January is typically a quiet time of year for blockbuster video games, but despite the cold, the independent game scene is still buzzing with activity.

This week saw the announcement of the finalists for the 14th annual Independent Games Festival, due to take place in San Francisco in March. The IGF celebrates the most creative and innovative independent games that have emerged from the indie community during the past year. Previous finalists and winners of festival awards include such highly regarded indie games as Limbo, Machinarium, World of Goo and Superbrothers: Swords and Sorcery EP.

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The juries for the IGF awards include some big names in game development, such as George Fan, the creator of Plants vs Zombies, and Brett Douville, lead programmer at Bethesda Game Studios, maker of the recent The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.

Five finalists have been announced in each of the seven festival categories, and there are some truly outstanding games on those lists.

Perspective shifting platform game Fez, subject of Indie Game: The Movie, is nominated in two categories, with one jury member saying: “Fez is so epic that I think we’ll look back on it as both an homage to video game history, as well as one of the most compelling audiovisual experiences of our times. Such an amazing showcase of craft and talent and design perfection.”

Dear Esther, an experimental first person game, is up for four awards, including the Seamus McNally Grand Prize. The game, which traces a ghostly story on a remote Scottish island, received this comment during the judging process: “Dear Esther is top of my list. Mainly because I feel like it is taking a known genre and game engine and creating something from it that is a total artistic experience.”

Lume (pictured above) is nominated for ‘Excellence in Visual Art’. A jury member said that Lume is “beautiful and fascinating and it’s like playing a game in a children’s book.” Highlighting the unique graphical style of the game, the judges also called Lume “such a handsome feast … overall, very lush and touching.”

All the shortlisted games will be playable at the Game Developers Conference 2012 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, from March 7-9. The IGF Awards ceremony, at which the winners will be unveiled, will be held on the evening of March 7, alongside the Game Developers Choice Awards. IGF award recipients will receive $60,000 of prizes across the seven categories, including $30,000 for the winner of the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

Here’s a full list of finalists:

Excellence In Visual Art

Botanicula (Amanita Design)
Dear Esther (thechineseroom)
Lume (State Of Play Games)
Mirage (Mario von Rickenbach)
Wonderputt (Damp Gnat)

Technical Excellence

Antichamber (Demruth)
Fez (Polytron)
Prom Week (Expressive Intelligence Studio, UC Santa Cruz)
Realm of the Mad God (Wild Shadow Studios & Spry Fox)
Spelunky (Mossmouth)

Excellence In Design

Atom Zombie Smasher (Blendo Games)
English Country Tune (Stephen Lavelle)
Frozen Synapse (Mode 7 Games)
Gunpoint (Tom Francis, John Roberts and Fabian van Dommelen)
Spelunky (Mossmouth)

Excellence In Audio

Botanicula (Amanita Design)
Dear Esther (thechineseroom)
Pugs Luv Beats (Lucky Frame)
To The Moon (Freebird Games)
Waking Mars (Tiger Style)

Best Mobile Game

ASYNC Corp (Powerhead Games)
Beat Sneak Bandit (Simogo)
Faraway (Steph Thirion)
Ridiculous Fishing (Vlambeer)
Waking Mars (Tiger Style)

Nuovo Award
[Designed to honor abstract, shortform, and unconventional game development’.]

At a Distance (Terry Cavanagh)
Dear Esther (thechineseroom)
Fingle (Game Oven Studios)
GIRP (Bennett Foddy)
Proteus (Ed Key and David Kanaga)
Johann Sebastian Joust (Die Gute Fabrik)
Storyteller (Daniel Benmergui)
Way (CoCo & Co.)

Seumas McNally Grand Prize

Dear Esther (thechineseroom)
Fez (Polytron)
Frozen Synapse (Mode 7 Games)
Johann Sebastian Joust (Die Gute Fabrik)
Spelunky (Mossmouth)