Feature Tribal & Error Hands on at E3 2015

More than just your typical ooga booga caveman communication skill set.

Liana Kerzner

Published

By Liana Kerzner @redlianak

Indiecade -- the showcase of independent games that has yearly space at E3 surrounded by a white picket fence -- is always a mixed bag, and rightly so. I support experimentation, and it's not always going to work. That being said, it's always nice to get hands on time with a game in that area that doesn't rely on physical gimmicks or political statements, and just gives you a creative idea or good old fashioned solid game design.

Tribal & Error was this year's discovery for me. Described as "a game about language without language," this point-and-click puzzler by Grotman Games revolves around learning to "speak" caveman through context by recording and playing back the caveman grunts in different combinations to form new sentences.

Metaleater E3 2015 Best puzzle Game Award

The concept is that you're a recorder robot sent back in time to help prehistoric humanity survive the coming ice age. The art style is cute and easy to see on small screens. Even though the game was running as a PC game, I can see it expanding to tablets easily enough. The mechanics of Tribal & Error are simple enough: it's a point and click interface that creates a vocabulary of grunts to a menu below the main screen that you build by interacting with the various cavemen. You can add single word notes to the glyphs to remind yourself of what they mean, then string them together to communicate with the cavemen and advance. For instance, one caveman is cold, while various others are breaking rocks and doing things with sticks.

So eventually you can assemble a rudimentary sentence of "rock hit rock wood" to get the cavemen to make fire. At least, that's how I interpreted the glyphs. There's no "right" answer as long as you get the context. I could also get cavemen to hug me in the demo by saying I was sad. Or something I assumed to be sad. It doesn't matter. What matters is that it got me hugs.

So eventually you can assemble a rudimentary sentence of "rock hit rock wood" to get the cavemen to make fire. At least, that's how I interpreted the glyphs. There's no "right" answer as long as you get the context. I could also get cavemen to hug me in the demo by saying I was sad. Or something I assumed to be sad. It doesn't matter. What matters is that it got me hugs.

The demo was plagued by an embarrassing bug that tended to glitch the rock breakers, requiring a restart, but I'm willing to go easy on that element because it's a demo, it's an indie game, and I know the devs are going to fix it because they were mortified by the bug. Quality assurance is one of the few things I give indie devs a pass on, because they don't have the same access to pre-event quality assurance as bigger companies. Some of these indie studios can barely afford to get to E3, never mind pay game testers.

The other fundamentals -- design, ease of use, innovation, and fun factor -- are all there for Tribal & Error, and I'm happy to see someone do something with the puzzle genre beyond title sliding and object manipulation. The other cool thing about the game is that it requires almost no language localization, which gives it more immediate access to a larger number of gamers. The puzzles are simple at their core, but because they approximate language instead of making up an approximation of existing words, your brain gets a decent workout. Tribal & Error pulls you in and hooks you quickly, and I can't wait to see more.

Tribal & Error was awarded Metaleater's Best of E3 2015 Best Puzzle Game award.

If you want to try Tribal & Error for yourself, there's a demo available.

Images courtesy of Grotman Games.