If you follow video games and aren't familiar with the name "Brad Muir," there's a good chance you will be familiar soon.
He's a game designer at Double Fine, the studio headed up by the larger-than-life Tim Schafer. But Muir (pronounced "moo-ear"), with his utterly infectious enthusiasm and trademark-pending open-mouthed smile, has a big personality that stands out on its own.
Muir is leading development of Massive Chalice, which Double Fine describes as "A tactical strategy PC game on an epic fantasy timeline" influenced by genre staples such as XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. A fan of the strategy genre, he already has proven his design chops with his excellent Double Fine digital release, Iron Brigade (formerly known as "Trenched").
Massive Chalice is the second Kickstarter from Double Fine -- the first one being for Schafer's own Broken Age, the game that unquestionably blew the door open for video game crowdfunding on Kickstarter. Following that act is no small feat. Nevertheless, Muir's project handily passed its $725,000 goal and will officially wrap up today, comfortably exceeding the $1.1 million mark.
How has the Kickstarter been treating you mentally and emotionally?
It was like a rollercoaster. Leading up to it, I was super stressed out about it. I had a lot of reservations about it. When I pitched Tim [Schafer, Double Fine president] the idea of the game, it was going to be my Amnesia Fortnight game this year. We'd prototype it, hopefully, if people vote for it. We'd been pitching Brazen for a whole year, it looked like it wasn't going to happen.
Brad Muir - clearly an emotional wreck.
So we started talking about what we were going to do next, so I pitched him an idea for Massive Chalice. Tim was like, "Yeah, sure, that sounds pretty cool." But then later said, "Actually, that sounds really cool. I've thought about it more!" Then he said we should just Kickstart it.
I'm like, "...What? You want what?! No! We can't do that." He asked me, "Why not? We have multiple teams, we'll be open about development, be very transparent, we'll tell people I'm not working on it because I'm working on Broken Age. It'll be totally fine," he said. "It's a new IP and everyone will be excited about that."
I was still thinking, "Are you sure this is going to work?"
Why were you so doubtful?
I guess because of all this risk. It's new IP...I'm not Tim Schafer, we hadn't pitched Broken Age yet. Those were the big ones. All of the really big, successful Kickstarters have been from well-known game designers who are pulling their older franchises out from the 90s -- the Wasteland 2s, the Torments...
So I just wasn't sure if the support would be there for it. I was just really nervous about it. I just really tried to get in on the Tim Schafer "Plan A" philosophy, is what I call it.
Ok, what's that?
[Laughs] I don't know if I want to talk about this too much. But I feel like he's really good at putting almost all of his energy towards "Plan A." Plan A is the one that you want to have happen. So if you spend your time worrying about Plans B, C, D, E, F, G, all the way down to "ZZ," it's just taking energy and bandwidth from Plan A.
This is more my own philosophy and observation of him, because I'm a big time warrior, and I'll go down the lists of all those scenarios. He was just so confident that Massive Chalice would work. "It'll work, don't worry about."
What did that mean for you, as a designer who's in the studio, having Tim validate your idea in that way?
It was amazing, just having his support, having him saying, "No, it'll totally work -- you're the guy for this." He even crafted that whole [Kickstarter] video. He really wanted it to be like a Steven Seagal flick, like Under Siege -- this "There's one man for the job" kind of stuff.
Taking him out of retirement.
[Laughs] Yeah, for me it was just so flattering and humbling and inspiring, that he would just be like, "Yeah, you can totally do this. You are the guy for the job. People will show up."
I was really on the fence, then he pitched me the video. It was very loose in his mind [but after hearing it], I just thought that we have to do this.
Early concept art, Massive Chalice.
So the Kickstarter has already hit the target. What are you doing right now?
We were really freaking out about focusing on the campaign. We had a pipedream, that we'd be able to work on the design while we're running the campaign. But there's so much feedback and chatter.
Mostly it's awesome, because it's people who are excited about the game. But now we're just full-time running the campaign with a few people at the studio right now, focusing on that for now.
Mentally, I was still in freak-out mode up until we were well beyond the $725,000 mark. I was still freaking out! Then around $850,000, $900,000, I just remember having this moment where I woke up, and it was just like, "I don't have to pitch video games anymore! I get to make video games again! I get to focus on making a fucking video game!" That is what I get to do now, once this thing closes. We hit the goal, we put the campaign together, it worked, we got our funding! And now we're actually going to start making this video game.
It was just a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders, getting my second project off the ground. It's been a while since Iron Brigade came out -- the initial game came out two years ago, basically. And we did DLC and the PC version, so we worked on it for another six to eight months or something. But there's been nothing since then that I've really been working on -- just a lot of prototypes, pitches and all this other stuff. But now it's just about making the game.
I'm so, soooo fucking excited!
Do you have pieces of advice for people who are wanting to pitch a game on Kickstarter?
Get to know Tim Schafer really well [laughs]. So yes, have Tim Schafer write the script, and then have 2 Player Productions film it and edit it, and then you'll be great, that's it!
No, I guess that all Kickstarters are different. Our approach was to get people excited about getting in on the ground floor, getting them excited about the core concept, that it's all about [being involved in] this pre-production phase. Other games will have alpha footage or beta footage, and [developers] will just need money for the final push. So it's cool that it can support all kinds of different approaches. The rules are still being written.
So, do the research, examine the ones that were successful, and examine the ones that were not successful -- think about why they weren't successful.
Really, I just totally support anyone who has the gusto to launch a Kickstarter. It's nerve-wracking. What all Kickstarters have in common is that they all start at zero dollars. You don't know what's going to happen. So many factors are out of your control.
Does it seem like tactics games are making a comeback? That new people are discovering these games?
It really does. I was studying them for a while, but it wasn't until the new XCOM game last year -- love that game, I'm a huge fan of the original and played the shit out of that game. To have a reboot that makes somebody like me happy, someone who holds the original in very high regard, and also bring in people who never played the old XCOM enjoy it [is an achievement]. And Fire Emblem: Awakening that's bringing a lot of people into strategy games and turn-based tactics.
That was kind of the thing...I didn't really think I could pitch this to publishers and have it work. But it's awesome seeing people get excited about a turn-based tactics game in the year 2013.
Would you work with publishers again?
I have to be really careful about what I say about publishers, because we're going to work with publishers again, you know? We totally will if the deal terms are alright, things look good and it makes sense to have them as a partner and they can bring stuff to the relationship. That's awesome, nothing against that.
But there's still this underground, behind-closed-doors thing that goes on with those deals and relationships. I like that we don't have to go underground for a year, then try to announce it later.
Early concept art, Massive Chalice.
You had a situation where your backers brought up same-sex marriage in the game. That's a discussion that wouldn't have happened at this stage in the dev cycle if you were with a publisher.
Right, if we don't think about those things now...you know, I'm a hetero white dude with these weird privileges and things that impact your brain. I was thinking about the game more mechanically, and two men and two women can't biologically make a baby, and [having babies] is the bare minimum of what the game requires, so I was just thinking on those terms. Then the community was like, "Hey, what about this?" And I was like, "Oh shit, I hadn't thought about this."
But holy crap, we have an opportunity to be inclusive and make people feel like they're represented when they play the game! So that's our aim...it's still early, we don't know exactly how any of this will be implemented, but I really want to make sure we're inclusive.
We're not planning on doing "design by committee" -- we're not going to have a ton of forum polls and going with the most popular thing. I don't think we should be making games that way...It's about trying to get the best ideas and make the best game possible.