Kickstarter Report Card, Part 4 (of 4)

And finally, the fourth and concluding part of the Kickstarter Report Card. It was a fantastic year for new projects, and the very first year in which a developer could directly appeal to its fans for funding and have a reasonable hope of success. The good part is that games that could never have been made before now have an avenue to creation that lets developer and fans interact far more closely than before, without worry of NDAs killing the conversation. The bad side is the uncertainty that results from getting all the cash up front and hoping it’s enough. Asking a few thousand people for large sacks of loot places a responsibility on a developer, and that’s why this Report Card focuses so heavily on communication, with delivery of something playable a secondary consideration. Game creation isn’t a fast process, after all, and I’m honestly (and pleasantly) surprised by the number that have either reached completion or at least gotten a functioning alpha/beta into their backers’ hands.

If you haven’t seen them yet- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

So, without further preamble, here’s the final batch of games that I backed in 2012. Your list, if you backed anything, may have shared a few titles or even looked completely different, but this one is mine and I like to think it’s a fair cross-section to make a judgement from.

Chapter 4: Closing Out the Year

Timber and Stone- This cute little voxel based, random world city builder took a while to get moving, but once people noticed it donations started pouring in. You send your little voxel guys out into the untamed voxel world to explore and harvest resources, then build freeform cities and buildings to suit your personal style. Timber and Stone’s dual nature focuses equally on strategy and resource harvesting, to the extent that it looks like it’s going to be hard to tell where one begins and the other leaves off. You can’t just leave your farm undefended, after all. Since the Kickstarter’s completion, the beta came out to those backing at that level and the game’s web site is regularly updated with a steady stream of details on what’s in each new release. It’s honestly exciting to see Timber and Stone come together, and I’m really looking forward to the late March/early April release date.

MaK- This nifty-looking oddity will take the tiny planetoid worlds of Mario Galaxy and mix in a heavy dose of creativity, although not on the Minecraft scale. The worlds have a variety of building blocks scattered around, with different kinds having different properties. One type of block may rise into the air, while another can give constant thrust when activated. Combine them in any way you like and, with your character’s tether, either latch on or send a jolt of electricity to activate whatever devices you construct. It looked like a lot of fun, especially multiplayer, but sadly MaK only made about 10% of its goal. The developer has been very quiet since then, but has gotten the game successfully through the Greenlight process. Hopefully this means that, someday, MaK will see the light of day.

MaK_BombingRun

Distance- From the people who brought you the excellent (and free) Nitronic Rush comes Distance, a thematic sequel to their futuristic stunt racer. You’ve got a car that can jump, flip, pop out glider wings, and stick to just about any surface the racetrack has to offer. It’s basically a neon version of Rush 2049, and there’s no way to resist that kind racing lineage. The development team has a tendency to be quiet for weeks at a pop before unleashing massive wall-o’-text infodumps, such as the Christmas one that also featured a video of the car being dynamically (and awesomely) sliced into pieces by a laser.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted- FPS run-away game where you’re a human being hunted for sport by oh-so-British robots across a procedurally-generated landscape. Man may be The Most Dangerous Game, but that won’t be enough when chased by a pack of robot huntsmen out for a rousing holiday in the countryside. This Kickstarter had a bit of an advantage in that it involved one of the writers of the ever-excellent Rock, Paper, Shotgun, which probably helped a bit in attaining all stretch goals except for the final one. It also looks like a load of fun, with a unique concept and charming style, so that didn’t hurt either. After the campaign’s conclusion the developer, Big Robot, went a bit quiet, but it was also the holidays so that was to be expected. Since then there have been a couple of decent updates both on their home page and on Kickstarter, and things look like they’re coming along nicely.

Tiny Barbarian DX- This project was to remake the freeware Tiny Barbarian game into something bigger and bolder. The original was a cute and violent action platformer about a Conan-style barbarian tearing through hordes of pixelated enemies. The update plans to expand everything including the barbarian, who’s a whole pixel taller than he used to be and far better animated to boot. He’s also got a new combo system and a pile of moves to eviscerate all who stand in his way. Current plans call for the game to be released in 4 chapters, with Chapter 1 coming along any day now. I’m looking forward to having more to say about this in a week or two, hopefully.

Girl Genius and the Rats of Mechanicsburg- I don’t really have much to say about this one other than that I’m a total Phil Foglio fanboy, so this pulled $4 from me the second the game reached its stretch goal of coming out on PC. Apparently it’s some kind of puzzle game involving Krosp, the Emperor of All Cats, fending off an invasion of clockwork rats. It’s Girl Genius and therefore has my money, and that’s as complicated as it gets.

Elite Dangerous- This was one of the two big British Kickstarters of the year, going live when the UK was allowed to join in without having to go through a US proxy. Elite was the first go anywhere, do anything space game, and despite the genre’s solid fan-base it was impossible to get a modern-day sequel funded. Contract work is easy, but pursuing the dream is hard unless you can persuade 25,681 fans to contribute nearly $2.5 million to the cause. Yes, that averages out to roughly $95 apiece, which should go to show that Elite has a very determined fan base. Most of the freeform space games get by with the budget they can manage, but the promise of Elite Dangerous was to focus the resources of near-AAA development on the genre. Throughout the campaign there were tons of updates talking about planned features, plus videos showcasing the work in progress, and now that it’s over things have only settled down a little. The current plan seems to be keeping the community involved as much as possible, with the latest initiative having backers reserve their in-game commander name and get the forum running.

Project Godus- Peter Molyneux ran the second of the big UK Kickstarters, promising an update to Populous rendered in a lively, blocky style. The fun thing about this project was a good number of video updates showing off the development process in a “warts and all” format, trying to beat a prototype into shape while simultaneously persuading people that, yes, this is a thing they want to throw money at based on the promise that, we swear, it’s going to be wonderful. It was a near thing but in the end it blew past the goal and even snagged a few stretch goals to boot. There’s not a lot to say about the game other than, if you liked Populous, it’s at least worth a look, but the development diaries have been a lot of fun and a lovely bonus. It’s only been a six weeks since the Kickstarter’s conclusion, so it’s way too early for the beta to have been sent out yet, but backer forums are live and the reward of getting a picture posted to the Curiosity cube has been completed.

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Skyjacker: Starship Constructor- They’re back! Skyjacker refused to die after its two attempts at Kickstarter funding failed, and now they’re trying to put the game together in a piecemeal fashion. The primary purpose of this campaign was to fund the creation of a ship editor, allowing you to tear apart the in-game models to see how they tick, and even fly them around some asteroids for a bit of target practice. There were some nice stretch goals too, but this was one of those projects that just barely made it past the finish line so, sadly, they go unrealized. Still, this counted as a success for a game that, from my perspective, absolutely deserved it. Since campaign completion Digitulus has been chatty in the backer forum rather than make official updates, and work is proceeding apace.

Radio the Universe- This cute little SNES-style action game came out of nowhere and got a good amount of attention thanks to a video that showed nothing but fantastic 16-bit gameplay. Radio the Universe is a dark science fiction Zelda, designed to be challenging and strange. Game development is a one-man show, and judging by the updates I think he’s a bit taken aback by the project’s popularity. Or maybe he’s really pleased but really quiet. It’s hard to say, but hopefully the resulting game will be as wonderful, weird, and challenging as it looks like it could be.

Epilogue: Into the new year!

And that was 2012, although technically the last few had the bulk of their funding in 2013, but they started in 2012 and that’s the important thing. 2013 is off to a great start, however, so here’s a shorter look at what I’ve found interesting so far.

Homesick- First person puzzle game set in a desolate, sunny house. Grass and flowers grow through the house’s ruins, and sunlight is everywhere. Except for the nightmares, where darkness oozes from the ceiling and walls, chasing you down corridors for reasons as yet unexplained. It looks utterly lovely and atmospheric, and I love the way it switches tone between the peaceful, sun-drenched daytime and the invading nightmare darkness. There’s very little time left on the clock and it’s just cleared the final stretch goal of a prequel game.

Cyberstream Fugitive- Neat little endless runner. It’s fast, neon-drenched, and cheap, and that’s a combination I can’t possibly resist. Unfortunately, after sitting in the 25% range for two weeks, the developer pulled the plug. It’s available on his web site in alpha form for $20, or the final version pre-ordered for $6. That’s the first project I’ve backed that got canceled.

Roam- Third-person zombie survival game that’s as much about building a safe place to live as it is scavenging the ruins for supplies. The plan is for a rich single or multiplayer experience in a procedurally-generated world, allowing you to play whatever role you feel like. Gather up some NPCs and create a highly defensible compound? Explore the world? Pillage your way across land, killing the living and dead alike? It’s your choice, and judging by the goal that’s almost doubled at the time of this writing, it’s the choice of a lot of other people too.

Golem- I wrote about this one last week and it still looks fantastic. You’re a golem in historic Prague, learning to use your power to carry out tasks both big and small. The art design is wonderful but, other than a fantastic idea, there’s not enough to show off yet. I’d love to see the developer cancel the Kickstarter and try again in a month or two, when they’ve got more than low-framerate, low polygon greyscale animation to show off. This deserves to get made but the gameplay on display is nowhere near enough to earn it’s huge funding goal.

Golem

Project Awakened- This is a game with history. When Midway closed its doors, one of the titles in the pipeline was Project Hero. The premise was you could choose from a giant list of superpowers, customize your character, and use your creation to tackle the game’s missions any way you could think of. The advantage of waiting 4 years between Midway’s death and now is that the developer, Phosphor Games, has been spending a lot of time working on Unreal Engine 4, and they’ll be putting that to use making this look awfully pretty indeed. Funding is moving along at a decent rate, and so far it’s looking good for Project Awakened’s Kickstarter to finally allow the completion of the last Midway title.

Delver’s Drop- 2D action RPG with Rogue-like elements (perma-death, randomly generated rooms) and a heavy 8/16-bit Zelda influence. Plus they showed Adventures of Lolo in the pitch video, which instantly gets on my good side. The animation and character design look great, and the rooms shown in the pitch video seem to have a nice blend of puzzle and action.

Conclusion, Kickstarter Report Card Part 4:

For this batch of games, the number completed is, understandably, zero. It’s the end of the year and nobody, no matter how good their intentions or ninja-sharp their coding skills, releases a game in that little time. 1 game has a beta, 1 game failed, and the other 8 have nothing to show quite yet. However!

Conclusion, The Entire Kickstarter Report Card Series:

It’s been a month since this series started, and since then a few things have changed. Valdis Story released a great demo, Wasteland 2 posted the first gameplay video, and Retrovirus got a full release on Steam. So final numbers based on my personal cross section of backing far too many games comes in as such, with all numbers being specifically from the 2012 crop-

Total- 41

Games released in full to backers- 5
Beta, demo, or partial fulfillment- 10
Failed- 4
Nothing yet- 22

For the moment, those are good numbers, but as time goes on and release dates inevitably pass it’s all going to rely on developer communication to keep backers happy. Volgarr the Viking just announced that the release was slipping to March/April, depending on the results of a publishing arrangement they’re working on. They also announced the other part of the delay was due to implementing the stretch goal, despite the funding coming nowhere near making it, so that more than justified the wait. Castle Story released an update letting beta backers know that, despite the game still being in an early prototype phase, they’d be getting access mid-March, just because it’s taking much longer than expected.

The point is that Kickstarter (and Indiegogo or any other crowdfunding site) as a games funding platform isn’t going to succeed or fail due to the web site itself, but rather is dependent on the developers and their ability to communicate and deliver on their vision. Obviously it’s a two-way street, as the Kaiju Combat Kickstarter experienced when two $10,000 pledges disappeared just as it finally crested 100%, 5 days before completion. The removal of the publisher wall between developer and fan means that we both have to deal with each other, without a bland PR rep acting as a buffer while pretending that everything is awesome, all the time.

What I’ve found, with the games I’ve backed, is that most developers seem to be enjoying the opportunity to interact more directly with the people who want to love their work. Forums and internet communities are being built, beta access is given to even the “game only” reward tiers (after those who backed at the Beta level have had an exclusive crack at it first, of course), and direct feedback about what works and what doesn’t is being efficiently integrated. This isn’t true of all of them, of course, but it’s becoming a common thread through a decent percentage of projects.

Final Verdict

So long as interesting and creative projects keep appearing, posted by creators willing to take the time to tend the campaign while it runs and keep listening after they’ve gotten their money, and the backers understand that game creation generally takes far longer than anyone ever expects, and the final product pleases a reasonable percentage of backers when delivered, then Kickstarter and the other crowdfunding sites are going to have a huge, fantastically positive effect on gaming for years to come.