E3 2021 is here, in the form of several live stream presentations, ad reels, and stilted interviews—just like last year! Most major video game publishers have sequestered off their own times to Stream Big Announcements, but oftentimes the most exciting and interesting games pop off more quietly on the periphery.
They’re bundled into events like Summer Games Fest, a sort of meta-event run by games industry showman Geoff Keighley, or Day of the Devs, run by developer Double Fine and iam8bit (the production company “creative directing” E3 for the brief moment it was still an in person event last year). And sometimes companies like Panic that until recently had nothing to do with games decide “Why not?” and design a whole new handheld platform to scoop up smaller indie titles.
Whatever the source, if you want to find the weirder, smaller, truly independent things, you’re probably not finding it at a Microsoft press conference, which is why we’ve collected some of the early highlights from E3 2021, here.
Panic Invites You to Its Playdate, a New Console With a Crank
Until a few short years ago, Panic was known for making polished software for macOS. That changed with deals to publish FIREWATCH, UNTITLED GOOSE GAME, and NOUR. The company then decided it was going to make a whole new console. On June 8th, it finally revealed details on when you can buy the Playdate, and several of the games making their way to the platform through its unique delivery system.
Panic’s unique take for its console is that it might be fun to structure game releases like a season of television. Every week for 12 weeks the company plans to automatically download two new games to your Playdate. They’ll be a surprise, and each game is made by a different independent developer or developers, designing specifically for the Playdate’s cute yellow chassis. And if you buy a Playdate (for $179) you get all of that included, plus the ability to make your own games.
The actual business structure is a bit opaque: Were these developers paid up front? For the amount of times their game is played? How much is Panic making on all of this? But it’s hard to deny the premise is exciting, and it’s not every day you get to design an exclusive for a new console. The full list of games is on Panic’s site, and it spans everything from old-timey music games, golf, a robot game designed by the creator of KATAMARI DAMACY, and at some point, a game from the creator of RETURN OF THE OBRA DINN.
Day of the Devs Reminds You Games Are Global
Few do it like Double Fine and iam8bit, and save for the hiccups that come from streaming online, Day of the Devs has made a great Nintendo Direct-esque transition from an online gathering to an hour-plus stream. The whole stream is worth watching for the depth and breadth of games covered, but here’s just a few:
TOEM by Something We Made
A black and white photography game where you’re tasked with snapping photos in what looks like a hand-drawn blend of 2D and 3D art styles. Seems very chill, great if you’re looking for another photography game after NEW POKEMON SNAP or UMURANGI GENERATION.
PHANTOM ABYSS by Team WIby
A first-person INDIANA JONES game where you compete against (time) ghosts to find relics.There’s a whip, something about it really reminds me of early 3D shooters, and it’s all randomly generated. If you die on a temple level, you can never play it again.
SOUP POT by Chicken Club
An Asian cuisine-inspired cooking game with an in-game social media platform for sharing and reading recipes. It looks like a more realistic COOKING MAMA and Chicken Club says the in-game recipes are based on the real ones—you could theoretically make them.
VOKABULANTIS by Wired Fly, Kong Orange, and Morten Sondergaard
We love a stop-motion video game, folks. VOKABULANTIS seems like some kind of puzzle platformer, and also features a really unique method of capturing the physical models under different lighting conditions to turn them into in-game characters.
MOONGLOW BAY by Bunnyhug
A voxel-based fishing RPG with elements of STARDEW VALLEY (I sense dead grandpa energy) set in a Canadian town where everyone is afraid to fish. Seems to thread the needle well between being cute, and also super detailed if you want to get obsessed with collecting hundreds of different types of fish.
DESPELOTE by Julian Cordero and Sebastian Valbuena
Ecuador has made it to its first qualifying run for the World Cup, and you’re a little kid playing soccer in the park. The vibes of this one! From the art style, to the music, to what looks like a really fun kicking mechanic, DESPELOTE seems like a great little game.
GEOFF KEIGHLY GOT HIS HANDS ON ELDEN RING
Not particularly indie, but From Software’s ELDEN RING has been rumored and announced for long enough that it feels like it did and didn’t exist multiple times by now. Stranger still that Keighley scored it for his Summer Games Fest Kickoff, which usually doesn’t have a ton of surprises.
Still, it looks like those horses have horns, and also…double jump?