This year's SXSW ScreenBurn Festival was the first to hold a game design competition for amateur developers. The finals in the two categories, Casual and AAA, were held back-to-back, with the four finalists in each category presenting their designs to an audience whose applause would determine their fate, and a panel of judges who would ask questions about the concepts and the possible execution of the games.
The Casual panel featured Arkane Studios' Harvey Smith, Divide by Zero's James Portnow, and Morgan Romine, founder of Ubisoft's Frag Dolls. The game presentations included:
  • Jerry Paffendorf's Blorst, which takes a player's existing text from the web, pulls related Flickr images, and generates some kind of typing game out of it. Paffendorf's plan includes the ability to order books based on the generated text and imagery.
  • Anders Howard's FLOAT, a 2D puzzle game starring balloon animals, who have to cross obstacles with the help of player-placed objects. Different animals have different behaviors: for example, balloon monkeys will attempt to swing on nearby ropes and vines.
  • Deborah Colon's Full Moon Manor, a Halloween-themed Lost Vikings-style platform game, about three siblings with different abilities, who collaborate to escape from a creepy mansion.
  • Gwen Murray's Sloppy Ice, a Dewy's Adventure-like action game about a water droplet who can change states to change combat abilities.
Sloppy Ice won the majority of applause, netting Murray's team one of those fancy Resident Evil 5 Xbox 360 Elite bundles. Could the name have been the clincher? It's fun to read and say. Sloppy Ice.

In the AAA category, the competitors presented designs for larger-budget, longer-form games. The judges for this category included Arkane's Raphael Colantonio, Foundation 9's Chris Charla, and Souris Hong-Porretta from Entertainment Media Ventures. The games:
  • CoverUp from Kristen Boyett: a mystery adventure game in the vein of Gabriel Knight, intended for universities and designed to teach information literacy and research skills.
  • ManorMeta, presented by Evonne Heyning, a transmedia, educational MMO project about superheroes.
  • Seth Smith's Project Z.E.U.S., an environment-themed game that combines third-person action with strategy, placing the character in the role of an artificial being who uses a ruined Earth's technology to rebuild the planet and guide the regrowth of life.
  • Ringmaster, a circus-themed MMO action game that allows players to train in various circus activities, and then to perform in an online circus.
Project Z.E.U.S. took home the acclaim, and, of course, the Xbox bundle. While Z.E.U.S. may be the most "traditional" of the bunch, it's interesting to see the SXSW crowd's take on an AAA game. All four competitors used the hypothetical budgets for games that fall far outside the usual blockbuster formula in surprising ways. This is why competitions like this exist: to highlight fresh ideas from new talent.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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