Super excited to read the latest update from the Oculus Rift crew. After a great week at CES, the team has been holed up on the factory floor producing the developer kits and cranking out the first 40 units of a pilot run. The plan is to start shipping the full kits to developers in March!
Meanwhile, Jimmy Fallon got to try out the prototype. He just might freak out…
Puzzled about how to shrug off the darkness-induced blues this February? Check out these three great projects on Kickstarter. Perhaps you will be enlightened.*
Master Puzzler Mike Selinker launched Maze of Games. It’s a mystery novel wrapped in puzzles and hidden in a maze — and it’s been years in the making.
Mike’s fellow Seattlites, One Reel, are bringing back the evergreen Emerald City Search. Seek and you shall find!
If puzzles make you hungry, you’ll drool over FarmOutProject’s Hungry Games.
And a puzzle post wouldn’t be complete without a bit of mystery, so answer this riddle: Scramble the letters in KICKSTARTER to make a two-word phrase defining people who play a certain kind of card game…
Artizens is a collaborative adventure game that encourages players to craft their own tools and weapons. Band together with friends to tackle enormous monsters, then create your own gear to prepare for the next battle.
This delicious little game puts you in charge of a robot food cart as you prowl the city, fly across buildings, and launch dumplings to happy patrons from across the street. Say nei hou to our Project of the Day.
Four new projects with clever ideas and modest goals caught our attention over the weekend. Standing out as great examples of Kickstarter ideas on a tight budget, these creators are all seeking less than $1,250.
Created by 24-year-old artist and writer Sam Maiden, Reboot is the first issue of a new comic-book collaboration. Maiden describes his true love as writing and producing comics, and his Kickstarter project is his first attempt to realize his dream in print.
Dalek v Enterprise is a highly ambitious lark: A race to the stratosphere between the spacecrafts of Doctor Who and Star Trek. Creator Karlos Fandango’s previous Kickstarter project successfully sent a TARDIS to space and back — despite an unexpected detour up a tree — and he says that this new sci-fi adventure will be his last in the series.
Sling piping-hot dim sum as fast as you can — it’s Dim Sum Robot #1: Mecha Food Cart Action! This delicious little game puts you in charge of a robot food cart as you prowl the city, fly across buildings, and launch dumplings to happy patrons from across the street.
Repeat creator Ray Sumser is an artist obsessed with cartoons. His ongoing project to catalog the “cartoon universe” has been entirely inspired and funded by his Kickstarter backers.
My WeD&D campaign came to a close this past Wednesday. After a year of weekly sessions, my band of professional dungeon bashers decided to lay their swords and spears to rest. They had twice saved Princess Argenta and her tiny kingdom of Haven from the forces of Chaos.
Satisfied with their glorious victory and replete with gold and treasure, the crew decided they want to try Paranoia. …So we might be playing D&D again soon!
While we’re talking about games, here are some RPG projects for you to check out. I’m trying to find a classification system that fits. So the Level 1 games are just starting out or need funding. Level 2 projects have some backers and funding. Level 3 projects are roaring on past their funding goals!
The original Zelda games held a sense of wonder and discovery in a world full of secrets. Frustrated with the way the newest Zelda fell short of tradition, video-game writer Tevis Thompson and artist David Hellman (Braid) decided to collaborate on a graphic novella that would bring back the elements of adventure and challenge.
Their comic, Second Quest, is inspired by all the things they loved about Zelda, telling the story of a young woman from a small town in the sky who begins to suspect that the legends about her home aren’t true. Naturally, being a part of Second Quest's Kickstarter project feels kind of like embarking on an epic journey in itself.
This was made using a handy little thingamajig called Teagueduino which is “an open source electronic board and interface that allows you to realize creative ideas without soldering or knowing how to code, while teaching you the ropes of programming and embedded development (like arduino). Teagueduino is designed to help you discover your inner techno-geek and embrace the awesomeness of making things in realtime — even if you’ve only ever programmed your VCR.”
It’s basically like a more advanced, real life version of LittleBig Planet’s level creator.
Learn more about Teagueduino and help fund the project over on Kickstarter.
#1 topic of Kickstarter office conversation for the last week right here.
We first learned about The Gentlemen of the South Sandwiche Islands from Henry Jenkins, who teaches at USC and was previously head of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. We’re big fans of Jenkins — his Convergence Culture book is very astute, and he thinks a lot about fandom and the relationships between creator and consumer. We certainly hoped he would be a Kickstarter fan.
Last week Jenkins posted on his blog a long piece on a student of his named James Taylor (not that one) who had showed him an intricate board game that he had created. The game was just as much art as it was game. Here’s how Taylor describes it:
“The Gentlemen of the South Sandwiche Islands is an absurd game of logic. In this old courtship, Jules and Hodge are competing for the attentions of the Lady Ashley. Each wants to speak with her alone. They must do this by crossing bridges to leave the others behind. “
We were more than intrigued by the concept and the project itself, which has raised more then $3,000 in its first week. We decided to ask James some questions about his creation, and the false histories he is creating around it.
Very interesting concept behind this game. Can you tell us a bit of the history behind it?
Right. Good question. The game by itself is a strong product, the photoshopping was just a bit of humor. Within the story materials the game was discovered in 1821 and passed through the hands of multiple publishers. All of the publishers leave notes and make small tweaks to the game, making the original circumstances that the game was based on more and more difficult to determine. I talk more about the fictional history in the accompanying article at the Henry Jenkins site (the link is at the top of my kickstarter page).
Part of the fun of the project (aside from working very hard on the game itself) was photoshopping it into history. I thought the pictures would be goofy enough that it would be hard to take them seriously. In the article, in a section called, Going Transmedia, I talk about the creating a history for the game with the help of a documentary.
Are you a game player? Got a favorite?
Yes — I play a lot of board games.
Mostly I like thinking of about the rule sets and what they say about the world.
Working on a game and studying interactive media has given me a new appreciation for games ……the available choices at a given moment…the feel of the pieces…how the art and the story match the play…etc. After working on a game, I just feel like I’m much more sensitive to the details.
I’d say my favorite game is probably Clue. It’s a great game (esentially a deductive reasoning) puzzle, but it’s actually quite unusual. There are deep-thinking puzzle/strategy/logic games - like chess and Go - which are normally played on an abstract space without much art or story materials. Then there are other games that are “lighter,” but have some cool story worlds to explore - like Candyland. Clue is a nice bridge between these two types of games. It’s a thinking game with wonderful characters and art. (…Brian Tinsman talks about this division between abstract games and story games more in The Game Inventors Handbook.)
Overall, I just like the way board games are “consumed” more than I like the way that videogames are consumed. When you’re playing a board game you’re facing people. You’re sitting around a table. You talk about the importance of board games as being a method for creative inquiry — it’s an unusual but very intriguing point. Talk to me about this!
Board games are pretty wonderful because they not only have art and story to them, but they also have a rule set. We know that art and story can be discussed critically (just look at hs and college classes), but few people consider how designing a rule-set can be a profound and philosophical activity. When you design a rule set, you are making a statement about the way the world works - or at least about the way a system works. If you can start spotting and recognizing systems, then you’ll probably begin to realize that 1.) there are all types of systems around us (big and small) and 2.) that there is plenty of room out there for profound, interesting, artistic rule sets that say something new and different about the way the world works. Take the game of Life for example. Someone else besides the creator, Reuben Klamer, might have created a different game with different rules, and used different milestones along the way, like broken bones or sexual partners or good ideas.
Not only are board games a nice, light way to consider elements of story, art, and the rules of a system, but games are also a tremendous opportunity for education. In a game you have agency. You are making decisions. With those decisions you are making mistakes and you start to learn pretty quickly from those mistakes. You figure out how the system works. I recently went to a lecture at IndieCade held by Henry Jenkins and Eric Zimmerman. They both think about media, toys and games in critical ways, and they spent a small part of this informal panel talking about how our school systems don’t offer kids a “systemic education.” This really blew me away. There could be games that teach so much more about how getting into college works. Or how the film world in Los Angeles works. Or how the court systems work. …And these types of games could give kids a *feel* for real systems — the give and take. How are people responding to your use of Kickstarter so far?
I’d say people are responding well. One very nice person wrote a new song for my video and sent it to me…For nothing. Just because he wanted to do it. I thought that was just incredible and it gave me a new understanding of what’s meant by the kickstarter community.
This is esentially fundraising, which, in most circumstances comes off as needy and belittling, but when I spread the kcikstarter link, I don’t feel like that. Even if the people I’m sending it to aren’t interested in my project, they’re usually interested and curious about kickstarter. I feel like I’m opening their minds to a valuable new resource they might use down the line.
This article about the game is pretty thorough. Also, checkout my updates. I send updates about the stories about the ridiculous risks one takes in starting up a very small business.
The Unconcerned is the working title for the subject of this post, a video game set in Iran during the protests following the recent election. Quite the weighty subject matter. In the game, you play a couple looking for their daughter who has disappeared during the rioting.
As Borut, the game’s developer, explains both in his pitch video and in our Q&A below, he is well-aware of the needed delicacy in making a game like this one. He is approaching this with complete earnestness, both in terms of the subject matter and the Kickstarter project itself.
The project launched over the weekend and has raised over $1,200 so far, with a goal of $15,000 and 84 days to go. Rewards include the game itself, original artwork, and even having an in-game character modeled after a backer.
We emailed with Borut about his project, its politics, and how indie game development can fit in with Kickstarter. To check out the project, click here. Here is our conversation:
Can you tell us about your project?
It’s a small game that’s set in Iran, during the riots and protests that followed the election this June. You play two characters, a husband and wife who are looking for their lost daughter.
The gameplay will be a combination of solving puzzles and action. You’ll come across different types of people on the street while looking for your daughter, and they’ll react to you differently depending on what character you are at that moment (the father or the mother). You have to use these differences to get past obstacles like police or crowds, and get information from people that will help you find your daughter.
A lot of people don’t think games can address such serious topics, but I think that not only can they address them, games can sometimes be the best way do so. Games can make people feel like in they’re in another place and another moment in time, to give them perspective on serious events like these.
What was your thinking in *how* you decided to take on the task of creating a game around the Iranian elections? How are you handling the delicacy of the subject matter?
That’s a great question - how I approach such a volatile and sensitive topic is definitely at the forefront of my mind as I’m working on the game. I think one of the keys to creating a successful story about such a serious topic (in any medium) is that the core of the work should deal with emotions that translate to any place and time. I think anyone who is a parent or whose friends are parents can at least in some way relate to the pain a parent would feel losing their child.
There are a number of political issues I’d like to deal with in the game, but I think these will work best as subtext. By that I mean that your explicit goals as the player at any given moment don’t have to relate to the political situation. Instead, they will indirectly expose you to situations that encourage you to think about it more. For instance, one of the characters in the story is a police officer, and you will come across moments where police are being unnecessarily violent against protesters, as well as moments where they are the victims of violence (based on real events). By asking you as the player to deal with and resolve such situations, my hope is that you’ll ask yourself more about how such situations are created and what causes us to do such awful things to each other in such times.
How I approach these topics is especially important early on in the game’s development, so I’ve been taking time to do research and am trying to be very careful designing the game’s mechanics. I’m a very strong believer that everything you decide to put in a game says something explicitly, whether you realize it or not. I’ve recently been designing the gameplay differences between the father and mother characters and I’ve been trying to avoid making those differences based on the physical nature of the two characters (like the father being capable of taking more damage during a fight). Differences like that play up the unequal nature of the sexes, and downplay what role society has in controlling that inequality. So I’m trying to make those gameplay differences consist more of how other characters *react* to you, based on which character you are. For instance, the types of actions that would cause a nearby police officer to become suspicious of you and stop you would be different if you’re playing the father or mother. Everything in the game has to go through that kind of analysis and thought process.
I realize it is perhaps audacious for someone (especially, say, a white, middle class, U.S. citizen like me) to make a game, or any other piece of media, about such a different place and culture. But I also feel like this game really needs to be made, and I don’t see any else doing it - understanding people and trying to help them relate has always been a passion for me. What is your background? And what about your collaborators?
I’ve been working in game development for about 9 years, doing programming and some game design. After graduating from Georgia Tech in 1998, I did regular software programming for a little while and then eventually tried to create my own startup studio with a couple partners. That didn’t work out at the time, but it was an amazing learning experience. From there I went to work for Radical Entertainment, on a game based on the movie Scarface. Then I worked at Sony Online Entertainment on a PS3 launch title (Untold Legends). I’ve been at EA the past two and a half years, until I finally decided I had to get back to making my own games (while doing contract work on the side to help pay the bills). I’ve also taught game design at the Vancouver Film School, and have written about game development for a variety of books and websites.
I’ve started working with a couple artists, Amanda Williams, who did some of the art for the popular iPhone game Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, and Alex Drummond, who also does concept art for the game Edge of Twilight (which is currently in production). I’ve got a friend who’s offered to help me with sound effects, but I haven’t reached the stage in the project where that’s necessary yet. I still have a lot to determine about the music for the game though, as to what kind of music and how much there will be.
How does Kickstarter fit as an indie game funding model?
I think it has the potential to work very well for certain size games. A small downloadable game’s budget can range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousand. I think at the moment it probably works best for games in the $1-25k range, but hopefully that amount will increase both as Kickstarter’s audience grows, and as the audience for indie games grows.
What has your experience been so far?
It’s been great - in the first day alone I raised $836 and after three days I’m at 8% of my goal, $1211 out of $15k. Even if the project doesn’t meet its funding goal, it’s incredibly empowering to know there’s people out there who believe in you and want to see the project succeed.
How will you be keeping backers informed?
I plan on doing regular updates on the game’s development process. I still have to figure just how much I’ll publish publicly, and what information I’ll keep for those backers who have pledged for exclusive behind the scenes access. To start, I will probably only do detailed development updates every 2-3 weeks, with smaller updates here and there. As the development ramps up, detailed updates will probably become more frequent, maybe once a week or so. I’ll probably include in-progress art as well as insight into what problems and approaches I’m taking in the game’s design and programming.
How and where will the game be released?
The game will be available for download on PC, and ideally for download on the Xbox as well. The Xbox has two channels for downloadable games, Xbox Live Arcade and Xbox Live Indie. It’s easier to publish something on the Indie channel, but it also restricts the price you can charge to $5 (whereas I think the typical price for a game of this size and depth is about $10). The Indie channel also doesn’t have as broad a market as the Arcade channel. As I get closer to finishing the game, I’ll have to figure out if it’s worth the effort to go through the longer approval process for the Xbox Live Arcade, which also depends on Microsoft’s interest in publishing it on that channel. Because of the political nature of the game, they may want to keep it on the Indie channel.
As for the timeline of the game’s development, that’s still up in the air. Realistically, it’ll be at least 6 months of work, but it may take longer, even over a year. It depends partly on how successful the funding is via Kickstarter and how much of my time I can devote solely to developing the game.
Are you consulting any Iranians or anyone who was in Tehran as you develop this?
Absolutely - Right now I’m starting by just reaching out through my personal network. For instance I have a friend and ex-coworker whose parents are Iranian citizens and whose mother was actually in Iran this summer during some of the protests. I’m also hoping to make more contacts for additional interviews/research through the attention the project gets on Kickstarter - in fact while answering your questions I’ve already gotten an email from someone whose family is from Iran and who offered their support.
Aside from that I’m doing a lot of other research, reading about both the politics and culture of Iran. I would like to travel to Tehran myself, but I’m not yet sure how feasible that is.
Any closing thoughts?
I’m hopeful that indie game-playing community is open to both this kind of game and this kind of method of funding games. Part of the challenge is definitely figuring out how to get the word out there yourself, but Kickstarter is a really cool service and it has a lot of potential for indie game development. I’m excited to have my project on the site and to see how the site develops and grows over time as you open it up to more people. Thanks to you, and thanks to all my backers!