E3 2011: Indiecade

E3 2011: Indiecade

At E3, you can expect to see long lines of eager gamers waiting to play a small slice of that really great game. You expect to see the cosplay and intricately themed booths. You don’t expect to put Fixodent and a magnet on your tongue. Or have a brief bit of panic while blind and underwater, hiding and hunting an invisible enemy.

Indiecade is a showcase of, you guessed it, indie games. This year being the fifth at E3, it brings games submitted from those around the world. It pulls in all manner of developers much like a film festival attracts producers and directors. There are PC games and board games. Some games are on a screen, others are have none and instead blind you. You use keyboards and mice, fingers on an iPad, joysticks, and even your tongue. Not in the bad touch way. In the squirm it around way. Wait, that doesn’t sound any better.

My first introduction to the many games on offer in just this one booth is one created by Hye Ywon Nam called the Kiss Controller. No, not the makeup donned, long tongued kind. The tonsil hockey kind. Yeah, I laughed at the concept too. On display are two laptops. One laptop plays a video of man and a woman kissing. While they make out, he stares at a game on a big screen behind her. The game he’s watching and actually playing is a bowling game.  The other laptop shows the bowling game, ready to play. “Hello,” Hye Ywon cheerfully says. She’s holding a tiny magnet in one hand, gesturing with a bottle towards me with the other. “Put some of this on your tongue. It’s Fixodent.” I laugh again. I oblige and put the tiny magnet and the denture paste on my tongue.

Next, Hye Ywon produces the Kiss Controller. It rests on the corners of my mouth and is comprised of a hard plastic band that wraps around the back of my head. Onboard is an arduino controller with the headband connected to the bowling game on the laptop. I put it on and fiddle with the sensors pointed at my mouth. By fiddle, I mean maneuver and gyrate my tongue. I’m mimicking kissing to bowl a strike. It’s touchy at first. I bowl a few pins over. It would be easier with someone else to, well, practice kissing. Hye Ywon describes the Kiss Controller as a relationship therapy game, an apt description. She mentions that kissing in such a way in public is frowned upon in some social settings. One can see how adding scoring points to the act of kissing can increase the fun. For some, at least.

I still taste Fixodent while I move on to the Deep Sea experience. I meet Robin Arnott, who tells me it’s a game which involves sensory deprivation and an emphasis on audio cues. The goal is to effectively use sonar to shoot an unseen enemy who can hear you coming. While Robin speaks to me, two people are already playing the game. Both are wearing what looks like blacked out modified gas masks and hold a joystick in their right hand. One on the left has his head pointed down while the other seems like he’s trying to look up. Robin quips while gesturing to the one on the left, “he must not be having fun.” He mentions that at a previous show, a woman fainted while playing the game. At that point, he asks me if I’d like to give it a try. Nervously, I agree to put on the gas mask. It’s dark. He puts large headphones on. It’s now very quiet, save for slight bubbling noises. As I breathe, a microphone then repeats my breathing into the headphones, but as if I had a scuba mask on.

All of this going on increases my breathing. Scares me a little. The scuba breathing subsequently gets louder. I’m beginning to understand why that woman fainted. Panic is lurking. I stop and take a deep breath, letting it out slowly. It mitigates the disorientation from my own breathing reflecting back on me. I hear the creature in the distance growling a little better. I’m trying to point myself in the right direction to shoot it. Easier said than done while blinded, holding my breath while my adrenaline pumps. I fire, eventually wildly. I manage to get a few shots in. As I gesture to remove the portable sensory deprivation chamber, Robin seems puzzled. “Done already?” he asks. Yeah, I’m done. I’ve had a fun scare for the day.

While there were many other games at the Indicade booth, these are just a few that made an impact on me during the E3 experience. There were other games that were beautiful and clever in their own right. Like QUBE by Toxic Games. It’s a PC game which uses spartan, clean chambers with puzzles that get progressively harder. If that sounds like Portal, that’s because it will remind you of Portal. The alternating clicks to extend or retract cubes from the walls even alternate orange and blue. If I’m honest, the learning curve is steep, even for those who might be used to games like these. Something that, along with some probable graphical modifications will hopefully be addressed before it releases on Steam at the end of the year.

In all, the most unique finds in games at E3 for me was at Indiecade. The scary, the hilarious and kinda kinky. The reflections of familiar favorites and the original ideas that provoke the mind. For those who are true gamers at heart, there are real gems to be found. In Deep Sea, I found myself scared and claustrophobic. After some thought, I’d want to go back. Attune myself to the feeling of being underwater and hunted. In my personally dubbed “Kiss to bowl game,” I definitely feel I could have done better had I had a partner like the chap in the video. I intend to keep my eye on the Kiss Controller. Indiecade’s annual festival takes place October 6-9, 2011 in Culver City, CA.

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