The judges have had their fun, the votes are in, and now it’s time: we’ve got the winners of our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1924! We had some amazing entries this year, and we’ve even got a couple returning winners. Plus, we noticed a really exciting pattern: several of the games didn’t just make use of newly-copyright-free works from 1924, they actually found ways to embody the spirit of the game jam — a celebration of the public domain and the creative power of remixing and reimagining — within their themes and mechanics as well. This has only strengthened our resolve to continue with these game jams each year, and hopefully expand them as the public domain continues to grow — but first, here are the winners of Gaming Like It’s 1924:
Best Analog Game — The 24th Kandinsky by David Harris
As we began reviewing entries in the game jam, this was one of the first to catch our eye, and right away we knew it was something special. The 24th Kandinsky is a marvelously conceived and executed game that you could start playing right now with almost any group in any setting and have an interesting, entertaining, and above all creative time. It is a game about admiring, sharing, remixing, creating, and collaborating on art — all quite literally, and all based on the 1924 paintings of the famed abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. Players become what one judge called “art DJs”, physically reproducing and cutting up pieces of Kandinsky’s work to create a new composition on a shared canvas, with some light voting-based competition so a winner can take home the group masterpiece as a prize. This is exactly the sort of public domain celebration we hoped these game jams would inspire, and a deserving recipient of the Best Analog Game award.
Best Digital Game — You Are The Rats In The Walls by Alex Blechman
The award for the best overall digital game goes to this RPG Maker experience that employs a classic technique for reimagining a famous work: switching the perspective character. You Are The Rats In The Walls takes H. P. Lovecraft’s 1924 short story of the nearly-same name and, as you’ve probably guessed, puts the player in the shoes of the titular rats. One thing that makes this game stand out is its excellent and amusing writing, which mines a great deal of comedy from the combination of baroque Lovecraftian prose with more modern, casual dialog. But what sealed its spot as Best Digital Game was that it goes beyond the basics of the RPG Maker engine and actually adds some real gameplay mechanics — simple ones perhaps, but enough to elevate it beyond the more rigid interactive fiction it could have otherwise been.
This is Alex Blechman’s second win in the Best Digital Game category, following last year’s win with a quite different kind of game.
Best Adaptation — The Hounds Follow All Things Down by J. Walton
At first glance, this analog storytelling/roleplaying game based on Lord Dunsany’s 1924 novel The King of Elfland’s Daughter might not seem like a candidate for the Best Adaptation award, which goes to the game that most faithfully carries forth the meaning, style, and intent of the original work. And yet, something about the way The Hounds Follow All Things Down radically tears apart — then tasks players with creatively rebuilding — its source material allows it to tap in to what Charles De Lint called “the spell of legendry and wonder” that makes the novel so influential in the fantasy genre. The designer used an unusual, experimental method of procedural generation via predictive text algorithms to chop up the text of the book into curious fragments, which the players then use to construct a fictional “famous poem” within the story’s setting. As such, it directly employs themes of authorship, oral history, remixing, and the way stories change over time, while strongly evoking the world of Elfland and its inhabitants.
J. Walton is our other returning winner this year, after taking the Best Deep Cut award last year with a game that similarly delivers rich meaning in strange and unexpected ways.
Best Remix — 192X by chloe spears
The award for the best combination of material from multiple public domain sources goes to this Twine-based interactive fiction that clearly had such remixing at the heart of its mission. 192X weaves together the Buster Keaton film Sherlock Jr., the Yevgeny Zamyatin novel We, and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue — all works from 1924 (and thanks to the designer for noting that the game only uses the now-public-domain composition by Gershwin, not any of the still-copyrighted recordings). Moreover, it’s another of the entries that brought the ideas of public domain material and remixing into the game itself, resulting in (as the designer describes it) “a game about the art we leave behind for the future, and what we allow the future to do with it”. The writing is compelling and often funny, the interactivity is simple but designed with care and subtlety that enhances the story, and as one of our judges put it, “my hat is off to the creator for having the guts to even try to tell a Buster Keaton movie in words alone.”
Best Deep Cut — Legends of Charlemagne by Abelardsnazz
There weren’t many “deep cut” entries based on works that don’t appear in the popular public domain day highlight lists this year, but the competitive deck-building card game Legends of Charlemagne — based on the N. C. Wyeth paintings published in a 1924 illustrated edition of Thomas Bulfinch’s famous 19th century book of the same name — would be a strong contender even in a crowded field. It first caught our eye with its striking visuals that pair the paintings with perfectly complementary card designs, but its most notable achievement is having identified this wealth of beautiful imagery in one edition of a book that has been republished and repackaged many times over the past 150 years, and which could have easily flown under the radar of everyone looking for interesting 1924 publications. Wyeth’s book, magazine and advertising illustrations are an iconic part of early 20th century commercial art, and Legends Of Charlemagne gives them new life as a game that will appeal especially to fans of history, legend, fantasy, and of course competitive card games.
Best Visuals — Hot Water by reltru
A video game with good graphics is a tough thing to pull off in a one-month development window, but this year we have a winner for the Best Visuals category that is absolutely dripping with visual style. Hot Water, based on the 1924 Harold Lloyd silent film of the same name, is a simple and short reaction game that could use some polish on the controls and mechanics, but its delightfully anachronistic combination of retro pixel art with silent movie interstitial title cards and a black-and-white, early-film aesthetic is instantly appealing. With the music enhancing this effect, plus a little treat at the end, you’ve got a couple minutes of silly, diverting, and above all visually charming gameplay that will put a smile on your face.
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!
Like last year, we’ll be featuring even closer looks at each winning game over the coming weeks, and you can check out all the submissions (including all the great games that didn’t quite make the cut) over on itch.io. 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:
April Kit Walsh
We’ll be back next year with another public domain game jam for works from 1925, and in the mean time, keep on mining that public domain! There’s lots more to discover…
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