The MIX, or the Media Indie Exchange to use its Sunday name, is always one of the highlights of E3 week.
Yes, most people go to E3 for the blockbusters. They delight in the pageantry and the swag, and the bragging rights of playing something first. And that is great, don’t misunderstand, but after a couple of days of chaos and queueing, it’s nice to go somewhere a little different, like Devolver Digital’s parking lot jamboree, or the MIX.
Sadly this year, the MIX wasn’t immune from queues. After a 20-minute delay in opening, followed by an interminably slow check-in process (and inexplicable use of only one elevator in a building with 12 of the things), we didn’t make it upstairs until 7.57 PM. That’s three whole minutes before the “press-only” hour ended, and the doors opened to every other industry visitor. Oh well.
The change in venue changed the event somewhat, too. There was adequate room to circulate without tripping over power cables for one thing. Gone too was the threat of accidentally falling into a rooftop swimming pool. There was even a whole section devoted to the Kinda Funny Games Showcase, including an area for broadcast recording. (You are all determined to make us feel old as we walk around taking notes with pen and paper, aren’t you?)
It wasn’t all for the better. The self-service beer kegs were gone, instead replaced by a drinks token each. Not that less free-flowing drink is necessarily a bad thing at events, but when the venue’s own bar costs over 20 dollars for two drinks, and you’re there for several hours? It makes for some interesting expense claims. (“YOU PAID HOW MUCH FOR TWO DIET COKES?!”)
But thankfully, the most important element of the MIX – the games, and the wonderful people who make them – was unchanged. One of the best bits of this job is being able to spend time talking to creators and developers, and trying out weird new things.
Here are some of our favourites from the MIX at E3 2019.
Autumn’s End’s visuals are arresting. Watching over someone’s shoulder, we’re first introduced to Amber, the protagonist in Autumn’s End, as she falls down a flight of stairs. It’s a cheery and charming animation – combined with bold, almost papercut-looking art – that can’t help but put a smile on your face.
Later, when we get to take control of Amber (and having also fallen down the stairs) we get to enjoy some of the minutiae of her point and click adventure. We take photos. We chat with friends and family. We poke around in nooks and crannies. It’s all so pleasant, with more than a hint of Night in the Woods about it. Imagine Mae just before she leaves for college, not the melancholy, somewhat lost girl who comes back, and you’ll be in the right place for Autumn’s End.
Just as we’re leaving, the person manning the bench tells us they’re Sundae Month, the team behind Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, and we’re even more enthused by Autumn’s End. We tell them that they might want to lead with that information in future.
The elevator pitch for Embr is something else. Delivered at machine-gun speed, it’s both the advertisement for, and terms and conditions of, working for Embr as a gig economy firefighter. You know those caveats at the end of a radio commercial, where they try and read out all the horrible things that might happen if you buy their product or service, but too quickly for you to fully comprehend them? That’s the pitch for Embr in a nutshell, and it is hilarious.
Here’s a clip of the pitch being delivered at EGX Rezzed:
Thankfully the game is also a lot of fun to play – even though we are terrible at it – but it’s OK. Well, it’s OK for Embr, because: “Embr LLC accepts no responsibility for injury, dismemberment, or death resulting from fires, explosions, electrocution, natural gas, dehydration, nut allergies, or concussive force.” Just like the real gig economy, it’s a dystopian nightmare wrapped up in an almost-reasonable-sounding job offer.
Also, as we’re leaving, the person who delivered the sales pitch tells us they’re from Muse Games, the team behind adorable arcade fighting game, Hamsterdam. What is with people not telling us who they are or what else they’ve worked on?
Knights and Bikes
Knights and Bikes, on the other hand, needs no introduction. Basically, everything we said in our preview of the game from 2017 still stands, but it feels more polished and cohesive than before. Sadly Rex and Moo weren’t around to talk to on this occasion, as we’d really like to know when Knights and Bikes is scheduled for release, but everything is shaping up rather nicely.
Kunai is named after an ancient Japanese tool, thought to be designed as a type of trowel, but often used as a weapon in Manga. It consists of a pointed blade attached to a handle with a loop in it; this means it can be swung, thrown, or attached to a rope and used as a grapple.
Playing as Tabby – a ninja computer fused with the soul of an ancient warrior, as it goes – you’ll wield swords, guns, and more in this action-adventure. But it’s the titular Kunai that bring the most excitement and verticality to the game, dual-wielding them as both weapon and grappling hook, to traverse the environment like a CRT-headed Spider-Man.
We already talked about Rawmen in our piece on the silly physics games that stole the show at E3 2019, but based on the reaction of everyone who saw it at the MIX, it’s going to be very popular. Part Splatoon, part Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Rawmen is a disgusting nude multiplayer melee that absolutely wouldn’t get a good food safety inspection rating.
It’s gross, but in a really, really fun way.
Roboco is a game designed with education in mind, but with the potential for so much more than that. Ostensibly a teaching game about physics and programming – you build a robot out of a set of parts, then feed it some rudimentary instructions to complete a task – the outcome of Roboco is often more fun than the lesson learned on the way, as terrible, awful, no good robots go on a rampage trying to perform mundane tasks.
Simple tasks that you probably wouldn’t trust a DIY robot with, like looking after babies, for example. It’s basically the video game equivalent of this YouTube video:
And if that’s not going to make Roboco a success, we don’t know what is.
Spiritfarer was an odd game to play in amongst the clamour of the MIX, with drinks (reluctantly, expensively) flowing, a DJ spinning tunes, and every other person bumping into you with a camera rig the size of a small hatchback. It was an oasis of calm, in the middle of an event we already considered an oasis of calm. (Relatively speaking, when compared to the rest of E3.)
But from its brief showing during one of the indie segments of the Xbox press conference, Spiritfarer was already making waves. Then we popped on some headphones, cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, and we understood why: Spiritfarer is magical.
Playing the role of Stella, the ferry master to the deceased – known as a spiritfarer – it’s a combination of RPG and gentle management sim. Stella must collect the souls of the recently departed, build them homes upon her boat, and solve their remaining earthly concerns to allow them to pass over to the other side. It’s beautiful, poignant, and serene.
Oh, and you can pet Stella’s cat, Daffodil, and even give it cuddles, so it’s officially the greatest game of all time. We don’t make the rules.
Super Crush K.O.
Super Crush K.O. is a vision in neon, a stylish brawler that sees you fight to rescue your cat. (And also save the world from an evil AI, but frankly, that’s secondary to that cat thing.) Super Crush K.O. is fluid to play and looks gorgeous in motion, while there’s a real tactile feel to the control and your character’s powerful move set. Everything in this one is just so satisfying.
Also, another indie game, another last-minute “you may also know us from…” This time it’s Vertex Pop, the team behind the brilliant Graceful Explosion Machine and We Are Doomed. You know when a well-known author starts writing in a new genre, and they use a nom de plume to see if the book is successful on its own merits and not on the back of their name? Felt a bit like that at the MIX this year, though we suspect nobody was doing it on purpose.
Totally Reliable Delivery Service
Just like Rawmen, we already waxed lyrical about how much fun we had playing Totally Reliable Delivery Service at the MIX. (No, we’re not shortening it to TRDS. That’s a terrible acronym. Go on. Say it out loud. You’ll see.)
In an E3 that featured Rawmen, Fall Guys, Embr, Heave Ho, that game we played with the interchangeable 3D-printed ship controls, and so much more fun stuff besides, Totally Reliable Delivery Service was probably the second most fun and the second funniest game we played all week. What was the funniest, you ask? Shenmue III. Though we’re not entirely sure it was supposed to be funny. If we’re basing it purely on games that were supposed to make us laugh, Totally Reliable Delivery Service wins the crown.
The Wild at Heart
We did a double-take when we walked past the stand for The Wild at Heart. At first glance, we thought it was a second stall for Knights and Bikes, and didn’t really pay it much attention. When we walked past a second time and, seeing it in motion, we realised The Wild at Heart was a completely different game – albeit with a similar art style, all flat, fantastical environments and grinning, cheeky child protagonists – so we had to see what this one is all about.
Playing as a child lost in a mysterious, magical realm, you must progress through The Wild at Heart by amassing a collection of friendly creatures, known as Spritelings. You can send them off to do your bidding – everything from collecting resources and building bridges, to clearing areas and fighting monsters – for an intriguing mix of Zelda-like adventure and real-time strategy. Weird, sure, but definitely one to watch.