Between the fake buildings and flashing displays that dominate the Electronic Entertainment Expo, dozens of indie game representatives stood for hours in crowded rows to share their games with anyone who wandered by.
The indie aisles can be treacherous. In order to find the hits, you have to navigate through countless rodent puzzlers and side-scrolling shooters.
And that’s exactly what I did to create this list of the 10 best indie games of E3 2014. I picked my winners and cornered and interviewed some of the people who made them.
(Note: Some of these games are in early development stages. A few may change drastically in the next few months)
Developer: No Goblin Games
Release: 2014 Xbox One, PC
Roundabout is one part Crazy Taxi, one part Rampage, and three parts awesome. It is the first offering from Dan Teasdale’s (Rockband, Destroy All Humans) new indie studio, No Goblin Games.
Players must chaffeur customers around the city of Roundabout in a constantly rotating limousine.
The gameplay of the alpha version was pretty generic, but hilariously cheesy real-life cutscenes give Roundabout a unique edge (see trailer). Playing through the quests in Roundabout feels like watching the crappy first movie of a mid-’70s drive-in double feature — and I mean that in a good way.
I had to ask Teasdale why he chose to go in this direction.
“I used to work at Twisted Pixel, so I have the FMV [full-motion video] bug,” Teasdale said. “The game is set in 1977, and we felt that using FMV and dressing our actors up in costumes really evokes that era.”
Developer: Upper One Games
Release: Fall 2014 Xbox One, PC
Never Alone is an atmospheric puzzle game with a clear social agenda: breeding cultural awareness for the native Alaskan peoples, especially the Iñupiat. Upper One Games drew heavily from Iñupiat folklore to tell the story of a little girl and her pet fox’s journey to save her people from a blizzard. Part of the game’s development even took place in Alaska.
Andrew Stein, the marketing director for Never Alone publisher E-Line Media, was on-hand to gush about the melding of culture and games.
“Iñupiat tribal members are assisting with every part of the story, visuals, and audio of Never Alone.” Stein said. “This is the first of what we hope to be a number of games where we bring the traditional stories of indiginous cultures to life.”
Traditional puzzle formulas and Alaskan folklore seem to blend well in Never Alone. It has a beautiful art style, and the tag-team mechanic of the girl and her fox creates a smooth puzzle-solving experince. Nothing appears revolutionary about Never Alone, but I think it will do well in a popular indie genre.
Developer: Other Ocean Interactive
Release: 2014 Xbox One
When I reached #IDARB’s aisle at the end of the Xbox indie section, I saw nothing but good things: beers, six people huddled around a video game, and an 8-bit Rick Astley gliding majestically across the TV screen.
I had to get in on some of that.
#IDARB is a simple game: Two teams line up on opposite sides of a platformed map and attempt to throw a ball into one another’s goals. It has many possible team choices. My team consisted of three mimes, and we went up against a team consisting of three breakfast food items.
Frank Cifaldi, the head of business development for #IDARB’s developer Other Ocean Interactive, said all of these characteristics were the result of an accidental social experiment. “Our head of game development, Mike Mika, created a basic gray background with a few platforms and threw a picture of it up on Twitter,” Cifaldi said. “Every development decision we have made since then is a direct result of responses to that Tweet.”
Cifaldi said that Twitch Plays Pokémon played a role in this crowdsourcing model. Fans can use Twitter to create teams, mess with one another midgame, and contribute any idea they want for #IDARB’s gameplay. This was probably the simplest game at E3. But it also has the most potential.
Release: Out now on PlayStation 4. Coming soon to PS3, Vita
Entwined is one of those games that makes you “ooooooh” and “aaaaah” from the first moment you lay eyes on it. The game is visually striking, but it also features this weird twin thumbstick control scheme in which players move a blue bird and an orange fish through a series of obstacles at the same time. Occasionally, the animals combine into one entity that navigates the world with a more traditional control scheme.
So, which came first: the controls or the art?
“We originally had two balls on a screen that were controlled with the two thumbsticks,” said Eric Zhang, the engineer for Entwined developer Pixelopus. “One of our developers came up with the idea to use a fish and a bird, which is based on traditional Chinese mythology. We then had artists animate the game based on the mood and feel of our story.”
The colorful art, upbeat soundtrack, and unique gameplay combine for a pretty solid indie game experience. If you are into video games as an art form, I recommend checking out Entwined.