Friday, October 4, 2013

Use the Spark of Imagination to Make Fun things, then Destroy them!

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! Today I am joined by John Lee from Wicked Loot to talk about their first Kickstarter Spark Rising: A Build + Battle Sandbox Game.  Thank you for joining us today John.

Thanks for having me. It’s been an exciting few days now that we just launched our Kickstarter!

At first glance Spark Rising is just another Voxel-based game, what sets your game apart from the hundreds of others out there?
Most voxel based games focus on the creation aspect, which begs the question “to what purpose?” For us, it’s vitally important to create interesting objectives that would resonate with core gamers. So in our game you create, and the you destroy! So half our game centers around taking your creations and setting into massive battles. There’s a lot planned for our dynamic battle scenarios, which are all played out in 3rd person action combat. You have to contend with enemy AI that can assess the battle situation, defenses you can fortify, troops you can command, terrain you can destroy, and even your own firepower.

Is the creation tools separate from the game or is everything done “in game” like in Minecraft?  

It’s both for us. You can just jump into the game and create things block by block like in Minecraft. But I personally found that slow and cumbersome when you want to build big structures, or even creatures. So we have an editor mode that lets you create things very quickly. And we supply you with a few features that make rapid building wicked easy, like being able to copy/paste whole structures at a time or laying down a row/wall of blocks at once. Features that the pros use in voxel construction, but made more accessible for everyone.

Seeing wave upon waves of enemy coming down set paths makes me think of a tower defense game.  How is your game the same or different from games in that genre like Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die?  

Our battles can be highly dynamic. Enemies can come from many directions. They have different objectives, whether to take command of your HQ, take down your shield generators, or steal your resources. Because terrain can be destroyed, enemies can change their positions and movement as well. We think of tower defense as an ultra simplified version of a strategy game, and we wanted to layer in a bit more strategy than enemies coming in a row and just going for your tower. Games like Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die, both games we love to play, did a great job of adding action elements to the typical TD game, and we wanted to take it a bit further by increasing the scale of the battles.

Is it possible to NOT have ground but instead a “fleet” to defend or attack?  I just had visions of massive space fleets going at one another all in voxels.  

This is something we want to evaluate. The challenge is that aerial battles take away one of the more interesting aspects of battles in a voxel world and that is deformation of terrain and how that affects the battle. We likely will have some elements of aerial attacks, but the primary emphasis is close quarter combat with you in the thick of it on land.

Is it possible for multiple people to play together or against one another?  Could my wife attack my nice new fort with her army of killer rabbits?  

In short, yes. You can attack someone else’s fort, even with co-op. And can you fortify your stronghold with killer rabbits!

Can you make new spark bots for the players to personally control?  I mean if I want to go all Pacific Rim on these fools can I?  

The Spark Bot that you play is actually weaksauce. You have to jump into exo-suits to really power up. These exo-suits aren’t on the scale of Pacific Rim though. It’s more about you fighting an overwhelming war against enemies that could be monstrous in size.

I enjoy looking at the top tier rewards on Kickstarter projects if for no other reason than to say “what if.”  I have to say your $5,000 tier really makes me wish I would win the lotto this week just so I can be the “Ultimate Villain” in the game.  I mean that’s a big deal!  What made you put that up there?  What all would that imply? Will this backer be able to not only insert their character into the game as the villain but also help write the campaign?  Record dialogue?  Create an ultimate doomsday weapon and fortress?  

We wanted to have fun with the highest tier, so we created something that was more than just a vanity plate! Most upper tiers never actually get backed in Kickstarter projects, so we thought about doing something more interesting. We’ll see if it works. You’ll get to work with us to dream up how this ultimately villain sweeps across the galaxy with his/her minions and how it affects the game. It’ll be fun to brainstorm ideas with whoever supports us!

We actually had one more tier even higher than that but wanted to wait and see what happens with the $5K tier before we went nuts with something bigger. But I will say the big idea involves something physically custom-made for the backer.

One of the big things I suggest for video game Kickstarters is a Demo.  This works in several ways not the least of which is getting the potential backers a chance to see the game in action before they pledge their precious funds.  It also allows the chance for the popular YouTube channels to pick up on your project during your campaign.  Are you not far enough along in development to have any kind of playable demo available? How far along into development are you?

While we have prototypes and AI test builds available to users now, we didn’t want to go down the road of making a fully fleshed out demo until we saw that the concept itself resonated with gamers. For us, it was important to get early adopters on board because we wanted their feedback in shaping some core mechanics in the game. So making a demo, which is a fully fleshed out chunk of the game, runs counter to that philosophy. What we do instead is release early builds of our game so that people can make an impact on each successive  build. That being said, we do think it’s important to show actual gameplay footage so we put together some for our video. It does seem like more and more people want to get their hands on earlier builds so they can post up their gameplay activity on YouTube so we’re factoring that into how we launch our alpha and beta builds.

My biggest bugaboo for all Kickstarters though is the budget breakdown.  These basic business tools are important to prove to backers that there is a plan in place and ready to go when the campaign is complete.  Why don’t you have a budget breakdown in your campaign? Where is the $17,000 slated to go?  

I personally think it’s more important that backers know that a developer has a track record of launching games successfully, even if it’s a small game. And since we launched a few games before, and since I have a background in game publishing, I felt like those bars are higher than a simplified budget breakdown on Kickstarter. And that’s mainly because the cost of game development almost always goes beyond your forecast, and most gamers don’t have visibility into what gets spent.

Luckily, my background is in game publishing and managing budgets (P&L as they call it) is something I always had to do for any project from a flash game to a AAA game. So for us, I made sure we outlined a full 5 year forecast for the company, not just the game, then worked out the budget for the game, and got on board the right team before we even showcased our Kickstarter to the world. I have to make sure the business is set up properly, since I’m also pumping my own money into the endeavor.

But I hear you, I think it’s worthwhile if more developers take the time to learn about budget management before they ask for money. Because once you get it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I got on the net. It’s everywhere:)
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?

For us, it isn’t just the financial backing, it’s the participation in the feedback loop. So I go out of my way to try to talk with early backers because chances are they are the ones that can provide the best feedback at this stage. I write a personal note to all the higher end backers  because I know soon, I need their help in playtesting our game!
We’re planning on doing a mix of smaller updates and major updates. Our major updates will into deeper dive on some core features of the game, or reveal new things we haven’t touched on yet. Beyond that, we are already in the habit of updating our blog and forums weekly.
Wicked Loot has a culture that puts gamers first. And the gamers who back us on Kickstarter deserve to be entertained. Not just in the game we create and sell to them, but in the journey they take with us. So I go out of my way to share our development progress on our site, and in our forums. And I try to go out of my way to keep the team creatively inspired. For instance, I took my team out to Hawaii to work for 3 months earlier this year. I got my hands on new tech before it comes out, like Ouya and Oculus Rift, so the team has a chance to play around with it. Because the team works hard on what they love, I want to find ways to make this an adventure for everyone. And that goes for our fans as well. I want to out of my way to create memories for us and our fans.

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 only just started media outreach. We spent the first few days working on the kinks (ie. spelling errors!) on our Kickstarter page, tweaking the messaging, getting friends and family on board, and other things. We’re starting to outreach to media now that we feel more comfortable being out there so openly for all to see.
We have a huge slate of things to do, like all people that run a Kickstarter campaign. My checklist is over 200 “to do’s” long, which include pretty much all the stuff you mentioned.
I am using Kicktraq. Great tool for top line tracking to compliment the tactical approach to outreach.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
They say it takes a lot of work to prep for Kickstarter, and I agree. Though it’s no more work than doing any major pitch to a game publisher or prepping for a tradeshow. You really have to get the whole team on board to believe that it’s important to put your best foot forward. At least with Kickstarter, it’s not a hard date, and we did push back our launch several time because we personally felt like it just wasn’t ready. While I think it’s a good idea to get feedback early but the thing is, we’re making a game, and without showing some gameplay footage, it’s harder for people imagine how the game functions. Unless you are a well known entity in the industry for is known for making a certain type of game, I highly suggest making sure your video has gameplay footage in it.Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Wicked Loot was founded on the belief that user generated content will change the way we make and play games, and we think the revolution is upon us.  We hope you back us not just because the game sounds cool, but because we’d love for you to join us on this journey in making a game, and taking part in this overall revolution going on in the gaming industry!
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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