Thoughts from Los Angeles – Flat Earth Games at E3

By @ 06/22/12 in articles

In our many wanderings, we were fortunate enough to wander just recently over to the biggest and grand-mac-daddyest gaming expo of them all: E3.

The experience, as an indie developer, is vastly different than the experience as a punter, larger-scale dev or media pundit, with the convention by and large catering to the biggest of the fish, with only the most standout, well-funded and publisher-sponsored indie titles getting enough floor space to attract any notice.

Darlings there were aplenty, however, with The Unfinished Swan and SoundShapes simple blowing us away.

Unfinished Swan is one of those Cindarella stories where a student working on something cool (in this case a completely white game world with no shadows whatsoever where you can only see by lobbing black paint around the place to get some sense of where you are) was noticed by Sony, plucked from his university lifestyle and given a team and a budget to turn his idea into a fully fledged concept piece. Kinda like the experimental albums which can either lead a band astray or have them hailed as artistes, Unfinished Swan commands respect from across the show floor. Decadent, elegant, distinguished – it blares from all angles that Sony believe in sponsoring the arts, and provide a service which connects you to a higher culture than that of its Microsoftian brethren.

I am, of course, being at least somewhat facetious, but while it’s easy to be cynical about what a game like Unfinished Swan does for a brand, it’s also just breathtaking to play, and will likely cop the same universal praise a game from ThatGameCompany (Journey, Flower) would.

SoundShapes is the second game from Jonathan Mac (Queasy Games, the outfit who created Everyday Shooter). Sitting quietly in the corner of the (also Sony) booth, this Vita title is a simple platformer where each of the coins you collect (there are several in each screen and each screen takes a good minute or so to cross) adds a note to the music. This builds to a pitch-perfect climax as you approach the end of each level, with the music in full force and only getting stronger and more vibrant right before the finale.

The kicker in this cute little title is the Superband factor. Music and art styles for each level are brought over from someone of significant repute. Obviously, Mr Mac has his own level, but so does the chap who created Swords and Sworcery, and the illustrious Deadmou5 has done one of the music tracks. Each level (or ‘record’) has its own completely distinct art style and its own music track, and each feels entirely different.

The potential for DLC is obvious, and the level editor (and music editor) is complex enough that it’s got the potential to rival Little Big Planet for user-generated content.

But these titles, modest in scope though they may be relative to the larger pack, are immense properties which must’ve each surpassed the $1 million mark as a cost to bring each to market.

Nothing puts life in perspective more for you as a gamer than E3. The big trumpet their bigness with aplomb, while the smallest of the small must still be one of the lucky few to be featured in the Indiecade booth (conveniently not located in either of the two major halls) if they’re to be featured at all.

Not saying it’s a grim or disheartening experience, just that for a budding developer with a game world in his pocket ready to bust out and shine in hapless victims’ faces at a moment’s notice, it’s essentially about networking rather than demonstrating. Gathering business cards, meeting people who may be able to help your game get noticed and keeping a firm eye and ear out for any opportunities to get a little attention is the order of the day.

And of course, it’s an opportunity to go and hang around the Watch Dogs booth for hours on end. 🙂


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