Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kickstart Your Weekend #1

Kickstart Your Weekend: A series in which I occasionally spotlight Kickstarter projects that are ending soon and deserve a little nerd love. Also, I'll highlight some past projects as well, as you never know when these enterprises are going to turn up again.

Continuing with my blogging sprint, once more I'm keeping up a daily pace of updates for this blog. Rest assured that I will be slowing down, but I'm going to keep this up for at least a few more days, at which point the pace of updates will no longer be in my hands (more on that later). But as it is, right now I am once more sacrificing a Saturday afternoon on the altar of blogspot. That's right, I'm home alone with my wife at work and my son at the old folks' home, and what do I do first? I play a few compulsory rounds of Halo 4, followed by reading like six comic books--Marvel, of course. After that, though, I give myself a big helping of blog homework. That's because there ain't no Saturdays for the wicked.*

Today I'm introducing a new article series: Kickstart Your Weekend. Now, I've missed a lot of opportunities to drum up support for past projects, and I already flogged for one Kickstarter project earlier this week. But there are several other nerd-worthy projects ending quite soon and countless more to come in the future, so I think I'll do an occasional post to summarize my interest in these projects and why they might appeal to you. I'll also resurrect some prior projects, successful and unsuccessful, highlighting the course of their campaigns and what form they might take in the future. There have been some really exciting potential products that have surfaced only because of Kickstarter, and for a lot of these I'd like to keep an eye out to see if they make a return in some form. And you might, too.

What's Kickstarter?

First of all, you're my mother-in-law. Because I'm pretty sure she's the only person left in the internet-literate world that doesn't know what Kickstarter is by now. It's okay to admit it, there's nothing wrong with being my mother-in-law. Alright, fine. I'll humor you with my take on Kickstarter (and similar sites, like Indiegogo).

Kickstarter is the most well-known crowdfunding website out there. Crowdfunding is basically a way to blur the line between investment and pre-ordering products. People make a campaign page on Kickstarter, which explains a project they want to fund with a set goal for funds raised within the project's finite run time. Most campaigns run for one month. During this time, people can donate money freely to the campaign to help push them towards their goal, and they can apply their pledges to specific reward tiers the campaign manager sets up ahead of time--sort of like a PBS pledge drive, though with a heck of a lot more naiveté from the pledgers, which is saying a lot.

Now, if a Kickstarter campaign fails to reach its original goal, none of the pledges are charged and everyone goes home sad but with their money in their pockets. Except the people who ran the campaign, they just go home sad. The base goal is meant to be the minimum funds to start a project, paying the bare essentials to get the products or services initiated. Most campaigns include stretch goals--additional perks or upgrades to their product if the campaign hits additional goals. In any case, the bottom line for most Kickstarter pledgers is getting the rewards associated with the campaign, and for those running the campaign it's about securing the funding minus the costs of the reward and building a following for the first run of their product.

There are a lot of different projects on Kickstarter, but the ones of interest to the Nerdery are games, movies, and books. Games in particular are exciting for Kickstarter projects, as the stretch goal format is usually geared to give extras and freebies to well-invested pledgers as the campaign blasts through its base goal. If it blasts through its base goal, that is.


Bifrost's Mary Fimbul
What it is: Bifrost is going to be an illustrated novel featuring modern day fantastic heroes that draw on the Norse myth of Ragnarok. It will be written by Bill Willingham, a long-time writer for DC, and the illustrations done by Frank Cho, a fantastic artist who's written his own strip, Liberty Meadows, and is a frequent bulwark to Marvel comics. The story itself is going to be a highly fantastic one, with talking chimps (everyone knows Frank Cho is comics' monkey-boy, he's always trying to work them in if they aren't there already), werewolves, and more monsters probably pulled from the nine realms of Norse mythology. The main protagonist, Mary Fimbul, is the inheritor of access to the Bifrost and the nine realms it connects. The story sounds promising with a lot of character that makes me think of Mignola's Hellboy stories--full of noir sensibilities and fabled savvy. The artwork itself is going to be black and white woodcut style, which is a more obscure method amongst modern illustrators, but if you've seen Cho's inks before you know his stark monochrome compositions can be fantastic.

Why it's exciting: It's Frank Cho, man! Seriously, if the name, the story, and the art sample doesn't sell you to at least put down a little money on this project...well, I just don't know you. Sure, the minimum pledge for receiving a copy of the book is a little high at $60, but you're talking about a deluxe hardcover novel with 20+ Frank Cho illustrations, and a quirky story that is being created by two comic book veterans who have never before bridged the Marvel-DC gap to work together. This project isn't in the best position to finish, needing to raise over $10,000 in the next 7 days, but if it does make it, I really want to follow the story. Myself, I'm still on the fence as to whether or not to pledge--but I've starred it and will follow its development in any case.

Robotech RPG Tactics

Already funded, with lots of bonus add-ons coming in.
What it is: Robotech is a long-standing anime classic. Starting way back in 1985, it's been a part of a massive saga of shows and movies since then. And when cable networks like Cartoon Network have perennially showed reruns of the original series, it inevitably pulls in a new generation of fans. Robotech is a sci-fi show full of melodrama and social commentary on world wars, told amidst a backdrop of massive spaceships and hotshot pilots manning space fighters that transform into robots. I'm not the most savvy fan, but I loved the first season when I was a kid. Now, a part of Robotech's success there's been a fairly popular RPG by Palladium Books, and this Kickstarter project is about expanding the popular RPG into a sort of miniatures game/RPG bridge. While RPGs typically involve each player other than the GM controlling only one character directly, Robotech RPG Tactics is going to put players in command of squads of units to help simulate the skirmishes that elevated the show so much. The units are multi-part plastic models ranging from 40mm-70mm tall that look like a ton of fun to paint, and the $80 base boxed set is going to have 30+ miniatures in it in addition to the rules, dice, and cards included to play the game.

Why it's exciting: This game is already funded many times over (having raised more than $660,000 out of their startup goal of $70,000), and they've still got 9 days to go. As a miniatures game, this is exactly what indecisive backers want to see--as they continue to exceed their original goal, Palladium is adding extra miniatures to the boxed set and expanding the initial line of models available. I myself haven't pledged for them because I have hundreds of minis still waiting to be painted. (Seriously, there's a reason why miniatures hobbyists are called plastic addicts.) But if you're a fan of big robots, crisp game mechanics--they have a gameplay video up on their campaign page--check it out while you can and help build on those Kickstarter extras.

Guns of Icarus Online - Adventure Mode

Building on the basic multiplayer formula
What it is: Guns of Icarus Online is an interesting game. Set in a world of steampunk airships (if you don't know the genre, just think Jules Verne plus a lot of high schoolers' doodles), the focus is on crew cooperation as you navigate slow, clumsy dirigibles through smoke and clouds to blast away at enemy crews and airships. This game was originally part of a campaign last year that funded the bare bones skirmish version of the game that people are playing and loving right now. Now, this new Kickstarter project--Adventure Mode--is about expanding that core gameplay into something that they can eventually grow into a full-fledged MMO. The creators, Muse Games, want to make an ambitious, persistent world where players guide the fortunes of six factions and their balance of power. Where customizing your character and walking your character around ports and towns you help support are just as much of a game factor as manning a gun turret or applying a spanner to a busted engine. That takes a lot more than the $165,000 they've raised between their two Kickstarter campaigns so far, so they're building up the tools to reach that point with staged content. Adventure Mode will add an AI Director, which will be in charge of adding non-player combatants to the game to help flesh out that key aspect of the game that forms the backbone of an MMO.

Why it's exciting: This is another project that has already hit its primary goal, but it's also clearly stated that the ultimate funding goal--what's needed to fund Guns of Icarus from a limited skirmish game into a full-fledged MMO, is going to take $500,000 in pledges. Now, they aren't going to get there with this campaign, but at the rate they're going Muse Games will be able to fund enough tools to start cracking on the economic and political elements of the game that will be their next big hurdle. And from what I've heard, the beta that is available to play right now is tons of fun already, so you have a good idea of what you're getting. Again, not one that I'm personally pledging, as I've already sold my soul to Chris Roberts, but when the full MMO of Guns of Icarus is released, I may need to check it out.

Jagged Alliance Flashback

Kickin' it Soviet-style
What it is: Jagged Alliance is a classic tactical strategy game for the PC from 1994. In the same vein of squad micro-managing and base building as X-Com, Jagged Alliance pits players in command of a group of mercenaries fighting over an island against blah blah blah. The plot is all very Schwarzenegger meets Captain Planet, in a 1990s-let's-pit-nuclear-power-against-trees-kind of way. The point is, the game had several successful sequels, was well-reviewed, and now the Danes at Full Control are trying to bring back the game. The biggest problem? The tactical genre is dead (hmmm...where have I heard that before?), and that's kind of borne out by the fact the recent X-Com remake boiled down the gameplay into a shallow arcade experience that infuriated a lot of old-school fans. But that isn't stopping Full Control--they're forging ahead with a prequel to the original Jagged Alliance game, giving it the same depth and difficulty of the original plus with overhauled graphics and more sophisticated mechanics.

Why it's exciting: First and foremost, I love challenging tactical games. I'm following two X-Com remake projects right now, in fact. So to say that I'm eager to see Jagged Alliance: Flashback is an understatement. I've also heard that the original games were kick-yourself-in-the-teeth hard, and that sort of talk gives me the nerdlies. Unfortunately, Flashback has 11 days to go and is not quite halfway to its goal of $350,000. Kickstarter campaigns typically surge in the final week, and I hope that happens for this project, as the cross-nostalgia of playing a throwback to classic tactical computer games, plus an old-school Soviet cold war plot, plus deep gameplay that only holds your hand so it can suicide jump you off a cliff--it could be something special. Check it out.

*And money don't grow on trees. I got bills to pay, got mouths to feed, and there ain't nothin' in this world for free....

Guess what I'm listening to?

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