Then, on a controller with a phone attached, I played Gears via a Microsoft server in San Francisco to test the Project xCloud streaming service. It wasn’t flawless, with noticeable lag between my button presses and the action, but it works.
Mostly I focused on smaller games I knew weren’t likely to be on the show floor proper. This included The Creature in the Well, which is kind of like a Zelda game with pinball mechanics and a comic-inspired art style; Spiritfarer, which is an adorable little village sim where your animal friends die and you learn to deal with it in a positive manner; and Tunic, which is the same brilliant retro-inspired adventure starring a little fox as it was last year.
I also had some time with Luis Antonio, whose game 12 Minutes is about a man stuck in a time loop where someone comes to his house to abduct his wife. The entire game takes place in three rooms, so you need to learn everything you can about your surroundings and the loop so you can change the course of things. It’s quite early, missing key animations and all voice acting, so I had to use some imagination. But it’s an interesting idea and worth keeping an eye on.
At the LA Convention Centre and the show floor proper, my first appointment was at the Square Enix booth, part of which had been transformed into Avengers HQ. Inside, the Crystal Dynamics team played through an early chunk of their 2020 Marvel’s Avengers game; a multi-character action-focused adventure, built as a world that will expand over time with new heroes and stories. In a meeting room after the presentation, I asked the co-head of Crystal D about the creative choices that went into the game. You can read about that here.
Moving from the west hall to the south, Yui Tanabe and Jennie Kong from thatgamecompany showed me Sky: Children of the Light, a beautiful online experience about making in-game friends with anonymous strangers. Releasing next month on Apple devices and coming later to consoles, the game resembles previous studio efforts Journey and Flower, but it’s designed to be less ephemeral. You collect candles, and you need to share them with others you meet in the game to become friends. You assign your friend a nickname, and the more you hang out the more interactions become available, for example you can ask to hug them or hold hands to guide them as you run and fly around the verdant world. You can even eventually even chat.
IndieCade is a Sundance-style festival for game design and innovation, and at its booth I found a lot to take in. Killer Queen Black was an instant highlight; a 4v4 arcade battle where you can win by collecting berries, killing your opponent’s queen or riding a very slow snail across the battlefield. It’s like a casual esport for people that like Mario Bros.
William Chyr, whose mind potentially exists in a separate dimension to the rest of us, showed me Manifold Garden, a puzzle game where you can switch your personal gravity to either side of the three axes and rearrange boxes to proceed through impossible and ever-replicating architecture.
Lastly I tried out Playmaji’s Polymega, a clever modular console that plays your old retro favourites. The base unit accepts CD games (Mega CD, Saturn, PS1, TurboGrafx CD), while additional packs come with a module you can plug in to give it compatibility with Super Nintendo, Mega Drive or NES cartridges and controllers. It played really nicely and, most impressively, you only need to put your old games into it once; it will pull the data off and store them locally on the console. Playmaji CEO Bryan Bernal said his hope was to one day make deals with publishers to sell their retro games on an online store directly on the console, so you wouldn’t even need to track down a cartridge or CD.
The author travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Microsoft.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.