9th March 2014

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Draft targeted for 2014-03-09

Covers crowdfunding news from 2014-02-23 through 2014-03-09

Volunteers

Collect candidate projects: <NAME>

Nominate projects: Muntdefems, Q4a, scaine, s.d.

Order nominated projects: S.D.

Writing:

  • Intro: scaine
  • What Happened: scaine
  • Still in the Running: scaine
  • New picks: s.d., scaine

Graphics: Speedster?

Working space

Nominated projects

Biggies

1. EarthLock: Festival of Magic

Hidden Gems

4. Heart & Slash

3. Saga Heroes

2. Nothing To Hide

1. Shrug Island

Article content

Intro paragraph

Welcome to the Funding Crowd issue #29! As with last issue, it's been a quieter than normal period for funding campaigns, so we have only a few projects to cover this time around and a handful of new projects to bring to your attention. However, with a reduced body count contributing to the articles, that's actually a good thing! As we noted last issue - we need your help! An hour a week, if that, to write up a project or two, would make all the difference to sourcing this article. Or, feel free to help Muntdefems on the WIKI. And many thanks to Q4a who did just that and brought our attention to our sole Biggie this article!

Enough begging, however... we have some pride left! The article beckons, so buckle up and read on!

What Happened

Losers

It was always going to be a tough ask, and sadly the wonderful spirit behind Shattered Time wasn't enough to capture the imagination of the crowd-funding public at large. It failed hugely, claiming only $3k from its $100k target. Daniel Swiger claims to have learnt a lot from its failure, however, and we have little doubt that he'll be back once he's refined the scope of his project.

Our second sad loss to the world of future gaming is Catapult for Hire. Tyrone Henrie is less upbeat about his failure and wonders whether he'll be able to bring his cel-shaded, projectile-throwing puzzler to light at all. Being unable to work on his project full time will require a full rethink of how this one pans out. We'll bring you whatever news we hear on this one. A real shame.

Winners

Needing just $1000NZD to secure its funding, 39 days to Mars was never really in doubt. However, it's great that it secured that crucial $2000NZD stretch, since it means that we Linux users can get a taste of co-operative, coffee-break puzzling action.

Still in the Running

Starting with a project that needs our help, the visual novel Dysfunctional Systems has achieved over half its target, but still needs a push over the next two weeks to cross the finish line.

The space adventure, Star Crawlers only has a couple of days still to run, but completed its target $65k with over a week to run and has veritable feast of stretch goals planned out. The team has these goals set at relatively tiny increments, clearly in the hope of securing more funds. Well worth checking this one out as your pledges will still make a big difference to a fantastic looking game.

Meanwhile, the excellent-looking Galactic Princess has made its target with over a week still to run, so there's plenty of time to get some stretch goals sorted! They've already nailed two, which add a fair bit of content and customisation to the game, and the next stretch goal takes it even further with additional mechanics to expand the game in new directions.

And finally, after its stellar start, in which The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 doubled its target in just 5 days, things have finally settled down for the KING Art team. Making an additional $50k in the last fortnight is still great, but they're now trending to a more reasonable quarter of a million and not the frankly insane half million they were initially on track for.

Biggies

EarthLock: Festival of Magic

Writing about Earthlock is tricky. There's just so much to tell you about, we're not really sure where to start! The big, geographically diverse, experienced team behind it? The fact it looks like a wonderful combination of Final Fantasy and Zelda? How about, despite being a Biggie, its achievable, low target of just $150k? Or the fact it's been in development for over a year now, so not only is there a ton of great footage, but it's also very clear that the backstory is well developed and the characters already fully rounded out? Or the fact that there's a preview demo already out for Linux? Or even the fact that the studio is employing the same art studio that worked on Broken Age and The Walking Dead? So, indeed, where to start?

Earthlock: Festival of Magic will be Snowcastle Games second endeavour. Their first was an iOS educational game that launched in 2011 and won awards that same year. Needless to say, this will be a fair step up from that initial game. As before, they're again using Unity, so that familiarity is likely the reason that we're getting some Linux love this time around.

The game itself is based on the magical world of Umbra, which one day, for reasons unknown, stopped spinning. As the game describes it, "Volcanoes awoke and oceans moved. Kingdoms and civilizations were buried or drowned". The game is set in the only habitable regions left between the two shattered sides of the planet.

The game mechanics revolve around a free-roaming element, a la Final Fantasy, but without that game's infuriating random battles. Combat is turn-based, again like Final Fantasy, but uses an innovative pairing system, in which characters pair up into teams of Protector/Attacker. This gives your party dynamic a new edge as you meet new characters that could be recruited. Different characters will create new combos depending on their pair/partner, giving access to new abilities that may be vital strategically.

Finally, your home village will incorporate some crafting and harvesting elements. What you craft or harvest back in your village is literally the ammunition and spell abilities that you can cast in combat, so there will be an investment in doing this right.

Backing this unique and imaginative game would normally require a $20 pledge. However, there are still over 500 early bird pledges available at $15, so head on over to Kickstarter and have your Amazon Payment account on standby! The game has already been Greenlit on Steam, so your pledge can either ask for DRM-free downloads or a Steam key, your choice. It's already raised over $30k in two days, so it looks like a sure bet. With your help, it will be.


Hidden Gems

Saga Heroes

Saga Heroes comes from another developer leveraging Unity3D to bring their game to All The Platforms, placing us on equal footing with the other desktop platforms, as well as mobiles and micro-consoles. This fantasy action-RPG offers astonishingly high production values for this year-long "nights and weekends" project by the folks at Wasatch Games, and this is reflected in their Kickstarter pitch video, which we encourage you to check out.

The development team claims to place a heavy emphasis on exploration and adventuring on the world Gaia, with expansive lore due to their other major title, an MMORTS in the Saga setting, and a feature film called Shadow Cabal by a group of independent film-makers whom are friends of the development team. That film was also Kickstarted, by the way, making this whole thing very much a crowd-funded phenomenon.

The game is played via a slightly off top-down camera, with mechanics familiar to players of ARPGs, especially in the Super NES era, but offering more contemporary aesthetics. Examples of play are provided in several campaign videos, and appears similar to titles like The Bard's Tale, with a satisfying hack/slash/loot cycle, a familiar quest and side-quest system, as well as NPC interaction. From the primary design characteristics to the underpinnings of the backstory, what is being offered is very comfortable and somewhat derivative. That's not always a bad thing, though, and the team clearly believes in their world and the characters that occupy it, so they have offered backers a glimpse into the mythos authored for their work, in one of their project updates. While not notably inventive, once occupied with the stories of heroes, a world like this can grow as their creations do.

More help will be needed to rescue these Heroes, as the project still needs $7K toward its $10,000USD goal for finishing funds on the title, with most of the campaign remaining, but if the goal is reached, their funds will be doubled by the folks at OUYA. It will also be very interesting to see how the team handles running afoul of their Saga contemporaries from the distant shores of Crushing Candia, where King giants stomp on lowly commoners like this team of independent developers. If you're interested in seeing how that epic battle shakes out, or in questing your way through the lands of Gaia, check out their pitch, perhaps take your chances in Wine with their demo, and pledge $10USD for a download of the finished game if you like what you see.


Heart & Slash

We love to see developers try something new, and revel in all of the bizarre and awesome genre-crossings that bubble up from the crowd-funding primordial ooze. Along the lines of mad ideas, we have Heart & Slash, a procedurally generated third-person action brawler with a 3D cel-shaded take on the pixel-perfect art of gaming up to the 90's, and an odd twist.

In each run, the player guides Heart, the protagonist, through its journey of self-discovery as it dodges the menacing agents of the Quality Assurance System that dominates the world's robotic landscape. This world has no biological life; only robots executing their programming, and Quality Assurance agents enforcing the conformity of every cybernetic entity they come in contact with. QA may just be doing its job, but Heart is seeking individuality, and it's your job to help it shred anything that gets in its way via 75 different weapons and 60 different robotic parts and upgrades. Abilities like freezing time, flying, wall-jumping and so forth are all available to be had, some equipped at the start and others found along the way. Beyond that is where things get weird, and kind of interesting!

One major difficulty with designing a rogue-like-like (or "procedural death labyrinth"?) is engaging the player through dozens or hundreds of playthroughs ("runs"). This tends to be conveyed via story elements, new game plus, or a shifting meta-game. Slashing to the Heart of this game, we find at its core... a love story. Love between robots? Certainly not unheard of in science-fiction, nor in gaming, but this is probably the first procedural action game The Funding Crowd have seen in which such a relationship is found at the center of the critical story arc. Heart's love interest, an acerbic and aggressive denizen of the labyrinth named Slash, is practically an enemy at their first encounter. However, the lore of the game states that these robots are all cloned and rebuilt between runs, in a Groundhog Day-esque repeating loop. As the sci-fi trope goes, some elements of prior instances persist in Heart's cybernetic brain, and in this way, the players repeated deaths are written into the story itself. Moreover, the player's choices, particularly interactions with Slash, have persisting metagame effects, primarily the direction of their relationship. So, that's kind of unique, isn't it?

Give the trailer a watch if this piques your interest, as it has done for over 500 backers already, essentially ensuring that the Heart & Slash team will have their chance to bring it to life so that you can die repeatedly... and perhaps, fall in love. DRM-free downloads begin with the $10USD tier.


Nothing To Hide

It's a rare circumstance in which have the opportunity to recommend the campaign of an open-source game to our readers (exceptions include the amazing 0 A.D.), yet here we have Nothing To Hide. The game's creator, Nicky Case, has gone to lengths to ensure an impressively high level of transparency by freeing all the code and assets, from art to music, via Creative Commons Zero (public domain) licensing, and further by ensuring that backers who are able to fund the game via a credit card will have their pledge split into fourths. Each fourth beyond the first are only charged when milestones are achieved. This openness is no coincidence, as Nothing To Hide certainly has something to say.

A public demo version of the game's progress-to-date is available for play in a browser as well as 32 and 64-bit downloads, as well as code and assets (as mentioned above). This 2D puzzler features an anti-stealth mechanic, where the story's protagonist is forced to haul a surveillance camera everywhere she goes, to ensure that she's being properly monitored at all times. In the dystopian future setting of the game, all must be watched, and at all times. The incredibly creepy background audio sets the mood perfectly, and I could only play so much without becoming unsettled. The protagonist's facial expression didn't help me in that regard. Being unseen gets her shot by off-camera snipers, after which the level resets.

The entire game is two parts commentary on to the role of privacy in daily life and society as a whole to one part unsubtle allegory of totalitarian rule. However, it's also a clever and scathing criticism of today's government intelligence organizations, and amongst the creepy references and moody atmosphere, a few funny jabs at the NSA, et. al., are to be found as well. Liam already covered the project a couple of weeks ago, but we felt it worth another mention since the project closes soon, on March 12th, and still requires another $7K or so to reach it's $40,000USD goal. Openness and privacy are so important to the project creator that he's also promised to shift 10% of each pledge to a few non-profit groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons. At least one member of The Funding Crowd has pledged here, and I must say, rarely has a pledge felt so good (the possible exception being the already-mentioned 0 A.D.!)

Usually, we like to help you out by reporting the minimum pledge tier here at the end of a write-up, but in this case (as, indeed with all free software) everyone has the right to a copy, provided the game can be made. So check out the demo (and maybe the sources!), and if you like what you see, we suggest you open your wallets to a level you feel comfortable with, and hope that some of the larger penguins might toss in a few extra herring to cover refugees from GOL's sale page!


Shrug Island

Fans of the point-n-click genre are in for a real treat in Shrug Island, an adorable hand-illustrated 2D puzzle-adventure set in a lovely fantasy world of magic, music and mystery. Beginning it's life as an animated film project between teams in France and Norway, the Shrugs creators believe deeply in the compelling world they've created, and feel that an interactive experience is the natural extension of their prior work.

Navigate the island home of the eponymous Shrugs, a fantastical migratory people who communicate through their music and with their unusual bodies, notably the shoulder gestures from which their name is taken. They're a gentle people who play, build with nature itself, and literally sprout wings annually to flee the tidal cycle that floods their home each year. The player follows the story of two unusual Shrug children seeking to find each other through ambient storytelling and a music puzzling system vaguely reminiscent of LOOM.

Beyond that, the team calls out a group venerable adventure game influences including Simon the Sorcerer and the Dig, as well as newer games like Botanicula, Sword and Sworcery, and Knytt Underground. In fact, that Knytt mention is not coincidental, as the game design team includes Nifflas (Nicklas Nygren) himself.

His name should be known in the Linux community due to his titles NightSky HD, Knytt Underground, and loads of smaller (free!) games and experiments. His attention to atmosphere and ambient detail may mesh well with the impressive hand-drawn cel animation. We suspect that it is due to this high-production value animation quality that the team expects Shrug Island to feel like a hand-painted animated film with a story woven together by the player. It is also likely due to the financial constraints of such ambitious animation that they expect to deliver the game in four episodes of 1-2hrs in length each.

The project has passed a third of it's required $25,000USD funding goal with half of the campaign remaining. We at The Funding Crowd suggest that any point-n-click fans, or parents of little penguin gamers, take a look at this adventure and consider helping it reach it's goal. A $10USD pledge will secure a download of chapter 1, and those with a little more faith (and disposable income) can take a chance at the entire finished game and some goodies by choosing the $30USD tier.

Conclusion

And there you have it! Tight, laser beam focus on a small handful of the best crowd funding projects worthy of your attention. And of course, your money. We hope you enjoyed it and we hope we'll see you again next time! And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, we hope you'll consider joining the team - just send a private message to one of the team who brought you this issue, Muntdefems, scaine, Speedster, and S.D, or simply reply down below about joining up.

Until next time!

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