Welcome to the opulent stage of high-profile pseudo-indie development.
Hawken, its developer Adhesive Games and parent company Meteor Entertainment, are not representative of the standard indie community, but they carry that already nebulous label in a vague, but real, way: Meteor is the publishing arm of Adhesive and it has only one client and one focus, Hawken.
"First of all, we're no EA," Meteor Entertainment's Paul Loynd told me at Hawken's June 5 E3 party, hosted by Machinima. "And we only have one game. This is our thing. We're excited to be working on Hawken." Hawken is the brainchild of Adhesive Games, a studio Khang Le founded in 2010 after his first development team, Offset Software, was acquired by Intel for a project that was ultimately canceled. Le and a group of former team members built the demo for Hawken, a free-to-play multiplayer mech title, out of a garage and without any outside funding.
The public was introduced to Hawken last year in a gameplay video Adhesive posted on YouTube. In February, Adhesive's parent company, Meteor Entertainment, raised $10 million in venture capital funding for Hawken from a set of companies that included Riot Games' investors Benchmark Capital and FirstMark Capital.
At E3 this year, Hawken has its own "Game Haven" at the Luxe and is throwing a round of impressive parties for fans and industry folk to get a first taste of the gameplay and, perhaps on a more unintentional level, its company atmosphere.
"We are publishing the game and we want to grow, obviously," Loynd said. "But right now Hawken is our focus; Hawken is what we're working on. We don't have anything else."
Adhesive has roughly 20 employees and is based in Pasadena, while Meteor is in Seattle. Regardless of the distance, Loynd said the branches are extremely integrated. "We are very cohesive as a unit," he said. "It's very organic. It's a great relationship; we work very well together."
Loynd said Meteor isn't "even talking or working on monetization right now." However, Meteor is thinking about it, and when they do implement a system, Loynd said it won't be based on paying for an advantage. "We don't want that, we don't want that stigma," he said.
The heavy lifting in building Hawken had already been completed by the time Adhesive secured its $10 million investment and the studio is still working off those funds now.
Hawken has transitioned from indie darling to partnering with Machinima and Nvidia, throwing blow-out parties at the largest gaming convention of the year, complete with an open bar, a DJ set by The Beastie Boys' Mix Master Mike, branded t-shirts and a hub of PCs running constant multiplayer mech rounds.
This would all seem unnecessarily lavish if the game itself wasn't gorgeous in its own right -- a mix of Counter-Strike and MechWarrior with beautiful environments and clanking, whirring, satisfying sound design -- with the promise for more depth in the final version when it launches December 12 for PC and via Gaikai.
Perhaps Hawken has graduated from "indie darling" to "indie fairy tale." Maybe that's simply how I felt descending the staircase of the Luxe hotel last night after playing a round of Hawken, watching my step to make sure I didn't fall down the slick white steps. Or accidentally leave behind a shoe.