Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Caught my Eye for Turkey Week!

It's Thanksgiving Week and you know what that means?  TURDUCKEN! 

I'm not kidding, I love turducken for Thanksgiving, and I hope you all get a chance to have some this holiday if you want it. While you're enjoying the "official" beginning of the holiday season why don't you check out some Kickstarter projects that caught my eye?  

Interstellaria just immediately gives me flashbacks to the FTL Kickstarter, and that’s a good thing.  The premise of Interstellaria is to boldy go out into the universe with your crew and discover strange new worlds and make exciting discoveries in the name of profit! The game definitely looks like it’d scratch that FTL itch as well as the Mall Story, Game Dev Story, and other business/worker management games.  
The game has a very pixel art aesthetic to it so if you don’t like the pictures you see you’d best leave now because it’s not getting any better than that.  On top of the retro look and feel the soundtrack is being done by a “chiptune” artist by the name of Chipzel which, if the video and audio samples they have are any indication, will bring on even more of a retro feel but to you rears.  I am a bit concerned about the “platforming captain” bits as well as how frenetic gameplay is.  One of the things I liked about FTL as well as the Sims was the ability to pause and give orders, here’s hoping Mr. King has kept that in mind when it comes to managing this crazy adventure.  
The campaign itself seems to have been successful as they have reached their goal with 11 days left to go.  I have complaints of course such as the video audio levels, but by and large the campaign is well laid out with lots of good imagery (animated even!) and a budget breakdown.  While they don’t really go into detail of the gameplay in the main page they have done 9 updates with dev diaries and the like to keep folks informed.

Product:  4 out of 5        Campaign:   4 out of 5
Dino Run 2 by Pixeljam

When I first saw Dino Run I went back and played Dino Run on their website. While not a demo for the new game it does make for an effective “this is what Dino Run is about” experience.  The Pixeljam guys are known for their quriky, tight, gaming experiences and Dino Run 2 looks like it’s going to fit right in with the rest of the family.
The Pixeljam guys specifically state that Dino Run 2 is not a “runner” genre game like 8-bit runner and the like, which is good as I don’t like those games.  They say, “It's a multiplayer exploratory platformer with an extreme sense of urgency!” I see the word “platformer” in there and I shudder a bit, but after playing Dino Run 1 you are so busy just going right that the fact that it is a platformer is mitigated slightly.  The frenetic pace, detailed environments, and fun characters make the game something that’s not only fun to play, but fun to WATCH which is good for me as my daughter can watch me play.  
The campaign does seem to be struggling as they have 11 days left and over $125,000 to go.  The game itself might be part of the issue as some folks seem to think that flash games or pixel based games are “cheap” and hence not worth paying for.  It is a notion that needs to be addressed more often in the gaming community, but until that happens every campaign that uses pixel art will have to contend with it.  There is a nice description of what the money will be used for but it runs into some of the “established game dev” issues that Kickstarter is having which is the whole “If you’re making money selling games why do you need MY money for this game?” It’s a problem I’m starting see come up more often as some people argue against “known names” coming into the Kickstarter community.  Which I find funny considering established names are more likely to actually produce an actual product...
In the final analysis though if Dino Run 2 fails as a campaign I’ll chalk it up to timing and art style/value.  As I’ve said before November is the LAST possible point to start a campaign, and even then I’d be wary of it because you’re quickly losing available money as the holiday season is rolling by.  The fact that the campaign will wrap right after my birthday in December also means that “last minute surge” most campaigns get will probably be lighter due to budgets already straining under spending.  Add to this money reducing problem is the simple fact that pixel games are “cheap” to many modern gamers which if this was in, say March they might back they won’t because they have “other things to spend on.   When your project is a fence sitting kind of project (i.e. that’d be nice to have but...) you don’t want any extra things getting in the way of people wanting to back you or coming up with an excuse not to.  
Product:  4 out of 5   Campaign:  4 out of 5
DYSCOURSE: Survivors, Choose Wisely.
DYSCOURCE is another indie game from another established indie developer, this time Owlchemy Labs.  In a “Choose Your Own Adventure” meets “Lost” type survival game DYSCOURCE is set to let you lead a band of survivors of a plane crash with your plucky barista main character Rita.  The thing about it is, the game isn’t an adventure game, or at least not a point and click one.  The player has direct control over Rita and can move her about freely in the 2D/3D world.   Combining a full survival game with a branching storyline and inter-character social interactions sounds like it could make for a great game.
One of the problems I do have with the game though is the art style.  Much like how TellTale’s The Walking Dead game the art style could once again turn people off an interesting game title like this.  DYSCOURSE’s art style is even more stylized than The Walking Dead’s is which might alienate even more potential backers, such as myself.  This is all a personal taste thing and unfortunately that can’t change without changing art direction entirely.  
The campaign itself seemed to start off well with mentions in multiple blogs and pages to talk about the launch, yet with just over a week remaining the campaign is barely halfway to the goal.  I think this can once again be blamed on time of year combined with art style and maybe even the lack of a proper game to show off.  A game of this type can be a bit hard to show off without ruining story beats or requiring a more complete game then they may  be at currently.  Personally I’d also like a budget breakdown of some kind because while they are an established game dev company, $40k to “directly fund our game development” is awfully vague and confusing.  Especially considering I just talked about Dino Run 2 and their 6 man team doing a Pixel art game estimating a total cost of $350K and asking Kickstarter for $175k.  They too have other revenue streams (their released games) and it all ends up with some big money question marks to push folks who, once again, are already stretched due to holiday budgets.   
Product:  3 out of 5    Campaign:  3 out of 5
When I first saw Windforge on Polygon I was like, “Oh it’s Terraria in the sky” and then I saw the flying whales and I was like, “Oh that’s interesting.” Let me say that again, FLYING WHALES.  Why hasn’t this game hit it’s $50k goal already?  The game had great buzz thanks to Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Polygon all taking notice of it early on.  
The game combines the combat of Contra with the building and destruction of Terraria in a flying steampunk setting.  Unlike Terraria the art style looks more sprite based than pixel based with hand drawn (looking) flying whales, blocks, and parts.  The art style is very clean and functional.  The problem I’ve seen with the game doesn’t seem to be the game’s fault, but the campaign’s.
Every video I’ve seen either has loud background music that makes hearing the talking a pain, or has no talking at all and hence no explanation of what’s going on. Go watch a Terraria lets play but mute the sound and you’ll understand how frustrating a trailer like this could be because you get no idea of why you’re doing anything, let alone what you’re doing.  The written portion of the campaign isn’t making up for the poor videos because it basically says there’s a storyline and you can build all this cool stuff but no why’s or how’s.  We also face the same issues that Dino Run 2, and DYSCOURCE are facing with the costs of develpment.  Here we have a 13 person team, who have been working for some time already and this is their first game together, who don’t explain where the $50k is going, or how they’re maintaining their team until release.  No budget breakdown, no past track record (individuals have worked on other games), and basically a whole lot of unknowns that aren’t really examined in the campaign.  On top of all that?  It’s the holidays and the campaign runs into December?  Yeah that’s a recipe for failure.
I hope they can pull out a win, but with almost $35k to go and only about a dozen days to do it?  It looks doubtful.
Product:  4 out of 5      Campaign:  2 out of 5

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jump on into the Ball Pit with Paul and Storm!

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  

Today’s interview starts off with a funny story about my guests Paul and Storm.  For those of you who haven’t heard of these fine fellow before, they’re a pair of comedic singer/songwriters that have been entertaining folks at numerous conventions such as PAX, PAX East, DragonCon and Emerald City ComicCon. They're also co-founders of w00tstock (along with Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage), and we co-produce the annual Jonathan Coulton fan cruise JoCo Cruise Crazy. I’ve enjoyed their irreverent brand of music for a few years now and back in July of this year I heard they were preparing for a Kickstarter, so of course I sent them an interview request the moment I found out.

In July.  Four months ago.

After a week or so with no response, I figured my email had been “filed” into the circular bin and moved on with other interviews.  So imagine my surprise when I opened my email this weekend and discovered an email from Paul! Since I was at work when I read the email lets just say my coworkers were a little surprised by my response.  

Now without further interference by me here is Paul and Storm here to talk about their first Kickstarter campaign for the Big Launch for Paul and Storm’s New Album, BALL PIT. Thank you both for joining me today.

[Storm is in orange] Thanks for having us.

[Paul is in green] Yes, thanks.

Let me start off by congratulating you two on hitting your goal so quickly!  Well done! Would you be so kind as to tell us about Ball Pit and what you have in store for us with this campaign?

Ball Pit’s our newest album, our fifth as Paul and Storm. Usually we just sorta release the album for sale and that’s that. But with Kickstarter we’re hoping to give Ball Pit a much splashier launch, in addition to helping with the production costs.

What kind of shenanigans can we expect from this campaign now that you’re into stretch goal territory?  You’ve already blown past your first three stretch goals and fast approaching the fourth, are you surprised at the reception of your campaign?

We basically collected up all the fun (and pricey) ideas we’ve been wanting to do for years, then added a few more. Everything from music videos, to cover songs recorded with friends, to an RPG soundboard app, and art by artists we admire. And if it goes stupid-well, we’ll buy an ice cream truck, stock it with ice cream and guacamole, and go on tour in it.

We’d never done a Kickstarter before, and really didn’t know what to expect. But we were definitely surprised by how quickly we blew through the initial goal--it took less than 24 hours! In hindsight we probably should have set the initial goal higher, but decided it’d be better to make certain that we at least covered the most essential elements.

Yeah; there’s nothing more sad than an overconfident Kickstarter. While we know we have a pretty good (and loyal) fan base, there’s not really any way to judge these things, especially your first time out of the gate. So we erred on the conservative side.

We’re really hoping to get funded enough to do the RPG soundboard app, which at this point is around $10K away.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Magical World of Bardsworth

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Bardsworth creator Peter Tarkulich whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for more years than I think either of us will admit to.  He’s here to talk to us about his first trip to Kickstarter to print up the second volume of Bardsworth.  Thank you for joining us today Peter!

Thank you for interviewing me, sir!  I knew back when you were known as “Gozer the Carpathian” and you had a webcomic of your own!  Good times.

Indeed! Though my comic failed your’s continues. Why don’t you start off by telling us about your cookie loving friend and his adventures in his closet that you’ve been telling for years now?  

The simplest and shortest description of Bardsworth is:  It’s like Harry Potter, but more fun.

The story chronicles the adventures of Mike Cosley, a high school nobody who graduates with no idea of what to do with his life… until he finds a mysterious door in the back of his closet.  The door leads to another world, wherein there is a college called Bardsworth University that teaches magic.  Mike enrolls and soon finds himself in the midst of magical pranks, killer hugs, and the awful truth that magic isn’t just waving a wand and saying “Abracadabra.”

I remember back in 2008 you coming out with a print collection for Bardsworth, what’s taken you so long to try and print a second volume?  

It’s been a number of things.  Back then, I had the time to put into both the comic and putting the book together.  My wife was in grad school at all hours of the day, so after work I was left on my own a lot of the time.  I could crank out the comic and at the same time I was able to crank out the first book.

However, around the time when the first book was released, my day job had become about a thousand times more stressful, and I had just moved and was making about an hour commute to and from work.  It left me exhausted and with less time to work on stuff, and because of that my update schedule went from three times a week to two times a week.  Since then, things continued to be crazy - we moved back to the east coast (as well as moving several times since then), my son was born in 2011, I’ve been cycling through other jobs to maintain our income, I’ve been working on other creative projects… the book just had to take a back seat to everything else.

And the reason it’s taking so long to produce the book is because when I started doing Bardsworth, I didn’t know anything about preparing my artwork for print.  I was just putting it up online.  So all of my early stuff is very low resolution, and the only way to circumvent that is to go back to the original scanned line art, clean it up, and color it (which not only makes it look better, but makes it easier to sell the book).  And because the artwork is so crude, just the coloring itself takes quite a bit of time.

November Update

Well Halloween is over and we’re into Turkey Month for all us Yanks.  As my wife isn’t American she’s only had six years of Thanksgivings in her life so I enjoy being able to shower her in Thanksgiving food and activities.  (Which is usually just lying about the house fighting a turkey induced coma.)   November is also home to the National Novel Writing Month which I have found myself caught up in.  I am already several thousand words behind but I hope to fix that with some coming time off and 12 hour day shifts.  That said it means Thursday is going to be a light month here at Kickstarter Conversations as most of my energy will be directed elsewhere.  
That said, I’m not completely dropping everything as I will still have a few reviews and interviews in the coming weeks.  Maybe even a video rant or two depending on birthday presents and such.  December will also be a slow month and that should be a warning for all you potential Kickstarter creators out there.  
Do not create December
No seriously, I don’t care if someone told you that Kickstarter backer levels make good gifts or what have you. They don’t.  Just don’t try and launch  this time of year!  Take your project, and either shelve it or work on it part time and enjoy your holidays!  Have fun with your family and charge your batteries because come January you’re going to need it to run your campaign! You don’t want to stress and drain of a campaign AND the holiday season at the same time, that’s just a recipe for disaster.  Seriously don’t do it!  In fact if you’re not about to pull the trigger and launch by the middle of November don’t do it!  Just wait until January because honestly who (besides me) is really paying attention to Kickstarter when they have other things on their minds?  
With that said I want you all to have a great November, and wish me luck trying to write up 50,000 words here in November.  I’ll need it!  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Mansion Full of Monsters?!

What happens when you take Zombies!!! and add in the exploration mechanics of Betrayal at House on the Hill?  You get Escape From Monster Mansion: The Board Game.  This Kickstarter from Payton Lee looks to finish up the game and put it on the market, but how well is it getting the point across and is this the right project for you to back?  Let’s enter the mansion and find out!
The first thing any Betrayal fan or Tabletop viewer will notice is the “explore and build” mechanics are pretty much identical, with only two levels instead of three to help simplify things.  This is a fun and simple way of creating replay ability into a game while also allowing for player choice, it’s a well-tested mechanic and I must say I approve.  

The game seems to proceed in an explore/fight/flee type mechanic where the players can cooperate or compete to get out of the mansion as they see fit.  There are also “hidden agenda” cards which add a bit more randomness to the gameplay as you never quite know if the other players are working for you or for their own ends.  These basic mechanics all seem pretty standard and work well for the theme, but not all is right in the mansion and I think most of the problems come from the campaign itself more than the product.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What do you with all your crazy ideas?

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to once again be joined by Sandra Tayler who is here to talk to us about her latest children’s book: The Strength of Wild Horses.  Thank you for coming back to talk to us again Sandra!

I’m glad to be here. It is always fun to talk with you.

Last time we spoke we touched upon your book “Hold on to Your Horses” and you briefly mentioned “The Strength of Wild Horses” back then.  Is it safe to assume this story is a continuation of your last book?  

I’ve deliberately written this second book so that it can stand alone. These are two adventures featuring the same young girl Amy, so they can be read as a continuation, but they can also be enjoyed separately. Hold on to Your Horses features Amy, her wild ideas, and her mother. Strength of Wild Horses features Amy, her wild ideas, and her sister Kari.

The art is fantastic again! Did you get the same artist as last time?  How important was it to you to get consistent art between the two books?  

Angela Call did the art for both books. It was very important to me that the second book have the same artist. First I just wanted the chance to work with Angela again. Her work is gorgeous and I feel very lucky to work with her. Second, I wanted a consistent look for both books since they feature many of the same characters. Having the same artist means that the characters are easy to recognize and the pages have the same energy. Most of all I just wanted to see Amy again, brought to life in Angela’s drawings.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dragon Kings

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! Today I am joined by Timothy Brian Brown who has come over to talk to us about his latest role playing setting Dragon Kings.  Thank you for joining us today Timothy!

Thanks for the interview! I really appreciate it.

Dragon Kings looks like it is more than “just another” role playing setting.   Could you tell us about the project and what sets it apart from other fantasy role playing settings?
Dragon Kings is a new role-playing setting that I’m creating in fiction, art, and also music all at the same time. It’s a fantasy world I’m presenting that can be used with any game system; we’re creating rules supplements for Pathfinder and Savage Worlds, and plan to also do them for 13th Age and FATE as stretch goals. The music presents a progressive rock epic story following one hero that also serves to introduce the listener to the setting.
Beyond the cover art D&D and Heavy Metal don’t sound like they go together, what makes you want to bring these together?  When did you start creating music for your settings?  
On the contrary, I’m getting a good response to the music and a lot of enthusiastic people who embrace the metal style to convey the fantasy setting. I’ve always been fascinated by the music’s ability to convey a story and wanted to do that very thing for a role-playing setting. Dragon Kings is my first venture into such a union.