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Joystiq hands-on: IndieCade games galore

Kevin Kelly

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One of the things we made sure to do at E3 this year was to spend a significant amount of time with the IndieCade folks. Then we sat on that info long enough for some of these games to get picked up, have a successful release, come out with sequels, spawn movies, novels, comic books, become part of the general pop culture bloodstream, and then fade into nostalgia, and for that we apologize. Actually, I'll apologize, I did it.

But in all seriousness, a lot of the more fun and innovative stuff we saw at E3 wasn't actually being churned out by big studios and publishers, but being worked on by small groups with tiny budgets and just a love of gaming. Read on to find out all about the IndieCade games that we saw on display, and why you'll want to be playing them now.

Gallery: E3: IndieCade 2008 | 22 Photos

First of all, IndieCade is an organization that "encourages, publicizes, and cultivates innovation and artistry in interactive media," and it serves to help make the connection between independent game developers and publishers. In other words, they exist just to help these games get seen. We saw them at E3, and we're planning on spending time with them at PAX and E for All as well later this year. Here are the games we spent time with at E3.


Easily my favorite game from IndieCade this year, levelHead uses machine-readable codes in order to know which way you are holding the game cube that you play with. On the screen, this translates into a representation of a man trapped inside the cube you're holding, and you have to tilt it in three dimensions in order to try and get him to escape onto different sides and eventually into other, more complicated cubes. It's tactile and fun, and you really get the sense that there's a poor little guy trapped in there. Pure awesome.

Democracy 2

This is an incredibly robust political strategy and simulation game that works like a neural network. Everything is linked together, and it's like Sim City on steroids. You have to micromanage everything from teacher strikes to civil unrest to keep your country happy and balance tax revenue while trying to get reelected. The graphics were fairly slick, and you'll see spokes that show how interconnected everything is, a bit like the technologies in Civilization. Presidents should have to spend time with this game as a prerequisite to taking office.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

This game is about bending the space/time continuum in order to manipulate time and physics to get delicious pastry treats. This game was explained to us like this, "Well, it's this guy P.B. Winterbottom can bend the space/time continuum, and he loves pie." Sounds perfect to me. The gameplay looks simple, but quickly gets complex as you can "record" your moves in the past, and then play then to affect future outcomes. For instance, if there's a pie in the sky, and a seesaw in front of you, you can't just launch yourself up there. However, if you "record" yourself jumping on one end of the seesaw, you can take your present self to the other end to get launched skyward and achieve piedom. Delicious. It's also presented in a sort of steampunky silent film manner, and is being developed as an Xbox Live Arcade title.


Love 8-bit art and style? Then you'll love Gravitation. This game is about "how mood cycles affect creative endeavors, and how those endeavors in turn affect familial relationships." Okay, that sounds pretty deep and complicated when all I did was shove a huge chunk of ice into a fireplace to stop the flames. Still, the quirky art and the way the game only opens up more and shows you the world as you begin "relating" to it was pretty fun. It also had the advantage of making me want to go out and play some Pitfall, which was quite a plus.

JoJo's Fashion Show

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a male. Combine that with the fact that I would never in a million years pick up a game called Jojo's Fashion Show, and this is a real hard sell. However, I had fun playing it. Why? It's simple and fun. This was one of the slickest looking games out of IndieCade, probably because it was from Gamelab, who was responsible for Diner Dash and BLiX. You are basically assigned styles like "Brazilian" and you have to put together outfits that you think match that style for a runway show. Sounds dorky, but I liked it. I also hate Project Runway, so they've done something magical here.

ibb and orb

This co-op game is like a world full of Japanese vinyl toys come to life, because it's just that cute and cuddly. You'll have to rely on your partner to get through the levels, and the graphics are mesmerizing if not sickly sweet. They put extra stress on teamplay in this title, and it looks like an alternate dimension version of LittleBigPlanet. However, the weirdest fact about the game is that it is basically an Unreal Tournament mod. Don't ask me to explain how that one works. Unfortunately, the designer wasn't there so I couldn't ask him. Still, this was tranquil fun.

The Graveyard

This wasn't really a game, per se, but more of an effort to illicit moods and emotions from the "player." You simply control a very old woman as she walks around a graveyard in a black and white world at a snail's pace. You could eventually amble her over to a bench where she'd sit down, but that was about it. It's meant as more of an art piece than an actual "game." It was haunting and beautiful, with amazing graphics, but it would definitely be more at home in an exhibit in an art museum where the viewer would be allowed to walk the character around.


This unique game features a strange octopus-like contraption that you have to plop down on your head, and it feeds pulses to your noggin to indicate what direction the enemy is in. Basically, there's a robot you and another player are chasing, and when you catch him, you get his gun and start chasing after the other player. However, when you have the gun, your screen goes dark. So, you have to find your opponent using only the pulses on your head. It was both strange and fun, and you'd find yourself closing your eyes to help focus on the pulses in order to play better. I felt like Kevin Costner in the snowy scene in The Bodyguard. Hold me.

Video Reel: Block H, Dark Room Sex Game, Prototype161: The Lonesko Abduction, Rider Spoke

There was also a video reel of games being shown, most of them with some alternate reality / augmented reality elements to them. Rider Spoke uses bicycles mounted with Nokia N800's to play the game as you roam the streets, and Prototype161 is a huge ARG with players as detectives in both online and real world events. Block H is an FPS mod set in Northern Ireland (and quite frankly the least appealing titles we saw at IndieCade) and tries to mesh the real world within the game.

However, the strangest game IndieCade didn't have on display but did have in the video reel was the boringly titled Dark Room Sex Game. It's played with a MacBook Pro using modified Wiimotes, and two players have to use only their ears to try and move their "partners" in tandem to achieve sexual climax. There's no graphics, only sounds, and you swing the Wiimote to make your male or female moan in the correct rhythm. Strange? Yes. Sexy? Not really. Bound to be fun at parties? You bet. I asked why they didn't have this on the floor and they told me, "We think Nintendo might object to people flailing their arms around to produce sex sounds while using Wiimotes." Damn you, Nintendo.

Stay tuned for more IndieCade goodies from PAX and E for All.

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