Yongyea Analyzes the System Shock Kickstarter

Yongyea gives us a 16 minute update on the troubled System Shock remaster Kickstarter project.

The always thorough Yongyea provides the litany of problems Nightdive brought on itself with this project. The 2015 Kickstarter brought in a phenomenal $1.3 million in funding, plus an additional $100,000 on Backerkit. You would expect this to be easy money for the devs. Here we are, almost three years later, and the thing is on indefinite hold.  Just a few red flags from Yongyea’s video:

  • Engine switch from Unity to Unreal
  • Art direction changes
  • Infrequent campaign updates
  • No hard delivery dates

A Troubled Kickstarter

Sounds like scope creep galore to me. Had I backed this project, the second they switched from Unity to Unreal I would have started wondering if I had wasted my money. From every game I’ve ever followed in the past, if there are problems during development or at the market, it can usually be traced back to the misguided decision to change engines mid development. The less-than-inspiring artwork shown afterward, as well as the musings about “modern design,” are enough to make me feel queasy. And I’m not even a backer. It’s like watching a car crash in motion.

I was surprised to see that CEO Steve Kick got his start as a character artist for SOE. Since 2012 he’s made a career off of giving old games facelifts on GOG and Steam. As a matter of fact, I own the updated versions of System Shock and System Shock 2 on GOG. So he has some business experience. Yongyea says Mr. Kick may have let the successful funding go to his head. It certainly sounds that way from his latest update, in which he admits things got away from him.

As some commentators observed, all Nightdive really had to do was update the controls and graphics, and give SHODAN new dialog. So why mess with the formula? Pride and ambition, perhaps. If, as Steve Kick’s bio claims, he really wanted to make his own games, he should have developed his own IP with modern design principles. I’m sure Nightdive will eventually get the game out there. But good will squandered is hard to recover. Just ask the Star Citizen guys.

What a shame.

Final Metal Gear Survive Trailer (2018)

I know, I know. I said I was going to move Metal Gear to the background on this blog after the Phantom Pain. But it’s a busy day in my office, and it doesn’t feel right to ignore a new Metal Gear game. Here’s the last trailer of this side quest, Metal Gear Survive. It’s about two minutes long:

I did not play in the beta, and haven’t really followed the news. So I have no idea if it’s actually a good game or not. The MGSV engine is pretty solid though. (No pun intended.) I will not be picking this game up until much later, if at all. I’m more interested in follow up Metal Gear games. Konami is moving toward profitability in its post Kojima life, so I have a feeling we won’t be seeing any $50-80 million dollar projects from them soon. That said, the Metal Gear franchise is too storied to just stay mothballed forever. And I think I’m not alone in the sentiment that we need a clean break from Kojima and his vision for future games. So we can probably expect a revival in the future. When and how is anybody’s guess. Outside the company, that is.

There is the small matter of the 20th anniversary of Metal Gear Solid this October. I will be doing a Read From Memory series, of course. But some point this year, I would not be overly amazed if a remake were announced to mark the milestone. If not that, maybe a PS4 enhanced release? A dream of mine is to see The Twin Snakes ported to the Switch. I highly doubt that would happen, but never say never, I suppose.

For now, fans will have to content themselves with Metal Gear Survive. As I said, the game looks decent, if nothing else, and could be a fun diversion while we wait for bigger news, and better games.

Derek Yu Talks to Rolling Stone

Over at Glixel, Rolling Stone talks with Derek Yu, of Spelunky fame. I hadn’t realized the indie darling went through such a windy road in his career. Compare this interview with the piece about Tokyo Jungle and Yohei Kataoka’s path. There are some similarities between the two creatives, but whereas one guy is indie-famous and released a smash hit, we’re left wondering what the other is doing these days. It’s kind of sobering.

On the surface, their outcomes appear counterintuitive. Yu is mostly a self-made success, with lots of shout-outs to his parents and support system, of course. Kataoka and his team achieved only moderate results despite the support of a big publisher – and who’s bigger than Sony in Japan? But then, if we think about it for a few minutes, large risks can and do lead to large payoffs. Sometimes.

Passion and drive are key components in this space for anybody. If you’re going indie and you’re solo, you lose out on the benefits of structured guidance. And let’s not understate the importance of a regular check. You have to make your own star and follow it too. Not the easiest thing in the world to do. And I suspect that, given how many start out on this path and flame out, there’s a strong survivor bias as to what works and what doesn’t. Just look at the journalist’s comments about how not many indies became household names. That’s a laughable statement: never heard of John Carmack and John Romero, huh? But I get the point. At least in the early 80s, designers weren’t celebrated, and it took disaffected Atari devs who formed Activision, along with Trip Hawkins at EA, to change the culture to where designers and teams got their names in the product.

Still, now that the golden era of indies seems to be fading – at least from the halcyon days of 2005-2013 – I wonder how the next generation will turn out. New platforms and new opportunities abound to be seized by those with the right ambition, vision, and a little bit of luck.

Longplay: Doom (SNES)

As played by bg048, Doom on the SNES. This is the Knee Deep in the Dead episode, on Nightmare setting. The video is about 1 hour 18 minutes long:

Doom on the SNES was quite a technical accomplishment for its time, even if it left a lot to be desired vis-à-vis the PC version. Some of the development story is told in the excellent 2004 book Masters of Doom. If I remember right, the initial porting work was given to a different programmer from the core id software team. He left a lot to be desired, and to get the game to run adequately on the SNES hardware, some technical wizardry was needed.

It’s been a long time since I read the book, so don’t quote me on all that. I’m sure interviews and post mortems can be found on the internet, if you’re really curious. What I do know is that the cart used the special FX chips, without which I’m pretty sure the game wouldn’t run. Several levels were cut in the final version, and if you notice the monster animations are very limited. They can’t turn, for instance.

The soundtrack is a high point still, in my opinion, on the SNES.

There’s probably no need to hunt down a copy or a ROM if you’ve played old Doom ever in your life. But for me this brings back a lot of fond memories.

Tokyo Jungle – Some Inspiration for Game Devs

I saw this item on Gamasutra: a 2013 GDC talk about inexperienced devs creating Tokyo Jungle. Yohei Kataoka is the speaker. The video is about an hour long, though the Q&A is the last 10-15 minutes or so, and you can skip it in my opinion.

 

From my notes, the interesting part is how many concepts the studio developed before finally settling on Tokyo Jungle. Some of those, like a lone cartographer charting a 2D open world, sound like they could have been good games. Some of the seemingly serendipitous events Katakoa describes contributed to his studio’s success with SCE and their product. The critic reviews weren’t great, but they did manage to ship a game on a console. I call that a big win.

I rather like the idea of the team handling most of its marketing materials. That initial keyframe animation for Tokyo Jungle done in After Effects was probably far more effective than any talking pitch they could have done. I instantly got what they were shooting for, without having to sift through a ten-pager or even glance at a one page DD.

In the five years since the talk, I think some are still debating what’s going on with the Japanese game front. But beyond a short anime game in 2014, I can’t find anything else that the Crispy’s team has worked on. So that’s kind of an anti-climatic feeling after the inspirational talk. The main takeaway though is to use some good business sense when getting into indie dev. Kataoka and his initial team knew that they needed funding to continue working on games, or as he puts it, to be profitable. That should be the only concern if you’re reaching beyond the hobbyist level.

Gameplay: Madden 09 (PS2)

I took an informal poll of my gaming pals for today’s nostalgia post. The 00’s Madden series came up, which I’m largely ignorant of. In fact  I haven’t played a Madden game since Madden ’93. Football just isn’t my cup of tea. But we’re always on the look out for sampling different gameplay here at Usualjay.com, so here’s a gameplay video of Madden 09:

Seems like a fun game, but as I said it’s not my forte. Madden, of course, has been a powerhouse franchise for decades, though it seems like there might be some series fatigue of late. My friend called this the “last good Madden”, at least on PS2. I assume this might have been the last Madden on PS2 at all.

 

Wizards Announces Battlebond

Magic the Gathering is getting a new set format for its 25th anniversary this year: Battlebond, for Two-Headed Giant drafting. From the announcement:

Battlebond is this year’s “Draft innovation” set. You’ve seen Draft innovation sets in years past with Conspiracy, Conspiracy: Take the Crown, and Unstable. For 2018, we’re doing something brand new: Battlebond!

So, what exactly is the new twist behind the drafting format this time?

Battlebond is the first set in Magic’s history designed specifically for Two-Headed Giant play! Some sets, like Oath of the Gatewatch, have dabbled with this in the past, but Battlebond takes that to the next level. The new mechanics in Battlebond are unlike anything we’ve ever done in Magic, and they really elevate the promise of Two-Headed Giant to its full potential!

The brand new plane, Kylem, is apparently inspired by e-sports. I wonder if it’s going to be Blizzard themed somehow…just kidding. The more interesting news is that the 254 card set will include many reprints, which “we will be excited for” with 85 new cards. These will be legal in Legacy, Vintage, and EDH too. The set is due to drop on June 8th.

Magic 25 is also set to be a huge shot in the arm for the flagging popularity of the game. Considering rumors that Hasbro might be priming Wizards for a sale, Battlebond might be another way to drum up interest.  Two-Headed Giant is fun but I rarely play it, so I don’t foresee getting into the set. Unless I get “excited” for the reprints once the spoilers start to drop.

On the Switch Lifecycle

IGN reports on the recent Nintendo Investor call that the venerable game maker plans to keep the Switch around for longer than the 5-6 year window. Not a big shocker, given the huge success of their latest console. From the post:

“Up until now, the hardware lifecycle has trended at around five or six years, but it would be very interesting if we could prolong that life cycle, and I think you should be looking forward to that.”

Miyamoto also touched on plans for their “marketing strategy… to instill a desire to purchase Nintendo Switch among a wide consumer base” all around the world, citing the portability of the console as its “biggest attraction.”

That shouldn’t be a big problem for them. But I do wonder what that means for the 3DS platform. Some fourteen years ago one of my good friends observed they (Nintendo) “make handhelds now.” Meaning, of course, the handheld market was their only viable space to operate in. The Wii was the farthest thing from anybody’s mind in 2004 (remember Revolution?) but he had a point.

How will the Switch hold up against the next round of so-called “core” systems in the 2019-2020 cycle? The “play anywhere” mantra is going well for them, but as always the devil will be in the games. 2017 will go down in their history as one of the strongest years for first party games. What’s in the pipe beyond Metroid Prime 4 for the U.S. audience? I sense some more exclusivity coups coming in the future.

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

 

Kickstarter Look 40 Winks

After all these years, the Nintendo 64 is getting a new game: 40 Winks. Piko Interactive blew the dust off this abandoned GT Interactive project and put it up on Kickstarter. At the time of this writing, 40 Winks reached its first goal of $20,000, so it’s going to happen. Here’s a video about the beta by Glenn Plant (6 and a half minutes long):

Analysis

The Kickstarter description has a brief history of the game IP and GT Interactive’s woes, which I’ve come to be acquainted with during my journeys through game dev. But more on that in another entry. The press kit includes a Dreamcast stretch goal at $250,000, which I didn’t see on the Kickstarter page. The page says this is Piko’s first Kickstarter, but company head Eleazar Galindo Navarro has experience doing these. See the 4-in-1 SNES cart from 2014, for example. In any case, Piko is doing something right, since 40 Winks project already cleared +60% of its initial goal.

I have no idea what the costs will be for them to manufacture and distribute boxed N64 games. But they’ve been around for a while, so I’m assuming that they know what they’re doing. From a cost perspective, anyway. That said, I’m not overly enthused about going back to the n64 era in a 3D action platformer adventure. “Move over Mario…” is quite a high bar to clear. We shouldn’t discount the novelty of a brand new Nintendo 64 game though. Without knowing more about the dev team I can’t say if they’ll improve on the limitations of the system. Even if 40 Winks would have been a late stage release.

This New Year’s blog post lists an impressive array of abandoned catalogs, including Hasbro, Accolade, and Microprose. That’s quite a starter pack to get a niche publishing house going. I would love to see an updated Fields of Glory, if that IP is included in their acquisition.

Links to Piko Interactive and other stories are below, if you’re interested. Hat tip to NintendoLife for the original story.

Cancelled Games: Damage Inc. (Metallica)

Once upon a time, during the St. Anger era of that famous metal band, I caught a story on some outlet about a Metallica themed car combat game. Damage Inc seemed like a natural title for such a project. A short CGI trailer came with the St. Anger album, with a promise of a 2005 release date. That was the last I heard about it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game never came out. Fast forward 15 years or so. Lo and behold, footage of this cancelled oddity is on YouTube. Check out this excellent video PtoPOnline about Damage Inc.:

At the time I scoffed at the idea. But the early build of the gameplay, now I wish it had come out. If the developer used the right Metallica tracks this might have become a cult classic.

The games that never come, eh?