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
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