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2015-10-12

Kickstarter Heads-Up: Void Destroyer 2

Void Destroyer 2 follows in the footsteps of the original Void Destroyer while adding a larger, more sandbox environment around what is essentially a hybrid first-person/third-person arcade-like space combat simulator with Newtonian physics and some of the crunchier aspects of space sandbox simulations.

Which is a pretty complex idea to get across, frankly. As a reviewer and a curator, games like this are a solid pain in the ass to communicate about because they just don't conform to easy packaging. The first Void Destroyer provided me the same sort of difficulty, because in actual play it was sort of a hybrid of your traditional third person space exploration/combat sim and Homeworld, with its ability to pull the camera back and control entire fleets in a real-time strategy style. If you see it being played, you get it. If you're just told about it, things are complicated.



So, in the interests of helping you understand what I'm talking about, let's go look at some original Void Destroyer play.



And that's just the bit before you actually settle in at the tactical helm of a serious capital ship.

VD focused on a very much single player experience, in the mold of the old-school space combat and exploration games, with more emphasis on combat than exploration by far. Think of it as very much in the Homeworld mold, where you go through a story, accumulate resources/ships, and prepare yourself to take on the next step in that storyline.

VD2 is taking things off the rails and pushing it more into the sandbox/exploration space, which probably has a lot more room for creativity on the player's side. Rather than the inspirations of the first game, VD2 appears to be looking at the success of Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen, while looking to slide into some of that experience. As far as I'm concerned, that's a great opportunity, probably far better than to continue to poke around in the single player/single narrative gameplay experience.

Something you will note I have not said about VD2 is anything about multiplayer. That's because there is no multiplayer, nor is there any planned multiplayer. A lot of games in the modern market have been obsessive about their pursuit of multiplayer experiences because for some developers, the idea is that a multiplayer community will be and is the only way for a game to have significant longevity. Ironically, that belief seems to be exactly backwards from what we actually observe. Multiplayer-focused games like Call of Duty or the games that seem compelled to turn over new versions every year, dependable as iPhones. It's the single player-focused games which seem to have the community that simply won't go away, including players who actively agitate for reboots and renewals of the core game experience as new technologies come out.

The developer of VD2 is literally the only developer. There is no major publisher backing, there is no development team that has to be satisfied – in the indie game development world, he is there in the trenches slogging it out with a couple of part-time art asset and music asset guys to build games. That is more than a little impressive, possibly doubly so because they actually put out a good game. A game that does what they want it to.

Here's the kicker: if you want to copy of Void Destroyer 2, backing it will cost you a big fat $10. That's it. That gets you into the early access, it gets your name in the pool for being a pilot callsign, it gets you the game. If you want a copy of the original flavour Void Destroyer to play in the meantime, put in a Kickstarter back for $15. That's it. This is really important, in part because this is one of the few Kickstarter projects I've seen that treat the backers appropriately, as investors, as people who are partnering with the developer to produce this game and as such should be rewarded for their support and their understanding of the adoption of the risks of supporting a small, independent project. After all, that's what Kickstarter really is: ultimately, it allows the community/market to act as a sort of distributed set of venture capitalists, excepting some risks in terms of investment on projects that they believe that they will both enjoy and will produce results that they want to fund. It's not a preorder platform, despite the fact that most developers seem to treated that way – in a real sense, it's a micro-loan system.

I'd like to quote from the VD2 Kickstarter:
A note about reward tiers:
A lot of Kickstarters tend to have alpha/beta/early access tiers be higher priced than other tiers (including my first Kickstarter). Due to my experience with the first Kickstarter - I think that this isn't the right fit for the second project. So even the basic $10 tier offers early access.
  • Kickstarter backers take the biggest risk and tend to be the most invested in the success of the project. A lower priced reward tier means that they aren't penalized for their support.
  • The more players engaged in the project and offering feedback - the better. Limiting access to people invested in the project enough to back it early - is counter productive.
  • Games tend to release with discounts, or get discounted later on - having a low base tier is good insurance against this. On Steam release - the estimated price for Void Destroyer 2 will most likely be $14.99 - just like the original game. Its a great strategy to launch with a discount to grab as many players as possible. A low base tier doesn't penalize Kickstarter backers.
  • Uncertain time line and delays. Giving earlier access to Kickstarter backers helps combat the aggravation.
Note about ship/base designer tiers - the majority of funds from these tiers will go to the 3D modeler with a bit of padding added for the longer time period to create custom models based on backer specs/ideas.
A note about low funding goal:
As both a project creator and a backer - I know that some of you might be turned off by the low funding goal of this project. You might think - that there's no way to create a game of the proposed scope with 10k. I'm in an incredibly lucky situation where I have a steady stream of income from the first project and can even partially self fund the second.

I've done a lot of thinking about the funding goal and here are my thoughts:
Kickstarter and the gaming world is constantly changing. In 2013 when I launched the first project - it was almost easy for a promising project to get 20k of funding. The gaming news media would regularly run stories on Kickstarter projects - big and small - a huge boost. Online communities were more tolerant of Kickstarter announcements. Even back then Kickstarter was cooling from the initial surges - this was still before some horrible outcomes and "Kickstarter" fatigue.
Since then - I've seen other projects fail to reach funding goals for second projects - these tended to have higher funding goals than the first project. And now I see promising projects struggle to make 10k (and in some cases, far less) in funding.
Often you see project creators say that even if they don't reach their funding goals - they'll still continue working on their dreams. This means that getting a lower amount would certainly help. One of the major strengths of indie projects is that they are very scalable.
For the above reasons is why I decided to go with a more modest funding goal - knowing that the rest I'll have to self fund.
A note about stretch goals:
Funds raised from this Kickstarter will go towards art, music and sound assets - this includes funds raised beyond the $10k funding goal. In my first Kickstarter - I made the mistake of putting in some very ambitious stretch goals - privateer mode and base boarding. Luckily the Kickstarter didn't reach those goals.
Privateer mode is basically - Void Destroyer 2 - a game with its own scope - and base boarding is the potential FPS expansion to Void Destroyer 2 - which could be considered a separate game as well. The point is that - stretch goals can be incredibly dangerous to optimists like me. If those goals were reached, I would be facing creating twice the game in the stated amount of time. Worse - I would have had to merge two contradictory games into one (linear campaign driven game with an open world game). Being able to have a released and stable product (Void Destroyer) and then work on the 2nd game (Void Destroyer 2) is also a much less stressful situation. So for this Kickstarter - I'll try to avoid overly ambitious stretch goals.
You want to know how to earn my respect as someone working a Kickstarter? You write this sort of thing about your Kickstarter.

I'm not saying this is a game for everybody. It's clearly not. The original had a learning curve like a vertical cliff and a difficulty curve which may have involved hanging from one hand over the void like Sly Stallone. While the developer has made very clear his intentions to help soften that experience, it's still going to be a very complex, challenging environment to go into. It's not everyone's cup of tea.

But I am saying this is the sort of thing that we would like to see more of, not just in terms of game design but in terms of Kickstarters and how to support them. As a consumer, it is in our best interest to support – even non-financially – creators and developers who understand that we are investing in their product and who they are. They need to understand who we are and what we need so that as investors and creators, what comes out the other side is something that can and should be something that all involved are proud of.

It's in that spirit that I bring before you an opportunity to invest in the development of Void Destroyer 2, and I hope that you give it thought as well as, perhaps, find some pleasure and amusement in the exposure.