Anime was weird last year.
You may be in full fever E3 fever mode from Geoff Keighley’s trailer parade this morning, but immediately after the Summer Game Fest presented by Prime Gaming, Geoff “Amazon Gamer” Keighley used the platform to showcase Double Fine’s annual Day Of The Devs presentation. Here, we got to see a worldly showcase of some of the coolest games in various stages of their development cycles. The presentation of this showcase by devs and for devs was stunningly natural compared to Geoff’s Mandalorian Set/Hype Cube which allowed for easier viewing of actual game footage. So here is a selection of the exciting, cute, and even cool upcoming games from Double Fine and iam8bit’s: Day of the Devs 2021.
Axiom Verge 2
Thomas Happ Games
The original Axiom Verge was an indie Metroidvania-styled game that came out in 2015, way before the small boom happened with Dead Cells and John’s 2019 GOTY, Touhou Luna Nights. And because of that it slipped under a lot of people’s radar who hopefully now can go back and try one of the most naturalistic stylized games in the genre. Axiom Verge 2 maintains an aesthetic melding nature and technology, but instead of the run-and-gun shooting of the previous game, it is ramping things up a notch with a system that combines melee-ranged combat and hacking your enemies to use their advantages in your favor. It looks just as evergreen as the previous entry did, but with even slicker design sensibilities. The developer, Tom Happ, insists the game can be beaten without defeating each boss, which sounds enticing to me!
Toem: A Photo Adventure
Something We Made
So we’ve been seeing photo games this year, and they are all great. There are no misses. Umarangi Generation, New Pokémon Snap, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, which all do a great job of emulating nature-photography styled gameplay. You go to a spot, shoot it, and leave — while trying to not interact with that world so your photos can do the talking. Toem is an adventure game where your main adventuring tool is your camera, so you’re just as much a part of the world as they are, and your photographs are keys to achieving your personal goals just as much as they are for achieving other people’s goals around you. I’m excited to play more photography games since every one I’ve played has been a banger, but even more I’m into Toem because it’s got a chic grayscale aesthetic and the world directly reacts to you taking pictures of it in a way the other photo games were conscientiously avoiding. Also, I gotta figure out what a Toem looks like!
God. The pitch for this game is so easy. Okay look: Procedurally-generated Indiana Jones-style booby-trapped temple that you have to run through and if you die, you never get to see that dungeon again. You are surrounded by ghosts of everyone else who has ever tried that dungeon and whoever gets to the end with the fastest time, it seals everyone else in the dungeon forever. Incredible. Gobsmacked by the temerity of how sick this game is! 3D Spelunky with all your pals. What more has anyone ever asked for?
picogram via Rose City Games
I know you’ve heard the old adage from your grampa-pa: Go adventuring, complete quests for the community, be a grape, get out the ‘ol panflute and play a little tune. When my grampa-pa was giving me that sound advice, it came out of respect for picogram and Rose City Game’s new game Garden Story. Which is a humble top-down adventure game where you play as Concord, a cute grape, in a cute town, with cute fishing, questing, and crafting mechanics. The sweetness of this game is immediately palpable from the first screenshot, but even more importantly, all of the sub-systems in the game look carefully considered and interesting to play with. There is a feature-rich adventure here to go along with the cute story and aesthetics, so when this drops in a few months Summer 2021, I’ll be jamming right there along with my little frog and cherry buddies.
Nobody uses a cookbook anymore! Soup Pot gets the true authentic way of cooking in the modern era is through the to-do list on your phone, and uses a UI of that style to guide you through cooking real Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander recipes. As opposed to most cooking games’ fast and responsive cook-on-a-timer-or-DIE style, Soup Pot is about the relaxing and meditative quality of food prep and cooking. By focusing the entire game on the pot itself, it becomes all about the relationship between your ingredients and how that changes from fridge to plate. The presentation of the game looks incredible and it goes to show how well curated all of these games are that a game as focused as Soup Pot can be a part of the showcase!
A Musical Story
In A Musical Story, you play through the struggles of a rock musician’s life on the road as he heads off to cut his teeth on a major musical festival. To advance through the sentimental story, you tap through a rhythmic sequence that seems purposely vague. Of all the games, this is one I am a little leery of, as the story is clearly alluding to Jimi Hendrix’s life and early death, and to dramatize that story within a video game is a sensitive subject to me and many others. I hope this crew from France knows how big a bite they are taking, because it may end up being larger than their pastel-y cartoon aesthetic can chew.
Wired Fly Stop Motion/Kong Orange/Morten Søndergaard
Johan Oettinger in this video gives you SO much information beyond just this cool game with a weird name. Everyone should just watch this video by itself and take in just how wild video games are to make. Vokabulantis is a sidescrolling adventure game made entirely out of stop-motion animation, and it looks breathtaking. The tiny glimpse of gameplay we have tells about a world in ruin where the kids we play as are jumping around dilapidated buildings to their own peril with a chaotic whimsy that will terrify any parent. They find a robot who directs them to help out with powering the building as the kids continue to climb it. The end of the trailer suggests that the kids may actually not be okay, and between the presentation style and that little hook, I’m excited to see more about what Vokabulantis has in store. As long as I can figure out how to spell it right!
WTF is this? I am not entirely sure what I’m looking at or how to parse it? But it sure is promising a lot! When I was a kid I was mystified that Shadow the Hedgehog could possibly have so many different story routes that all had their own titles underneath them, that is the only way I know how to understand Road 96, which boasts a whopping 148,268 routes on dusty Southwestern Americana-styled highways. As a kid fleeing to the border, trying to escape a dangerous country, you’re going to need to hitchhike, climb, and foot your way through many dangerous situations. I’d love to know more about what kind of characters can show up and how they affect your person in a way that brings the entire opportunity space up to such a massive number! Little do the developers at Digixart know, I’m about to find them route #148,269!
The Wandering Village
Stray Fawn Studio
I am admittedly not a god-sim type of gamer. That’s a genre for big-brain geniuses who are able to focus on a task for much longer than I can. However, The Wandering Village looks incredibly appealing because your entire village is limited to the size of the back of a giant dinosaur-like creature who is a friend (and possibly ally??) And as this dinosaur moves through different biomes on the planet, your task of keeping your dinosaur’s back clean of hazardous pollutants and your civ healthy becomes extra challenging! I love how this god-sim game has its own god-type creature that you must work together with. God-sim coworkers! It’s a really inventive twist to a well-loved format of game. Multi-layered alien world god-sim drifting.
This game still fucks.
Where my corvus crew at?? Put a sword in your wing and start swinging cuz you’re the grim reaper now baby! This adventure game has a lot of style to it, but I just want to immediately point out that during cutscenes your crow character will move its head frantically in that funny and inquisitive way that birds do, which rules so much. Anyways, even outside of the gimmick, I love stories where you are the arbiter of death and your tasked with dealing judgement on a bunch of big bad bosses. This game seems full of big chunky bossfights with different kinds of people who can actually recognize that you are death incarnate and react as if they can fight off death. There’s a neat dynamic in the story where you are apparently one deathbringer in a bland white-collar office of many different crows, as if this is a completely mundane job to be doing. You know… reaping souls and whatnot. A little sass and a lot of fun means that Death’s Door is ANOTHER adventure game that hits the list of cool-as-hell looking adventure games.
Behind the Frame
Silver Lining Studio
I’m just painting here but this old man across the street is also painting, and he’s got a cat. He is pretty hot so I’m just gonna sketch him and his cat hanging out together. No, it’s not weird, I’m normal! I just don’t want to say hi is all. Oh, his old cat just jumped between our rooms. That’s probably as good a way to introduce myself, but I won’t, because I shan’t get up from my drawing, lest the ink not dry. Hey yeah, I’m not entirely sure what is happening in Behind The Frame, but I’m hoping I can flirt with the cute old man in the building next door. It seems there may be a greater mystery inside this point-and-click adventure game with some animation styles similar to Studio Ghibli, and the vibes are real chill so it seems like a really good place to just click around a whole bunch! Between Behind The Frame and Soup Pot you could have a really good stay-at-home-and-chilling duology of games.
Christine also summed up this one well too when she wrote: “an 80’s canadian Minecraftlike fishing RPG where you’re a fuckin’ newfie” and as someone with Norweigan ancestors, to that I say, “Uff Da!” Moonglow Bay is a voxel styled crafting game where you play as a little fella named Guppy who will complete tasks around the titular bay by fishing, cooking, and crafting from within your little trawler. And you aren’t just limited to boating, as the entire town is open to explore with a day-night cycle and calendar to mix up which NPCs are where at any given time. It seems like a fun and modest game with a lot of care put into the presentation that combines clean modernist voxel spaces with a soft cartoony visual-novel style UI. If these fishing mechanics are solid, then I’m gonna be hooked when this drops on the game pass later this year.
You can see a lot from a top-down perspective in games, and normally you are a little guy running around doing stuff, but in Lootriver you play as the guy, the light, and the path itself underneath the guy trying not to get swarmed by tons of shadows running about trying to overwhelm you. This is a fast-paced action game where the action is actually optional if you know how to maneuver yourself! By moving tetris shaped blocks that your character is standing on, you can carefully manipulate the combat arena in ways that give you severe advantages over what you are fighting. It looks so neat in action, and I have NO CLUE how it will work in my hands if I tried to play it. But it looks really neat and the procedurally-generated aspect of Lootriver gets me even more excited than it normally would for these kinds of games. I just want to drift along the darkness on my little Tetris pontoon.
Julián Cordero & Sebastián Valbuena
So your this kid right, and you kick the soccer ball, yeah? And it’s Ecaudor in 2001 and everyone is recovering from this big financial crisis and the Ecuador National Team is about to qualify for the World Cup for the first time — and it’s kinda a big deal in your world. And you kick the soccer ball with your friends. And you kick your soccer ball and a dog pops it and your world is ruined. But you kick your flat ball at the dog owner and the dog owner repairs it and reinflates it! Your world is saved! Despelote is a subtle autobiographical game with a scratchy hand-drawn filter over real photographs of the actual park in Ecuador the devs are from, employing impromptu-found-audio from the park itself for the voice lines. It really brings the feeling of being a kid and kicking a ball around to real life as you bother your neighbors and play with your kid friends after class. I’m excited to see what else comes of it, because this preview shows such a nostalgic slice of real life, despite never having been to Ecuador. Despelote is a perfect time capsule that I’m so excited to see fully developed, in the hope that it inspires other similar biographical styled spaces!
Well, THAT’S out next month! Anyways, Variable State made Virginia in 2016 which ended up flying criminally under the radar and being overshadowed by games like Firewatch and Gone Home so by this trailer, I assume they are sick of playing second fiddle because Last Stop isn’t pulling any punches! Aliens, freaky green portals, body snatching, and other X-files style drama abound as a huge mystery plays out in a strange world. I don’t feel like I have a lot of details, but with Annapurna publishing, I’m hoping that means Variable State can finally get more of the recognition it deserved over the last five years!
And one more thing! A micro-round up of micro-proportions by Asobu Games:
Asobu is a content-production and publishing team that is brand new bridging Japanese developers to the west which is something we always need more of. And for this event, they put together multiple games that all look really neat! For this, I think I’ll let Christine’s expert note-taking do the talking for this section because she summed my thoughts up completely:
Elec head by NamaTakahashi – “gettin vvvvibes”
demolition robots kk by Takaaki Ichijo – “looks like gundam rampage”
Walk by Kazumi Games – “look fucking weird as shit fmv silent hill school girl what the fuck”
AND THAT’S DAY OF THE DEVS, PEOPLE! We did it! 19 games in about an a blistering 70 minutes! I’m utterly exhausted now. Normally during press conferences I can chill during boring games, but LOOK AT THAT LIST! When was I supposed to chill? During the 3D dungeon crawler that deletes itself? Or while a game promised 148,268 different routes? Just an utterly ridiculous way to cap off the -1th day of E3 2021. The curation put together here blew me away and I think I can speak for all of us after watching two hours of Geoff Keighley, that we needed it. I hope you enjoyed the recap and good luck with the rest of the game presentations this week!