Austin Game Devs Shine at E3
Local studios show their wares at the video game megaconvention
By Tucker Whatley,
2:30PM, Mon. Jun. 20, 2016
As the curtains closed on the Electronic Entertainment Expo on Thursday night, it marked the end of a transitional year for the 22nd annual gathering of the international video game industry in Los Angeles.
With many publishers and game developers increasingly creating their own promotional events and ways of sharing information with their customers and fans, the show floor was much emptier than usual, with strange booths only tangentially related to video games popping up in space that was once hotly contested.
Still, E3 2016 managed to generate plenty of buzz. Memorable moments included Nintendo going all-in on the new Legend of Zelda, the nude digital likeness of Norman Reedus, and a torrent of virtual reality content of varying quality. Several Austin-based developers made the trek to L.A. with their latest projects, and here’s what they had to show.
As the sequel to 2012’s surprise hit stealth action game, Dishonored 2 looks to deliver more of what people liked about the first game, with a new, Southern Europe-inspired city to explore, two protagonists with separate abilities to choose between, and more drop-dead gorgeous art design. As it turns out, there are still plenty of corrupt Victorian-era political figures left unassassinated after the first game, something potentially millions of players will help fix later this year.
The path Prey has taken to arrive at its official unveiling at publisher Bethesda’s press conference stage has been winding. It began its life, confusingly enough, as Prey 2, the sequel to a 2006 first-person shooter starring a young Native American man who gets abducted by aliens. Prey 2 originally had little to do with its predecessor, instead focusing on first-person bounty-hunting in a Blade Runner-inspired alien city. Now, in the hands of Arkane, even that concept seems to have been scrapped in favor of a psychological first-person survival experience set in a derelict space station. It’s hard to say for sure what this thing will end up being when it releases next year, but Arkane’s teaser trailer sure looks impressive!
Armature Studio was formed in 2008 by several principal members of the team who worked on the legendary Metroid Prime series and afterward departed from Nintendo-owned Retro Studio. Since then, Armature has been staying under the radar, releasing mostly ports of other people’s games to the PlayStation Vita. However, that stands to change this year with the release of ReCore, an action game for the Xbox One and Windows 10 featuring a girl and her robotic companions surviving on a hostile desert planet. Armature is once again collaborating with Japanese developers as they did in the past with their work with Nintendo on Metroid, but this time they are being joined by Comcept, a company formed from ex-Capcom luminaries.
The miscreants at Twisted Pixel – a studio known for its slapstick-inspired games, anachronistic use of full-motion-video cutscenes, and songs about doughnuts – took a hard left turn at E3 this year with the reveal of Wilson’s Heart. The wackiness seems absent so far from this virtual reality project for the Oculus Rift, in which the player interacts with a black-and-white environment using the Oculus Touch controllers, working to solve a mystery taking place in a creepy hospital. It’s a bold move for a studio with no previous experience in horror, VR, or games in the first-person perspective.
Easily overlooked among the big publishers was this indie gem in the making for PC and Mac from recent Austin departees Finji. Players take control of a group of survivors taking a road trip across postapocalyptic America, having to manage resources and make tough decisions in randomly generated levels. The visual style is a standout attraction, eschewing the muddy, brown wastelands typically associated with end-of-the-world scenarios for a cell-shaded wilderness with plenty of color (but not too much) and stylized shapes with hard edges.
Austin-based publisher Devolver, as usual, was not technically present on the E3 show floor, but they did have an impressive showing at a collection of trailers in a Hooters parking lot across the street from the L.A. Convention Center. Notable games being demonstrated by the indie hitmaker this year included randomly generated mid-Nineties throwback shooter Strafe, fighting game and massively multiplayer RPG mash-up Absolver, and a sequel to the 2013 first-person hack-and-slash Shadow Warrior.