Kickstarter, older games, and the packaging up of gaming nostalgia

kotor2

KOTOR2 featured in the Steam Autumn Sale this week for the grand sum of £1.74. And you know what? I realise I never stopped loving this style of RPG.

Let it be widely known that the long-awaited Kickstarter gaming backlash has officially kicked off!

Oh, there had been stirrings in the blogosphere previously. People wondering if punters really thought about projects before they hit ‘donate’, projects that collected money for ‘tech demos’  or ‘demo videos’ on the backs of a zealous fanbase, projects that raised their funding but failed, projects that simply failed to raise the funding required (maybe the fanbase just wasn’t zealous enough.)

None of that indicates a broken system. When you throw money at a kickstarter you are taking a risk. And it is the nature of crowdfunding to favour creators with an established fanbase.

But the more recent trend is for old designers to come out of the woodwork with a shiny new kickstarter to produce some updated version of a nostalgic fan favourite. It worked when Double Fine reminded people that actually they did like point and click adventure games, or Jane Jensen reminded them that she was still writing and still liking these games too. Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen, aside from showing convincing video, reminded people that they liked open world space sims.

I’m an old enough gamer to have loved all those genres too the first time around, and to miss the lack of those genres in the current scene, so I wish the devs and backers all the best of luck.

But then we move to the pitches that just failed to convince. Brenda Romero and Tom Halls ‘Old School RPG’ kickstarter seemed to just remind people of all the things they didn’t like about old school RPGs. For once, even having big name designers didn’t stop punters from murmuring (check the comments on this thread) that it looked like a half thought out cash grab, not a fully realised project. David Braben’s Elite Kickstarter (currently just under halfway to its $1.25m goal)  made people wonder why someone with a successful studio behind them couldn’t get some funding together without going to the fans – or maybe Star Citizen just got to those fans first. And now Peter Molyneux is proposing a God Game kickstarter (aka Populous remake).

I liked all of these games back in the day – apart possibly from the old school RPGs which could get pretty tedious. There are genres that could use a remake with a modern sensibility for gamers who never played the classics of yore. Particularly because some of these games, being designed for old slow hardware, don’t require heavy twitch skills. And they date from before the era of everyone-has-internet, compulsory multiplayer features. (Obviously both of these features will probably get designed out to match more current trends.)

But I am down with letting the teams actually build and release the games before I buy them now. Some of these projects are way too ambitious in scope for my taste. By all means be ambitious, but when Tim Schafer says he’s going to build a single player adventure game in the style of the old adventure games he became known for, I believe him.  When Chris Roberts says he’s going to build a new Wing Commander with a huge sandbox online component as well as a single player game, I think “Good luck, I’ll believe it when I see it. And I’ll happily buy in once its done.”

Also the amounts being asked for don’t bear much resemblance to costs so much as a ‘how much can we get?’ approach. Kickstarters were once seen as a way for indies with good ideas to get some backing from people who liked those ideas too, and now we’re looking at some kind of nostalgia cash grab. Not only that, but as backers get bored of the endless stream of ‘hey pay us money to remake XYZ, we have a sketchy outline and we’re working on a demo’, other creators are going to find themselves on the downturn of a trend that once offered them an airing and a genuinely innovative way to do business.

Jeff Minter  (icon of my gaming childhhod!) commented on twitter that he’d love money to do a T2K remake but that people who are already rich have taken the wind out of the kickstarter sails.

Matt Barton has a particularly good analysis of kickstarter and gaming. I’m just not sure whether I agree with his conclusion that everyone who cares about games should be supporting kickstarters. I’m through that phase now, and would rather wait for a demo.

As an alternative, how about playing the actual older games?

As you can see from the screenie at the top, I’ve been playing KOTOR2 this week ( I’m using the restored content mod,  if anyone is interested). It cost a pittance, and I’m really enjoying it. I like story heavy RPGs, especially if they have combat that lets you pause. And while the graphics are dated, it makes surprisingly little difference to the basic fun of the game. Having good voiceover work and/or music is particularly effective at making an older game feel more convincing. That game is 7 years old, which makes it a spring chicken compared to Elite or even Day of the Tentacle, but the core gameplay is fine. It isn’t fine due to nostalgia or my memories of an earlier era, it’s fine because I was playing it this morning and thinking ‘this feels a bit old school but still pretty fun.’ (Although wtf with having  my character run around in her undies for the first hour or so, Obsidian?)

Older games have never been more accessible to gamers, via Steam Sales, GoG,et al. Even my local library has a load of PS2 games amongst its collection to be borrowed. Some of the older games date horribly. I picked up Ultima: Martian Dreams when it was a free download from GOG earlier this year. I know it’s a really cool game, I loved the steampunk setting back in the day. I couldn’t play it for more than 5 minutes before sadly laying that piece of nostalgia to rest. I’m pretty sure I would do the same with Elite.

An alternative – maybe even a happy medium — is the Balders Gate approach, where an enhanced version is offered. Not a complete overhaul and upgrade, but some new characters, a graphics update, and tweaks.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go sort my characters out for raiding in another game I’m still playing and enjoying that is 8 years old.