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The Independent Games Festival has announced the eight Student Showcase winners for the fourteenth annual presentation of its prestigious awards, celebrating the brightest and most innovative creations to come out of universities and games programs from around the world in the past year.

This year's showcase of top student talent include the lithograph-sketched 2D logic puzzler The Bridge, from Case Western Reserve University, Art Institute of Phoenix's magic-moth platformer Dust, and DigiPen Institute of Technology's part-psychological-evaluator, part-boot-camp-instructor, possibly-part-malware action game Nous.

In total, this year's Student Competition took in nearly 300 game entries across all platforms -- PC, console and mobile -- from a wide diversity of the world's most prestigious universities and games programs making the Student IGF one of the world's largest showcases of student talent.

All of the Student Showcase winners announced today will be playable on the Expo show floor at the 26th Game Developers Conference, to be held in San Francisco starting March 5th, 2012. Each team will receive a $500 prize for being selected into the Showcase, and are finalists for an additional $3,000 prize for Best Student Game, to be revealed during the Independent Games Festival Awards on March 7th.

The full list of Student Showcase winners for the 2012 Independent Games Festival, along with 'honorable mentions' to those top-quality games that didn't quite make it to finalist status, are as follows:

The Bridge (Case Western Reserve University)
Dust (Art Institute of Phoenix)
The Floor Is Jelly (Kansas City Art Institute)
Nous (DigiPen Institute of Technology)
One and One Story (Liceo Scientifico G.B. Morgagni)
Pixi (DigiPen Institute of Technology - Singapore)
The Snowfield (Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab)
Way (Carnegie Mellon University, Entertainment Technology Center)

Honorable mentions: Be Good (DigiPen Institute of Technology); Lilith's Pet (University of Kassel); Nitronic Rush (DigiPen Institute of Technology); Once Upon A Spacetime (RMIT); Tink (Mediadesign Highschool of Applied Sciences)

This year's Student IGF entries were distributed to an opt-in subset of the main competition judging body, consisting of more than 100 leading independent and mainstream developers, academics and journalists. Now in its tenth year as a part of the larger Independent Games Festival, the Student Showcase highlights up-and-coming talent from worldwide university programs, and has served as the venue which first premiered numerous now-widely-recognized names including DigiPen's Narbacular Drop and Tag: The Power of Paint, which would evolve first into Valve's acclaimed Portal, with the latter brought on-board for Portal 2.

Others include USC's The Misadventures Of P.B. Winterbottom (later released by 2K Games for XBLA); Hogeschool van de Kunsten's The Blob (later becoming one of THQ's flagship mobile/console franchises as De Blob); and early USC/ThatGameCompany title Cloud, from the studio that would go on to develop PlayStation 3 arthouse mainstays like Flow, Flower, and their forthcoming Journey.

For more information on the Independent Games Festival, for which Main Competition finalists were also just announced, please visit the official IGF website.

For those interested in registering for GDC 2012 (part of the UBM TechWeb Game Network, as is this website), which includes the Independent Games Summit, the IGF Pavilion and the IGF Awards Ceremony, please visit the Game Developers Conference website.

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Created for Ludum Dare 22, DeepNight's Last Breath is a sleek, polished take on the theme and one that might extract a tear or two from the more sentimental members of audience. The premise here is fairly simple. A rather adorable-looking dog has fallen through a hole in the ground and unlike most humans in similar circumstances, he's not particularly consternated by his situation. Unfortunately, things aren't going to be easy for our pixelated pooch. He's not completely alone in this subterranean world. His Shadow, a separate entity that loathes him to no end, is also present. This would not be an issue were it not for the fact that the thing wants our canine compatriot dead.

Most of your time in Last Breath will be divided between the collection of self-levitating red balls and the avoidance of your homicidal doppelganger. As is often the case, this is easier said and done. Fortunately, however, the controls are rather smooth. My only qibble with the game is the fact that it can periodically lag for no reason whatsoever but that might just be my hardware.

You can check out the game here.

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Is this a sign of the encroaching apocalypse or an indication of better things to come? Stanford University used to be one of those top-notch educational institutes that cost an arm and a leg to attend. And now they're offering free courses? I'm not sure what to think about this but I'm definitely not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

There are actually a fair number of courses being offered. I'm not sure how useful Anatomy is going to be to an aspiring game designer but I'm willing to bet that there's more than a few out there who could benefit from the Game Theory (Thanks, Alexey!) classes or the Human-Computer Interaction course. In general, it looks like the courses will consist of eight to twelve minute lecture videos, an assortment of integrated quiz questions, standalone quizzes and various other assignments. And before anyone asks, the answer is 'no'. No, you will not be getting credits. You may, however, gain insight instead and that, as any well-pickled philosopher can tell you, is worth its weight in gold.

You can find out more here.

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Finnish developers Eboshidori and eebrozgi have released a two-and-a-half level trial version of their in-progress vertically scrolling shoot-'em-up Final Boss: 2nd Apocalypse.

Described by the development team as "our love letter to the shmup genre," Final Boss is a traditional scrolling shooter that features numerous cameos from classic shoot-em-ups. The title screen is a direct Ketsui reference, for one thing, and the multi-layer gameplay shown in the trailer recalls Taito's Galactic Attack, among other games.

While Final Boss is incomplete and features some placeholder elements (the borrowed soundtrack included), Ebbo is accepting criticism and bug reports in a Shmups Forum thread, which documents the game's progress over the last two years.

[via @shmups]

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[While the new Indie Royale game bundle that we co-created with Desura is running, we'll be profiling each of the four games featured in it, giving our honest opinion on the pluses and minuses of each title.Today, we take a look at Fractal, Cipher Prime's too-smart-for-its-own-good block puzzler. ]

Want something hardcore? Great. Put down that copy of Left 4 Dead you have there. Play Fractal. Cipher's Prime's lovely block puzzler is Bejeweled for Rubik's' Cube enthusiasts, a casual masocore game for intellectuals. Is this a good thing? That depends. How much do you enjoy beating your head against a wall? Fractal, in spite of how the randomly generated hexagons will make you curse, is a lot of good, clean fun. You just have to be prepared to be deeply, truly and irrevocably frustrated.

The basic premise behind Fractal is a simple one. Your goal here is to compose as many shapes of identical hue as you can in as few moves as possible. What makes it different from its predecessors is how you're supposed to accomplish all of this. Instead of lines, you'll be building hexagons. Instead of an orderly descent from the top of your screen, you will see hexagonal tiles blossoming at random across the game board. Instead of time, you have a certain amount of 'pushes' (you create 'blooms' by nudging shapes across the board) allocated.

It's tougher than it sounds. Fractal is not the sort of game that holds your hand. After the introductory level, you're pretty much on your own. There are no hints, no sly nudges in the right direction. There is no way to clear unfortunate gridlocks, no means to break free from an impossible conundrum. Unless you're particularly talented at this sort of game, you will see more than your fair share of restarts. At times, it can feel as though Fractal is as much about luck as it is about strategy.

This can be both good and bad. On one hand, it keeps you on your toes. On the other, well, it can get annoying. Really annoying. Fractal is one of the few games out there that is unafraid to intimate that you may be, in fact, a lot less intelligent than you initially believed. But if you're willing to deal with that, Fractal has a lot to offer. The pacing of the levels in the Campaign mode feels just right. The Arcade mode, freed from the push restriction, will easily devour hours of your time. I haven't played the Puzzle mode yet but if the rest of the game is any indication of what things will be, it should be pretty good as well.

Last but not least, the music's a joy. With every combo you weave, the soundtrack grows exultant. As you draw closer to the end of your quota of pushes, the score grows listless and dark. It's not integral to the game. You could easily play Fractal without sound. Nonetheless, it definitely enriches the title.

So, yes. Fractal is awesome. Fractal will also hurt your brain. It might even make you feel rather stupid. If you're inclined towards a cerebral exercise, you'll probably enjoy the game. Otherwise, you may want to consider slyly delivering it onto the doorstep of that one friend of yours that is too smart for his own good.

Official website here, and you can buy it as part of Indie Royale's 'New Year Bundle' for the next few days. We also did a profile/review of Super Crossfire too!

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