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Skulls of the Shogun: Will a New Strategy Game Be the Breakout Hit of IndieCade's E3 Booth?

Screen shot of Skulls of the Shogun
Screen shot of Skulls of the Shogun
Haunted Temple Studios

Check out our E3 2011 category for more coverage from the show. See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's slideshows, "E3 2011: Day One" and "E3 2011: Day Two."

It's not all about big-name companies like Activision, EA and Capcom at E3. Much like the music and film worlds, gaming has its own indie community comprised of developers pushing the boundaries of the industry without major corporate backing. IndieCade, the annual Culver City festival described by founder Stephanie Barish as "the Sundance of the game industry," is at the center of this.

IndieCade's roots are at E3, where the organization launched five years ago. Over time, it's spotlighted games that have gone on to become quite successful, most notably Braid.

"Five years ago, when we started, it was really hard to be able to see an indie game," says Barish. "Now you can see them around. People are starting to realize how popular they are, how cutting edge and interesting and they're a little bit different or that they really challenge you."

The team behind Skulls of the Shogun
The team behind Skulls of the Shogun
Liz Ohanesian

IndieCade features more than just video games, although that's primarily what you will see. At this year's booth there was a Twister-styled race game in addition to a diverse offering of PC and console-based games. The breakout star of the booth, though, was a strategy-based video game called Skulls of the Shogun, which had racked up nominations and awards from a variety of publications by the end of E3.

"I'm going to say that's going to be one of the best known," says Barish.

Skulls of the Shogun is being developed by Haunted Temple Studios, which has three-full time developers and a few contractors involved in the process. We met with Ben Vance, one of the L.A.-based members of the indie firm.

"As a small team, we have to wear a lot of hats," says Vance. "Primarily, I'm doing programming, but we're all doing a lot of design work as well. I'm doing a lot of writing as well."

The group met while working at Electronic Arts.

"We've all been part of the big business, big games, and it gets a little tiresome after a while," says Vance. "Working at a big company is hard. There's always problems that you have to deal with and to make a good game, you have to make a lot of decisions. In that environment , it's hard to make decisions because a lot of people have to agree with you, so there's a lot of convincing and a lot of red tape."

Working outside of the corporate structure has major advantages in the decision-making process.

"In a game like this, with three of us at the core, to make a change in the game, we have to talk to two people at the most to make a change," he adds. "It's so liberating. We can move very fast."

Screen shot of Skulls of the Shogun
Screen shot of Skulls of the Shogun
Haunted Temple Studios

Vance says that the artwork for the Skulls of the Shogun was influenced by 1960s anime and vinyl toys, bringing "a little bit of cuteness and a little bit of an edge."

The game itself is inspired by classic arcade fare, says Vance, "the idea that you see something that looks kind of fun, you walk up to it and just start playing."

He explains, "It doesn't require you to read the manual. It doesn't have all this complexity that you have to figure out. "

As a strategy game, it gives people the opportunity to make quick, smart decisions.

"There are a lot of interesting choices to make as you play the game and it really changes how the game plays out."

Checking out Skulls of the Shogun at E3
Checking out Skulls of the Shogun at E3
Liz Ohanesian

As the title might imply, this game revolves around a general.

"You've just completed your biggest battle," says Vance. "An epic victory happens. You're like, 'I'm triumphant' and you get killed in that moment. You're backstabbed."

Things take a strange turn once you arrive in the afterlife.

"You're a great general, so much honor, so much power in life and you deserve a high-ranking spot and you don't get it," he continues. "You show up and everybody is like, 'Who are you?' The guy that you say are, he already came through here.

"Somebody stole your identity and so you're on a mission to find out what happened and to break out into the afterlife and just tear it apart."

Haunted Temple Studios is anticipating a January release of the game. They're currently looking for a publisher. If they find one, they're looking into taking the game to XBox Live Arcade. If not, there are other avenues they can explore.

"There are a lot of platforms where you can do it yourself," says Vance. "If the publisher thing doesn't work out, that might be what we do."

Follow @lizohanesian on Twitter.


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