IndieCade: E3’s Oasis and Scrying Pool, All in One

on Friday, Jun. 8th


The general reaction to this year’s E3 by the gaming press is one of disappointment. Everyone is upset about either the lack of new hardware, too much emphasis on marketing to the shooter loving hardcore, not enough games for the hardcore and just a general lack of inventiveness. To which I say: they must not have spent any time at the IndieCade booth.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at E3, and the the relentless march of ultra-violence can take it’s toll on even the most jaded of gamers. Which is why IndieCade’s annual set up is a needed oasis, complete with a scrying pool for seeing the future of games.

This year the booth was set up on the concourse between the two main halls, within the eyeline of expo-goers crossing from one part of the Convention Center to the other. This made it hard to miss IndieCade, if you bothered to turn your head while racing from one trade show spectacle to the other. Those who did, and took the few steps off the path to actually visit the booth were able to play some of the most inventive, if not incredibly polished, games at E3.

I spoke at length with festival director Sam Roberts and you can hear the interview above. We got into the life cycle of indie game development in this year where games at the edges of the industry are finding huge financial success. Also covered: the new possibilities of play that are being opened up by inventive college students experimenting with Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral.

One Kinect game in the booth was Songlines, where the player takes on the role of god, using gestural controls to shape the landscape. It’s a project that is almost more of an interactive art installation than a game— but could one day be brought into your home, using the technology you already have. A few minutes with Songlines was an effective palate cleanser after hours of explosions and gunfire. (We’ll have more about Songlines in a separate write-up.)

Another game that piqued my interest was Prom Week, a game that seeks to graft a complex social structure onto gameplay reminiscent of The Sims. Co-developer Ben Samuel explained to me that the idea was to create a version of a classic high school movie– think John Hughes territory here– through emergent gameplay. The character AI in Prom Week is focused on remembering and assigning value to interactions.

Not only are the direct interactions between the player and a given non player character tracked, but in classic high school anxiety fashion everyone seems to know everything that’s happened to everyone one else.  What you say to one character on the Monday before prom may come back to haunt you on the big night itself.

While I might not be chomping at the bit to experience a virtual prom– hell, I skipped my real one– innovations in this kind of game play are sorely needed in the industry right now. Systems that allow for intricate social structures and dynamic narrative designs are a balm a field that has become dominated by carbon copy first person shooter play needs. The games on display at the IndieCade E3 showcase this year might not have the flashy appeal of the “AAA” titles being marketed by the major publishers, but they are a preview of where the next generation of designers will be taking an industry that is learning bolder tricks every season.

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