you picked, you have to fight your way through level after level of bad guys and when you die, start all over. The art style is what I'd call minimalistic cutesy goth. Backgrounds are black and only the bare minimum of the levels are visible. But the enemies are bright and colorful making them practically pop out of the screen. And with the ability to mix and match heads, weapons and special powers, you can play through multiple times and each experience will be different. The audio is excellent too! It's downright hilarious. I wrote in my notebook "blorty splorty" sound effects, and that's the best I can describe it. A thoroughly engrossing game. Good stuff! 

This game is available now

And that concludes the 2017 GDC Awards! Hope you enjoyed them, and please go to these people's websites to check out their games! Support indie games!

by Urian Brown