If you haven’t heard of Crooked Tree Studios, I’m not surprised. The lead developer, Lat Ware, funded a game called Throw Trucks With Your Mind some time ago and got it on Steam, but it released with little fanfare. Uniquely, the game was designed around a biometric device (of which you could purchase for a surprisingly low amount of money, considering it’s a device that reads your mind), and the primary intent was to try and make biometric devices more easily controlled by those who require one, such as for pain or anxiety. For this reason alone, these guys have my vote; I love the idea of games having a larger impact on those who play them than a few wasted hours or so, and I think there’s intense potential there.
Not even considering the recent success of that game (as much as the success is niche and not quite the level of popularity it could have), the new project For My Brother, which was recently privately funded, looks pretty amazing to me. The story has intense potential to swell into something amazing, and the ideas behind the mechanics are solid, albeit somewhat limited in scope. I feel like the merging of these ideas is a great start— but I also want to talk about how it could be improved.
I personally love games that have amazing and heartfelt stories; Shadow of the Colossus is easily one of my favorite games, and that passion is shared amongst almost every person whose picked that game up. Likewise, many other games that do good storytelling like Shadow of the Colossus did, such as Metal Gear Solid 3 or Okami, often have a huge fanbase that adores the game. Even the Silent Hill series, for all it’s recent faulty releases, shares a strong fanbase of dedicated fans.
But here’s the problem… With every game but Metal Gear Solid 3, the sales never really took off. Whatever return the developers and publishers got was not very large, and though the games are critically acclaimed, and the designs are so amazingly perfect that I could write posts for years about every intricacy, the initial sales were poor; and prolong sales were even worse. Why?
Part of the reason is likely due to poor marketing. Many of these games have little to no marketing behind them; the Silent Hill series apparently got worse once they did start marketing them. So are we to expect a hidden gem when we play an unknown game? Not quite… More importantly, it’s the fact that marketing and media has dominated the sales market for longer than we had thought it did.
Many people today complain about how much media and marketing doesn’t really match up with the product you’re actually buying. That’s the whole point of most AAA marketing schemes nowadays; make as simple a game as possible to save on expenses, and build it up with marketing to blow up the hype machine. The problem with this is that it offers extremely poor long term customer satisfaction, which in turn convinces them to never buy from you again. These games are literally made to make a quick buck off the initial sales (and preorders) before the word gets out that it is a really bad game. But because the hype works and keeps selling, natural selection rules that these companies will grow more than the small indies who can’t afford to market at all, even when they’ve got something brilliant in their hands.
So we’re at an impasse, then. I only found For My Brother, and by extension the previous game, by chance one day when browsing kickstarter. Ironically, I was looking for bad kickstarter’s for a laugh and to learn what not to do. Instead I found a game I really really wanted to play; not just because the story relates to me, but because I personally wanted to offer my services to help them. I was so impressed by their dedication and ability to not only enlist Machinae Supremacy (who has done music for games before, but reportedly had some issues with how it was done), but the writing has potential to be extremely powerful, the concept art shows a level of creativity I’ve craved from other developers, and their mechanics look real solid and with real impact on the game and story. In fact, I’d still like to offer my services, though I could not find an email for them anywhere. (I’m gonna tweet you guys— Just watch me!)
Okay, I love the idea. But why do I say there’s risks? Well, the biggest risk that hit me was how different the concept art and the ‘game footage’ is. They’re so loosely similar that I wasn’t sure it could even work at first. If Crooked Tree Studios sees this, please take one piece of advice from me: Make that aesthetic the ENTIRETY of your game. The concept art and sound is amazing and should not be damaged by lack of execution on the final design. I know you can achieve this look with 3D art; Guilty Gear XRD, created by one of my favorite developers Arcsys in Japan, went above and beyond the call of duty to make their game shine and look amazing. They did a prototype video of the style of gameplay and went all in, and the result not only looks convincing, but really gives you a feeling of watching a crazy action-packed anime. The best part is that a lot of those techniques can be brought to this game without that much trouble, and the results could be phenomenal if it’s executed just right. But GGXRD is proof that it can work, and work well.
Aesthetics are huge, but the story and mechanics need to be integrated into the aesthetics. For instance, the sister character can achieve the ability to grapple cliffs and ledges to pull herself up, but this will be completely shattered if every cliff and ledge looks exactly the same. Likewise, the mechanics are a great start, but from what I saw, the idea of her turning into a monster needs to be pushed even further, giving not only movement options but also combat options to the player, but at the cost of some other mechanical issue; This is where the design presented begins to fall apart. The emotional impact and turmoil is lessened if it does not have a real mechanical impact as well, and it has to be an impact that really makes the player feel and think about how they’re going to move forward in the game. For this reason, it may even be worth considering adding additional monsters she could transform into, or allowing the design to be pushed a little more.
But this is actually a good thing, that the worst I can say about what I saw is “I love it, give me more.” And yet they were very nearly on the track to failing their funding at $31,405 dollars out of $150,000 as the final goal. This comes back to my earlier point of marketing becoming a necessity even on the most basic of levels; even Rock Simulator had better marketing! This game has no press attention, no ads, no media other than the Kickstarter trailer and a very limited website. They’ve been trying social media, but the effectiveness of this is moot considering how I happened across it. Thankfully, they got privately funded, so the show is on the road! But even so, if some serious time and dedication isn't also devoted to marketing, then this game will have poor sales despite it's shine.
All in all, sometimes Kickstarter feels like it’s not helpful, and other times it seems amazingly helpful. I still don’t know how to feel about it, but I’m thankful for finding this game, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.