During my practically nonexistent downtime, I wandered down to check out the offerings at the E3 installation of Indiecade 2008. Indiecade is, as the name implies, a celebration of a variety of indie games ranging from 'art games' to more mainstream-type titles. We've covered at least two of the games here on Kotaku — Jason Rohrer's Gravitation and The Odd Gentlemen's The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (begun as an MFA thesis at the University of Southern California). I had a chance to check out some of the games, talk to the people behind Indiecade, and watch the goings on — which included a surprising amount of hubbub and talent scouts from several companies lurking around. And there was more than just games: art prints were featured from various games (I even spied a screen from Blueberry Garden), plus videos of ARGs and installation games. My impressions and some pictures after the jump.
The playable games at this year's exhibition spanned an incredibly wide range:
• Bumper Stars, a Facebook app by Large Animal Games, described as "a deliciously addictive cocktail of pinball, pool, and fruit."
• Democracy 2 by Positech Games, a political simulation/strategy game.
• The Graveyard by Tale of Tales, "more like an explorable painting than a game" about an old lady who visits a graveyard.
• Gravitation by Jason Rohrer, about "mania, melancholia, and the creative process."
• ibb and obb by Richard Boeser, a cooperative game for two (and too damn cute).
• Jojo's Fashion Show 2 by Gamelab, a matching game (and one of the more mainstream titles).
• The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, a time-bending puzzle game featuring Victorian landscapes and mincemeat pie. And lots and lots of Winterbottoms.
• levelHead by Julian Oliver, which uses a solid plastic cube as its only interface. On screen, each face of the cube appears to be a room (all connected by doors) and players tilt and move the cube in an attempt to find an exit for the character.
As the list shows, Indiecade is dealing with a lot of different kinds of games — from the art games to the commercial games to all the types in between. I wandered around and had a lot of fun watching people play, especially the games with particularly unique mechanics (like levelHead). While my first visit down to the Indiecade corner of the exhibition hall was met with a reasonably subdued scene, it grew progressively more crowded through the day as more and more people gathered to take a look at the games.
One of the nice points about Indiecade is that you have a reasonably high likelihood of getting to chat with the game developers as you look at and play their games. I took the opportunity to talk at some length with Matt Korda (lead designer, lead artist and programmer) and Paul Bellezza (producer) about their game, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. Matt and Paul are both recent graduates of USC's Interactive Media MFA program, and P.B. Winterbottom started as a thesis project ('we wanted to combine Buster Keaton with Back to the Future'), but is now being shopped around to publishers. Having written about the postmortem of the game, I was curious to try my hand at it — I was initially struck by the resemblance to Braid, since it too features a sort of time mechanic presented as filming the action going on. As I worked further through the demo, though, I was pleased to discover the flexibility given to the player in game. In many respects, there is no one 'right' answer to the game; I got to chat about this (as well as game design, academia, the program at USC and a whole host of other issues) with Matt and Paul. Indiecade provides a really nice venue for this sort of interaction, one thing I think is really a plus about the whole event. It's nice to hear about a game from the horse's mouth, and not just via the written word.
I also took some time to chat with Sam Roberts, the Indiecade Festival Director (and former director of the Slamdance festival). We chatted about Indiecade, independent development, and where we may be in five or ten years. Indiecade is a chance to showcase a variety of independent games that are, in many respects, the 'best of the best' — interesting and creative mechanics, fresh designs, and faces different from the usual AAA suspects. The designers and companies aren't going to change the industry overnight, but definitely have a lot to add to the current and future scenes (even if they are flying under the radar in comparison to the 'mainstream'). These aren't just 'pie in the sky' concepts — the playable versions presented were solid and polished pieces of game design. Of course, not all the examples are gunning for mainstream publication (games such as Gravitation, for example), but I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see Winterbottom and others popping up on a console near you in the future. Talent scouts for major companies weren't lurking around simply for the hell of it. One of the nicest points about Indiecade is the fact that it's impossible to pigeonhole the games into one category (beyond 'indie,' which is in and of itself a rather nebulous label): when I turned from Winterbottom, I was face to face with the casual and commercial Jojo's Fashion Show 2, which was right around the corner from the more experimental levelHead. A wide variety of mechanics, design styles, and purposes were on display, and it made for a really interesting experience. I didn't even play most of the games, preferring to stand back and watch the designers give their talks and walk interested parties through playable portions. One of my particular favorites was the charming two-player game ibb and obb:
A painfully cute game, the real charm is in the gameplay, which requires two players to cooperate through candy-colored levels to finish. It's cute, clever, and creative — that creativity was one of the hallmarks of Indiecade, no matter what sort of form it took. Several of the games offered interesting intermediaries between the oftentimes 'vapid' casual market and more 'hardcore' titles: pick up and play titles that offer more than, say, Bejeweled. For someone like me — who games in cycles, and frequently just doesn't have the time to settle in with hours and hours of playtime — it's nice to see more options popping up that don't involve match 3 or hidden object games. If you have the chance to check out Indiecade offerings at an expo or show, definitely do so — it's a nice opportunity to check out what's going on in the indie scene and chat with designers about their games. There are going to be installations at the Penny Arcade Expo and E For All, among others, and it's definitely worth taking some time to see what's going on.
Indiecade photos courtesy of Adam Robezzoli.