Kickstarter Report Card, Part 1 (of 4)

It’s been a busy year for Kickstarter’s video games section, to say the least. Double Fine blew the doors off what people thought possible, and since then the train has just kept rolling along despite endless prognostication on how the Kickstarter bubble is going to burst any second now. Yep, pretty soon this entire house of cards is going to fall over when a big-name title fails to live up to its promise. It’s coming. Just you wait.

Trendy pessimism aside, though, it’s been a great year, even if only a small number of projects have paid off. Developing a game is a time-consuming process, and seeing as most projects started after February it’s a bit early to sit in judgment yet. Still, I ended up getting fully immersed in the promise of games developed by people set free from the whims of big publishers, beholden only to the thousands of individual fans whose nickels and dimes add up to funding success, everyone hoping desperately that the thing that’s produced is the thing that was promised. Keeping a small Kickstarter budget open, I backed 42 projects in 2012, and here’s the results painstakingly broken down game by game.

Prologue: Pre-Double Fine

This first small group of games were all backed before Double Fine pushed Kickstarter into turbo mode. I’ve only got a few on my list because, honestly, I just wasn’t paying that much attention beforehand, but it’s still a good cross-section of successes and the not-so-successful.

In Profundis- A random cave exploration game where different fluids can mix with unexpected results that change from one game to the next. The last alpha release was February 13, 2012. It’s still being worked on, but very slowly. If it ever comes out I’ll happily play it, but at this point I’ve kind of written it off as a loss.

No Time To Explain- The only completed game from my early Kickstarter days. You’ve got a giant gun that also doubles as a jump booster, and a million ways to die. There’s a lot of genuinely funny gags mixed in with all the action, but I’ve never gotten along with the controls. Since the game has been Greenlit for Steam I’m hoping that it’ll be updated with a dual-stick option, but unless the entire game is re-coded from Flash that’s pure wishful thinking. Still, part of Kickstarter isn’t just the rewards but backing things you want to see get made, and No Time to Explain has made the most of its chance at life.

Lords of Uberdark- Still very early days, but there have been a slow and steady stream of updates to the alpha. I think I backed this non-blocky Minecraft clone more to play with the terrain deformation engine than any other reason. It’s been a year and a half since the Kickstarter ended, though, and that funding must have been annihilated long ago.

Lifeless Planet- An atmospheric action/exploration game about tracking down a woman by following her glowing green footprints while stranded on a dead planet that might not be so dead after all. Development updates have been steady since the Kickstarter’s conclusion, and it’s come a really long way in the last year and a quarter. I think I’m anticipating this one more now than I was when I originally backed it.

Crystal Catacombs- Lovely pixel-y procedurally generated action game that failed in its first Kickstarter attempt, and then managed to easily blow past its original funding goal when it came back a second time. More details on this one later.

Chapter 1: The Double Fine Wave

And now, the big one- Double Fine Adventure. A two-prong attack, Double Fine Adventure was not only Tim Schafer doing a Lucas Arts-style adventure game, but also having Two Player Productions document everything that went in to its development, good and bad. It was initially conceived as a 6-8 month project but, when it blew past its funding in a hair over 8 hours, it was obvious that people wanted something with a bit more meat on its bones. Now the game is called Reds, although that’s subject to change at this early date, and seven episodes of the documentary have shown the progression from throwing every “Wouldn’t it be cool if…!?” idea into the pot, to starting the editing process so that the features fit the game and its budget. There’s still a long way to go to get to the final release, but the journey is fascinating.

FTL: Faster Than Light- This was one of the games to release its full version this year, although it didn’t manage to be first out of the gate. FTL is a brutal little strategy game about trying to survive with a limited crew in a universe that’s trying to kill you, warping into sectors and hoping you’re strong enough to survive what it throws your way. You individually direct each crew member to man the ship’s systems, holding on for dear life at each new development along the way. The OnLive demo went a long way to persuade people this was a game to watch, and it paid off handsomely in the end. FTL got a Steam release, with no need for the Greenlight process, and managed to land on a respectable number of year-end Top 10 lists.

Wasteland 2- The next giant multi-million Kickstarter after Double Fine’s success, Wasteland 2 is still a long way from completion. That’s to be expected, due to it being a giant post-apocalyptic RPG, and that kind of game can’t be created at a lightning-fast pace. The development blog is updated monthly, for the most part, and the promises of of morality choices dictated by the player and the multiple play styles arising from that do a great job of keeping this on the mental radar. Plus inXile gave backers a free copy of The Bard’s Tale on Steam for Christmas, so bonus!

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The Dead Linger- This one was backed out of pure optimism on my part, but I love the game idea and want to see it brought to life properly. Survive the zombie apocalypse from an FPS viewpoint, roaming in a procedurally generated world, foraging for supplies in the day and holing up at night. The alpha is updated on a regular basis, and while at the moment I can’t describe it as anything but “endearingly terrible”, it’s an alpha. The central game idea is solid, the mechanics are in place and getting updated regularly, and, honestly, this is way earlier than most games would ever give people access. Part of the point of the project was to show off game development from the ugly beginnings to the (hopefully) epic conclusion in a completely different way than the Double Fine documentary. Honestly, the warts and all approach they’re taking to the game’s release is a lot of fun to see.

Valdis Story- 2D side-scrolling action is always an easy sell for me, and Valdis Story promises some lovely animated HD sprite-work to bring it to life. I don’t really have a lot to say about this one, primarily because they’ve been pretty quiet since the Kickstarter, but when the game comes out early this year I’m looking forward to some fast-action combo based side-scrolling mayhem.

The Banner Saga- Shining Force-style battle/strategy with Vikings. Yeah, there’s really no hope of resisting that pitch. The HD artwork and quality animation look simply amazing, and the preview videos make waiting for full release far harder than I was expecting. I’ve got access to the multiplayer beta, as do all backers, but my interest in this one is primarily for the single-player game. Just being able to play and see that art move on my PC’s monitor may be enough to drag me in, though.

Unemployment Quest- I loved the idea behind this one. The unemployed main character fights the expectations of his parents and friends as well as monsters such as Doubt or Shame, armed with a Resume, and using skills in battle like Firm Handshake. It takes the format of the jRPG and uses it as the wrapper for exploring the disheartening process of trying to land a job in a shaky economy. Yes, it was made in RPG Maker using stock graphics. Some people were bothered by this, and none of them were me. Unemployment Quest was an enjoyable bite-sized RPG exploring something more interesting than the usual world-saving quest of mighty hermaphroditic heroes, and sometimes that’s really all you need. It also had the advantage of being the very first game to deliver its reward, and it came out right when it was promised, too.

Conclusion

So that’s the first batch of projects, from pre-Double Fine through May. For those keeping track, that’s 3 games complete, 3 with beta/alpha access, 1 with an ongoing video payoff, 1 failed, and 4 successfully funded that have nothing to show so far. That’s not a bad proportion, honestly, and even the “nothing to show” category has plenty of reason for optimism. The next section will detail the games of June through most of August, though, so expect to see the “Nothing” category rise sharply. Game development isn’t about instant gratification, as it turns out.

  • http://jakewriting.blogspot.com/ Jake

    That’s some pretty nice improvement

    but who the heck takes three language courses at once???