Friday 19 October 2012

It's the age-old struggle: the roar of the crowd on the one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other

So Project Eternity has finished its Kickstarter campaign with $3,986,929 (plus a bit more via PayPal to take it past four million total). A spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale was never going to be a particularly tough sell (the most difficult part was probably not getting buried under an avalanche of cash) (well, that and living up to expectations set by some of the most beloved PC games of all time, but that’s still to come), but hitting the original $1.1m target in just over a day was still pretty impressive.

It’s not just Kickstarter that’s racking up money outside the conventional “buy a finished boxed game for $60” model, Mechwarrior Online has raised $5 million through its Founder’s Program, a sort of pre-sale as it goes into open beta, and Chris “Wing Commander” Roberts is seeking funding through a variety of routes for Star Citizen. Gamasutra had an interview with Funcom’s Craig Morrison, touching on the problem of MMO launches in the current landscape,

And I think we need to get people out of that mindset, so that a game can start at like 100,000, or an indie game could start at 10,000. Because a studio game is going to want to have a decent place to start with, and wherever that level may be. But that a game can start, as long as it’s cost effective, as long as you budgeted your project to be in that ballpark and you know from the beginning, “Okay, we’ve set our budget, we’re aiming for 100,000 at the start.”

And then we need the gamers to not react with, “Oh, well. That’s a worthless game then, because it’s not going to have a million users.” We need the users to be, “Oh cool, this game appeals to me in my niche and my interests, and I want to see this game succeed, so I’m going to support it.”

And then if the game takes off and grows, then you can get that kind of organic growth.

Perhaps a funding model like Star Citizen can help with that, getting people (and their money) involved early, building the player base and game together, rather than hyping the arse out of a game while developing it in the desperate hope of making the money back before everyone buggers off. The traditional model can still work in a lot of areas, but with development times getting longer and costs getting higher the big companies tend to focus on the safe money, ever increasing sequels in a limited number of genres; not exclusively, this week’s UK charts have a new IP in Dishonoured at number two, and XCom at number seven reviving tactical combat, but they’re sitting amongst Just Dance 4, Resident Evil 6, Fifa 13. Sequels aren’t a bad thing per se, Borderlands 2 and The Elder Scrolls V are also in the Top 10, but variety is the spice of life.

Crowdfunding isn’t immune from the problem, though; as John Walker pointed out, the big success stories are rooted in nostalgia, the people and/or IPs behind Planescape: Torment, Wing Commander, Mechwarrior. Not that nostalgia is a magic wand, SHAKER, an old school RPG with impeccable pedigree, doesn’t seem to have caught the imagination like Project Eternity, and doesn’t look like it’s going to hit its million dollar target. Ironically, while crowdfunding may be a way of attaining more organic growth in a game’s player base, you need to get a good start in Kickstarter; the SHAKER project was originally titled “An Old School RPG” and didn’t have a whole lot of detail, perhaps dissipating the initial excitement needed to build up the head of pledge-gathering steam that powers further coverage.

I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen an MMO Kickstarter from big names, along the lines of Wasteland 2 or Double Fine Adventure. I’m sure we’ll see some come along, perhaps on other platforms or with different funding mechanisms, but for now a quick Kickstarter search for “MMO” doesn’t turn up very much. There’s Eric Heimburg’s intriguing Project Gorgon that sadly that isn’t even halfway to its target yet, and a few other (over)ambitious looking projects trying to invoke Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot and the like that have secured even less. Come on, though, people, how can A FITNESS RPG have only hit $11 so far? “Finally, a deep-space survival MMO game to incentify fitness. Level, Earn and Battle.” That’s got to be worth a $10,000 pledge.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Wot I'm Playing: Roundup

It’s a busy old gaming time at the moment. MMO-wise, I’m still on holiday; I’ve popped in to City of Heroes a couple of times since they announced it was to close, though I feel I ought to give it a proper good-bye, maybe one last run of the Positron Task Force or something. Guild Wars 2 is patched up, just in case the mood strikes, but it’s been Skyrim fulfilling my recommended daily allowance of fantasy questing.

There’s something of a tension, though, between my general meandering around the world, resulting in an overflowing quest log full of all sorts of interesting sounding things to investigate, and my slightly completist/OCD side trying to get everything ticked off. Even when absolutely determined to finish existing tasks before acquiring any more, it’s hard to avoid picking up a couple of new quests for every three you finish. Like both Morrowind and Oblivion before I’ve reached a sort of mid-point where there’s an awful lot I’d like to do still, but there isn’t a single thread that’s really got me hooked to yank me through, so it’s easy to get distracted by other things. Like Borderlands 2.

Borderlands 2 is a worthy sequel to the loot-spewing RPG/shooter of MOAR DAKKA original. As an operant conditioning chamber it’s incredibly effective, I almost subconsciously now run up to anything with a green light on it and hit the ‘open’ button, useful in the game for racking up stacks of cash, ammunition, eridium and gear, but quite hazardous when crossing the road at traffic lights. Crammed with pop culture references, I particularly enjoyed a three-way stand-off in a graveyard as part of “The Good, The Bad and The Mordecai” (no prizes for guessing which classic Leone film it references) (“Duck, You Sucker!”, obviously); it worked especially well to the sound of Short Change Hero by The Heavy, the song used in the introduction of the game, a gloriously Morricone-influenced piece that I went and bought and have had stuck in my head for the past couple of weeks.

Away from frantic gunslinging action, I’ve also been popping back in to a bit of Minecraft. I’ve seen bits and pieces about updates and improvements over the past year or so and keep meaning to check them out, but had never quite got around to it until Shuttler started talking about multiplayer servers, so I hopped on for a quick look around. Then, y’know, you have to have a quick dig, so grabbed a bit of wood, made a pickaxe… and then it started getting dark, so obviously you need to build a quick house, and pop a chest in it for storing things, and then a second level, digging down for coal, perhaps a quick mezzanine, oh and a wheat field of course, and then once you’ve got the wheat you might as well grab a few animals to start a farm, and… well, it’s like Yellow Car. Just as you never stop playing Yellow Car, you never stop playing Minecraft, it just happens that sometimes you’re not logged in to it.

With similar longevity World of Tanks has been kicking around for the best part of a couple of years, and I still hop in for a spot of armoured combat now and again. There was a big update, version 8.0, a few weeks back, overhauling the graphics and physics within the game; previously steep slopes had a sort of invisible wall that stopped you crashing over them, now you have to be a bit careful around cliffs. Not just at the top either, from force of habit on one map I was hunkered down at the bottom of a cliff, where previously I would’ve been out of the firing arc of anyone above, and got a rude surprise when an opponent plummeted down in a death-dive… I’ve got a few favourite tanks in tiers II, V and VIII that I mostly play, no real goals progression-wise for the moment, I might pick it up a bit more seriously when British tanks arrive in version 8.1.

In the meantime there’s another multiplayer update to Mass Effect 3, Retaliation, that’s just come out. It’s a pretty major overhaul, adding a whole new enemy faction in The Collectors, a Challenge system of some sort and Hazard maps with additional dangers, alongside the usual new classes and weapons. I’ve been firing up ME3 for the fortnightly “Operations” that set challenges with commendation pack rewards that offer you the chance to unlock Yet Another Rank Of The Sodding N7 Eagle Pistol. Some of the challenges (“Achieve full extraction in a mission in under 15 minutes”) are absolutely fine; others (“Achieve full extraction in a mission with all four players as the same non-human race”) are much trickier. Not so much in execution, but the matchmaker has no way to specify that you’re trying to complete these challenges, so forming a compliant team in the first place can be terribly frustrating.

I’ll probably be playing Retaliation for a couple of days as thanks to slightly irritating staggered launch dates we don’t get XCOM and Dishonoured until Friday in the UK. Though Dishonoured looks deeply splendid in a Steampunk-ThiefDeus Ex-ish sort of way, with all the other games around at the moment I decided I’d only pick up one of the two big new games at launch, and the pre-order offers swung it. Dishonoured has (roughly) 904 different pre-order variants at different retailers offering slightly different perks, items and what-not; XCOM has, as far as I can make out, the same Elite Soldier Pack pre-order bonus everywhere, apart from Steam, which thanks to a curious tiered pre-order reward system also chucks in some TF2 bits, and a copy of Civilisation 5. As, shockingly, I don’t have Civ5 (absolutely loved the first game, back in the day, but just haven’t got around to any of the sequels), I figured I might as well go for that offer, making something of a mockery of the whole “too many games” business, but never mind. I’ve managed about four turns of Civ5 so far and really want to take a proper crack at it, should enough time somehow become available.

In readiness for XCOM I’ve been finishing off a run through Silent Storm: Sentinels, an excellent turn based tactical RPG in the mould of the original UFO: Enemy Unknown that recently became available on It’s good stuff even if, like in the original, things go slightly downhill with the appearance of Panzerkleins. I don’t think I’m ready for the Ironman mode of XCOM with no reloading, though, I’ve been saving quite a lot during missions. Mostly when using grenades. Confronted with a basement full of enemy troops, a grenade seemed like the perfect solution, but a slight error in trajectory resulted in the grenadier lobbing the Mills bomb into the head of his own comrade, from which it bounced off, then detonated, taking out the three members of my squad storming down the staircase, the staircase itself, and most of the hallway and kitchen floor above, resulting in two more of my squad ending up in the cellar rather sooner than planned, slap bang in the firing line of four rather cross Hammer soldiers. That’ll be a reload, then…

Friday 5 October 2012

I'm a Metastarter, Wicked Metastarter

Hey, you! Remember those games from when you were younger? They were brilliant, weren’t they? Especially that one, you know, the one that was totally your favourite and the best game ever, and you’d play it with your friends and times were simpler then and happier and the sun was brighter and the days lasted longer and everything was better not like these days I mean have you heard that modern music it’s all noises you can’t even hear the words and you wouldn’t dare go out on the streets after dark and you’re stuck in a dead end job and you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking racing around to come up behind you again the sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older shorter of breath and one day closer to death. If only games were like they used to be, everything would be better, but they don’t make games like that any more.

Or… do they? Through the power of Kickstarter a magic time tunnel has opened to the 1990s and every game you ever liked is getting a sequel, direct or spiritual, so KiaSA Productions are getting in on the act as well. Unfortunately we don’t have a solid pedigree of classic games to build on, so we’re launching a Kickstarter for Metastarter: The Nostalgia-Heavy Kickstarter RPG.

Create your party! Roll up a party of one to six game industry legends choosing from classes including Designer, Artist, Programmer, Composer, or advanced classes such as the Maverick Genius who receives a boost to the Add Innovative Features skill, but suffers a constant Wild Overpromise debuff.

Select your portfolio! Make deep tactical choices as you select the back catalogue of your team; did they produce a couple of mega-hits, or a long running series that was generally favourably received? Oddball cult favourites, or lots of mainstream sales but little longevity? With a limited number of Cachet Points you’ll have tough decisions to make.

Get Kickstarting! Once the team is assembled select a classic game genre that’s far less popular these days, and launch your Kickstarter! Set a target amount, create a promotional video, decide whether to include ‘A Secret Moonbase (on the actual moon) For All Players’ as a $2.4 billion Stretch Goal, and watch the money roll in!

Launching the Kickstarter campaign is just the beginning of Metastarter, though; fight for industry press coverage, try and create a buzz via social media, deal with trolls who still hold grudges over a patch that fixed an exploit on one of the team’s previous games in 1994, face the logistical issues of shipping the $417 reward level unique limited edition hand-drawn commemorative tea-towel and napkin set around the world, can you beat the $3,336,371 top score? Find out, in Metastarter: The Nostalgia-Heavy Kickstarter RPG, not coming soon to Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding platform!

Also be sure to look out for the sequel, Releasing A Kickstarted Game To Inevitable Disappointment As Nothing Can Possibly Live Up To The Idealised Perfection Fans Have Had In Their Heads For The Last Ten Years, due in 12-18 months!