Hey Gamers: Three standouts from the BAFTA Game Awards

Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21

Graphic by Natalie Kulak ’21

BY KIRAN PENMAN ’19

Last week, the British Academy Games Awards held their 15th ceremony at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. The show is dedicated to honoring the best of gaming each year across a variety of genres and platforms. To continue the celebration of 2019’s creative achievements in gaming, I’ve provided you with a little list of great independent mobile games featured at the awards show that you should definitely try out this week!

1) florence

The passion project of Ken Wong from Australian studio Mountains, this short indie game follows the story of its titular character, 25-year-old Florence Yeoh, through the trials and tribulations of her first love and her journey to self-discovery. The story is structured in acts and chapters, crossing through months and years of Florence’s life, from the mundanity of her office job, to her first meeting with her love interest, Krish, and the rise and fall of their relationship. We delve into her childhood, seeing her stifled creativity, her interactions with her strict mother and her increased isolation. “florence” is truly a character study, achieved with simplicity.

“florence” is described as less of a game and more of an “interactive story about love and life,” so it’s a little light on gameplay. The player uses simple mechanics to emulate the actions of Florence’s life: brushing her teeth by swiping back and forth on the screen or swiping across a canvas to reveal her artwork.

The gameplay holds more of a metaphorical significance. The game uses a puzzle mechanic to emulate conversations between Florence and Krish. The puzzles aren’t really fun in themselves, yet they deftly represent the slow changes in their dynamic. On their first date the puzzles are complicated — to get Florence to respond to Krish you need to put seven or eight pieces together — representing the awkwardness and anxiety of the encounter. But as they continue to spend time together, the puzzles become more simple, symbolizing how Florence becomes more comfortable with Krish’s company. It’s a beautiful way of demonstrating their development, and when their relationship begins to fail, the puzzle minigame changes accordingly — this time, the simpler pieces show their arguments and how they thoughtlessly say things in anger.

The metaphor follows a cohesive logic that really helps expand the understanding of the story and characters, as does the game’s art design and score. The game features a wonderful soundtrack composed by Kevin Perkin. It’s all delicate piano and strings, which beautifully complement the game’s light, airy feel, while adding to the emotional narrative; the music swells when Florence and Krish meet and reaches a powerful crescendo when they fight.

It’s truly a game that encourages you to feel rather than think. “florence” features little to no dialogue. Nothing about the story is explained outright, yet it still resonates and has great emotional impact.

Wong wanted to create something different: a game that avoided typical violence and focused on narrative, and “florence” definitely accomplished that goal. Its story is unique for the medium, featuring diverse characters and a female lead. You can see the love and care that went into this game. “florence” is a touching experience, which leaves things feeling a little clearer, fresher and hopeful.

Photos courtesy of Kiran Penman ’19

“florence” was nominated in several categories at the 2019 BAFTA Game Awards, and won in the mobile game category.

2) Donut County

This six-year project from lone developer Ben Esposito, which originated in a game jam (an event where people gather to create a game in a short amount of time), is bizarrely based on the parody Twitter account, “Peter Molydeux.” The account celebrates Peter Molyneux’s idealistic and outlandish approaches to game design, and Donut County is based on one of its joke ideas. Donut County’s roots are the punchline to a running joke, which is apparent from the get-go. Humor is at the heart of Donut County, clear not only in its dialogue and visuals, but also in its gameplay.

The game involves moving a hole around an environment to swallow objects. This makes the hole increase in size, which allows you to swallow bigger objects, with the aim of slowly spreading destruction across a county inhabited by a cast of cute creatures.

The plot is essentially nonsensical and the game embraces it. It has a strong sense of self-awareness, with its ironically dramatic storytelling — you play through the destruction of characters’ homes through a series of flashbacks — and its generous amounts of meta humor.

While Donut County does slowly introduce puzzle elements into its gameplay, it never becomes complicated or even especially challenging. In fact, you can’t actually lose. It’s all very stress-free: a fun and casual way to pass time, playing with the physics while enjoying the tongue-in-cheek humor and cute design, which is where the game really shines.

It goes full force with its style; with bright colors and blocky polygons, it’s unapologetically playful. While it can be a bit finicky in its mechanics and sometimes a little repetitive, Donut County is bursting with joy and is an easy recommendation for anyone who’s looking for a way to de-stress.

3) Cultist Simulator

“Cultist Simulator” is a strange one. Developed by British indie studio Weather Factory, the narrativedriven, card-based simulation game is described as “a game of apocalypse and yearning.” The player uses a system of action buttons and combining cards to take steps in potentially starting their own cult, acquiring devoted followers and uncovering mysteries of a strange, Lovecraftian world.

“Cultist Simulator” does not hold your hand through the introduction of its gameplay. “Explore. Take risks. You won’t always know what to do next. Keep experimenting, and you’ll master it.” These are the only instructions you’re given at the start of the game, so your first playthrough is likely to be completely overwhelming. Initially, it’s a struggle to keep up with the fast pace and to get a grasp of the sheer scale of paths and potential combinations.

Slowly, “Cultist Simulator” teaches its players to take their time, utilize the pause function and explore the options the game presents. It encourages the player to learn of their own accord, making successes all the more rewarding. You’ll quickly find yourself completely addicted, not just to the robust mechanics but also to the increasingly tense narrative. For a card game especially, “Cultist Simulator” builds a strong and ominous atmosphere. You never see beyond the table on which the game is played, but you’re still given the feeling that there’s so much at stake — a true testament to the quality of the game’s storytelling.

“Cultist Simulator” really strives to create a sense of dread, and it’s surprisingly effective. As the title admits, it is a simulation game. Games of this genre can often lack style, tone or depth, but it’s in these areas where this game excels. A little creepy and utterly intriguing, once you get started, “Cultist Simulator” is sure to devour hours of your time.

Photo courtesy of Kiran Penman ’19   “Cultist Simulator” was nominated for Game Innovation and Debut Game at the 2019 BAFTA Game Awards.

Photo courtesy of Kiran Penman ’19

“Cultist Simulator” was nominated for Game Innovation and Debut Game at the 2019 BAFTA Game Awards.