Monday, October 28, 2013

Are you brave enough to enter ASYLUM 33D?


Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! Today I am joined by Zen Davis who is here to talk about his first Kickstarter project ASYLUM 33D.  Thank you for joining us today Zen.


Hello James. How’s your day?
My name is Zen and I’m a writer attempting to self-publish his first novel, “Asylum 33D”, through Kickstarter. I recently graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Political Science and am preparing to take the LSAT later this year. I’ve worked in the past on “EvoCreo”, a monster hunting game also funded on Kickstarter, and am helping part time with another couple of games projects slated for Kickstarter.


It’s a pleasure to meet you and your community.


We’re glad you joined us.  ASYLUM 33D is definitely something I’d normally not check out as someone who is not a fan of the genre, so thank you for reaching out to start this conversation. Could you tell us about the project?


Of course!


Asylum 33D is a horror novel that tells the legend of a twenty story underground insane asylum where thirty three inmates perished and now haunt the grounds as ghosts. Ethan is convinced by his younger brother, Corey, to visit the asylum, only to find himself attacked by an unseen entity. He wakes up on the lowest floor of the facility and must climb back up to the entrance before his batteries die, saving the others as he finds them, and dodging the insane and violent ghosts that still haunt Asylum 33D.
The story is setup like a horror version of Bruce Lee's "Game of Death", where each new floor the teenagers climb presents more terrifying and dangerous ghosts than the floor before it. The entrance to each new floor will be preceded by the history of the ghost(s) haunting that floor, and the mental illnesses' they suffered from when they were alive. The mental illnesses will then correlate back with the actions of the ghosts, and tie everything together.
The thing that really drew me to the story of “Asylum 33D” was this idea of playing with new depictions of what makes a ghost a ghost. I’m also really quite excited by the different interpretation of how illnesses like schizophrenia can manifest themselves in supernatural entities. I don’t know of anything that approached ghosts from such an angle and I became really quite enthusiastic to explore all the possibilities.
I’m curious. What about the genre holds you back you from being a fan?


Just not a fan of being scared in general, I’m perfectly fine with the normal horrors of reality. You seem to have high hopes for Asylum not only as a novel, but as a whole range of products, would you explain your plan and follow up projects?


I knew from the start that I wanted to present “Asylum 33D” as a part of a larger vision. As a creator, that was very important to me. I believe the concept of “Asylum 33D” can work as a novel, a graphic novel, or a video game. But for a backer, when an author says, ‘We’re going to have an art book, and then a graphic novel, followed by a videogame”, it makes it really easy to call bullshit. I needed a plan.
I knew I could write. But for me to have any credibility beyond that, I needed people involved in “Asylum 33D” who could prove that the concept would shine no matter what the creative light it was presented in. As an example, the clown you see above; I’m under no illusion that it’s probably responsible for 85% of all funding we’ve received thus far. And that’s no accident.
I spoke with nearly one hundred artists before deciding on Nicolas Chapuis to create the Clown Ghost. The end result isn’t just a cool monster that helps sell the novel though, but a proof of concept that makes the promise of an awesome art book, or graphic novel, much more believable. The same is true for every other stretch goal. We have a crew of top-notch talent throwing their name into the ring to bring “Asylum 33D” to life in a variety of different ways.  Nicolas, in particular, is an absolute diamond. I’m surprised he isn’t a bigger name.
The plan has always been to complete the novel first. That will be our bible going forward. Every progressive project: the art book, graphic novel, and visual novel – will not only build off the novel but build towards the videogame. A videogame is a huge endeavor requiring a lot of financial capital. However, by monetizing each step of the production cycle: the story becoming a novel, the concept art becoming a graphic and visual novel – we would be able become a self-reliant team sooner rather than later. This self-reliance will allow us to generate additional capital to invest in things like artificial intelligence, online multiplayer, and additional development time to emphasize our scares and make the best possible game we can without having to sacrifice anything.  


Well we certainly can’t accuse you of thinking small! What is it about Asylum 33D that you think is compelling enough to warrant the various media formats?  


This is something we’ve certainly thought about.


The truth is that today’s story lovers all have their own preferred way of engaging a tale. Some like novels. Some like graphic novels. And some like interactive entertainment. People who play games may not read. People who read may not play games. It’s important to us that we give everyone a choice in how they experience “Asylum 33D”.
Telltale Games in particular has been a great inspiration in showing us how one can take a story from one medium to another and really make it work. Games like “The Walking Dead”, “Back to the Future”, and the recently released “The Wolf Among Us” are among some my favorites and really prove that if the talent is there, it can be done.
But your question specifically refers to what about the Asylum 33D warrants the various media formats. Personally, the different ways in which we portray the ghosts, the interactions of the characters, and the various set pieces I’ve devised are all compelling reasons to warrant various media formats.  There are ghosts that people are going to want to see visualized, characters people will fall in love with, and locales that will make people shudder.
Another more practical reason that warrants the various media formats is that the horror aspect of “Asylum 33D” will work differently depending on which medium you visit story you through. For example, you can’t use a jump scare in a novel.
As someone with friends with mental illness and having recently read reports about Asylum Jam your project seems to be a bit, “old school” in theme.  Was that on purpose or do you think there’s still mileage left in the old tropes?


I’m approaching Asylum 33D less like an asylum and more like a haunted house. I think if you think about it that way, it may become easier to see my angle on the story. There is also a slight element of fantasy involved since an underground asylum of this type probably doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.


One aspect of the narrative focuses not only on mental illness, but on how certain individuals back then were suggested to be crazy for the simple reason of not fitting societal norms. Alice Paul, a suffragist, is just one such example. Upon going on a hunger strike for being being denied the right to vote, Paul was thrown into a psychiatric ward and force fed raw eggs.

In my asylum, there would have plenty of such characters improperly committed, whether for being gay, black, or having different political beliefs. This balance of injustice and tragic care for the mentally ill is something I intend to touch on, and I can assure you right now that not a single ghost will be appear as an inmate in a straight jacket. I hope to showcase more creativity than that.


As for specific creature designs and behaviors, I’m very sensitive to accusations of “Been there, done that”, and have done my best to create fresh characters, ghosts, and sequences. A roster of thirty-three ghosts gives us a lot of room to play with and I want to explore every nook and cranny of this subgenre, as I believe this is the only ghost story I intend to tell.


The project page mentions that this is the culmination of 20 years of work which brings up the question, how much of this project is currently done?  What needs to get done once the funding goes through?  


I think you misunderstood. I’ve been dreaming for years about what it would be like to stuck in the most haunted place in the world. That’s what I referred to when I said “twenty years of dreams, nightmares, and boyhood fears”.


I finished the novel earlier this summer and will be going through it a second time with backers. I will sending updates every two weeks in a serial format, and taking feedback from them on things I can improve. Once this feedback period is over, I would print the novels and send backers their copies. I will also be incorporating the backstories for backers who choose the reward to be a ghost in Asylum 33D.


One of my big bugaboos about Kickstarter projects is budget breakdowns.  These simple business tools help creators show potential backers that they have a plan for the funds.  You mention briefly that the funds will pay for a limited print run, ISBN, and the Kickstarter fees, but there’s no mention of paying for any of the other physical rewards (prints, wall scrolls, etc) or art work.  Are the art assets already paid for and in hand?  Are your upper tier rewards just self-sufficient when it comes to reward costs?  Do you not plan on having any extra copies beyond the few review copies as “stock on hand?”  


Each reward includes the cost of the reward. I took special care to make sure that  everything was priced appropriately. I didn’t want an embarrassing situation to arise where I couldn’t provide a backer with the reward they chose, or fulfill the stretch goals I promised.


Art assets for the posters, wall scrolls would be completed after the Kickstarter. One of our rewards is to appear as a ghost in the book as well as on promotional material. Posters would be drawn based upon the likeness of these backers.


I will keep three copies of the book. One for myself. One for my mother. One for my father. Extra copies might be created, but I’m mostly planning for eBooks to act as the bulk of our sales so that we can continue financing the video game without too much overhead.


How did you discover Kickstarter?


I honestly don’t remember. It was probably during the Ouya craze a while back. It’s kind of always been on the radar since then.
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?


I like to have a project speak for itself. If a person likes it, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t. I’ve contacted a number of horror sites, blogs, and posted content on social media sites like Reddit. I’ve also contacted my Facebook friends who have done a tremendous job in help us get this far.


In regards to engaging my backers, I try to post substantive updates on a semi-daily basis. Content matters! I’m adding character biographies to the updates and will soon post the first chapter of the novel for free. I’m also adding the work that level designers on the project are doing as well so that backers have an easier time seeing the long term vision of Asylum 33D.


I’ll probably add a few more videos going into the last weeks of the campaign as well but my personal approach is that the project matters more than I do.


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?  


We’ve been featured on Ain’t It Cool, Geekscape, Bloody-Disgusting, and a few other smaller sites. My friends and I are posting  new content and character designs on Reddit and other sites in hopes of getting the word out. We also post regularly on Twitter in the hopes that our messages will get retweeted. We’ve also videos from our level design tests on YouTube as well. Will probably use Sketchfab to showcase our 3D models soon too.


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


Line up the media figures you intend to contact ahead of them. Preview the project with them and see if they will be willing to give you feedback. Prep your friends and family to back the project as soon as it goes live so that it reaches the top listings. Also price your rewards accordingly.


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


I hope I answered all the questions appropriately. If your readers still have something they’d like answered, they can contact me on Twitter @ZenDavis, or send me a message through Kickstarter. I’ll typically get back to them in quick order.


Please help get the word out about “Asylum 33D”. With your help, we can make it all the way! Thank you for your time. Take care!


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