Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kickstarter Adventure Game Updates

This isn't necessarily going to be a regular feature, but I've been keeping an eye on the various adventure game projects being launched and funded via Kickstarter, so a few updates now and then are easy to pass along.  With so many veteran designers re-emerging with the tempting prospect of fan funding, and some worthy new projects turning up, I remain enthusiastic about the possibilities for a renaissance in the genre.  (For a well-considered opposing view from someone who probably knows better than I do, check out Wadjet Eye Games founder and Blackwell series designer Dave Gilbert's thoughts, here.)  My personal biases are likely to be clear -- take this as a gossip column, with plenty of unsubstantiated speculation by yours truly!

First, there's an interesting new entry from Stacy Davidson, the filmmaker and creator behind the unofficial Lucasarts-style Han Solo Adventures fan game.  It's a retro-style sci-fi adventure called Jack Houston and the Necronauts, in the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers/John Carter vein.  He's trying to raise a reasonable $56,000 and seems likely to do it at this writing, with plenty of time to go.  The project is ambitious, with painted backgrounds merged with stop-motion animation for the characters, executed using physical puppets in the Ray Harryhausen tradition.  There's not much implementation done yet, but Davidson has shown he can produce a playable game as a labor of love, and I'm always a sucker for that pulp art-deco sci-fi look.

It looks like HeXit, another sci-fi point-and-click adventure with a sleek Heavy Metal-style visual look, is not faring so well, with only about 20% of its $75K goal raised with less than a week left.  I don't know if its funding struggles are due to xenophobia -- the game is being developed in Hungary by names most gamers may not be familiar with -- or just that while the graphics look very nice, it seems that most of the team is focused on the artwork, with a solitary coder listed who hasn't really developed an adventure game before.  It's probably just a (good) sign that the Kickstarter community is becoming a bit more discerning about which projects get funded.

Infamous Quests' Quest for Infamy has its backing well in hand, with $46K raised at this writing, well above its goal of $25K.   This project is led by Steven "Blackthorne" Alexander, who's had a hand in a couple of King's Quest and Space Quest fan remakes, and this one is clearly inspired by Sierra's Quest for Glory games.  From the look of the artwork and demo so far, that classic VGA-era Sierra vibe is being well preserved.

Reincarnation: The Root of All-Evil is more than halfway to its modest $15K goal with a couple of weeks left.  It's a cartoon adventure starring a little demon character; the animation shown to date is a little simplistic for my tastes, and the project's stated goals may be more ambitious than it can manage.  But the cartoonist behind it has put out a number of free point-and-click games in the past, so I'm pretty sure the project will get finished.   I'm just not sure about the management approach -- some of the bullet points for the budget include "Hiring people to help" and "Better sounds," neither of which is specific enough to inspire confidence.

The horror adventure The Verge looks like it's not going to make its modest $5K goal, for obvious reasons.  There just isn't enough on show to convince anyone that this will be a compelling experience, not with indie games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent targeting a similar style and doing it so much better, and it's a first-person game which means the "point-and-click" terminology is a bit misleading.  Some projects come to Kickstarter too early -- I hope that the people behind unsuccessful projects like this one will take a hard look at why they were not funded, and come back with better ideas or more concrete progress to try again.

And Lilly Looking Through, a personal favorite, is well over its initial $18K funding goal.  The demo is charming, with fun, well-designed puzzles.  And I'm thoroughly impressed by the animation -- young Lilly is really well-grounded in the environment, and she runs and stands naturally in context, without that sprite-pasted-over-background look that even the best vintage point-and-click games tend to have.

One surprise -- it appears that Sam Suede in Undercover Exposure is not going to make its goal, or even come close, with a mere $14K of its proposed $500K budget raised so far with time running out.  Despite the past involvement of Al Lowe (Leisure Suit Larry) and current involvement of Steve Ince (the Broken Sword trilogy), it's not getting much Kickstarter love.  This may be due to some controversy about the pitch, which implied that Al Lowe was currently actively engaged, while his design work on the project concluded back in 2006 when the project was abandoned, before much dialogue writing was done.  Age may not have done the design much good, and it may also be that the appeal of a certain style of "titillating" humor is weaker than it was in Larry's day.

I'm also trying to monitor some of the big projects that have been funded and are now hypothetically underway, but there's not much real news yet.  Jane Jensen's new Pinkerton Road studio was launched with Kickstarter, but doesn't have much to show beyond the early concept art already revealed.   The Two Guys from Andromeda have more progress on display, including updated demos and audio material, but it's a long way from a finished game, and I hope the team isn't being distracted by all the fan communication necessary to operate this way.  Both efforts are trying to raise some additional funding on top of their original Kickstarter targets, which makes me wonder if the balance sheets were realistic to begin with, or, more worryingly, whether the projects are being appropriately managed to budget.

But this is what's fun about Kickstarter -- anticipation, hype, speculation, fear, and hope, all mixed together with a genre I love.  It's a fun little horse race to watch, and with any luck we'll get some cracking new adventure games out of the process, even if there are a few noble failures too.

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