E3 is the land of the giants. Every year the titans of the industry gather in the same space to showcase their upcoming big budget releases. While the spotlight might be on the giants, indie games have also built their own community around the event. Areas like IndieCade or the Devolver Indie Picnic give the press and the public a chance to look at the latest games.
We spoke with Zach Johnson, Tommy Sunders and Robert Frost about what it was like being an indie game at E3, the indie presence, the crowds and what’s next for Joggernauts.
Can you describe Joggernauts?
Zach Johnson: We say Joggernauts is a cooperative switching game about trying not to kill your friends. It kind of plays like a platformer, but you have to change places with each other as you're a team running through these alien worlds. There are color-coded puzzles, and you and your friends need to work out who needs to be in front for each color as you're running through these levels together. So it's a multiplayer auto runner and it's completely cooperative. We've taken out all of the competitive elements so you're always on the same team fighting against the game together.
What are all of your roles in developing the game?
Rob Frost: I do music, sound design and manage the community building.
Tommy Sunders: I do all the art and graphic stuff and then Zach and I work on the design of the game together.
Johnson: I do programming, and like Tommy said, we do game design together.
Is this your first game as a team?
Johnson: For the three of us together, this is our first (game). Our studio is called Space Mace and it’s the first for our studio, but we've all worked on games before this separately.
In what stage of development is Joggernauts?
Johnson: We're doing limited private early access through Itch.io and our target date for release is Spring 2018. We're in a phase where we need to do more content production like the gameplay, aesthetics, music and other stuff. All the direction for that is really high polish, but we need a bigger game.
What was the process like getting to E3?
Johnson: We applied to MIX LA and got invited to show our game. That was an awesome opportunity. It's a really neat thing that they have going there because they invite a wide range of games, like stuff that's very high profile and stuff that's up and coming and then there are tons of journalists there so you feel like you really get to meet people. Then we got some badges to come out on the expo floor and check out some stuff, so it's been fun.
What was the event like?
Sunders: It wasn't the craziest demo we've ever done. It's like a big party game and sort of draws its own crowd. It's four people playing, they start yelling, and then more people come around because there are people yelling and everyone starts to gather because people are gathering and trying to figure out what's going on.
Johnson: I think we got lucky because the indie dev to the right of us didn't show up and we had a double wide booth - which we really needed because we had a huge crowd.
What type of feedback did you get at MIX LA?
Johnson: We got a lot of people who loved it and wanted to buy it and wanted to know what systems it was going to come out on so they would know if they could have it or not. Some of the other devs had some really cool ideas for small tweaks that we hadn't heard before. I mean we've been showing publicly for like three years and we actually got some new feedback that we've never heard that was really original thinking. It’s always fun to be amongst game developers who are thinking at that high level and can give you good feedback.
Did you get to explore at all and see the other games?
Johnson: I got to play Runner 3 and Joggernauts was actually inspired by me and my best friend drunkenly playing Bit.Trip Runner 1. We were like, "Okay, this is fun, but we have to keep passing the controller back and forth because it's a single player game." So how could you do a game like this, but multiplayer? And that's where the taking turns switching to the front of the group mechanic came from. Runner 3 was there, and I think it was their first public showing. So I got to play that which was awesome and meet one of the devs on that. I got to play Nidhogg 2 with one the creators. We tried to take turns roaming and making sure to eat and drink water and playing games with people and trying to grab journalists and pull them in to talk to us.
What is it like coming from Minneapolis to E3?
Johnson: We've been to IndieCade and GDC. We've been traveling a lot with the game.
Sunders: We've actually even been to Berlin.
Johnson: When everyone comes together from around the world to one place, the networking opportunities and access to resources and press is tremendous and we feel a little bit isolated from the press in particular in the Midwest.
Sunders: The majority of the games industry's on the West Coast, and we're in flyover country.
What do you think of the indie presence at E3?
Frost: [IndieCade,] that's where we felt most at home.
Sunders: We've been hanging out there because we know a number of the devs on those teams. There's the massive lines, or we could go stand and hang out with our friends. It's awesome that they have something like IndieCade in there, but at the end of the day, E3's not about indie games.
Do you think that presence is building?
Sunders: I've heard nothing but great things about indie games at PAX. People are there to see everything else that's not Sony and Xbox and Nintendo. We have yet to go to a PAX, but everybody's like, "No, no, [E3] is for the giant corporations, PAX is everybody else."
Johnson: I like that there's an IndieCade booth and I like that some of the bigger booths have indie games. Devolver's got a presence here, the MIX was here. So there are these kinds of places to go and see indie games and play them and meet people doing indie stuff. I'd love to see more of that obviously as and Indie, those games are my jam.
Why is an indie presence so important at a huge event like E3?
Frost: A lot of the time indies have ideas that the big guys don't really take a chance on. I think a lot of times indies test the bar. More of that would be really nice to see an event like this.
What do you think about E3 being open to the public?
Frost: We've never seen it before to really judge it, but it is packed.
Johnson: So many people.
Frost: It's just uncomfortable really.
Sunders: It seems like the industry people know better and they're just avoiding the floor as much as possible.
Johnson: It’s nice to bump into fans and see people excited. I think the most interesting thing about it being open is that you see a lot of streamers and non-credentialed journalists who are actually doing really cool work and have like pro equipment. Like you see their regular badge like they're just here for fun but then they've got pro video stuff and they're doing like live streaming off of the show floor. That's kind of neat. You're getting voices that maybe hadn't gotten out there before.
Would you come back to E3?
Johnson: I would show a game here just because it's packed so you're going to get a lot of exposure. but it would be exhausting. I would like to set our schedules so we all would have some good breaks. Seeing a crowd this size, I really feel for the people at the IndieCade booth who are a small team of one or two who have three days of standing on the E3 show floor just seems so exhausting. I mean it's clearly a powerful opportunity. Everybody's here. It's like a central meeting time for the industry.
What is next for Joggernauts?
Johnson: We're actively doing a lot of business stuff right now and trying to sort out stuff on the publishing side. We really want to get out Spring 2018 and we could go faster if we could all be full time. We've been a part time like the indie story for like two and a half years. If we could go full time we could focus on the content production stuff and wrap the game up. We're talking to all the major consoles and did make a deal on one of them that we're not ready to announce yet. Things have been going well so we just kind of like want to go faster and get the game out. We're looking to PAX West as the next big opportunity to show the game. We're hoping that by PAX, ideally, we're going to be showing a much more visually polished build with a lot more going on and some new levels. I really want to introduce a new special PAX character, a new Joggernaut.