Diving Deep To The Edge Of Play: IndieCade @ E3

on Friday, Jun. 10th

The show floor at E3 can be an overwhelming visual calvacade. The latest in technology used in megadoses in order to batter down the will of retailers and journalists alike into submission. Mood lighting, explosions, and more spandex and bare flesh than can be legally fit into a strip club.

At the edges of of the Los Angeles Convention Center’s West Hall an oasis of creativity and DIY innovation was found in the form of the IndieCade booth.

“We’re trying to be the Sundance for video games,” said Sam Roberts, Festival Director for IndieCade– the International festival for independent games which is held in Culver City each October.  “We’re trying to help young creators make cool games with great ideas, bring those games to a mainstream audience and get released through mainstream platforms.”

IndieCade’s presence at E3 is one of the fulcrum points where the large indie game scene connects with major publishers and platform holders. New studios like Haunted Temple Enterprises, who were at the booth showing off Skulls of the Shogun, benefited from expo buzz. The studio is comprised of industry professionals who’ve struck out on their own after years of toiling away at megapublishers like EA.

Yet Indiecade was showcasing more than video games, with no-tech board, card, and participatory games on demo, which might seem strange for a show that is almost obsessively focused on bigger and badder imagery. The games of Ninja and Humans vs. Zombies which were played in a taped off area at the edge of their booth were a reminder to all who passed by that play is a human instinct, and that we don’t need a $5000 computer or a 3D TV that can generate separate images for each viewer in order to have a good time.

It was one of these non-video games that provided my most memorable experience of E3.

Deep Sea is the creation of Austin, Texas based sound designer Robin Arnott.

The game requires that the player wears a gas mask whose goggles have been blacked out and headphones. The player’s breathing is monitored, and that sound is fed back through the headphones along with sonar pings, and the “rumbles made by unseen terrors”. The objective: to use sonar to pinpoint the location of your enemy and sink them before they can find you in the darkness of the ocean.

The seed for the game came from Arnott’s experience as a sound designer for games.

“We’re asked to bring the immersion to games,” Arnott tells me.  “We bring the element that people don’t notice but kind of makes them feel transported. Deep Sea is an experiment in immersion using sense deprivation as a strategy for achieving a greater level of immersion”

The feeling of accomplishment that accompanied sinking my unseen opponent was greater than anything I’d managed to eek out of L.A. Noire. The game challenged my senses in a way that few games have before, plugging into a skill set I rarely get to use. I found the experience meditative, which might not quite be what Arnott expects, as he says the primary emotion he’s playing with is fear.

For his next project, Synapse, Arnott is exploring the other end of the emotional spectrum.

“We’re trying to achieve a kind of euphric synesthesia with sense pleasure, and using dance and play and rhythm.” Dancing in front of a Kinect camera will unlock music and psychedelic projections. Arnott’s team has been “working on it for a little while, but unfortunately our funding just fell through and we started a Kickstarter [recently] to get some of that back.”

If all goes according to plan, Synapse will make it’s debut at this year’s Burning Man. Meanwhile the next crop of indie games will be on display at the next IndieCade, submissions are still open until June 15th, and the festival will run October 6th-9th in Culver City.

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