On the last day of E3, in a small auditorium tucked away within the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, the inaugural Horizon press conference commenced. Conceived by Brandon Boyer and Cory Schmitz, the conference was designed to focus on promoting a lineup of smaller, independent, beautiful games as an alternative to the standard E3 fare. The conference was not designed to be in opposition or antagonistic to E3, but rather to complement it. There are surely legitimate criticisms of how E3 depicts games and gaming culture, but the point of Horizon wasn’t to play into that indie-heroism narrative, but simply to take advantage of the fact that these developers were already in LA for E3 and might be available to show off their games at a dedicated event.
Boyer and Schmitz organized the conference through the site, Venus Patrol, which is self-described as a group of video game romantics in search of beautiful things. In keeping with that motto, the games on display were warming, charming, and at times magical experiences. Several of these games were in fact shown during the major E3 press conferences, but were easily drowned out by the mass of explosions, AAA graphics, and general audiovisual overstimulation that is present at E3.
The conference was fairly diminutive in its scope. There were no teleprompters, no fancy lighting, no prepared statements, simply the hosts of the conference inviting developers on-stage to show a trailer or demo about their game, or just talk about what they’re working on. Anyone who wandered in might have thought they had stumbled into an academic visual arts presentation, and not a press conference showcasing some of the most exciting independent games coming soon.
Greg Rice of Double Fine, arguably the biggest player in the indie-scene outside of Mojang were the first to take stage. They opened with a video of messages recorded by the backers of the first huge Kickstarter success, Broken Age, reminding everyone that the successes of indie games are fuelled by passionate supporters. The trailer had a few gameplay teases interspersed in, and the unique art style shown is sure to give the game a strong identify upon its eventual release.
Kellee Santiango, formerly the president of Journey developer That Game Company, was then welcomed on stage to announce that two new titles from Double Fine were being funded by The Indie Fund. Set up by people like Santiango and Jonathan Blow, The Indie Fund has had tremendous success helping bring amazing indie games to market. Their track record is comprised of some of the best indie games to come out in recent memory; Monaco, The Swapper, Anichamber and Dear Esther were all funded by The Indie Fund.
Another major highlight of the conference was when developer Capybara Games showed a demo for their freshly announced Xbox One game, Below, and showed off a lengthier trailer than what was shown during Microsoft’s E3 press conference. Capy confirmed that musician Jim Guthrie who worked with them in the past to compose the soundtrack to Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery, would be collaborating with Capy on the project. Below was discussed as their take on a quiet adventure game drawing inspiration from roguelikes. The game is a decidedly moody title with ‘’no texts, no dialogue, no hints and no handholding, a game that’s about exploration in every sense of the word”.
Another notable title on display was developer Honeyslug’s game, Hohokum. Hohokum looks to be a delightful title, one that captures a child-like sense of joy and wonder. The game which is being developed for PS3, PS4 and PS Vita in association with Sony Santa Monica Studios. Difficult to describe, and is very much an audiovisual experience in which you control a long multi-colored snake flying through the sky. After a lengthy time in development (the game was first shown at the IGF awards in 2011), the game was announced to finally be coming out in 2014. Honeyslug took the opportunity to talk about their partnership with the record label Ghost International for the games music, and if you watch the trailer below, you’ll see what an excellent partnership it looks to be.
There were numerous trailers and announcements made outside of these trailers though. Another That Game Company alumn Robin Hunicke, producer on Journey, and Keita Takahashi, the mind behind the Katamari series, announced their new collaboration Funomena. LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule showed off their game for the PS Vita Tearaway. Die Gute Fabrik showed off a couple of titles, Sportfriends and Mutazione. Be sure to check the entire conference to bask in all the indie glory.
The conference on a whole was a huge success in highlighting games that are at times diametrically opposed to what we usually see at E3. While the production values were much lower than what you saw during Sony or Microsoft’s conferences, there was a level of genuineness that was lacking from those. Games like Call of Duty, Ryse, and Final Fantasy XV have their place in this ecosystem, but the diversity of experiences on display at Horizon are certainly additive. Even without the flashy lights and big personalities on stage, Horizon was also still able to impress, and even surprise its audience. In fact, one of the biggest announcements of the entire E3 week, that Phil Fish had begun development on Fez 2, despite the protracted and difficult development cycle of the original, closed off Horizon with a bang.
Here’s to looking forward to seeing Horizon’s sophomore effort next year.