The Hidden Indie Gems of E3 2011


Posted June 17, 2011 - By Rob Manuel

The Hidden Indie Gems of E3 2011

Lights flashing, people running into each other, the floor shaking with the rumbling bass from twenty different booths; E3 is best described as a dozen rock concerts going on at once. Giant marquees and statues for all the big games appear nearly everywhere you turn. You can probably guess that a game with little fanfare on a single screen would require quite a bit of hunting to find.

So at this year's E3, I went on the hunt to find the best indie titles. A couple of them were only playable on one screen behind a booth which was often hidden by a bigger booth. But, I was able to complete my quest. A big special thanks to IndieCade for having such a great presence at the show! Here are just a few of the hidden treasures I found in my search for the best indie games at E3.

The Hidden Indie Gems of E3 2011

Of Boys and Monsters

One of the things that really excite me most about indie games are the types of stories developers can tell that often go beyond that of saving princesses. I’m not saying that you can’t find a lot of depth in saving a damsel in distress, but indie games tend to tread in areas that can be often be personal not only to the developer, but to the player as well. Needless to say, when I saw a playable demo of Papo & Yo over at the Sony booth, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

The game walks a fine line between imagination and reality as you follow a boy’s adventure around his neighborhood. Right off the bat, I loved the dusty street setting of some South American town. Houses painted in earth and pastel colors stack upon each other in the distant background. It’s a world that’s both familiar and foreign – the perfect setting for this story. To help you along your path, there’s a toy robot named Lula, and a hulking beast known only as Monster. For the puzzles I saw at E3, the game combined elements of both the real world and the imagination of our main character. Creating a bridge in the real world was as easy as lining up boxes. Getting past endless walls was as easy as pulling a string to see it fall away like some kind of curtain. But what’s remarkable about this game might just be the story behind it all.

Monster has a problem. He’s loves to eat frogs, but they make him go crazy. The sweet and gentle beast turns into a ravenous monster as soon as he eats one. But like everything else in this game, the character comes shaded behind a young boy’s imagination. Replace the monster with a father figure and the frogs with alcohol and what you get is a far darker message. It comes to no surprise that Sony would snatch up this game as one of their own. They’ve always had a great eye for talent and a knack for taking chances. Papo & Yo is the biggest indie game that you should be talking about.

The Hidden Indie Gems of E3 2011

There’s No Place Like Home?

I can’t believe that I’m saying it – there might just be something to PlayStation Home. Yes, that avatar dancing simulator may just be the new platform for indie games. Take Sodium 2: Project Velocity for example. At the show, I got to try my racing prowess against that of other virtual gamers via a futuristic track. As expected, I slid into every wall and clearly demonstrated my lack of driving ability to nearly everyone around me. Luckily, the game allows you to tweak your craft in the garage with added parts to keep driving noobs like me on the track. There are even microtransactions that can turn your real money into virtual parts. I’m not one for paying out cash for little virtual items, but I will buy another game – and that’s where the genius of Home comes in.

For a couple of extra real bucks, I can buy another game that’s a dual controller shooter. Earn enough points and I can trade them in for virtual bucks for the other game. Since both games work off the same software, developers don’t need to work backdoors into their programs. You could potentially build a whole universe of interconnecting online games that each feed into each other. Experience in this game could mean money in another game or additional stats in a third game. There’s thepotential there to link any number of games together without having to plan further than the launch of the title. Those looking for new indie titles might want to take a stroll through Home.

The Hidden Indie Gems of E3 2011

Indie Extensions

To round out all the fun, I got to see some upgrades to two of my favorite indie games. Download Desktop Dungeons if you haven’t already. This free-to-play title takes all the monsters, loot, and mechanics from a traditional dungeon crawler and put them in a strategy game. Now every step and every monster could mean success or failure. The guys behind the free title want to make one that’s a little shinier, packed with more monsters, and costs you just a couple of bucks to play. When I got my hands on it, it was pretty evident that they moved from the realm of 8-bit to something with a little more flair. All the workings are still there but this time you get to keep your hero moving from dungeon to dungeon instead of retiring after each round. The gold you pick up from the dungeon carries over to the next level, or can be used to buy new items in the town. This also means a gentler difficulty curve for adventurers looking to get into the game. Polish those swords. It’s almost time to go back.

The Hidden Indie Gems of E3 2011

If there was ever an argument against nuclear proliferation, Magika has surely made it. Give people enough power and they’re just going to blow themselves up. In this game of wizard versus the world, you can now test your might against other spell slingers in their new PVP matches. If you’ve ever played Magika, then you already know that killing each other is merely part of the fun. Now, someone’s keeping score. Developers have included minor tweaks such as shortening beam time and making barriers reflective to keep players from simply spamming ray magic. Arenas even add a bit of difficulty. With the one I saw, up to four wizards pitted their skill over a frozen lake. A couple of fire spells quickly turned the playing field into a watery grave for several unlucky players. PVP will include a couple of modes as well as one created by the player who originally came up with the idea – Kreitor mode. The last mode only unlocks powers at certain intervals of the game. Hope you remember all of the spells.

There were a lot more indie titles in the IndieCade area, and we'll be checking them out when IndieCade comes back to SoCal in October. What has you excited?

The Hidden Indie Gems of E3 2011