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Cart Life

Check out the amazing titles that have walked away with prizes at this year's Independent Games Festival.

When it comes to creativity in gaming, the best place to look isn't EB games, but independent creators — those who are making a go of creating their own games. It makes sense: they often have the freedom to create games that are truly experimental, strange and more emotional, while large studios, which pander more to market research, do not.

The 15th Independent Games Festival, which celebrates excellence and innovation from independent creators, has come and gone. This year, six games have taken prizes for their inventiveness and brilliance.

Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Nuovo Award

Richard Hofmeier's simulation game Cart Life sees you managing the lives of street vendors in a small town in America's west, working hard to turn a profit. But it's more than just a simple work sim; it's about the lives of the characters you play, their passions and their addictions (which have to be managed in order for the character to work effectively). You also have to manage customers and inspectors — in all, the game provides a unique and poignant insight into the surprisingly dark lives of these characters.

You can nab a free or US$5 paid version for PC on the Cart Life website, or pick it up for US$4.99 on Steam.

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Kentucky Route Zero

Excellence in Visual Arts

There's something of Superbrothers in the art of Cardboard Computer's Kentucky Route Zero — that painterly beauty rendered in pixel graphics, a certain grace of movement. There's a secret highway running underground through caves under Kentucky, travelled by strange and mysterious people. The point-and-click adventure is less about solving puzzles, and more about atmosphere and narrative — a journey rather than a fight.

The game is being released in five episodic instalments for PC, Mac and Linux; so far, the first episode has been released, but you can purchase all fiv as a US$25 package from the Kentucky Route Zero website.

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Excellence in Audio

From Jeppe Carlsen — whose work you might know from Playdead's Limbo, where he was lead designer — comes 140, a platformer the developer has been working on in his spare time for the last couple of years. It's a minimalist affair where the audio is just as important as the visual; it's only through following cues from the soundtrack that you'll be able to navigate your tiny shape through an ever-changing and perilous abstract environment. The soundtrack, for which 140 was awarded for excellence, was created by Playdead audio programmer Jakob Schmid.

140 is due for release sometime later this year.

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FTL: Faster than Light

Excellence in Design and Audience Award

There are lots of games about blowing things up in space, but there's more to space warfare than firing laser cannons. Subset Games' FTL: Faster than Light calls itself a "spaceship simulation real-time roguelike-like", and sees you managing an entire spacecraft while on a mission to save the galaxy from rebel attack. This means things like managing resupply, damage control from environmental factors such as asteroids and radioactive interference, and human resources. Then, when the battles begin, you have to play it out in real-time, managing attack and defence as well as ship maintenance and repair. It's kind of like being in a sci-fi TV show, but without the guaranteed happy ending — it's hard.

You can grab FTL: Faster than Light from its website for US$10 for PC, Mac and Linux.

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Best Student Game

We've seen high-speed skating games before, but nothing quite like The Arcane Kids' Zineth. It's explosively colourful and fast — a celebration, the website says, of speed, movement and Twitter. It's also quite wonderful to see cell shading make such an interesting return after being done to death in the early-to-mid 2000s. Like Jet Set Radio, you take missions from NPCs (unlike Jet Set Radio, they don't involve graffiti); then you fly through the environments, a mobile phone screen taking up part of your display, allowing you to play games, send emails and even take in-game snapshots and post them to Twitter.

You can grab Zineth for free for PC and Mac from its website.

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Little Inferno

Technical Excellence

Tomorrow Corporation — combining talents from World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth — have created something strange and spooky with Little Inferno. The world is cold and covered in snow; to keep warm, citizens of the city sit in front of Little Inferno fireplaces, burning items bought from catalogues. Meanwhile, correspondences arrive somehow — news reports, letters — questioning the status quo. It's a magnificently unsettling game, and although short, riveting to the end.

You can pick it up for US$10 from its website for PC, iTunes for AU$5.49 for iOS, and the Nintendo eShop for Wii U.

If you're looking for more amazing games to play, head over to the IGF website and check out the rest of the finalists. Our favourites include Incredipede, Super Hexagon and Year Walk.

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