There must have been magic in that Hooters parking lot. A block away from the convention center, scattered across a series of trailers baking in the L.A. sun, lay an exhibition that showed how electronic entertainment goes beyond the spectacle that dominates our attention. Braving the mid-afternoon heat to see Devolver's games was worth getting a little sweaty for, though. Its collection of independent games captivated me so completely that it was easy to forget the heavily hyped fare that was being shown across the street. Indies have risen to a place of prominence both inside and outside the convention center, and Devolver wasn't the only publisher with an intriguing lineup. Some of the following games were in a stuffy trailer, others were in front of a plushy couch, but one constant remained: They're worth getting excited for. Here's a glimpse at what awaits us in the future.
Titan Souls (PC, PlayStation 4, Vita)
Inspired by Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus? It's as if the developers knew exactly how to draw my attention, though starting from such a lofty place can spell doom if your game doesn't deliver. From what I've seen, the only failure in Titan Souls is how frequently you'll meet your own death. From a top-down perspective, you have just one arrow to kill a monstrous boss, and whoever slices the other's weak point first claims victory. The rules are simple because the conquests are anything but. A stone colossus tries to crush you under its fists as you frantically roll to stay alive; a gelatinous blob duplicates whenever it's struck, surrounding you with its malevolent clones; a yeti rains down icicles while waving its naked derriere. Just try focusing when you have that rump waving in your face. That's the real challenge.
The Talos Principle (PC, PlayStation 4)
A puzzle without context is like a hamburger without a bun. In The Talos Principle--a beautiful first-person adventure set in a desolate forest--doors bar your path, so you must make clever use of the environment to uncover the secrets many secrets. And though I felt an undeniable relief when I completed a puzzle with the development team staring on, it was the philosophical musings punctuating my mental struggles that made this demo so fascinating. When a voice from the heavens spoke to me, I wondered what my purpose was, and why I was solving puzzles in a forest. Thoughts of identity swirled through my head when my hands were revealed--robot hands--and I could only ponder what kind of creature I was. It's a game of intrigue, of questioning our ultimate purpose, and those big ideas are even more exciting than whatever puzzles are sure to stump me.
Not a Hero (PC, PlayStation 4, Vita)
This might seem like a strange thing to say, but I've always thought murder and skateboarding had an awful lot in common. With all the screaming and blood in both activities, you'd be forgiven for confusing them. The development team behind the skateboarding game OlliOlli has taken the fundamental appeal of its Vita debut in a slightly different direction. The smooth action that defined OlliOlli has been twisted into something unrecognizable here, but it's just as engrossing from what I've seen. Glide into and out of cover, gunning down the bad men trying to kill you as you move as efficiently as possible. It's a crazy concept that makes great use of its simple facade. Setting high scores is your ultimate goal, so figuring out how to deliver a speedy end to your foes is what makes this game so appealing. And even if you fail, at least it's not as painful as missing a 180 backslide.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (PlayStation 4)
Alone in the remains of a once-proud civilization, you have a choice: wallow in the pervasive sadness, or discover the humanity that's still out there. The English countryside is so depressing, and yet so welcoming, as you gaze at the beautiful world with the thought of your own loneliness interrupting any sense of calm you might feel. There are whispers of past lives to discover, glimpses of who once lived in such a place, and hints at where they have disappeared to. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is about first-person storytelling, but instead of explaining what it wants you to know, the story lets you decide how much you want to learn. There's no telling what message will slowly reveal itself, so decide for yourself if you're happy living in ignorant bliss or you'd rather know what became of your home.
Ori and the Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One)
Here's a fact that you might not know: the expression "beauty is only skin deep" was invented by an ugly person. All right, that may or may not be true, but there's no reason to turn your nose up at beauty. Ori and the Blind Forest is downright gorgeous, and I would gladly spend hours upon hours exploring its hand-drawn world if the rest of the game looks as good as the demo. Heck, I've already been caught staring at the screenshots, and those only hint at how enrapturing the environments look in person. Beauty would be enough of a reason to write about Ori, to be excited for it, but there's even something here for people who believe that old saying. Ori is a platformer focused on movement and about empowering you to venture deeper into its mysteries, and the emphasis on those two elements has made me giddy at the prospect of being set loose in this world.
Road Not Taken (PC, PlayStation 4, Vita)
Describe Road Not Taken in a quick synopsis, and you're going to sound like a marketing parrot reciting the latest buzzwords. A roguelike, top-down, puzzle-solving relationship builder? Why not call it a multiplayer online battle arena, add Oculus Rift support, and end this parody of gaming trends in one fell swoop? Well, Road Not Taken isn't just a complicated description; those labels mean little on their own. The roguelike part, for instance, looks to be more than the endless cycle of death that designation usually means. It's about inheritance. You play as your sons when you die, and then their daughters, and so on down the line, and that familial presence is supposed to make you care about your actions. Now it matters who you choose to romance, and how far you can take this character you've grown attached to. Road Not Taken is an interesting experiment that tries to add emotional context to expected actions; we'll see how it shapes up down the road.
Night in the Woods (PC, PlayStation 4)
Time is the greatest foe of all. It's the one opponent that no one has been able to best, and is the main antagonist in Night in the Woods. This isn't a time-traveling venture like Super Time Force, though. Rather, it's a combat-free, platforming adventure in which growing up, and the inevitability of change, is at the heart of your strife. Or is it strife? The natural flow of time isn't something that can be fought against. You can view your past with nostalgic desperation, with a wish that things could return to how they once were. Or you can embrace whatever the future holds. It's a decision that cannot be made rationally. Rather, whether or not you can let go of who you once were is emotional. The Night in the Woods demo was poignant and sad, carefree and happy. If the final game can embrace all of life's peaks and valleys like we saw already hinted at, it could be something special. We'll see if that promise holds true when the game comes out.
Axiom Verge (PlayStation 4, Vita)
I would love to say that I've saved the best for last, but that would be an unfair statement. Axiom Verge was my favorite game from E3 2014, but there were so many outstanding games at E3 that it's impossible to elevate just one above the rest. This game is definitely worth keeping your eye on, though. A single man is behind this free-flowing adventure inspired by Metroid, and it's shaping up to be even better than I imagined it could be. The controls are so smooth and so sharp that movement is incredibly fun, and the inventive weapons and crazy enemies are enough to make me want to explore every inch of this world. For those who lament what has happened to Metroid of late, keep your eyes on Axiom Verge, because it might be the game you've been waiting so long for.
Those are eight of the best indie games that we wrote about at E3 2014, but there was so much more that we didn't have a chance to cover. EarthNight is a gorgeous combination of roguelike and endless runner that (as expected) defies being pigeonholed by those constraining terms. Hyper Light Drifter is an exciting action game that proves how important Kickstarter is for risky ideas. And N++, well, it's just about the best platformer around (if N+ is anything to go by), especially if you're playing cooperatively. Then there were indie games that were shown only in trailer form, such as the undersea adventure Abzu and the lonely platformer Inside. There were too many excellent games to count--hidden away in out-of-the-way corners or proudly displayed in the heart of popular booths--and seeing the variety and excellence of the many offerings made me thrilled for what the future holds. This is an unbelievable time for games, and indies are leading the way.