The indies and hardware of E3 2015

Yes, yes, E3 was a month ago now I know but there were just so many awesome things that I didn’t have the chance to cover off in the triple-A’s and media briefings posts that I had to write one last one. I promise.

The majority of the E3 show floor is covered by your big budget publishers and titles. Giant signs, life-sized models, glitz, glamour, Hollywood stars as far as the eye can see. Its what you’ve come to expect with the millions of dollars backing triple A development these days. But when you past all of that, hidden in plain sight, you find these amazing indie titles and fantastic hardware littered amongst the decadence. Yes, some of them have big backing from Microsoft, Sony and even Facebook so they’re not exactly “tough” to find but some of the true gems are at smaller publisher’s booths out on the periphery.

I was fortunate enough to have a chance to play a lot of them this year. The ones below are some of my favourite and what I consider the most important hardware (cough, VR, cough) for the industry in the year to come.


Do you remember a game back in the day called The Neverhood? It was a motion-captured clay modelled point & click adventure game that Dreamworks published on “CD-ROM”, back when that was a big deal. No? Well I do. I actually went out and bought it and was super excited about it. Even if the load times were horrifically bad.

Well the guys who made it are back to with a new one called “Armikrog”. It was originally Kickstarter’d and publisher Versus Evil has picked it up to bring it to market post campaign. The game follows the adventures of Tommynaut, a space explorer, whom along with his talking, blind dog Beak-Beak, wind up trapped in a crazy fortress called Armikrog.

I had an amazing chat on the show floor with co-creator Mike Dietz who walked me through a couple of the puzzle rooms and talked about the process they go through to create these amazing worlds in stop motion. Mike’s passion for stop motion and this game was infectious and I walked away almost an hour later psyched to get my hands on the full thing this coming August.

The game boasts an amazing voice cast including Jon Heder (Napoeon Dynamite), Rob Paulsen (Pinky and the Brain) and Michael J. Nelson (Mystery Science Theater 3000) as well as online celebrities Scott Kurtz (PvP) and Veronica Belmont (Sword & Laser).

Built on the Unity engine Armikrog comes out for Mac, Windows & Linux this August, with Wii U and PS4 to come soon after.


VR – Oculus, Project Morpheus & co

Lets get this one out the way nice and early. VR was there at E3. Oculus, Sony, one I’d never heard of, ANTVR. E3 2015 was being billed as the VR year. The year we’d have our socks blown off by what the tech could actually do and get hands on with close-to if not actual shipping product. There was a lot of buzz.

Oculus, naturally, had the biggest stand (those Facebook dollars at work) and line. The week before it showed off its new “halfmoon” controllers and for those lucky enough to have an appointment they were apparently quite amazing to use. The general reception towards anyone I know that came out of that demo was the goal of true immersion had become another step closer.

Sony’s offering was ambitious too. Project Morpheus had a much larger presence a year on from its E3 debut. People knew what it was, what to expect and definitely wanted to try the only truly dedicated set on offer.

For many though the experience and tech is still very much finding its feet. Scott Johnson, Tom Merrit and I spoke about this extensively on an episode of The Daily Tech News Show during E3. The oddity of wearing a VR headset, the lack of a killer game, the new minefield developing for VR is. All of these are going at a pace that many pundits fear is too slow and too expensive for the tech to break into that mainstream fold.

I think Xbox have the right idea. Their Augmented Reality (AR) HoloLens set isn’t VR. It can certainly be used in a gaming sense, they showed that with Minecraft, but they’re following a completely different path focusing on application implementation first and gaming second. They’ve cleverly positioned themselves to allow the streaming of Xbox One games via the Oculus and now HTC Vive headsets. In the beginning that experience is nothing more than a screen enveloping your vision but could easily become more should a particular horse stick its nose out farther than the rest.

Oculus is still the forerunner in my mind. If I’m buying a headset next year when there’s more than one on the market, that’s likely to be it.


Created by Capy Bara Games (the guys behind one of the first titles that put iOS gaming on the map, Sword & Sorcery) Below is a new top down adventure game coming soon to Xbox One. You play as the “wanderer” an adventurer who lands upon the shores of mysterious island. Barron and with nowhere else to go your adventure beings as you enter a lonely cave just beyond the shore line.

What lies below is a procedurally generated maze of tunnels and enemies that the game does little to nothing in helping you understand and that, to me, is the beauty of it. You’re encouraged to experiment, to fail and explore all of which creates your own unique experience as you venture deeper into the game.

The gameplay is a cross between a more simplistic Bloodborne shield/weapon combat style and the survival mechanics of Don’t Starve. Throughout the tunnels you’ll come across campfires where you can craft and cook items that will help you stay alive and survive longer.

Death is permanent, however as you take upon the life of a new adventurer landing upon the shore your former character’s body awaits complete with its inventory. Another Bloodborne trait. The difference here being that the areas are newly generated for each new life. The body of your former character persists but being a new maze of caves cannot be in the same exact location. The only link to its location being that its at the same level of depth inside the cave.

This is an awesome little game. One with a huge potential for replayability and with a permadeath mechanic, a lot of frustration. I loved playing it though, the balance seemed just right to allow me to explore a little further with each life. It had me rushing back into the depths with each new life and my skills in defeating the variety of enemies seemed to evolve at a good pace. I’m really, really looking forward to this one coming out soon. There’s no official release date but it will be this year I’m told.


If there was ever an indie darling of E3 it was Cuphead. Developed by two brothers Cuphead is a side-scrolling, bullet-hell, platformer inspired by 1930’s cartoons. Adding to its authenticity every art asset was hand drawn and inked before being digitised and all of the music is original jazz composed for the game.

This game is hard. It’s gorgeous. But damn it’s freakin’ hard. I grew up playing bullet-hell games like R-type and 1942 and they’re almost a walk in the park in comparison. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy every second my hands were on the controller but it’s something you definitely need to know going into it regardless of having infinite lives. Perhaps they’ll rebalance things a little before it hits its release sometime in 2016.

What worries me is longevity. As you progress through level after level fighting bosses to repay your debt to the devil the idea of dying time and time again can become a tad monotonous for my liking. It’s art style is incredible but relying on that alone to get you through may be a bit much to carry people’s interest in my opinion.


If there was one game that surprised me the most at E3 it was Armello. Best described as a digital board game resembling a cross between Risk, Civilisation and perhaps Settlers of Catan, Armello is an extremely rich and mechanically complex board game experience that could only exist in virtual form.

Trying to explain the mechanics of the game is a daunting task. It’s not that the game is overly difficult to play it’s that there are so many different ways of doing so. It revolves around a king who is infected with a disease, “Rot”, which at the end of nine turns will cause him to die. You and three other players, who can be AI or human with varying amounts of each, can win in a variety of ways. Defeat the king in battle, complete quests and earn the right to be king when he dies or by bringing the king items to cure him of Rot. The first player to do any of these wins.

The gameplay is turn-based, and you’re restricted to a certain number of actions on each turn. There’s a dice based fighting mechanic when you encounter other players & enemies, a card system for spells and advantages and then at the end of each round a choice to be made affecting the rules of the game. There’s a lot going on and it’s difficult to explain in a short summary of the game but I encourage you to watch some of this let’s play to understand it a little more.

Visually the game itself is stunningly beautiful. The Disney like artwork and character animation is phenomenal and truly adds to the enjoyment of the game. The music and sound production are also wonderfully done. It’s aesthetic appeal draws you in and envelopes you in this world as the turns progress.

Another thing that surprised me about Armello was its origins here in Australia. Developed in Melbourne by “League of Geeks” it was the one of the first recipients of the Film Victoria gaming grants. It was then further funded by an Australian Kickstarter campaign for A$300k. It’s since had a home on Steam’s Early Access before being secured by Sony as a PS4 title coming very soon.

If you’re a board game fan this is a great game for you. Whilst it might look to have a great deal of complexity on the surface everything just falls into place as the turns progress. I’m having a good time playing it now on Early Access but where I think it will find its true home down the track will be on PS4 and ultimately the iPad.

Xbox Elite Controller

This thing is hot. The Xbox One controller was already leaps ahead of Playstation’s stale design in my opinion but the new Elite Controller from Microsoft downright nails it.

It’s expensive. There’s no argument there. For us here in Australia you’re looking at $200. Not to mention due to an exclusive deal you’re only going to be able to buy it from EB Games! But if you’re a heavy Xbox One this is the controller you have to have.

The Elite allows a level of customisation no other controller has come close to, 3rd party or not, in my opinion. Up to four paddles that attach to the undercarriage allow for quicker access to common functions like throwing a grenade in Halo or mimic real world mechanics such as a paddle shift for Forza. FPS players will love the ability to half-lock both or individual triggers for faster scoping and shots. Even the D pad comes with an interchangeable option that suits different play styles, one the more traditional, the other a rolling bezel for your thumb to sit in.

The controller is configured through an app that will run on the Xbox One and Windows 10. It will allow you to assign or re-map traditional buttons to the additional paddles you add as well as create presets that can be toggled between rapidly via a button on the front of the controller itself.

I love this thing. I wish I played my Xbox One more and all my friends in meat space weren’t on PS4s. I’m interested to see how the eSports community handles its introduction too. Normally modded console hardware isn’t allowed and using the Elite definitely gives its wielding player an advantage.