GDC 2013: Your guide to the IGF grand finalists

Tom Senior at

The IGF winners will be announced on Wednesday alongside the GDC awards in San Francisco. The Independent Games Festival has turned out another strong field of nominees, some of which you can play entirely for free right now. Here's your guide to the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the IGF awards 2013, with interviews and details on the five finalists, Cart Life, FTL, Little Inferno, Hotline Miami and Kentucky Route Zero.

Click on the links below to go straight to your game of choice:

And let's start with Cart life.

Cart Life

Creator Richard Hofmeier describes the scrolling, grey world of Cart Life as a "retail simulator," but that's a bit of an undersell. It celebrates the mundane and touching aspects of everyday life, at work and beyond. You can choose from a pair of characters, including a single mom working in a coffee store and a Ukrainian immigrant trying to keep his newspaper stand afloat (you can pay $5 to play as a third character, Vinny the bagel guy). Melanie must look after her daughter and earn $1000 to fight her side in a custody hearing. Andrus must take care of his cat, Mr Glembovski, and fend off a racking smoker's cough.

Cart Life is about the struggle of day to day existence in an unglamourous monochrome cityscape, rendered in excellent pixel art. On the business side, you're choosing products, balancing stock and selling as much as you can against the clock. Outside of work, you're trying to balance what little time you have between eating, sleeping, drinking and socialising.

You can play for free by downloading the .exe file from the Cart Life site. For more on Cart Life, Chris Livingston documented his experiences as part of our Sim-plicity series. Read all about it here. Cart Life is in the running for the Nuovo award, the Excellence in Narrative Design award and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the IGF.

I sent over a few questions to Cart Life creator Richard Hofmeier to find out which indie gems he'd like to see do well at the competition. "I'd enjoy seeing IGF give their highest endorsement to Porpentine's Howling Dogs, which is a dour enchantment in that holy dread kind of way, but, because it's text-based and rarely classified with other videogames, it's largely unplayed by people interested in good games." You can play through Howling Dogs on Porpentine's site for free.

"Now, it's important to note that Howling Dogs wasn't submitted to the IGF (and where the hell is Dwarf Fortress, anyway?). So Thirty Flights of Loving would be a great winner, too, but I'd really like The Stanley Parable in such a position, because it secretly remarks on the fact of videogames, themselves. If IGF wanted to be The Oscars, Stanley would make a suitable "best picture", which often confess something useful of their medium. Then again, both Dear Esther and Fez (which do this exact thing extremely well) were released this year, but aren't candidates on account of having been candidates previously... All right, okay - I'd pick Emily Short's Bee. Yes yes yes yes." Here's Emily Short's Bee.

Why is the IGF important? "I'm not fond of this question's presumption that your interview subject feels this way," Richard responded, "It's important because sponsors and GDC attendees have elevated the means by which it's carried out, and an elevated assessment of small videogames seems comprehensive, conclusive and respectable-- but I guess that'd be "How is the IGF important?". Either way, IGF will get some excellent games into the lives of people who, otherwise, wouldn't have found them. That's useful, and it makes the world a better place in a small way."

"But, when you presume its importance, I just think about how much money it must take to put together, and how it wouldn't exist without the games themselves. Wouldn't you say that the IGF is less important than the games it declares? Of course IGF nominees and winners will sell higher numbers for having been recognized, but I think the premise of determining merit is much more interesting and, you know, important."

How could the IGF formula be improved? "Mostly, I just want to see the submission process deteriorate entirely, over time. It seems like there are better judges every year, so I'm increasingly inclined to trust their own choices, from all they've seen in a year instead of limiting candidacy to a submission pool. Like the MacArthur Fellowship Grant or Nobel Prize nomination process. Easy for me to say, right? You set me up with that last question, you bastards, didn't you? Anyway, the distinction of "indie" games vs "regular" games will become obsolete and they'll have to come up with something else for the "I" to stand for."

An IGF nomination won't drag a paparazzi horde to one's door, but has life changed for Cart Life's creator since nomination? "I'm getting more freelance illustration and design work this year than last, so I'm able to keep up this fantasy lifestyle of the bathrobe and coffee cup."

He adds: "The best part of making games, though, is the shared premise which allows me to start conversations and sometimes even befriend the people I most admire. At Indiecade, I kissed several of my heroes, I spent a few hours with two vibrant luminaries in an emergency room, I spilled whiskey on my idols. Almost like having coworkers, only without the building resentment."