DDNet Game of the Year Awards 2021! A/NZ GOTY

9 mins read

It’s that time of year again, everyone, where we celebrate the best games of the year. Despite being a heavily disrupted year thanks to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, 2021 produced some incredible games, almost from day one, and as a result, our awards this year has the most variety of games ever – almost 50 different titles got at least one award, and as you’ll see as we announce each category, it really is an endless stream of incredible experiences.

This year we had a special, expanded judging panel, with the entire DDNet team participating, but we also invited some prominent people from independent game publications outside the Website to participate, so we could get a broader range of insights and thoughts into the winners from each category. Our additional judges this year included Pete Davison from Rice Digital, Thomas Knight of Nook Gaming, Robert Allen of Tech-Gaming, Matt Ryan from Shindig, and academic and freelancer, @TsuChanJohnson on Twitter. The total judging pool for the awards was ten people this year around, and there was some heated discussion about the worthiest titles in each category indeed!

First up, as we always do, is the A/NZ game of the year award. Australia and New Zealand might not have the world’s biggest games industries, but we do punch well above our weight in terms of both creativity and output. Frequently, the A/NZ GOTY turns heads all over the world and wins game of the year awards elsewhere. We love supporting our local industry here at DDNet, and so this award has particular sentimental power for us.


The Artful Escape
If you want a game that feels like a real experience, The Artful Escape would be it. The game follows Francis, the nephew of a now-infamous folk musician who died in his late 20s. Francis wants to be a musician, but everyone expects him to play folk music or to only cover his uncle’s song. He thinks it would be a great idea to be someone else, and free with his music. Until now, he’s been who everyone wants him to be. Someone describes him as dressing like a drifter while sounding like a space opera. Coincidentally enough, he’s rocketed to outer space courtesy of a brain-in-a-jar alien named Zomm (voiced by one of our favourite actors, Jason Schwartzman). 

Francis will need to play his way through the galaxy to learn about himself and his musical abilities. The musical platformer was developed by Beethoven & Dinosaur, a studio created entirely to create the game. It was founded in Melbourne by Johnny “Galvatron,” the lead guitarist of The Galvatrons who also helpfully studied film and computer animation before the band took off. The studio includes Galvatron, composer Josh Abrahams, guitarist Eden Altman, programmer Justin Blackwell, and programmer Sean Slevin. A failed Kickstarter campaign in 2016 turned out to be a good thing, as the studio signed a publication deal with Annapurna Interactive and was able to continue development for a PC version of the game, as well as adding console versions.
The Forgotten City
The story behind The Forgotten City is legitimately fascinating. The mystery adventure game began life as a mod with the same name for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The mod was initially launched in 2015, created by a Melbourne lawyer Nick Pearce, who spent over 1,500 hours on the project. In 2016, Pearce left his job and formed a development studio, Modern Storyteller. The studio, comprised of Pearce as managing director, Alex Goss as programmer, and John Eyre as artist, then spent years working The Forgotten City to get it to its full launch this year. 

Since its years as a mod, the plot has been altered to take place in Ancient Rome and the script more than doubled, so the game is definitely a beast unto itself without even taking into account the mod. The Forgotten City brings players thousands of years into the past, where they relive the last days of a cursed city. The game functions in a time loop, so when the city ends, the player can return to the beginning of those days with the knowledge and goods from before to try and save the city. The gameplay is based in exploration and deduction; violence is an option but will only take players so far, so the mental game is far more taxing. The non-linear mystery features multiple endings and detailed characters.

Choices That Matter: And Their Heroes Were Lost
The remarkable thing about the Choices That Matter series is just how emphatically they remind us that sometimes all you need it a good narrative. Closer to a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel than a traditional video game, the Choices That Matter series have very little by way of visuals. Instead, you get a detailed, intricate narrative with hundreds of different decisions to make along the way. Decisions that can surprise and delight as they lead your story in completely unexpected directions. They’re also decisions that you’ll care deeply about, because the storytelling and world-building in these games is nearly unparalleled for the genre.

And Their Heroes Were Lost was launched on Nintendo Switch this year, and it’s the natural home for these things. Put on a good set of headphones to immerse yourself within the ambient soundtrack, and allow the words of beautifully-written text to wash over you, and you’ve got quite the immersive experience, supported by that lovely widescreen and crisp text. Whether you’re at home, on a train, or in a café, Choices That Matter is the perfect zone-out experience to pair with a good coffee.

At some stage, every person needs to move home. This is a shared experience that is nearly universal across all of humanity, and Unpacking’s great strength is the way that it takes that shared experience – which can often be deeply emotional – and encourages us to put a little of ourselves into the experience. With few words, this wonderfully brief experience is powerful, memorable, and may just get you thinking about your own experiences and life. 

Good art is never just about entertaining the audience. Certainly, that’s a part of it, but encouraging a person to think more deeply and relate to the experience on a personal level is where the most memorable works of art land. With that in mind, Unpacking has hit on something special. Players interacted with the game in ways the developers didn’t anticipate, and many of the possessions that were represented in the game got people thinking – and talking – about their own relationship with their things. The heavy hit of nostalgia that comes with playing a game of Unpacking is perhaps the best proof of all that this is very good art indeed.

This is the bio under which all legacy DigitallyDownloaded.net articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

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