6 Amazing Indie Video Games That Kickstarter Made Possible
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:
Double Fine Adventure
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.
If you liked the idea of Minecraft -- a simple, flexible game about construction and teamwork -- but you really missed shooting people in the face, then either Guncraft or anger management courses might be for you. Guncraft is a Voxel-based game, which means that the same principles as Minecraft apply: The environment is totally customizable, and can be altered at whim. You can build whatever you want, and explore a vast world full of yours and others' creations -- it's just that now you can blow their shit up, too.
From that video, you can see player-made recreations of anything from fictional dystopias to New Haven, Connecticut, and all of them are totally constructable in-game -- and destructible. So sure, you can build fortifications, cities, bunkers, working helicopters and tanks -- but more importantly, you can ruin other people's hard work with a rocket launcher. It's like a multiplayer game of Legos where you don't get in trouble for kicking your stupid little brother's gay Eiffel Tower into pieces.
Although, I think they actually made a misstep when they assured us that every construction resets after the round, so you don't have to worry about destroying things. Sure, maybe you should have the option to save items like smart objects for restoration, but how amazing would it be if there wasn't an autoreset? If it actually cost resources to restore something? You'd have people truly invested in the world, just like reality. Buildings would be under attack by assholes, of course, just as they are today, but you'd also have organized guilds of guards protecting them because they had a stake in constructing them. It would be a world falling apart before your eyes, but always struggling to stay together. That's perhaps the most convincing apocalypse simulator to date.
The Banner Saga
Kickstarter moves fast. By the time this article goes up, most of these projects will probably already be over. I'm going to check back in before this article runs and verify that all of the above games met their funding and are getting made (because Christ, this would be the worst kind of cocktease if all of these projects failed to reach their goals).
So you'll definitely be getting a chance to play those games, which is excellent, but you also lost the ability to say you liked these not only before they were cool, but before they even existed. (Dang. That's the ultimate in hipster cred, isn't it? It's no wonder they love this Kickstarter thing so much.) But if you're quick on the draw, you can still pledge to The Banner Saga.
And good lord, how could you not? The Banner Saga is somewhere between Dragon's Lair, Game of Thrones and Final Fantasy Tactics. It's a beautifully hand-drawn, animated adventure with turn-based tactical strategy set in a post-apocalyptic Viking world.
If you didn't start throwing your money at the screen six words into that last sentence, then you're either completely dead inside, or else you enjoy things that are different from the things that I enjoy, in which case you are dead to me. (Also, if you did start throwing money at the screen in a bout of consumer-based epilepsy -- you should probably pick that shit up. That's not how currency works. Come on, man, get it together.)
If you're anything like me, you've been waiting quietly with astounding and impossible patience for three things: another Final Fantasy Tactics, a return to classical animation a la Dragon's Lair or Symphony of the Night and the right time to strike -- because you've been waiting for 10 goddamn years now and there's only so much impatient, frustrated rage a man can take before he starts mailing feces to Square Enix.
But the wait is finally over. Somebody wants to give you an isometric, tactics-based RPG -- plus the apocalypse, plus motherfucking Vikings -- and all they want in return is 15 measly bucks. That's less than the cost of postage plus delivery confirmation for a single box of anger poo!
OK. I'm going to be very careful here, because I've rewritten this section 10 times now, and every time it just turns into a sloppy curry of swear words, exclamation points and affirmatives. So here goes: Thanks to Kickstarter, they're making Wasteland 2. Yes, you fucking heard that right. Wasteland goddamn fuck yes shit god fuckin' A right motherfucking Wasteland 2!
For those of you unfamiliar with the game, and therefore not swearing prolifically at your co-workers and/or loved ones right now, Wasteland was the godfather of the Fallout series -- Interplay only made Fallout in the first place because they couldn't get the rights back to the Wasteland brand. Which means that a Wasteland team is, by default, going to be much of the same team from the first two Fallout games, working on what is essentially a new installment of the Fallout series. And even though I loved Fallout 3 and New Vegas dearly, those were Elder Scrolls: The Apocalypse games, not actual Fallout games. No, a true Fallout sequel would be a top-down, strategically based tactical combat game with extremely nonlinear game play, infinite replayability, sharp writing and absolutely merciless mechanics. And that's what this is:
And if you're quick, you can help fund it right now.
If, uh ... if you have any money left. Shit, this really shouldn't have been the last entry, should it? Sorry about that. Just tell your landlord that Cracked spent your rent money this month; we'll send them a voucher or something.
You can buy Robert's other book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.
For more from Brockway, check out In Defense of Games as Art and 5 Bizarre Ways Video Games Are Screwing Up Your Health.