While eardrum-busting music played over LED screens the size of billboards at the center of the main show floor where the biggest publishers had staked out their claims, gamers took cover in a well-lit, relatively quiet space near the back of the South Hall. This relatively subdued oasis is where IndieCade held its annual showcase of curated games by independent developers, promoted with hands-on demos instead of subwoofers or kaiju-sized sculptures. Here’s a tour of our six favorite PC games from this year’s show.
Fract OSC invites players a neon-lit synth-inspired world and simply asks that you explore it. Every pocket of the world introduces you to new machinery that comes melodically whirring to life as you poke, prod, and solve puzzles. As you activate more machines they begin to harmonize, transforming the game's ever-evolving soundtrack into its own reward. The landscape also evolves, opening paths as the soundtrack swells which lead deeper into a world of hard geometry and pulsing lights that resemble what you might imagine rummaging around the guts of a synthesizer to be like.
Throwing real-time obstacles into a game with turn-based movements seems like it should be a recipe for disaster, but that combination is exactly what makes Nova 111 work so well. While both your science vessel and most enemies scoot around the alien caverns one tile at a time, the cavern itself will throw falling stalactites, exploding spores, and powerful wind currents your way in real-time. The blend creates satisfying and clever navigation puzzles where you can exploit your enemies' turn-based movement to position them directly in harm's way. And every time you do, it’s tough not to imagine yourself on the bridge of your vessel quiet absorbing the admiration of your crew.
T.R.E.E is like a virtual bonsai tree, allowing you cut unwanted branches and dictate where the next one will sprout. The tree's growth takes place in real-time, and for the E3 IndieCade the game was left running for all three days of the show. It was fascinating to watch as attendees stopped by to leave their mark on the communal E3 tree, often returning the next day to excitedly point out which branches were theirs. Playing alone, T.R.E.E was a fantastic way to zen out for a few minutes each day. But brought out as a multiplayer game it became a way for people who might never otherwise meet to connect and to see those connections manifest in an oddly personal way.
Paparazzi pits celebrities against their shutter-happy stalkers in an asymmetrical multiplayer competition. One player is the celebrity, meeting and greeting adoring fans while frantically trying to hide in crowds and behind buildings to protect their dignity from their paparazzi opponent, who aims their camera with the mouse to snap as many pictures as possible. Those dueling play styles lead to tense periods of anticipation punctuated by flurries of movement when the celebrity is inevitably forced out of hiding by the automatically scrolling levels. The constant bursts of excitement reward those with quick reflexes, making Paparazzi immensely replayable in either role.
Elegy for a Dead World
Elegy for a Dead World is a game that hopes to make writers out of all of us while exploring vast and beautiful alien worlds. As you march across the landscape of a far off planet, the game will prompt to you write about what you see. Whether you follow the Mad Libs-like prompts to write your own history for the world and its inhabitants, erase them to tell your own story, or write anything at all is up to you, but it is hard not to be inspired to share some of your experience when confronted by a gorgeous golden sunset or a village with giant structures shaped like T-bone steaks. The real reward though comes when you decide to leave the planet as the game shares excerpts from what other players have written about that same world, and knowing that somewhere someone else will read what you wrote.
Anamnesis might just be the most unique use of the Oculus Rift yet. As you explore an abandoned apartment building on your computer monitor, at any time you can hold the Oculus headset to your face like a pair of binoculars to see the room through the eyes of the last person who lived there. Moldy stains and stacked boxes become a home cooked dinner or a children's playroom as you peer into the past and piece together the mysteries surrounding the building's former occupants.