Hey, how many of you guys have heard of Kickstarter? What's that? All of you? Literally everybody on the entire Internet is totally familiar with it? Well shit, that's me: always late to the party -- usually because I got carried away with the pregame and ended up marrying another Filipino in a confused attempt to get citizenship in order to move to Amsterdam. (Side note: I don't know where Amsterdam is.) Kickstarter is no different. I checked it out in the early days, back when it just seemed to be a pay-it-forward system for hipsters trying to postpone each other's impending adulthood, but nobody even got stabbed in the end, so I lost interest quickly.
Don't let stuff like this fool you; it's not just for assholes anymore.
But apparently, while I was busy being arrogantly dismissive, Kickstarter was busy providing more funding for creative projects this year than the National Endowment of the Arts. And you know what's so amazing about that? They're using a modern definition of art -- one that includes both comic books and video games, as well as more expectedly offbeat standbys like Nepalese Dance Shouting festivals and Battle Knitting. Why, I've even heard that some assholes use it to fund weird little druggie sci-fi time travel books.
But it's the games that I'm most excited about here. Because we're finally about to get the answer to a very important question: What happens when you remove video games from the publisher model, and start treating it like any other art form?
Aside from the inevitable pretension and morbidity, of course.
The answer: your desperate, fevered fan dreams made into a reality. Every gamer knows what I'm referring to here. We all have that one amazing game in our heads that someday, somehow, some nebulous body should build, and make, like, a billion dollars from it. Whether that's a brilliant new idea, the perfect combination of existing elements or a sequel that never got made -- much like Martin Luther King Jr., we all have a dream. Except ours is less about racial equality and more about mixing Left 4 Dead with GTA IV.
Now, I can only speak anecdotally here, but I found that nearly every single one of my long-shot dream games is already being made, thanks to Kickstarter. Let me show you them:
This is the one you've probably heard about: the big story that launched Kickstarter games into the limelight. The unerring Double Fine Productions wanted to make another adventure game, but those things apparently sell like hot, wet death these days. They couldn't imagine a publisher taking interest, so they put one finger dramatically into the air and yelled "To the Internet!" Not only did they make their budget in record time, but they finished funding at over $3 million -- nearly 10 times what they were asking for.
I guess that means we like our death piping and soggy, publishers.
But hold up, we don't have to go overboard and proclaim the death of the establishment just yet. Kickstarter or otherwise fan-funded games will probably never replace the publisher model, just like e-books won't kill conventional publishing. Just because a new and different way to do things comes along, that doesn't mean the old way should be cast adrift in a flaming longboat. What this is, however, is an alternative. And any alternative to an established system doubles as something else: a weapon. Now if a publisher wants too many changes, asks for a drastically slashed budget or wants to install their bullshit DRM, developers don't necessarily have to do the Charlie Brown walk all the way down to the unemployment line; they can point to Kickstarter and say "Maybe we'll give that a shot."
Then they can point at the dismissive publisher, raise a solitary, unwavering middle finger and say, "And maybe you'll give this a shot," then walk out the door to blazing guitar riffs.
Rez was an art project/music game/rail shooter made back in 2001. It was incredible, and there's never been anything like it since -- mostly because nobody tried. It did decent sales, but was by no means a blockbuster, despite it being so desperate to please that it would literally jack you off if you asked nicely.
Alas, there would never be a sequel to Rez, but that's OK -- not everything needs one. I mean, the appeal was in the novelty; where would you even take it next?
How about multiplayer?
This is Auditorium 2: Duet, a sort of cooperative, puzzle-based Rez. More a sequel in spirit than mechanics, Auditorium is also all about the synesthesia of making music with visual elements.
So why am I so pumped about something only tangentially related to one of my favorite games? Well, when it first came out, I was playing Rez with a wily Asian gentleman known only as "Chad" in the basement of one of those conglomerations of shiftless 20-somethings that existed after college. In a way, the game was already important to me because of the implied cooperative element. We would take turns going through the single player, one after another, marveling at how our different play styles created wholly different games. In another way, it was important to me because I was ludicrously high and it had pretty colors.
Regardless, it would've been unthinkably awesome if we could've skipped the jury-rigging and just handed a second controller to Chad to see how the play styles impacted each other in real time. And now, with Auditorium 2, I finally can do just that!
Except that I'm no longer a shiftless 20-something, and I no longer have a basement Asian to game with. But maybe you do. Maybe this can be your new Rez, stoned post-college nerds. And maybe I envy and despise you for that, just a little.
Hey, remember when Notch, the developer of Minecraft, mentioned that he wanted to make a "space game that's more like Firefly," where you deal with space battles and exploration as a crew member on the inside of the ship?
It was practically inevitable that the Internet would collectively dork their khakis over the concept. I have to admit, it is one of the more brilliant "I have a game" moments. It's something I never realized I always wanted until the second he said it, and now I can only wonder how I've gone through this hollow pretense of a life without playing it.
Well, here you go:
This is FTL. It's like Firefly meets Star Control: an interior-of-the-ship-based space exploration game, where you control the crew as they repair the damage, work the controls, man the battle stations and dramatically fling themselves about with every hit in a Kirk-esque display of pantomime. It certainly doesn't seem to be a graphical monster, but if Minecraft itself proved anything, it's that gamers don't necessarily need that to have fun. We're just fine fighting square monsters on a vast plain of squares with our trusty square, thanks.
But if you didn't like Firefly for the up close and personal portrayal of starship life, but rather because you're a huge fan of cowboys engaging in advanced aerial warfare, somebody's finally indulging your bizarre, niche fetish: Check out Guns of Icarus Online.
It's a steampunk airship crew multiplayer ship-to-ship battle game, and astoundingly, that's not just beautiful Engrish on the side of a Japanese coffee drink. Guns of Icarus is roughly the same concept as FTL -- ship-to-ship battle as the actual crew inside of the ship -- it's just that this one goes by way of Team Fortress 2 rather than Star Control. So if you've always wanted to don a waistcoat and hit a blimp with a flamethrower, but you've already been banned from all the local air shows, this here is your jam.