E3 2013: Day 1 Walkabout

Normally this would be a series of articles.  E3 Hands-on or E3 Live Presentation, and such.  Loads of articles like this require an internet connection held together by more than cobwebs and wishful thinking, however, so how about a game-by-game travelogue instead?

The line into E3 is insane, but fortunately the side-door to the South Hall was slightly less insane and, as a bonus, came in near the Video Game History Museum and Indiecade.  The History Museum will get more time either Wednesday or Thursday, but Indiecade was sitting right there and too packed with fun toys to ignore.

The first thing that came available was Soundself, which is a trip toy controlled by vocal intonation.  Robin Arnott ran a Kickstarter campaign for this a few months back, and the success of it enabled the creation of an audio-reactive pattern generator that’s keyed into your voice.  The tones and rhythm you make are transformed into flowing and hypnotic patterns, and the Oculus Rift integration (which is lovely but not required) enables full immersion into the experience when combined with a nice set of headphones.

The Dead Linger was next on my Inidecade shopping list, mostly due to wanting to meet the team behind the zombie survival Kickstarter project.  The game has been constantly updating since release, and while still very rough around the edges, the continued development has been sanding them down bit by bit.  The potential for excellence is there and the game has been moving towards it in standard development time, which can feel glacial when you’re used to everything showing up fully-formed on the store shelves.  New updates have been adding features at a steady pace, though, and the latest one was major, with the ability to create barricades from scavenged materials.  Next up is the major new game engine, at which point it’ll be time to write up a proper hands-on preview.

Tower of Guns was just around the corner, so it was next.  This is a procedurally-generated FPS in the style of Quake, with fast action and lots of enemies.  The early alpha can be bought for a mere $5 of the developer’s site, and probably deserves more attention than I had time to give it today.  Expect more on this one post-E3.

Mad Max wasn’t a demo so much as a presentation, showing off the open-world gameplay of this brownest of brown games.  (In any other game that would be a complaint, but this is Mad Max and it comes by the lack of color honestly.( Resources are scarce, except for vehicles, so there’s a lot of vehicle combat featuring lovingly-modeled cars.  Max’s car can be customized in many different ways, but just adding stuff on won’t work.  Suspension and tire grip are modeled, so having a ton of weighty armor and spikes will make for ugly handling if they aren’t counterbalanced by either upgrading or trading off other parts.   In addition to simply ramming opponents with your spiky bits, Max can shoot out tires or have his mechanic yank them off with a chain, or with a bit of fancy aim take out the driver instead.  After the car combat section in the live demo, Max got an upgrade allowing him to clear a gate to a new area, but first he had to clear out the surrounding compound with a combination of shotgun action, knife fighting, and even stabbing an enemy with an explosive on a stick and standing well back from the resulting splattery bang.  Then it was on to sniping for a bit, and finally the demo wrapped up in the car again as it rammed the gates, leading to a gauntlet of hazards and the end of the demo.  The world map was also shown off, revealing an enormous area covered in activities.  Avalanche looks to be doing a fantastic job of putting Mad Max onto the Just Cause formula, and the only thing missing is the colorful tropical flair.

All this was from the South Hall, but it had taken a fair amount of time so, after a quick scan of the area to get a few mental notes for later, it was time to see what the West Hall had to offer.  A quick tour up the concourse (and checking in with Rising Star only to find out they’re interested in but don’t have the new DoDonPachi) brought me to a diversion.  SCEE always has an interesting room on the second floor above the West Hall, a little crowded but nowhere near as bad as the show floor.  Plus you can sit down and talk, which is always appreciated after a few hours of standing in line.

The Puppeteer was the first thing to open up, and it’s a wonderfully stylish action platformer where everything looks like part of a stage set.  The main character is a boy turned into a puppet, and he’s got a helper cat who can trigger background objects to find hidden goodies.  He’s also missing a head, but that’s ok because that means it can be replaced with different ones that provide different abilities.  After a bit of basic platforming and a myriad of rapid set changes, he gets armed with a scissors/sword that’s perfect for cutting through the materials holding the level together.

CounterSpy was in pre-alpha, but looking mighty stylish despite this.  It’s a 2.5D cover shooter spy game, where you control a James Bond-alike infiltrating enemy bases.  Unfortunately this was more presentation than hands-on demo, but it’s a promising first look at a clever shooter with an irresistable setting.

Doki Doki Universe was another game being demonstrated, although probably playable on the show floor somewhere.  It’s a 2D side-scrolling adventure game about a defective robot learning about people, while the game itself asks questions that learn about the player.  The entire game is drawn in a cute line-art style looking like a sketchbook doodle.  Current plans call for it to be free-to-play, and asking about how it will be monetized didn’t get any details due to them not being hammered down yet.  It’s more of a puzzle adventure game than something that can be sold piecemeal, though, so even the free version should have tons of robot/NPC character interaction charm.

Down at the South Hall at last, Mercenary Kings was hidden way way way in the back of Sony’s booth.  This was another successful Kickstarter, with the Scott Pilgrim team working on a Metal Slug-inspired run & gun.  The version on display looks great, smoothly animated with great shooting action, although far more forgiving than its SNK-created inspiration.

Finally, the last game of the day was back at the Indiecade booth.  Sound Dodger is coming out fairly soon, and it’s a bizarrely relaxing experience about dodging crazy bullet patterns set to the game’s music.  Each song has a bullet pattern keyed to the rhythm, and while you can’t die, nailing a good percentage requires taking as few hits as possible.  When things get crazy you can hit the left mouse button to go slow-mo, and while there’s no real penalty for using it, the music doesn’t sound as good so it’s best to use it sparingly.

And then it was 6PM and the day wrapped up.  Fortunately the Video Game History Museum was still running, so there was time for a nice round on the Rush’n Attack arcade machine.  Once upon a time I could get 30 minutes off a quarter, but those days are long gone.  Fortunately, there’s two more days of E3 left to try to do better.