Last year, Double Fine famously succeeded in crowd-funding their adventure game Broken Age on Kickstarter. That project succeeded in invigorating adventure game fans from around the globe, thirsty for a new point-and-click game. Gathering over $3.45 million and having over 87,000 backers, Broken Age set the stage for many other adventure game projects to seek crowd-funding as well. Some saw success like Revolution's Broken Sword 5 and Replay Games' Leisure Suit Larry, while others failed like Pendulo Studios' Day One. Double Fine is hoping that lightning does indeed strike twice, because they reaching out again directly to the fans by going back to Kickstarter to fund a new game. This time it is not an adventure game, it is something different.
Double Fine splits their staff into multiple teams, and only one of those teams is working on Broken Age. Industry veteran and company founder Tim Schafer has put Brad Muir to task in leading another team for this new Kickstarter campaign. Muir has chosen to bring us a strategy game inspired by X-Com and Game of Thrones. The game is Massive Chalice, and being that it has already surpassed its funding goal, it turns out Double Fine fans are thirsty for more than just adventure.
I sat down with Double Fine Productions' Brad Muir to speak about his new project Massive Chalice. He was excited, and energized that people are responding to the game, which is evolving as the production progresses. “I'm excited that people responded to the actual core concept. It's still very early. There are all these other Kickstarter campaigns, they have a lot of details – they have game footage, tons of screenshots, all these stuff. They have funding from somewhere else. That's totally fine, it's cool that Kickstarter can promote a nearly finished game and generate money for that final push or a game that's very early on like Massive Chalice, where we wanna get people in on the ground floor. That's the thing I think that's exciting about this approach. We can get people interested in it very early, get them excited and also tap into their imaginations and see where they would like it to go. It's not a designed by committee kind of thing, that's not what we're trying to do,” he said.
Over the summer, Double Fine opened up their studios by live-streaming a two week gamejam called Amnesia Fortnight that connected directly to the fans by showing the process of creating games. The gamejam gave us behind the scenes looks at their artists, programmers, and audio engineers. Brad was inspired by the process, and brings the inspiration to his new project. “Amnesia Fortnight, that was so amazing, that was an experience that taught me about the open development model,” he said.
Brad went on to describe how fans embraced his work on the Double Fine forums. “During Amnesia Fortnight, I was working on Lee Petty's game: Autonomous. I took some design spreadsheets and took them to the forums. It was great that people were vetting them and giving their opinions and also finding some mistakes that I put in there. The community is just super excited to see the process...It was really amazing to connect with people, especially the people who want to know more about how games are put together. And people can ask all sorts of questions,” he said.
In the pitch video to Massive Chalice, Brad lampooned his rough journey attempting to pitch a previous prototype called Brazen to the game companies. It was a heartbreaking process in which he spent over a year pitching the game. I inquired why Brazen was not chosen to be the Kickstarter campaign. “That game is more expensive. It is about five million dollars what we were asking for. Even that is not as high compared to comparable games,” he said.
Brad chose instead to pitch us a game that will evolve over the course of production. Based on how much the campaign will get, the more it can grow. “It's a very scalable idea. Because it's so early on, we don't have a big stretch-goal chart. We are actively designing the game through the campaign.”
The core idea is Brad's but he draws directly from the fans. “We would put out the idea, this is the core idea. That's the skeleton. There's all these ideas that have to be clung to the skeleton. It has to be fleshed out,” he said.
Brad gets inspiration from his childhood. “I absolutely love, I do sometimes pull too much from my childhood. Brazen totally came from all the great Harryhausen stuff. I used to watch those movies with my dad. He really like tried to inspire my imagination and get me moving in that direction. I remember watching Sinbad with him on the weekends,” he said.
With the fans, Brad describes how they get inspired by the pitch and bring their own set of ideas to what they see the game being. “So we got the elevator pitch to everybody. This is what the game is, BAM. And then because it's early, people can run with it in a bunch of different directions.”
“So we have our own places where we wanna run with it. We got a bunch of ideas that...there are all these cool ideas like: adoption, fostering children – and the whole demonic technology like tainting bloodlines. How the bloodline relics are going to work. And this whole nature/nurture thing I think is really cool. Having the child heroes when they're born, having part of their potential come from their actual biology. Well their parents were both great warriors so they have the potential to be even greater and that's cool. But then who they are raised also influences the potential to change. We are going to have more creative classes and stuff...through your choices, you are able to craft this dude's life,” he said.
Brad wants to explore the whole bloodline element to the strategy game, but wants to also have wandering heroes that can join your squad at anytime. “We've been talking about there are going to be times where you have to going to have to fill in the gaps with your hero squad. We've been talking about the possibility of mercenary heroes that you can hire. I really like this idea of hiring a mercenary hero to come in and help you with this one mission. As they age, you can give them a castle, reward him and he could start his own bloodline,” he said.
Brad is still tweaking the idea of how they want to incorporate magic into the game. “We are talking about how magical we want the world to be. We are still working out the details. The original idea is that this is a really magic-less world, a very medieval society. When the demons invade, they have the magic. They have this strange thing we haven't seen before so you have to research the technology and integrate it into your own arsenal.“
Brad wants to reach out to the adventure gamers that might not ordinarily play this style of game. He is proposing a game in which the story is driven by the player, instead of like in an adventure game in which the story will be the same for everyone playing. “The game will not have a super strong linear narrative to it, but I would love it if those kinds of gamers could expose themselves to those other kinds of games that have more generative narratives. There will be a strong back story and set up for the world. Strong fiction for the world.”
“Really awesome characters and really cool enemies, and really cool enemies and really cool designs. I love the fact that when you play a game like X-COM, the story emerges from the gameplay. You're getting attached to these heroes as you tell them to do things on the battlefield and you see the outcome and have to deal with the consequences.”
Brad likes the linear storytelling in adventure games, but also likes having control in the game over the outcome like what he envisions for Massive Chalice. He spoke about the differences between the two storytelling styles: “I like both [storytelling styles] a lot. I really like being told a great story [like in adventure games]. I also like seeing the emerging story happening from when I'm playing a game like [Massive Chalice]. I personally get really attached to the characters. You can definitely feel attached to characters like Manny in Grim Fandango, but it feels very different to me because he is not my character.,” he said.
As the campaign stretches on, and the Kickstarter money accumulates, Brad Muir will look directly to the fans to drive the direction of where the game will go. “It's only going to grow the potential of what it could be. When we start chiseling it down, its only going to get us the best ideas for the game. “The corral of awesome ideas is expanding because we are adding all the community ideas to it. As we pare it back down when we go through to develop the game is we are going to cut some of our ideas in favor of the community ideas. We are going to end up with a stronger game because of it. That is awesome, it's not just about getting the money, it's about getting the community involved to strengthen the game,” he said.
Some ideas will get cut, and only the best ideas will survive. What we know, is that in the end, we helped Double Fine and Brad make another incredible game. This new project is not a point-and-click style game. It is a choose your own adventure-style journey in which we are not just observers but we are participants.