Thursday, September 19, 2013

Return to the Mysterious Cities of Gold



Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by executive producer Fleur Marty and by communication wizard Pascal Clarysse who have reached back into the past to bring out a great “trans-generational” title to Kickstarter: The Mysterious Cities of Gold - The Video Game.  Thank you Fleur, Pascal and the rest of Ynnis Interactive for not only joining us today but for bringing this project to all of us English speaking fans.  


Fleur Marty : Hey there :) Thanks for having us!


Pascal Clarysse: Thanks for your kind words. It’s our pleasure really.


I guess I’m revealing my age with this question, but I totally remember the original US release of The Mysterious Cities of Gold on Nickelodeon.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized it wasn’t a US production.  Can you tell us a bit about The Mysterious Cities of Gold both the TV show and now your game?  


FM : Well, originally, The Mysterious Cities of Gold was a French-Japanese animated series born in 1983.


PC: It will turn 30 years old this month actually! We’re having a party about that in Paris on the 30th.


FM: It told the story of three children (Esteban, Tao and Zia), and their quest to find one of the seven cities of gold, in the 16th century South America. They traveled with a Spanish navigator named Mendoza, flying the Golden Condor, a solar powered mechanical bird, and uncovering many mysteries. The show was hugely popular in France, where it left a mark on a whole generation of children. Besides France and Japan, It was also broadcast in other European countries, as well as in the US, Australia, and, as we discovered thanks to our Kickstarter, in the Middle East.

In the past few years, French fans have made a lot of noise, asking for a rebirth of the show through Facebook. They were finally heard and a new season has been produced by the French studio Blue Spirit Productions who worked with one of the creators of the first season: Jean Chalopin. The events of this new season take place immediately after those of the first one. This time, the children are travelling to China, searching for the second city of gold.

When Cedric Littardi, head of Ynnis Interactive, heard about the second season being in production, it felt obvious to him that a game should be made. He managed to acquire the licensing rights and then came to me and very casually said: “I have bought the rights to adapt The Mysterious Cities of Gold into a video game. Do you think it’s something you’d wanna work on?” I almost fell from my chair! As every 30-something who has grown up in France, I am a huge fan of the series, and getting to work on a project like that was incredibly exciting. So I started working on a game concept with the French indie developer Neko Entertainment, we presented it to Cedric, he liked it and gave his go. And.. voilà !

Why has it taken all these decades and generations for anything new to be made with this property?  


FM : I don’t know every detail of this particular story. What I know is that the ownership of the rights on the series was a very complicated matter. Jean Chalopin said it took him 15 years of legal battle to finally be able to acquire the rights back to his name, from several distinct stakeholders, one of which was already deceased. He also says the support he received from the French fans turned out to be key in this battle.


The game is planned on iOS, Nintendo Wii U and 3DS, and PC?  That’s an odd assortment of platforms how did that happen?


FM : Well, it can seem odd but, when you really think about it, it isn’t. We are making a game which follows the spirit of the series : it’s a children cartoon but the new season is also watched by those nostalgic adults who used to be fans of the first season, back in the 1980s. So it’s all about family entertainment, transgenerational content. And when you think about family oriented gaming platforms, what comes to mind? Nintendo of course! And, more recently, the iPad, which every child these days knows how to use before they even learn how to read.
What we didn’t see coming was the demand for the game to be ported on PC. This came from fans of the series, when news got out that we were working on the game. And that’s partly the reason why we launched the Kickstarter.
The natural follow-up to that has to be, why not more platforms?  The Sony PS4 and Vita are both supposed to be indie friendly.  Android is probably another logical choice as the biggest mobile OS.  Finally OSX is right there for all the Apple computer owners.  Is the engine you’re building the game on not up to all the porting or is it just added work you don’t want to take on at the moment?  


FM: PS4 and Vita are indeed indie friendly platforms but, as our development budget was quite tight from the beginning, we had to ask ourselves the question : which platforms are the most family entertainment friendly, as established above. We feel that Sony consoles are more core gamers oriented and that’s why we didn’t put them in our initial choice of platforms.
Android is a huge market but it’s known to work not that well for premium games. Had we conceived a freemium game, with monetization mechanics, it would have been a different story.
The OSX port is something we are considering right now, next to the Linux port. As of this moment, we have received more requests from our community of backers for Linux than for OSX, but we’ll see how things go in the next few days.
For all of these, it’s really a matter of time and budget. If things continue to go well with the Kickstarter and if the game is a success, we would love to add more platforms.


PC: Another aspect of Android that makes it more complicated to support than iOS right is fragmentation of devices. Deep down, this is a core reason why there are still so many games not shipping on both mobile platforms day-1, despite the growing success of Google Play or the Amazon Store. It’s not that developers prefer Apple or iOS, it’s just that is technically easier to support. And by that I maybe mean cheaper ;-)


You’re trying to stay faithful to the original artwork, music, and even excerpts of the show, yet it has been over 30 years since the show was created where are you getting the source material?  How do you improve the fidelity from old standard definition materials to today’s HD audience?  


FM: I think there’s been a small misunderstanding here :)


The game we are doing isn’t based on the 1980s series, it’s based on the second season, which has already started airing in France and is coming to other territories later this year and in 2014. That is what allowed us to work very closely with the team producing the series and work from their assets to create the game’s graphics and musics.

As a vast majority of the team members are huge fans of the original series, we would love to be able to work on a game based on the first season. But there comes the legal stuff again, and we lacked the budget to fight such a battle right now. But one thing is certain: if the game is a success, Cedric Littardi will do everything in his powers to make a game based on the first season happen.


PC: Cédric, after all, grew up with the first season as a child as well. The fact he is a fan is the main drive for him acquiring the rights in the first place.


A puzzle solving game seems like the perfect fit for the series.  Was there any discussion of doing a straight adventure game or so other style of game?  


FM: Of course there was :) Honestly, I would have loved to make a full on RPG, because the series have everything you need for that: Deep characters with very marked personality and personal stories, lots of different villains, a well written story line.. But, on a budget and timing point of view, it was totally unrealistic to even consider it seriously.
I’m personally very happy with the game we made, I think it’s fun to play and faithful to the series, which were our two main goals.


One of my biggest bugaboos when it comes to Kickstarter projects are Budget Breakdowns.  These show some of the planning and details the creator’s have put into the project before coming to Kickstarter and are a great asset to point to show the professionalism of the creators involved.  Your project doesn’t have a Budget Breakdown, why is that?  


PC: You have to consider the fact that our Kickstarter campaign is not about making the full game. It has been solely focused on ports to additional platforms and localization to extra languages. The 30.000$ we asked initially was quite simply for two things: porting to PC and dubbing to English, while subtitling to Spanish. There’s nothing else hidden really and as you can see, it’s very quick and effortless to detail. Now that we have moved into stretch goals, we have disclosed in our updates what was the cost of every additional language we support, and what it would take to port to Linux and MAC if we got to that part. The Kickstarter campaigns with very detailed budget breakdowns tend to be bigger projects in scope, size and funding expectations. Or to put it another way, they are further away from finish-line than we were when we came in.


How did you discover Kickstarter?


PC: Video game industry insiders tend to be naturally attracted to all things technology. So we kind of heard of Kickstarter in early days. It really caught our attention with the big successes of indies like Double Fine or Ryan Payton’s Republique. But what attracted us to it eventually is the fact that it has really matured into a platform that feels now viable on the long run, and not just for superstars. There’s room for niche projects within the beast these days and for small humble people like us, that is truly the greatest aspect of Kickstarter.


A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?


PC: What you bring up is something we have absolutely observed indeed. We really have to thank our backers not only for their pledges but also for their continuous support spreading the word on Facebook. Going forward, we have a couple of surprises for them up our sleeves… Keyword in that sentence being “surprise” ;-)


Tease! What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  


PC: When looking at the stats so far, the biggest drivers of pledges are: 1) Kickstarter organic traffic, 2) Facebook, 3) PR efforts. Facebook has driven 10 times more pledges than Twitter for us. For sake of full disclosure, we do fuel the Facebook fire with promoted ads, but even without that bump, the delta would still be 5 to 1. Then whenever we are granted coverage by big media outlets, you can see a spike in the curve. Articles on io9, RockPaperShotgun, NintendoLife, JeuxVideo.com or Crunchyroll clearly had a big individual impact. And as for Kickstarter organic traffic, it is somewhat a consequence of the above. If your curve moves well forward in the early days thanks to your own efforts, and if press covers you, then suddenly Kickstarter picks you up and puts you in a highly valuable real-estate slot for a weekend, and boy you are very thankful for that when you see the effect! Also, the more backers you have, the more you get backers finding you on their profile, and that also fuels the organic growth (we can clearly see that trend in our stats too).


Yes, we do check Kicktraq every now and then.


Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?


PC: Spend a lot of time on planning. Be realistic during that planning phase. Verify, double-check, calculate everything precisely. Talk to a lot of people who have been involved in Kickstarter before you, and listen to their experiences and advice carefully (oh, and while on this: you want to listen both about the successes and failures to be fully knowledgeable on this subject matter). Read the Crowdfunding Bible written by Scott Steinberg and Rusel De Maria. Spend a lot of time on Kickstarter and learn how it works in practice. Spend a bit of money on backing projects you like, to see how the journey feels from that perspective. Be prepared to be very focused on the campaign from first minute till last day cause it will definitely be a rollercoaster ride. This is a relentless effort. Once you start, your life kind of revolves around it until the referee blows the final whistle of the game. Hence the necessary planning: you better be ready. Lastly, be very open and transparent in your communication with backers: these are your fans, your customers and now also your investors. Everything they say must be heard with an open mind and treated with the utmost respect and care.


Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?


FM: Well, I just want to thank all of them for taking the time to read this and, for those of them who will become backers (or already are), you have no idea how much this means to us. I really hope they will enjoy playing the game as much as we enjoyed making it!


PC: Thanks to you and your readers for sparing a bit of time on us! Like Fleur said it, it does matter a great deal.


Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!