E3 is the place to go for big, loud, bombastic games. Games played on screens the size of soccer fields. Glitz and glamor and cardboard houses and all the money a publisher can throw at their biggest franchises.
Cube and Star: an Arbitrary Love is the opposite of that. A tiny game made by the husband and wife team Doppler Interactive, it's a colorful, quirky exploration game that was made as a romantic present from Joshua to Jessica.
"The way Joshua told me he had made the game for me was pretty funny," Jessica Ellis told me in an email. "Early in development I was play-testing it and I commented that I'd been playing for ages without even realizing it and I was really enjoying it and Joshua said something to the effect of 'oh good... I made it for you'"
"I've put in 100-plus hours of testing and I still get joy from playing the game, so he really has made a game for me."
In the game, players control a cube rolling around on a giant sphere full of curious objects to interact with. I was able to get hands-on time at The Indie Mix event, just outside of E3 on Tuesday evening. Jessica handed me the controller and off I went, exploring an abstract world of geometric shapes and colors. The world is a mystery, and interacting with it is the only way to figure out what you can or cannot do.
I bumped into tiny pyramids, all of whom had dialogue snippets. Bumping into trees let me color a trail behind me. And interacting with black cubes kept them from destroying color — coloring parts of the world for me.
Joshua McGrath made the game as a metaphor for the complexities and mysteries of the world around us.
"Life is confusing," he said. "The world is chaotic. We have very little control over the systems around us. But... we can still make arbitrary goals and try to find a little happiness in that. And maybe down the line... we will have spread a little joy, and made the world a more colorful place."
"That's the big message behind the game. The entire thing is a super, super abstract metaphor: Every creature you speak to is an analogy for a personality type from real life."
That plays out in the game. It felt a little like Proteus — the joy of playing around in a very pretty, mysterious little sandbox was apparent immediately. I found myself actually getting excited when I encountered a new kind of object, or learned a new rule in the world.
McGrath stated that he wants players to experience a wide variety of emotions while playing Cube and Star: "Confusion. Joyful, colorful confusion. Maybe bewilderment. Possibly a vague gnawing anger," he said. "I wanted to stir the same emotional evolution we experience in life."
The game is available now on Steam and coming soon to Wii U.