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Special Achievement Awards

While compiling our list of nominees and awards we found that there were a few areas that deserved mention, but did not fit within the scope of the various award categories. Rather than force things we decided to create a Special Achievement section to shed some light on a few games (or people) that set themselves apart in a way not represented in our other categories. Some of the honors will be dubious, but all are deserving of their special place in our hearts.

Biggest Disappointment

Two Way Tie: Socko Entertainment Closes & Static Cancelled

Static
When trying to narrow down the games or events to declare the most disappointing of 2003 we wanted to be sure it was a universal feeling. Citing something such as Garage Games' lack of hardcore games was a possibility, but that's not so much a disappointment as just unfortunate. However, the closing of Socko! Entertainment and Pinbox Productions is a blow that everyone can feel. Socko! blew us away this past summer with their fantastic point & click adventure game Adventures of Fatman. While they were able to break even financially, the logistics of keeping the business up and running (and legal) proved to be too much, so don't look forward to anymore award winning adventure games from the gang at Socko! The other regrettable closure was that of Static creators Pinbox Productions. Although Static never made it beyond a Fallout inspired demo, it was good enough to garner a lot of attention, and even made it to the final round of the 2002 Independent Games Festival. Ultimately the project appears to have failed due to a lack of pre-planning on the part of team, and their desire to break into the world of professional game development. Mission accomplished guys! Now where does that leave the rest of us?
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Conspicuously Absent

Three Way Tie: Singularity, They Came From Hollywood, Trash

Let's face it, games get delayed all the time; it comes with the territory. Combine an ambitious project with too few resources and you're going to have a title that borders on vaporware if it weren't for the sheer will of the team. 2003 was a landmark year for projects being pushed back, and back, and back. There were several big name projects slated for release in 2003, but only a handful of them ever saw the light of day. While some have been lost forever, others are still on track for an eventual release, and that's where we come to the three way tie for our conspicuously Absent Award of 2003.

Singularity
White Knuckle Games has remained somewhat silent concerning the status of their cyberpunk RPG, peeking out only a couple times this year to release a couple new screenshots and announce the project's new name, Singularity. The game's focus doesn't appear to have changed much, but the new graphics are sure to catch everyone's attention come launch time. Whether it will see a 2004 release is anyone's guess at this point as it is an ambitious project, and some shuffling in the staffing department could mean a 2005 release date.

They Came From. well. you know
Octopus Motor's monster strategy game They Came From Hollywood has been delayed so many times that we've honestly lost track. The delays can be attributed to a major reworking of the game, as well as the amount of content the developers are attempting to include. While its absence this past year was disappointing, it's easy to see how the game is progressing as every time new screenshots are released the old ones pale in comparison. This one could be well worth the wait, no matter how long.

Trashy
According to our calculations, Inhuman Game's RTS Trash has been in production about as long (if not longer) than They Came From Hollywood. This means that children have been born and learned to speak in complete sentences since production began. The progression of Trash is a bit more difficult to track by simply glancing at some screenshots, but if you read our pair of interviews with the studio's big-wig Mark Currie you can appreciate how hard indie game development can be. Sure, they released a very enjoyable beta earlier this year, but since production has been bogged down by external forces a few major game elements have been drastically altered which could very well affect the quality of the game. Mark and his crew have a long history of excellent games, but Trash's delays mean it could be a very long time before we see if their streak is maintained.

Further Info:
     DIY Game's Sitdown With Octopus Motor
     DIY Game's Sitdown With Mark Currie
     DIY Game's Sitdown With Mark Currie - One Year Later
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Excellence In Copyright Infringement

Three Way Tie: Bomberman vs. Digger, Car Thief 4, Snails

An interesting thing about independent games is that minor details such as copyright and intellectual property are rarely considered for very long when releasing a game. Because of this it's not uncommon to see games that not only step over the legal line, but dive over it head first. We had such a hard time narrowing down the most obvious cases that we're going with a three way tie. You'll notice we didn't include any fan games in our selections, we all know how the adventure community is rife with them, but instead chose to select games that do not appear to pay homage to the originals, but simply put it all out there to hang.

We have Bomberman vs. Digger, with it's mixture of Boulder Dash, Dig-Dug, and Bomberman all rolled into one. In case the name wasn't obvious enough for you, the gameplay will have you wondering how someone can get into legal trouble for making a Solitaire game, but not this. Then there's Car Thief 4. An entertaining car jacking game, sure, but the presence of real-world car names and photographs will make you wonder why the developers didn't just say 'screw it' and call the convenience stores you rob 7-11. And last, but not least, there's Snails, an action strategy game that bears a striking resemblance to another game that has been in the market for a lot longer, the classic Worms. There's been a lot of debate on message boards about whether a lawsuit on the part of Team17, Worm's creators, would be successful or not. After all, the characters in this game have shells on their backs so it's totally different. Right?

Bomberman Car Thief 4 Snails

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Excellence In Music & Sound

Adventures of Fatman (Music)
Rocknor's Donut Factory(Sound)

Computer games have a history of relying on driving techno beats in place of a real soundtrack, something that people constantly complain about but that developers almost never address. Independent developers in particular have a history of falling into the techno track because a quick beat is only a couple sound samples away. Because of this it can be difficult to find games that do a better job than most with their sound and music, which brings us to our dual winners. Because there were so few examples of truly great sound and music design we've decided to place the category into the special awards section this year. Our shared winners are actually in the top spot for two different reasons. Adventures of Fatman has serviceable sound effects, and the voice acting can be amusingly bad at times, but the in game music will have you listening long after the game is over. Don't expect to be pumping the 50 song MIDI soundtrack over your bass-tastic car stereo, but a large number of the tunes are alot of fun to listen to as background music while working on the computer.

Rocknors Donut Factory
Rocknor's Donut Factory on the other hand has an OK soundtrack, but the sound effects in this industrial donut processing puzzle game are so crisp and clear that it feels like you're right there. Each machine has a sound effect that perfectly matches its function. Combine the unique sounds of all of the machines with the often quick production runs and you'll come across something you don't often hear in many games: music as a direct result of the gameplay itself. On certain levels you'll find that speeding up the production line leads to a symphony of sound being created by shapers stamping, frosters zapping, and exits popping. There aren't too many puzzle games out there with sound effects so good that they jump out at you so dramatically, but Rocknor's Donut Factory is one.
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Most Ambitious

A Tale In The Desert

A Tale In The Desert
It seems that most developers toy with the idea of creating a huge MMORPG or the world's most involved RPG at some point in their life. The net is filled with project pages that received updates for a period of time and then just died out as the developers woke up and decided to stick with another puzzle game. But every now and then a team of developers stick to it and the results can be astounding. So what was the most ambitious title to be released in 2003? That's simple: A Tale In The Desert from eGenesis. No other game from the past year succeeded (or even attempted) to smash through gameplay boundaries like A Tale In The Desert did. With its enormous world, mind numbing political system, complex technology tree, and unique social environment, the game's developers put themselves out on a limb that big name studios don't dare tread on. Sure, not everything in the game works perfectly, but because of it's built-in time constraints and evolving in-game laws you can bet that the game you're playing now will not resemble the one you're still addicted to a year or more from now.

Dr Lunatic Supreme With Cheese
There was one other game released in 2003 that is worth mentioning in this sub-category. Dr. Lunatic Supreme With Cheese from Hamumu Software not only has an exceedingly long title, it also has more levels than you'll see in almost any other game. With approximately 1200 (yes, One Thousand Two Hundred) levels to explore and fight through, it's a safe bet that you'll be playing this one for many months to come.
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Most Controversial

Dada: Stagnation In Blue

With so many developers trying to shock gamers these days it takes a very special kind of game to capture the award for most controversial. Car jackings, cold blooded murder, mass genocide, and thinly veiled racism are found in games every day, so for many of us the shock effect has worn off. Enter Dada: Stagnation In Blue. Technically, Dada is a brief freeware adventure game that will be over almost as soon as you finish it, but those 30 minutes in between are sure to stay with you for some time. True to its Dadaist theme, the Dada can be very unsettling for those who might be unprepared to see suicide, domestic violence, and dead fetuses addressed in a game. And if that doesn't mess with your mind then the bizarre environments and disturbing Anne Sexton prose are sure to keep you up a little later at night.
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Most Indie Friendly Media

The Adrenaline Vault

Adrenaline Vault
With more mainstream gaming websites and magazines covering independent games, we felt it was appropriate to honor those who have gone the extra mile to shed some light on the former "underground." Along with DIY Games, sites like Game Tunnel and Indie Gamer do a fine job of focusing exclusively on independent games, but currently none of them reach the audiences of the big name media outlets. Gamespot.com and Computer Games Magazine (CGM) do a fine job of covering independent games. CGM in particular devotes a hefty amount of ink to indies from time to time, but none of them match the consistent devotion to independents like Adrenaline Vault, providing a yearly Top Shareware article, an enormous demo database that puts as much emphasis on indies as it does big name games, semi-regular reviews of independent titles, and a surprising amount of news stories concerning independent developers and the games they create. There's always more to be done to put independents in the mind of gamers everywhere, but Adrenaline Vault has consistently gone above and beyond where others have only treaded softly.
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Most Overrated

Digby's Donuts

Digby\'s Donuts
Ever see a game getting so much attention that it makes you wonder what everyone else is thinking? It doesn't happen too often, but sometimes there's an independent game that gets much more praise than it appears to deserve. Case in point, Digby's Donuts from HipSoft. The donut themed 'catch the falling objects' game isn't bad by any means, in fact, it can be amusing for short periods of time, but when it was announced that it won Real Arcade's $100,000 developer showdown we let out a collective "huh?!" In beating out over 40 other titles in the competition it was revealed that there was either a lack of high quality games in the running, or the judges were eating some "special" donuts while they played. But don't take our word for it, try the game out for yourself, and see what $100,000 looks like.
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Vaporware Award

Neandertal

Neandertal
Not to be confused with the "Conspicuously Absent Award," our Vaporware Award recognizes that sometimes games go into development, never to be seen again. These titles haven't been canceled, and they haven't been delayed, they've been frozen in a cryogenic chamber next to a human head to either be thawed out years from now, or to be accidentally dropped on the floor and shattered into oblivion. This year's winner made it far enough into production to receive at least some media attention, and be stamped with a tentative release date that has since been wiped clean. The game we're talking about is the MMORPG Neandertal, a role playing game that would have put you in the African valley of 30,000 years ago. A ton of great features were promised, including realistic survival skills, an involved system for player individuality, a living ecosystem, and much more. The early graphic tests looked great as well, even scoring a place on the Garage Games development snapshot of the day. But it may have all been nothing but wishful thinking. Last we heard the developers were attempting to raise money to hire an outside company to do the bulk of the coding. One guess how well that's gone.


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