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Cold Beer, BBQ, and Indie Brilliance: How Devolver Digital Won E3, Again

The best new indie titles at the gaming convention were on display in a Hooters parking lot.

by Gav Murphy
Jun 22 2015, 2:20pm

The Devolver E3 balloon, snuggled between a pair of trailers, albeit pictured here in 2014. Photo via Twitter.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

I'm sitting opposite a video games developer inside the VIP section of one of the big triple-A publishers' E3 2015 stand. Outside, some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen with my stupid human eyes are doing a dance routine to Johnny Derulo or That Ginger Hair One With The Guitar. I've heard the same song four times during my 90-minute appointment slot to see Blood Murder 9, Swords N Shiiit, and Look at Me Dancing Like a Cunt 2015. The walls are actually shaking from the bass, and it's worryingly like I'm trapped inside the disabled bogs of a Liquid. I've listened to roughly ten minutes of non-descript-video-games-male telling me how this year's iteration of his game is the best because they've "built it from the ground up" (I never asked him about how they built their game, or the ground). I ask him a question that's not related to his game for another feature I'm working on, and he looks at me like I've snuck into his house on his kid's birthday and shit on the cake.

"Ooh... I wasn't expecting that question. I... uh... can we come back to that?"

"That was my final question."

"Well, it was nice speaking to you."

That was my final formal appointment for the day, inside the LA Convention Center, so I leave and head for the Hooters opposite. Not because I like chicken wings or watching Americans looking at tits, although those things are just fine, but because next to Hooters, in the car park, is the E3 home of independent, Texas-based publishers Devolver Digital. (Which you know VICE Gaming is sort of in love with, if you've been paying attention.)

Devolver does E3 a little bit differently than other publishers. You won't find them on the actual show floor, because it costs a shitload of money to be there with just a single new title, and Devolver has such a roster of upcoming releases that they'd need to fork out a huge chunk of change to feature all their games. There's also something about the brash, noisy environment of E3 that doesn't really suit Devolver. A Hooters car park filled with airstream trailers, DJs playing to people eating free BBQ and drinking beer from kegs in red cups, though? That's more like it, and Devolver's pitch has proved the highlight of my E3 experiences of the last two years. E3's organizers don't share this opinion, though, and for 2015 they've hired several massive truck trailers to fill the lot in front of Devolver's setup, so you can't see how inviting the booze and meat is when you drift out of the Convention Center for some air. Best to follow your nose.

Instead of stands, each Devolver game on show has its own air-conditioned trailer, and press sorts are invited inside for their game demos. I don't have an appointment set in stone, but sneak in to play Mother Russia Bleeds, a bonkers side-scrolling beat 'em up full of sex and weird drug references.

A screen of 'Mother Russia Bleeds,' via the game's official website.

"Is that... a wanking devil in the background?" (I ask this as I'm smashing up a fat dude wearing a gimp suit.)

"Yes! You're the first journalist to notice that all E3!"

As the two Frenchmen making the game high-five me, it bugs out and my character starts sliding around the screen. If this was a demo for something one of the big publishers were putting out, I'd instantly be shot in the belly and left to slowly die—anything to stop me from making what I'd just seen into a .GIF. But the guys from Mother Russia Bleeds start pissing themselves and one playfully rips into the other because he doesn't know how to fix the problem straight away.

I leave and Mother Russia Bleeds becomes the best game I've played at E3. This happens all the time on the Devolver lot: You get into a trailer, play a tiny section of a game, and it's almost instantly your favorite game of the entire conference. Last year it was Titan Souls and Not a Hero, this year it's Mother Russia Bleeds, Crossing Souls, and Eitr.

I play Eitr in the company of another journalist and a seven-year-old boy called Dougie, the son of Mike Wilson, one of Devolver's founders. As the title's two young devs from Kingston explain how their game is based on Norse mythology, Dougie interrupts:

"Is this like Star Wars?"

"Hmm, not really."

"It looks kinda like Star Wars."

For the record, Eitr looks nothing like Star Wars—but for a top-down RPG created by two twentysomethings from South London, it's almost unbelievable how good it does look, and how deep it plays. It's going to be fucking massive.

"Maybe you should make it look more like Star Wars?" Dougie offers up some quality feedback.

"Do you like Star Wars, then?" I ask, already predicting the answer.

"No, not really. But lots of people like Star Wars."

'Eitr' gameplay demo from E3 2015.

An astute bit of market awareness for a seven-year-old. Dougie asks a bunch of other questions and, at one point, the other journalist in the trailer actually jots down notes in his pad. I've been in roundtable interviews with people who've asked worse questions than Dougie, and I get the feeling the kid will soon be tipping off his old man for new games to get behind.

Devolver has an enviable knack for handpicking some of the best, previously undiscovered indie titles and launching them into the recommended section of every site, YouTube channel, and magazine in the world. They also take suggestions from their own games' developers, and their CEO Graeme Struthers tells me that Hotline Miami's makers at Dennaton are responsible for bringing several of the games on this year's lot to their attention. He tells me this not in a PR-arranged interview in a white-paneled E3 meeting room, but over a pint while we watch several key Devolver people have a roller-blade race against Dougie's dad, who is on foot but still manages to win and does a lap of honor wearing an American flag.

Devolver games often have ace soundtracks—so check out Thump's article on how games are breaking the drum & bass artists of tomorrow

There's an exciting, almost festival-like feel to Devolver's E3 offering, and I mean a good festival, not T in the fucking Park. Some indie devs who are showing their games off on Sony and Microsoft's massive stands come down to Devolver after the show "proper" to get pissed and fuck about together. I'm sure they'd rather have a DJ playing the Hotline Miami 2 soundtrack next to their demo than TVs bigger than houses blasting out Shootyman 4: The Shootening while trying to explain their game's controls to punters.

I think one of the biggest reasons I'm a fan of the way Devolver do E3 is because, in a time where hands-off demos of massive games played out on cinema screens with about 25 other people in the room is the norm, to jump into a caravan with people making exciting games and actually play something which feels properly new is a genuinely incredible thing. And in that sense Devolver's E3 lot is the perfect depiction of how the company has been successfully doing business these last few years. And yeah, I did see some things inside E3's main event that blew my tiny little mind—but no devs in the Convention Center high-fived me for pointing out a wanking devil, so....

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