First there was Patient Zero: Outbreak. Then there was Morecraft. Proving that there’s always a more unoriginal, uninspired name for a game out there, Zero Point Software tries to make its way into your hearts and wallets with Interstellar Marines: Prologue. Having just read a great article on the problems with video game Kickstarters, seeing this project was incredibly serendipitous.
I was thinking about doing a post on the article itself, but it would have just ended up as me repeating everything it said and telling you to read it because it sums up my feelings on video game Kickstarters better than I ever could. Maybe I could add my professional opinion on it? Nah, I don’t have professional opinions. Interstellar Marines: Prologue solves my problem beautifully by doing everything wrong that’s called out in the article. Thanks, Zero Point!
But it’s not just Cliff’s problems with Kickstarter that pop up here. I’m getting a little déjà vu myself. Back to “don’t make your Kickstarter pitch over 9 fucking minutes long”. At least this time you only have to wait a minute and a half to see anyone involved with the game. Three minutes into it, you’re at least given vague descriptions of gameplay types, but they’re too busy making fun of Call of Duty (or, more accurately, its fans) to seem sincere. And to top it off, it’s formatted as a talk show with some dude interviewing himself, and a fake audio crowd cheering at those vague gameplay details. And he even gets bored with himself, cutting off the rattling off of details to play a video. That’s right, they’re playing a video.. inside their video.
During this video Inception, you get the whole story about Zero Point trying to attract a publisher, how the damn economy ruined it, and no publishers were funding new games from small developers (remember how there have been NO indie titles in the past few years?). This meant that Zero Point couldn’t afford “the million-dollar engine license” for Unreal. And there’s problem number two with this project: they started themselves out in a pile of shit by using Unreal. Look, you don’t need the Unreal to make a good-looking game, you’re just making it harder on yourself by working on such a bloated-budget engine. Unreal isn’t exactly known for its indie-friendly pricing,and you’re supposed to be assuming a low budget, and working with what you’ve got – small, efficient teams are what indie development is all about. You could make a toilet out of solid gold, but you won’t see people Kickstarting that, because it’s fucking unnecessary. So they lay off the whole team, ditch Unreal, and start over.
But wait, ditch Unreal? I guess that’s why they only need $600,000 and not a million. When I saw that this game would be available on PC, Mac, and Linux, my Unity senses were tingling, and they were correct. So instead of a million-dollar Unreal license, you need a $1,500 Unity license – if you’re going to be making over $100,000. So I guess the irony here is that your Kickstarter alone is ensuring that it will cost you that much money to license. But who cares, since it’s not your money, AMIRIGHT?
But enough rambling about things I’ve already pointed out in the past, let’s get to Cliff’s article.
“Kickstarter is selling dreams
Do you want to play Gratuitous Space Battles 2.0? It will be awesome. the ships will have AI the same level of intelligence as humans, and will have forty trillion polys each. They will be in 3D this time, and physics will model every atom in the universe…“
And this is from the Interstellar Marines: Prologue Kickstarter page:
“Simulated Training Environments: Experience an atmospheric training facility built to artificially simulate every conceivable encounter. AI SARA controls the mission variables, making sure every battle is different!”
This is the classic indie pipe dream. If we could take the genius present in indie development and toss in a huge budget, it would be a recipe for perfection! Wrong. The reason that indie developers are so innovative (and therefore successful) is that they aren’t concerned with the huge budgets, billion-poly models, and HD textures that AAA titles have become obsessed with; they’re actually concerned with gameplay. And why shouldn’t they be? It’s only the single fucking aspect of games that defines it as an interactive medium rather than a passive one. But Kickstarter has exposed some indie developers as the same graphics whores that litter the AAA industry, just on a budget that doesn’t afford their grand aspirations for “HDR rendering”. Quality artwork makes a beautiful game – rendering methods do not. But here we are, watching indie developer after indie developer claim how much better their graphics will be if they only got the several hundred thousand dollars they want.
“Kickstarter is selling a FIXED dream
I sketched out a great game idea on my chalkboard recently, I got very excited about it, started doing a proper design doc, and half way through the design, I realized it had some fundamental flaws that meant although it *sounded good*, it wasn’t going to work as a game. I had to abandon the idea.“
Guess how many games end up exactly as the design document created on day 1 specified. If you guessed “none”, you are absolutely fucking correct. At best, these developers have a prototype. That’s nowhere near enough of a test for all of the complex systems they want in their game. Problems will be found, and things will have to change. That’s just how game development works. And that’s been fine, because that’s between the companies involved in the project, who all understand, to some degree, the sacrifices that have to be made. And it’s why the details of games aren’t released until well into development – they don’t want to make promises they can’t keep. But what happens when you have thousands of people giving you money based on the promises you’ve made in your Kickstarter pitch before you’ve completed the first level of your game? You better make it work, or face the shit storm of angry and probably threatening emails. In this way, crowdfunding can be more restrictive than traditional publishing, not less, as so many developers are quick to proclaim.
“As a developer, paying me in advance could make me lazy.
When you get builders to work on your house, do you pay them the whole sum up front? I don’t. Nor do most people, because you know you aren’t going to get the job done on time that way. Always hold something back.“
I’m sure no developer would ever admit this, but there’s almost certainly some truth to it. Sure, the whole point is that you’re working on your dream game, right? Well, even that can have bad days, and your excitement can’t hold up 24/7 for the months or years it will take to complete your game. But if you’re working toward a goal because you have to have something impressive to show a publisher, or hit a release date so you can start selling your game because it needs to start making money, you’ll still be motivated to continue working. And you’ll probably cut some things that are riskier, and may not have worked out in the end. Your game will be devoid of all of the flashy, extraneous pipe-dream features, and be focused on a core experience. Again, this is what makes indie titles what they are, and the reason they can be so successful. But dump a bunch of money on a developer to cover their living expenses throughout development, and I guarantee it will be much easier for them to justify taking some time off, and coming back to the project with “fresh eyes”, or worse: throw money at the problems that arise in development rather than make the necessary compromises.
“Great design is not committee design”
I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. Taking into consideration everyone’s views is a recipe for a clusterfuck, not a great gameplay experience. People will disagree, people will want unreasonable things, and they don’t have to take one another’s opinions into consideration – that’s your job as the developer. And these are not experienced game developers; they’re just players. Liking food doesn’t make me a chef, and I sure as shit shouldn’t be telling one what to do with my dinner. But what does Zero Point do with their Kickstarter?
“With Open Door Development we’re granting access to all Vanguards, Frontliners and Spearheads, in the hope that they will play and provide their much valued feedback in return.”
Now, they’re at least keeping the degree to which your opinion matters pretty vague – just that people will listen to you. But rest assured, the moment you don’t try to squeeze in that feature that someone who contributed $30 to your Kickstarter wanted, you’re going to fucking hear about it. Then there’s this little gem for the $10,000 reward:
“If you’ve ever dreamt about designing the next MP5 or M16 – now is your chance! At the top tier you, in collaboration with the Weapons Design team, get to be an integral part of the early brainstorm to the final design and naming of a realistic weapon, that will forever be immortalized in Prologue!”
Great job, guys. I can’t see how this could go wrong. And it perfectly illustrates another issue Cliff brings up:
“Kickstarter is the absolute poster-child for inequality amongst gamers, based on income.”
Many developers have done worse than Zero Point in this regard, giving everyone who pledges over a certain amount “Producer” credit, allowing people to buy their way into being a “game developer”. It’s disgusting. But at least in this case, it’s not something we have to worry about.
And then, the whimper of a dying Kickstarter.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Generic Power-Armored Space Marines 67 still sees the light of day. If all of these prototypes are as meaningful to the final game as Zero Point wants you to believe, they should get by without hiring anyone else. It may not be the pipe dream they always wanted it to be, but your money doesn’t work miracles, so it still wouldn’t have been with all the funding in the world. Here’s a tip for you, Zero Point: cut the shit, and focus on what makes you game unique – if anything. I guarantee you it’s not the quality of your 3D models or textures, and it’s not your tacked-on bullshit role-playing XP system. And it definitely isn’t the fucking space marines.
I’ll give you a hint: it’s something that you don’t need $600,000 to make a reality.