Kickstarter Report Card, Part 3 (of 4)

You’d think Kickstarter would start calming down with the year over halfway done, but that didn’t happen. New project after new project kept piling on to the service, many of them utterly irresistible. Multi-million dollar games took up space side-by-side with titles asking for only a couple hundred, and I backed all that caught my interest. This is part 3 of the Kickstarter 2012 Report Card, covering mid-August through mid-October, and it’s the most diverse selection of games yet. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t seen them yet, or just dive in to see which games were completed and how those that weren’t are dealing with their semi-patient backers.

Chapter 3: Heading in to Fall

Castle Story– This was one of the first games I wrote about on the revamped Hardcore Gamer, and seeing it get a Kickstarter was a pleasant surprise. This building/mining strategy game had a bigger fan-base than I realized, as over 27,000 people decided that, yes, they wanted to command a mob of little yellow guys to harvest resources and construct epic fortresses on floating land masses. Saurupod Studios has released the prototype to those who backed at that reward level, and is hard at work turning it into the beta version that all backers get to play. While the Kickstarter page doesn’t get updated too often, their homepage is packed full of giant updates posted on a regular basis.

Knock-Knock– Ice Pick Lodge is an unusual developer, in that they tend to do whatever enters their heads with no regard to marketability. This usually results in games that are fundamentally flawed in some way but too fascinating to pass up. Knock-Knock keeps this design sensibility intact with a dark and moody (but cartoony!) game about surviving a night with sanity intact while various horrors roam the house. Gameplay details are scarce, and the video only shows a rather grumpy-looking young man walking through the house carrying a candle, stalked by a bizarre variety of ghouls and beasts. This was recently addressed in the first update in two months, and while apparently development is moving in fits and starts, a lot of that is due to experimenting with an appropriate gameplay style. It may take longer than expected to arrive, but when it does Knock-Knock should be a unique little slice of gaming.

Moon Intern– This is a bit of an oddball. Moon Intern is a 2D side-scroller presented in a retro style where the way you play determines the type of missions that open up. An action-oriented gamer will get plenty of action missions, while a puzzle-y one will end up on a very different gameplay path. In addition to the story missions there are random ones gotten from the colony’s NPCs, you’ll have a “soulmate” to pay attention to (gender completely at player discretion), as well as a colony to maintain. Life on the moon is, apparently, awfully busy. Since the Kickstarter’s completion the developer has moved all communication to the Moon Intern web site, where details and bits of game music get posted on a semi-regular basis.

Perch– It was $1 to back this free web platformer. Sometimes you just want to toss $1 at someone to see something interesting get made. Check it out yourself if you want to see how it turned out. Perch is far more challenging than its cuteness would lead you to expect.

OddVille– This was another $1 donation. OddVille is a super-chunky first-person adventure game done in a pseudo-8-bit style. While it may have its issues, OddVille has the advantage of, like Perch, being a thing that was completed and released.

Planetary Annihilation– The RTS genre isn’t quite as exciting as it used to be, but Planetary Annihilation aims to shake things up by bringing massive battles to life far beyond a mere global scale. This is basically Total Annihilation in space, but rather than playing on a 2D star map you’re controlling armies that crawl over the faces of procedurally-generated planets in an endless array of solar systems. You’ll be able to crush your enemies with an army of overwhelming force, or drop a meteor on a planet for massive damage. As the Kickstarter progressed, stretch goal after stretch goal was met to enhance Planetary Annihilation’s scope, adding more and better goodies to the game like gas giants and metal planets that are basically Death Stars. The final goal of Galactic War basically looks like an endless mode, and if everything works as hoped should be utterly glorious. There’s a long way to go to release, but regular updates on the Facebook page are helping to pass the time quite nicely.

Mercenary Kings– 2D side-scrolling unfiltered run & gun lunacy from Tribute Games, who were responsible for Scott Pilgrim vs The World, complete with tons of animation by Paul Robertson. Yes, yes, and dear god yes! Current plans call for a few dozen levels, gun crafting for hundreds of weapons, split-screen multiplayer, and probably more things as yet unrevealed. It was hard to throw money at them fast enough. While the game itself is exciting and still looks crazy-fun, this is another project where communications get forgotten. Three updates since September is kind of sad. Still, the latest had (teeny-tiny) screens showing off some nice detailing and solid action, so the assumption is they’re so deep in code they can’t see daylight.

Pinball Arcade: Star Trek The Next Generation– Like The Twilight Zone before it, ST:TNG is another pinball table that absolutely deserves a proper digital recreation. Also like Twilight Zone, the communication from FarSight is basically nonexistent. I ended up backing this one at a much lower rate because of this, and while I don’t regret it, I do wish the developer was better at not squelching fan enthusiasm. The console and PC versions are coming along, though, so maybe someday it will show up out of the blue. To be fair FarSight has a pile of tables coming out soon, but with Kickstarter, as I’ve harped on endlessly, communication is vital.

Project Giana– So that worked out well. Project Giana, which eventually turned into Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, was fully funded on August 31 and released to backers October 22. Since then the game has received plenty of bug patches and updates, including a couple of holiday-themed levels, as well as completed the Steam Greenlight process. Not only that, this side-scrolling world twisting platformer turned out to be a ton of fun. Success stories like this are why we need a Kickstarter.

Pro Pinball: Revived and Remastered– Despite a good pitch, the lure of nostalgia, and even a free pinball table just for visiting the page (since removed, of course), Pro Pinball didn’t manage to make its goal. The original plan was to have legendary pinball designer Pat Lawlor create a new table, and also remaster the original Pro Pinball series in HD. It turned out that was a bit too high a target for a single pinball-themed Kickstarter, though, so the current plan is to try again some time in 2013, breaking the goals up into individual campaigns. Timeshock is planned to be the first one they do, in theory, but Silverball Studios has been running dark since a mid-November update. At this point all we can do is hope it works out, whenever that may be.

Sealark: An Oceanic Adventure– Quite possibly one of the cutest games ever to show up on Kickstarter, Sealark is a fishing adventure game about, as near as I can tell, being utterly adorable. Game details are a bit scarce but the focus is planned to be on fishing, interacting with a load of strange and fun NPCs, solving some puzzles, and even a bit of dating. Official updates have been very scarce but a recent one on the developer’s Tumblr explained that this is due to the game being in the incredibly boring coding stage, rather than the visually exciting part of generating screens and character designs. Developer Clairvoire has also been chatty on the project’s comments page, so he’s been around. I’m looking forward to having more to write about Sealark once the development has reached the stage where there’s more to show off.

Sealark

Project Eternity– This was one of the major Kickstarter campaigns of the year, with many of the original creators from Black Isle Studios reuniting to create an RPG to stand tall with the likes of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape Torment. Project Eternity (working title, subject to change) hopes to fuse a deep story with rich writing to a tactical battle system that runs in real time, with pausing to give orders. There’s wasn’t a lot more detail beyond that at the start, but a series of updates were enough to let the game rake in $3.98 million from almost 74,000 backers, one of which was me. The info-dump has barely missed a beat since the Kickstarter’s conclusion, with a steady series of game mechanics, art designs, and developer info keeping the update page lively. Apparently Obsidian really enjoys working with their community when NDAs on their licensed work aren’t keeping them quiet. There’s still a long way to go before Project Eternity is something you can play, but it looks like there’s going to be plenty of info to keep us interested until then.

Honorable Mention

There were two game-related Kickstarters that I didn’t back, but also deserve a mention. Both have the potential for a decent-sized impact on the gaming landscape, but they were a bit beyond my budget at the time so don’t technically fit with the list above, but still deserve a mention.

Ouya– Honestly, I’m more interested in this as a video device rather than a games machine. This cute little Android box is designed to be open to anyone who wants to develop for it, making it a perfect candidate for high-quality video watching without having to convert to a format the 360/PS3 is happy with. There are going to be a number of good games worth playing on here, of course, but a cheap and versatile video device? That’s something that’s going to come in handy.

ouya

Oculus Rift– VR hasn’t worked in the past simply due to it being an idea that was too early for the available tech. Two things held it back- bulky, uncomfortable headsets and PS1-era polygon graphics. We can do better now, and Oculus Rift is the result. The Kickstarter campaign was interesting, and a lot of promises were made, but $300 for a developer unit was a bit too much for me to spend on untested tech. I was in the minority on this one, apparently, and now Oculus is scrambling to manufacture 7500 kits rather than the couple hundred they’d initially been expecting.  The recent CES gave the press plenty of hands-on time with an early unit, and every single report raved about what an amazing piece of hardware it’s turning out to be. You can still pre-order a developer unit for the Kickstarter price, but unless you’re actually a developer (or collector) it’s probably best to wait for the consumer model. This is direct from Oculus, who promise that the consumer version will be a thoroughly refined version of what’s shipping in March. Stay tuned for more details on this one, I’m hoping to have an in-depth hands-on report at E3 this June.

Oculus

Conclusion

This was a really fun time of year to back projects, simply due to the variety available. Pinball, platformers, adventure, RTS, mega-blockbusters, tiny little indie oddballs, and everything in between made for an exciting late summer/early fall. It was also a nice surprise to see how many of these actually got completed by the end of the year. 3 games are completed, 1is partial with its iOS/Android release, 1 beta, 1 failed, and 6 with nothing to show as yet.

For the ones that are still under heavy development, this batch is doing a (mostly) excellent job of keeping backers informed of what’s going on. The reason this is important is that, unlike standard game development, Kickstarter involves a much closer relationship between fans and developer. I’m just going to quote an exchange between me and Zeophaelin, one of the Volgarr the Viking developers, from the comments section of Part 2, way at the bottom if you want to see it in context–

Me- “One of the points I’m hoping to convey with the Report Card is that Kickstarter is a closer partnership between developer and consumer than normal, and while it doesn’t take much post-project work to make people happy (or at least to make me happy) it’s best not to let it fall by the wayside.  Of course, I’m telling this to someone with an active developer Facebook page, who interacts with the fan-base regularly. I’m thinking I’m preaching to the choir on this one.”

Zeophaelin- “Interesting that you bring that up. Taron and I are used to dealing with license holders and publishers prior to breaking out on our own. We are very aware that say, when someone gives you a 1.5 million development fee, that you need to be held accountable for deliveries and at the very least communication! We feel that Kickstarter is just that, an investment tool and the people who took a risk on us deserve to know what we are up to and how the product is turning out.”

Next up, the final chapter as 2012 winds to an end and 2013 gets properly started.

  • http://HardcoreGamer.com Steve Hannley

    Ugh, I’m both super-excited and super-wary with both the Ouya and RIft. The Ouya has the chance of being overhyped and, even though demoers continue to say otherwise, I just can’t see the Rift working as it’s said to for such a low price. I really hope it proves me wrong, though.

  • James

    I was pretty skeptical on the Rift too, but the CES articles have been nothing but positive. I’m also not sure the tech they’re using is as pricey as it looks. It’s more about taking off-the-shelf parts and coding them to work together than it is about inventing new hardware, from everything I’ve read. Also, if it hits as hard as I suspect it might, they should be able to make up a potentially low profit per unit by sheer volume.