My third and final day was more of a social experiment than anything else. I have a full roster of both triple A and indie games that will require my immediate attention over the next few months, and I managed to score a playtest with every game that was on my wishlist—so what else was there to do? When you reach this point at E3, there’s only one option: Go see all the weird shit that Indiecade and the College Games Competition have to offer. Indiecade has long been a champion of the independent gamer, allowing developers from all over the world to submit games for their annual presentations. Those that cut the mustard are presented at conventions all over the country, and E3 is one of their stops during the year. Both Brigham Young University and the University of Utah had a presence at this year’s College Games Competition, both of which were showcasing some material that made me proud to be a Utah nerd.
While Indiecade’s E3 presence might have seemed quaint compared to the big green juggernaut that Microsoft had erected in the West Hall, it was just as easy for me to get lost in their gamer turf for a few hours. Showcasing games for all platforms, it was difficult to choose where to start. I’d already seen some mind-bending content, so I was after something that I hadn’t already seen. I was intrigued by a DIY setup involving two PS3 motion controllers and a tiny tweed couch. The display belonged to the Canadian developer team at Tweed Couch Games . Their Indiecade entry was a game called In Tune, which utilized the motion controllers to raise and answer questions about the way people approach their personal space. In Tune starts by displaying a two-person position like a high-five or a stranglehold. If the player is uncomfortable with the position displayed, they just have to push a button and the exercise is terminated. While I don’t foresee myself taking this one home with me—though it would be pretty damn fun as a party game—it was interesting to see a game that had so many different applications to real world psychology. Allison Cole of Tweed Couch explained that the purpose of the game was to help people understand what their definition of consent was; to more clearly define what kind of physical contact they were and were not comfortable with. This is the type of thing that makes me see video games as more than just entertainment—I could see a game like this as a legitimate psychological tool that could help a lot of people.
Night In the Woods
I was about to pass this one by, but there was something about the way autumn leaves swirled around the feet of an anthropomorphic cat that made me pause and give it a go. Developed by Alec Holowka and Scott Benson, Night in the Woods tells the story of a cat named Mae, and her recent decision to drop out of college to return to her hometown of Possum Springs. As the story develops, we see that Mae’s nostalgic memories have been fractured by the reality of growing up. The character animations and the dialogue made me think of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series—only there was something wistful and melancholy about Mae’s return to Possum Springs. The bulk of the game is spent solving situational puzzles, and I really enjoyed an interactive cutscene that involved Mae and her friend scarfing down donuts. It’s rare to find a game that unfolds with the same delicacy as an independent film, and I keep finding myself thinking about whether or not Mae is able to get out of her crappy town and make her dreams come true.
When I spied this vibrant truffle of a game, I immediately thought of Wes Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Maquisard is a very posh establishment with some very snooty guests, and it’s the player’s job as lobby boy to secretly find out the details of their stay and report back to the maître d’. At first, it’s all about figuring out who’s been picking the tulips on the roof or which guest is unsatisfied with the hotel’s restaurant, but eventually you’ll be called upon to ferret out government agents and other clandestine characters. It’s a lovely exercise in symmetrical design and minimalistic character design, and it’s another win for games that are successful without racking up a bodycount. The game was developed by students with NYU’s Game Center, and you can check the game out for yourself here.
College Games Competition
In addition to Indiecade, another great place to check out the frontlines of video game development is E3’s annual College Games Competition. This year, both the University of Utah and Brigham Young University were there to compete, and I got a chance to check out both of their titles. My first stop was with Chad Burgoyne who was representing the University of Utah’s Electronic Arts and Entertainment program. Their game was called Melterman, a platformer in which obstacles can be melted and repurposed. The liquid physics flowed like a pixelated lava lamp, and the character’s melty gun was equipped with multiple functions—not only did it melt stuff, but it could also slurp it up and spit it back out as cubic structures that can be used to safely navigate through each level. The game has definite chops as a physics puzzler, as well as those of a decent side-scrolling platformer.
After venturing over to BYU’s side of the floor, Joseph Gremlich talked to me about Relic Hunter, their entry into the competition. It’s an isometric platformer that had the artistic style of Blizzard games such as Diablo 3 and Warcraft. The purpose of Relic Hunter is to raid a series of beautifully-rendered dungeons in search of valuable artifacts. One of the most interesting aspects of the game was the fact that, once you snag the level’s main artifact, you have to get out of dodge quickly. This requires the player to remember exactly how they got to the end of the level, which was a challenge in and of itself.
While the team from the Savannah College of Art and Design ended up taking the win for the competition, it speaks very highly of our local universities that both of them were accepted into the running at all—spots in E3’s College Games Competition are reserved for the best of the best.
Day Three Wrap
Even though the gaming fanboy in me gets riled up with the list of big-name releases that are coming out this year, I will always appreciate the dark horses of the gaming world. Much like the voices of all independent art forms, the indie developers that are investing a ton of their own time, passion and sanity into creating the interactive art that is video games are some of the most dedicated people around. Who else is going to help me realize that I actually do want a game that puts me in the role of a hotel lobby boy?