E3 Hands-On: Indiecade
Our favorite part of E3 shines brighter every year
E3 is an incredibly expensive show to put on. Nintendo erects two-story booths in the middle of a convention center. Ubisoft hires an orchestra to play music from Assassin’s Creed. Microsoft books Keanu Reaves. Sony even decided that keeping up with the Joneses wasn’t worth the cost this year and opted to bow out. With the sheer barrier to entry to putting up a massive booth at the biggest video game convention in the world, many larger companies are choosing to focus on fewer and fewer games. This is compounded by the fact that those few games often tend to conform to a particular mold. In E3’s sea of thinning uniformity, the Indiecade booth is a welcome lighthouse shining brightly.
Every year, Indiecade proves to be one of the absolute high points of our E3-going experience. New and interesting gameplay concepts, often spanning not just software, but hardware as well, are presented with passion. Usually, actual developers on the projects are present to answer questions and explain design decisions. It’s the part of E3 where the strongest sense of community and artistic engagement is felt and this year was no different. We weren’t able to play every game at the Indiecade booth, but here are a few of our favorites.
HOT SWAP: All Hands on Deck
HOT SWAP: All Hands on Deck is a cooperative game where two players sail a ship into hostile territory. There are individual controls for raising and lowering the sails, loading cannonballs, firing cannonballs, steering the ship, searching for treasure, and repairing damage; both players need to juggle all of these responsibilities if they want to stay afloat. Sea of Thieves comparisons might have been inevitable if not for its very unique control scheme, which is more reminiscent of Nintendo LABO than anything else. Each of those functions is accomplished by inserting a physical game piece into a player’s control panel.
Simply planning on doing something and then doing it becomes a challenge in itself when you and your partner are competing for control over specific game pieces. Verbal communication is key in this frenetic, minimalist sailing simulator. I would heartily recommend picking this one up for a game night with the pals once this becomes available.
HOT SWAP is a project jointly made by Peter Gyory, Clement Zhang, and Matt Bethancourt.
A turn-based RPG where your luck is entirely randomized doesn’t sound particularly fun on the surface, but Dicey Dungeons’ exciting encounters actually allow for a large degree of strategy. In Dicey Dungeons, you are given a number of pre-rolled dice that you can spend on attacks and abilities that might help you prevail in your quest. Deciding which dice should be spent on which ability grows increasingly difficult, even within the short span of what was playable on the showfloor. The game encourages the player to think a few turns in advance and, despite the randomness intrinsic to dice-based games, well-laid plans did seem to have a high success rate.
On top of the interesting gameplay, this game is also great to look at. Every enemy you’ll encounter is a charming piece of art. Sometimes you’ll be fighting relatively typical dungeoning fare like goblins or trolls, but other times you’ll be met with a battle against a flaming marshmallow, and each one of them is a real cutey.
The game just exited its alpha testing period, but you can play it when it is expected to fully launch later this summer. Dicey Dungeons is created by Terry Cavanagh, Marlowe Dobbe, Chipzel, and Justo Belgado Baudi.
Whether or not this one is a “video game” is probably controversial, but it was at E3 and in the Indiecade booth, so we’re covering it here. PiXXL Maze is exactly what it sounds like, a maze taking place on some pixels. What sets PiXXL Maze apart is how viscerally real it feels, simply because the puzzle exists on a real, physical cube. There is no actual marble rolling around on the LED-studded cube, but the way the flashy device needs to be turned continuously in order to move a small spotlight of mobile pixels certainly makes you feel like there is one.
Solving the maze only takes one or two minutes, but PiXXL Maze still managed to secure one of the longest lines in the booth. Sometimes the pure joy of watching a few colored pixels swim around a cube is all a video game really needs to be to garner attention at the biggest video game show in the world.
PiXXL Maze was created by Pirategames.
Killer Queen Black
Killer Queen Black might be the most fun we had on the entire E3 showfloor. Killer Queen is a competitive arcade four-versus-four eSport and Black is a new version of the game optimized for home console and PC. After playing a few rounds, it’s easy to see why the original version is such a favorite among arcade players.
There are three ways to win a match of Killer Queen Black. Your team can either kill the opposing team’s Queen three times, fill up your hive with berries, or ride a snail from one side of the screen to the other. To accomplish these goals, players assume the role of either their team’s Queen, a quick, deadly predator who can take out the other team’s members, or a Drone, who usually can’t attack, but has the ability to bring berries back to their hive or to ride the snail. That all sounds like a lot to keep in mind, and it is. Half of the game is simply keeping the rules straight. Still, in the heat of the moment, everything comes together and, in our experience, players will find themselves cooperating more often than getting in each other’s way.
This fast-paced beeSport is coming to Nintendo Switch and Discord later this year. Killer Queen Black is a project by Liquid Bit and Bumblebear Games.
I was hesitant to play the Neo Cab demo at the Indiecade booth. Not for any reason surrounding its perceived quality, but for the simple fact that heavily-narrative games do not have a history of demoing well at trade shows. What those games often have going for them is incredibly interesting, but also takes time to develop over the course of several hours, rather than a few minutes. Engaging with them usually takes more quiet meditation than the noisy lightshow that is the Los Angeles Convention Center can offer. We’re glad, then, that we ended up looking at the game, because this demo managed to intrigue and impress in a very short amount of time.
You play as Lina, a ride-share driver in the near future of a fictional city called Los Ojos. The story is driven by your choice of dialogue with your clients. Depending on how you interact with them, they may raise or lower your rating, which may result in Lina’s livelihood being taken away from her. It isn’t entirely difficult to know which conversation options will be the ones that will maximize Lina’s rating, but that’s only a third of the game. Another third involved Lina’s mood. If you let her work conditions become too bad (if you let a passenger belittle her without consequence, for example) her mood will decline until she is no longer able to perform her job. The attendant described the title as an “emotional survival game.” It’s important to make money and keep good status within Lina’s ride-sharing company, but it’s also important to retain dignity and stay emotionally healthy within an abusive gig economy.
Neo Cab is made by Chance Agency and Fellow Traveller and is scheduled to release later this year on PC and Nintendo Switch.