Announcing The Winners Of The 3rd Annual Public Domain Game Jam!

from the best-of-the-best dept

It's that time again — the judges' scores and comments are in, and we've selected the winners of our third annual public domain game jam, Gaming Like It's 1925! As you know, we asked game designers of all stripes to submit new creations based on works published in 1925 that entered the public domain in the US this year — and just as in the past two jams, people got very creative in terms of choosing source material and deciding what to do with it. Of course, there were also a lot of submissions based on what is probably the most famous newly-public-domain work this year, The Great Gatsby — but while everyone expected that, nobody expected just how unique some of those entries would be! So without further delay, here are the winners in all six categories of Gaming Like It's 1925:

Best Analog Game — Fish Magic by David Harris

David Harris is our one and only returning winner this year: he won the same category in Gaming Like It's 1924 with his previous game, The 24th Kandinsky, which as the name suggests was based on the artwork of Wassily Kandinsky. This year's entry, Fish Magic, continues in a similar tradition, but now drawing inspiration from Paul Klee's 1925 painting of the same name. The game itself is very different, but just as captivating: it turns Klee's painting into a game board which players navigate to collect words, then tasks them with inventing new kinds of "fish magic" or "magic fish" with the words in their collection. Where The 24th Kandinsky was tailored to Kandinsky's abstract art, with players focused on manipulating the shapes and forms of his compositions, Fish Magic's gameplay is more suited to Klee's surreal and expressionist style, shifting the focus to the magical ideas and mysterious underwater world evoked by the titular painting. Our judges were immediately drawn to this clever and original premise, and impressed by how complete and well-thought-out the final product is, making Fish Magic a shoe-in for the Best Analog Game.

Best Digital Game — Rhythm Action Gatsby by Robert Tyler

Anyone working on a game based on The Great Gastby for this year's jam knew they'd be facing competition, and would have to do something unexpected to truly stand out — and that's just what Robert Tyler did with Rhythm Action Gatsby. Rhythm action games are a simple premise, and it would have been easy to just slap one together, but this entry was lovingly crafted with an original music composition, recorded narration of a famous passage from the book, and carefully choreographed animations, all presented via a representation of the iconic cover art that we all recognize in a pretty, polished package — plus, bonus points for taking the time to include a basic accessibility option to turn off screen flashes. Our judges immediately found it cute, delightful, and genuinely fun, even taking multiple runs at the roughly-two-minute game to improve their scores, putting it straight to the top of the charts for the Best Digital Game.

Best Adaptation — The Great Gatsby: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game by Segoli

One of the things we loved most about last year's entries was that, beyond just using newly-public-domain materials, several of them brought themes of copyright and culture into the games themselves. While there was less of that this year, The Great Gatsby: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game by Segoli puts these concepts at the core of its game mechanics in a fun and amusing way that won some of our judges over before the end of the first page of rules. The game is a robust, well-thought-out framework for improvising and roleplaying a new version of the story of The Great Gatsby, with the traditional setup of a Game Master and a group of players — with the twist that those players are encouraged to play as other public domain characters. Indeed, the comical character creation rules aren't about rolling dice to assign skill points, but about figuring out what's in the public domain where you're playing, and the core mechanic for player actions can be more or less challenging depending on whether the action invokes a still-copyrighted work. And yet despite all this playful copyright fun, the game also encourages a genuine exploration of the book and aims to produce great alternative versions of its story — all of which makes it the winner of Best Adaptation.

Best Remix (Tie!) — Art Apart by Ryan Sullivan, and There Are No Eyes Here by jukel

The Best Remix category, for a game that draws on multiple 1925 works, is one of the most interesting and most challenging categories in the jam. This year, there wasn't a single stand-out winner, but rather two games that are at once very similar and very different, and both deserving of the prize.

Art Apart by Ryan Sullivan is a game that, at first glance, nobody expected very much from — it's just a series of digital jigsaw puzzles of 1925 paintings. But once they dove in, our judges were pleasantly surprised by just how charming it was thanks to a great array of paintings and a selection of gentle background music (also from 1925, of course!) This attention to detail carries through in other features, like a timer with a "best time" memory and a full-featured interface that lets the user switch between puzzles and background tracks at will. Mostly, it's a showcase of how the act of mixing multiple creative works can be valuable in and of itself when someone takes the time to choose those works well.

There Are No Eyes Here by jukel is its own kind of painting-based puzzle, taking an approach that is more focused on the elements of the artwork. Indeed, one wonders if the game was at least partly inspired by last year's The 24th Kandinsky, as it is also based on paintings by the famed Russian abstract artist, but this time ones from 1925. The game makes the elements of the paintings themselves into the levers of the puzzle, essentially becoming a spot-the-hidden-object game in which players locate the elements of the paintings that they can manipulate to complete each stage. It carefully mixes and matches elements of multiple Kandinsky paintings, forcing the player to carefully study their elements in a way most people haven't taken the time to do, and rewarding them with hand-crafted animations. It's a simple game that is as abstract and intriguing as the works it draws from.

Best Deep Cut — Remembering Grußau by Max Fefer (HydroForge Games)

Building on public domain works doesn't have to be all about chopping up and changing them, and games don't always have to achieve their goals in an oblique way. Sometimes, there are games like Remembering Grußau by Max Fefer/HydroForge Games that tell you exactly what they are: in this case, a guided reflection on the death of Jewish artist Felix Nussbaum and a work he painted in 1925, nearly twenty years before he was killed at Auschwitz. The game is calm, meditative, and deeply moving, remaining entirely focused on the painting and prompting the player to study it and consider its meaning with the knowledge of Nussbaum's life and death. It's the only Twine game among this year's winners, but it also goes beyond the browser-based interactive story, tasking players with writing a letter on paper and returning to the game after spending time to contemplate it. Our judges found it impactful and highly effective in its goals, and by drawing on one specific lesser-known work and truly exploring it to the fullest, it became the clear choice for Best Deep Cut.

Best Visuals — ~THE GREAT GATSBY~ by Floatingtable Games

In terms of its visual presentation, ~THE GREAT GATSBY~ by Floatingtable Games is one of the most polished submissions we've ever had in these jams. It's a simple, classic platformer — complete with double-jumps and deadly spike hazards, plus some story cutscenes — and while the gameplay won't blow any minds, the striking monochrome pixel graphics will catch plenty of eyes. The brief level loosely tells the story of the second chapter of The Great Gatsby, and from the warm brown color palette to the parallax cityscape backdrop to the expressive character portraits, everything on screen just looks great. Why turn The Great Gatsby into a retro-style platformer? Well, why not? If nothing else, it's a great way to win this year's prize for Best Visuals!

The winning designers will be contacted via their Itch pages to arrange their prizes, so if you see your game listed here, keep an eye on your incoming comments!

In the coming weeks, we'll be taking a closer look at each of these winners in a series of posts, but for now you can head on over to the game jam page to try out all these games as well as several other great entries that didn't quite make the cut. Congratulations to all our winners, and a huge thanks to everyone who submitted a game — and finally, another thanks to our amazing panel of judges:

We'll be back next year with another public domain game jam as works from 1926 run out of copy protection, so whether you participated in this year's jam or not, it's never too early to start planning for the next one! Plus, these games just scratch the surface of the many, many works that entered the public domain this year, and we hope this jam continues to demonstrate why exploring those works can be so valuable and so fun — so get out there and keep on mining that public domain!

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Filed Under: game jam, games, gaming like its 1925, public domain

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2021 @ 11:43am

    Re: Excellent choices!

    Thanks, I guess. But if you stroke your own ego any harder you're going to need lube.

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