You could be forgiven for missing the IndieCade pavilion amid the massive booths and pressing crowds of E3 2012. Nestled in a quiet corner of the L.A. Convention Center, this tiny oasis of independent game design is packed with laptop PCs running games made by students, artists and independent game developers.
All sorts of folks submit their games to IndieCade in the hopes of having their work featured in the annual IndieCade festival, and from that pool of submissions the IndieCade team select a variety of games to show off at E3. This year the booth includes weird board games, iPad games, and even a fantastic music-based multiplayer jousting game played with Playstation Move wands.
Some of the best indie games at E3 are running on PC, creative and colorful games that provide a welcome respite from the glut of gritty shoot-em-ups that dominate E3 2012. Here are a few you should pay attention to.
The Fourth Wall
Open your text editor and just start mashing the "X" key. Make sure the word wrap option is switched on; notice how your text passes the right edge of your window and pops out of the left? That screen wrap effect is the main attraction of The Fourth Wall, a fantastic 2D puzzle platformer from a team of game design students at the Digipen Institute of Technology.
While playing The Fourth Wall you can hit the Control key at any time to freeze the screen in place instead of scrolling to match your movement. Once the screen is frozen your wizard can warp from one edge of the screen to the other, using the screen wrap for his own navigational needs. You solve puzzles and progress through levels by using your screen wrapping abilities to warp through walls or leap seemingly impossible obstacles by falling through the floor and out of the ceiling.
The plot of The Fourth Wall is simple: you play a wizard who journeys far from home on an epic quest to get somewhere and accomplish something. I don't actually know how the game ends; despite playing through to old age (your wizard gradually ages and sprouts an increasingly epic beard as the game progresses) I hit a puzzle that stumped me and decided to let someone else throw themselves against it for a bit. If you think you can do better, download The Fourth Wall for free and play it yourself.
The Moonlighters is an action RPG in which a group of aging Hollywood hipsters team up to pull fantastic heists after their careers crumble beneath the advent of Rock & Roll. Every heist can play out in different ways depending on the characters you choose and the choices you make during the mission. If you're not intrigued yet, I'm not sure we can be friends.
Unfortunately Moonlighters isn't available for download yet as the developers are still seeking funding to finish the game, but after playing the demo level here at E3 I'm pleased to report that the heists are challenging to complete and the writing is remarkably witty, especially for a game that draws inspiration from heist films and Japanese RPGs. I won't spoil the plot twists that can occur based on how you play, but I recommend you keep an eye on this charming indie game as the folks at Red Dragon continue development.
A Valley Without Wind
Okay, so this game is a little hard to explain. The creators of A Valley Without Wind describe their game as a procedurally-generated action adventure game featuring exploration and platforming in a vibrant 2D world. These things are all true, but they don't really communicate how satisfying it feels to fight and climb through the procedurally-generated 2D world, steadily accumulating enough resources and experience to kit your protagonist out with enough awesome abilities to liberate the land from a generic overarching evil overlord.
It plays sort of like Castlevania if Dracula's castle was built by algorithms instead of architects. You have a home town that you can customize and improve by collecting resources from the world, which you explore by opening a big map and selecting where you want to explore next. A Valley Without Wind has a unique and slightly unsettling visual aesthetic, but if you can get past the weird visuals I think PC gamers who loved games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night will get a kick out of A Valley Without Wind. You can play it now on Steam for $15.