It’s easy to feel overwhelmed walking around the E3 2017 show floor. You’re literally surrounded by millions of dollars in advertising. But less than one block away from the show floor is the Devolver Lot – a parking lot that the indie publisher has picked to set up shop.
Inside, you’ll find free beers and a food truck serving sausages to industry insiders and game journalists interested in seeing what’s coming down the pipeline in indie games. There’s also a game that’s played using silicone adult toys where the goal is to collide with other players and violently copulate, but that’s a story for another time.
Needless to say, it’s pretty low-budget and about as indie as it gets.
This is also the spot that I found Nidhogg 2, an 8-bit style competitive game developed by a team of just a few people where your goal is to stop your opponent from reaching your side of the screen, hidden in a row of kiosks.
Fatigued from the stresses of covering the event, it was the reprieve from the overstimulating, ostentatious show floor that I desperately needed.
Keeping it simple
There was a time when gaming wasn’t complex. Games many of us played growing up – especially for those born more than two decades ago – were simplistic affairs, many of which requiring only a few buttons.
Nidhogg, and its upcoming sequel Nidhogg 2, are a throwback to those days. They don’t require an extensive knowledge of the controller, but rather reward fast reflexes and ingenuity. Your sole objective in the game is to run past your opponent – usually a friend sitting next to you on the couch. The catch is that they have a sword, or a bow, or a knife.
Reach the opposite end of the screen four times and you’ll be the winner over a very upset best friend. And, while Nidhogg encourages unsportsmanlike conduct both inside and outside the game, it did something that no game on the show floor was capable of: Nidhogg 2 made me feel genuinely connected to the person I was playing it with.
Counterculture: the story of indie games at E3
I picked Nidhogg 2 to write about because it’s the game that brought the biggest smile to my face, and it actively encourages connecting with fellow players.
I could’ve just as easily picked any of the other games in the Devolver Lot. Each brought something unique to a show often about all-too-similar looking games.
One dev I spoke to wasn’t ashamed to be across the street from the show – it's just different. He told me that, like the process of making an indie game, getting media attention during a press at a show the size of E3 is a challenge but Devolver is helping do just that.
Sure, some games work closely with Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony make it inside the show floor, but the vast majority of indie devs are either relegated to small kiosks well off the beaten path, Devolver's parking lot or nowhere at all.
But, according to him, maybe being on the outside isn’t so bad.
For one, it saves a lot of money.
Renting a booth in the Los Angeles Convention Center isn’t cheap. At $10,000 for a small booth, you could make an entire indie game. For another, holding demos with a beer in one hand allows you to be more open about a game – something sorely missing from the hyper-controlled demos on the show floor.
Being outside in the trailer wasn’t Plan B. It was a better Plan A.
E3 could learn a lesson from PAX
To its credit, Devolver is the antithesis of everything E3 is about. The show has long lines, short demos and ostentatious set pieces everywhere you look. This parking lot had white tarp tents and trailers where game developers were holding impromptu press demos.
Nidhogg 2 was located on an unassuming table in the middle of one of those nondescript white tents. You wouldn’t be able to find it even if I gave you explicit directions on how to get there. But that’s what life is like for an indie game at the world’s largest gaming convention.
On some level, this makes sense. How can you put Nidhogg 2, a sequel to a somewhat niche indie game, next to Call of Duty WWII? You can’t.
And while I understand the argument that E3’s coveted convention hall space should be reserved for the games with mass appeal, it relegated some truly outstanding – but very low-budget – games to a parking lot across the street.
So, what’s a gamer to do? Instead of crowding around kiosks to play a short single-player demo, we should all go across the street to play some Nidhogg 2.
- E3 is the world's largest exhibition for the games industry, stuffed full of the latest and greatest games, consoles, and gaming hardware. TechRadar is reporting live from Los Angeles all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated E3 2017 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about the next year in gaming.