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Beyond the finalists: IGF 2014 Best In Audio jury picks

igfawards.jpgGamasutra's Alex Wawro highlights more top-tier games that were nominated by jurors for this year's IGF, but didn't achieve the critical mass of votes necessary to be named a finalist.

Now that the IGF 2014 Main Competition finalists have been announced, let's talk a bit more about the selection process.

The main IGF competition has a diverse panel of judges that includes representatives from the mainstream game industry, previous IGF winners and finalists, other independent game developers, and a smattering of indie-friendly game journalists.

In addition, every IGF award has its own jury staffed by experts in the contexts and disciplines that define the award. The main IGF jury recommend individual titles to these award-specific juries, who then cast votes on which games should be nominated to compete for the award.

Those well-deserved nominations shine a spotlight on a select number of IGF entrants, but there are so many great games competing for a spot on the field -- over 650 were submitted to the IGF this year -- that plenty of good entries garner meaningful praise from judges but don't reach the critical mass of votes to become a finalist.

With that in mind, we'd like to take time to highlight some IGF 2014 entrants that received at least one vote of nomination for the Best In Audio award, but fell just short of making it to the list of finalists and honorable mentions. While they may not have made it past that round of voting, each of these games earned praise from one or more members of the IGF Audio Jury for excellence in aural design.

The Swapper

Facepalm Games' sci-fi puzzle platformer is underscored by a pretty sparse soundtrack, but the haunting original tracks that do rise and fall out of the game's ambient soundscape help reinforce the themes of mystery and isolation that permeate The Swapper. It's clear that composer Carlo Castellano took special pains to compose music that mixes seamlessly with the sound effects that accompany players through the game, creating an immersive blend that made The Swapper a contender for a Best In Audio nomination.

Sokobond

It's hard to imagine feeling the same way about Sokobond if you switch the music off. This charmingly minimalist puzzler -- developed by Harry Lee and Alan Hazelden -- leans heavily on its aural components to add emotional flavor into an otherwise straightforward game about solving puzzles through chemistry. Ryan Roth's excellent soundtrack and evocative sound design are top-notch, encouraging players to feel something more complex than just triumph or frustration when they succeed or fail at solving a given challenge.

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs

Critics praised Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs' sound design when the game was released earlier this year, and for good reason -- the rattling cages, giggling children and post-classical soundtrack go a long way towards cultivating the atmosphere of creeping dread and revulsion that characterize Amnesia games. Multiple members of developer thechineseroom -- including sound designer Samuel Justice and composer/studio co-director Jessica Curry -- collaborated on the game's audio design and soundtrack, to great effect.

Potatoman Seeks the Troof

Garnering praise for a chiptune soundtrack in the contemporary indie game space is no mean feat, but Potatoman Seeks the Troof's retro-inspired sound design charmed at least one IGF judge into highlighting the game for aural excellence. Both Pixeljam Games composer Mark DeNardo and sound designer John Davies deserve recognition for creating a whimsical, crisp soundscape that nicely complements Potatoman's quixotic gameplay.

Thumper

Thumper is a rhythm/racing game starring a chrome space beetle, and the soundtrack reinforces that stellar concept with a lot of pounding bass-heavy techno and electronica. Given that developer Drool was founded by ex-Harmonic developers Marc Flury and Brian Gibson, it's no surprise that Thumper's soundtrack proved excellent enough to warrant a vote from an IGF judge for a Best in Audio nomination.

Risk of Rain

The soundtrack that accompanies Hopoo Games' Risk of Rain often sounds like a cross between the scores for Streets of Rage and Blade Runner, making it an ideal complement to the roguelike action platformer's stylishly ramshackle sci-fi setting. Composer Chris Christodoulou claims to have drawn inspiration from the game's weather effects and color palette while scoring Risk of Rain, which may be why IGF judges found it so compelling.

Chroma

Chroma is a game about swapping between light and dark forms, but the transition between the two is accompanied by clarion tones that reinforce the feeling that you're slipping back and forth between worlds. James Dean's sound design and sparse, atmospheric soundtrack help immerse you in a world that's meant to be mysterious, earning the game a nod from one IGF judge for stand-out audio design.

Other notable jury picks in the Audio category include The Banner Saga, Jazz Punk, Don't Starve, SoundSelf, Luxuria Superbia, and Papers, Please. These games didn't make it into the final round of Best Audio nominations and honorable mentions, but were nominated in other categories. More details on these games and other excellent entrants can be found on the IGF 2014 website.