Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kickstart: Rayguns, Space Frontiersmen, and White Russia in Space

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.

Today we're getting back into regular articles, with a laser-zap back into Kickstart Your Weekend. And these three are a particularly fun selection of games for fans of very different science fiction sub-genres. We've got a miniatures wargame-powered reboot of a classic pulp sci-fi series, a PC management game with a crude frontiersman angle, and finally a space epic computer RPG with a galactic empire inspired by pre-commie Russia.

Yeah, you heard me.

Before we dig into it, though, there were several awesome Kickstarter projects that wrapped in the past few months. And while you can't pledge, I thought I'd name-drop a few of them just in case you wanted to follow their development and release.

There were several interesting movies successfully funded this summer: Bound, a Lego brickfilm with a spiritual theme and made by a brother and sister team; the brickfilm Melting Point also funded successfully, and I can't wait to see this feature's take on the wry humor the creator, Jonathan Vaughan established in his other short films; Man vs. Snake, a quirky documentary based on a man trying to reclaim a video game record from the early days of arcade games, helmed by two editors from Battlestar Galactica; MMPR funded quite well, and so they'll get a shot at making a couple of episodes to snare all the grown-up fans of the original three seasons of Power Rangers. The Devil Walks in Salem looks kind of cheesy, but its remarkable distinction is that it's adapted from an RPG--not from the rules or setting--but from an actual play session between some honest-to-goodness role-players. Even if the end result turns out clumsy, I think it'll be worth a watch for anyone who ever looked around their gaming table during a really gripping session and thought "Why can't they make movies like this?"

(And if you don't know the feeling I'm talking about, watch this episode of Wil Wheaton's Tabletop. You're welcome.)

On the sad-to-see-it fail side of things, Stephan Frost, the creator of the intriguing and beautiful Mortifera graphic novel, failed to get funding to create the animated pitch for Hell Mary--a Weird War One-type setting about a redheaded femme fatale offing Black Hand goons and Kaiser Wilhelm cronies. It could've been great, but conventional animation still proves to be a big hurdle for Kickstarter projects--you have to raise a lot of money for relatively small rewards. Plus, Frost's offered incentive for success and stretch goals were probably too quirky and off-the-wall to serve their purpose--enough funds would have seen him get a second middle name of "Bonertown" and get a tramp stamp of two unicorns in...conjunction. I know I wouldn't want to inflict that on any man or beast, unless it was part of a really weird court sentencing.

And finally, probably the coolest film project I didn't report on this summer was definitely Fire City: Interpreter of Signs. A horror-fantasy story with a noir mystery flavor and really grotesquely interesting practical effects, Fire City feels to me like the sort of film I wanted the director of Pan's Labyrinth to make--rather than a thought-lite smash 'em up full of forgettable robots and monsters and with the only interesting characters thrown into the background while cardboard cut-outs subjugated them with their plot protection. (Oh snap: that dangerously run-on sentence really tore Pacific Rim a new one, huh?) Anyways, Fire City had the advantage of already having a really creepy short that shows off the subtly disturbing characters, and let them raise twenty grand over their one hundred grand campaign goal. That, and the sentimental daughter-focused thematic behind the production really gets to me as a father, and I'm really curious to see how this world of starving demons and dealers turns out. Just make sure the kids are fast asleep before watching it--even the sounds can make your skin crawl. Check out their webpage for more tastes of their unnerving aesthetic and eerie style.

Games, glorious games. Kickstarter is always good for game-nerding-out. The Long Dark, a first-person post-apocalyptic game with an emphasis on Grylls-esque survival, just recently finished a successful campaign. I love gritty survival games that aren't afraid to punish players with hunger, disease, and sleep dynamics, and the promised tension of making meaningful survive-or-social choices is too cool. Golem Arcana, a miniatures wargame powered by a tablet app and specialized stylus for rules and stat reference, squeaked by with full funding after a personal plug from Chris Roberts. Personally I'm not too keen on a wargame with forces composed of nothing but golems, but...Chris Roberts. (Blogger, how the frak do you not have golem in your spell-check dictionary?!) Alien Uprising, a cooperative sci-fi board game where players try to hold off savage alien natives while repairing their wrecked spaceship. I didn't pledge for it, but I'll be keeping an eye out to play it at conventions. Belle of the Ball, a card game with fantastic art and a princess-party-conniving-set-collection-gimmick, almost snared me into its grip, but I was much too masculine for such sissy stuff. That, and the game mechanics didn't seem as entertaining as the card art. Then I turned around and pledged for Marrying Mr. Darcy, a Pride and Prejudice card game produced by a Wisconsin local that has players trying to court the bachelors of the Austen book. My wife didn't even talk me into it.

Whatever. I don't mind your small-mindedness. I was excited for Marrying Mr. Darcy even before they hit the stretch goal that adds undead elements to the game.

Predictably, the music-powered fantasy MMORPG Anythmn failed to meet its funding goal. Which means that for the time being if I want to combine role-playing games and trumpet-playing, I'll have to find a very tolerant LARP group in the midwest. Fairytale Games: The Battle Royale funded with more than $100,000 over their original goal. I pledged for the project and want to play the game but my enthusiasm has been severely muted since they censored Esmerelda (of Hunchback of Notre Dame) to be an alchemical assassin instead of a gypsy assassin for some vague political correctness concerns. I mean, the game is Hunger Games murder fantasy with fairly cheesecake interpretations of many of their characters--and they're afraid of using the word gypsy to describe a character for whom being a gypsy is a plot point?! Gugh, I say. Plus by the end of the campaign the list of miniatures coming my way has gotten so confusing that I'm just trying to forget the project until I actually have everything in front of me. Massive Chalice did well by pulling in a cool half million more than their initial goal, but the controversy over Double Fine's previous game has me grateful that I passed on this campaign. I'll wait and see if they can actually deliver what was promised.

Projects I backed during the past three months

The summer also had a few neat print projects funded through Kickstarter. Men vs Cosplay was a 2014 cosplay calendar that eschewed boobs for biceps. I would've pledged, but I'm a jealous nerd. Also, you may recall I'm a big mammalian fan. Kids, Eh?, a web-comic annual print book, funded with triple it's $2,000CAD goal. The author is a stay-at-home Canuck dad with a one year-old and three year-old always providing comedic fodder for his weekly strip. Check it out. And FUBAR, the zombie alternate history comic series, funded it's most successful installment yet: Mother Russia. It's about a Soviet lady sniper in Stalingrad saving a toddler from uncounted Nazi zombies. I pledged on this one hard, as even my wife wanted to see more of the viscerally violent cutie-pie story.

On the mint-y side of things, there were two projects for nerdy numismatists. First, the Futuristic Metal Coins project from Minion Games brought us a great selection of uniquely sci-fi tokens for use in board games and RPGs. Between having these shiny creds to serve as cashy money and the upcoming Firefly RPG, I think I'll be doing some gaming in the 'verse in the next year. For more fantastic gaming, Conquistador Games funded The Best Damn Metal Gaming Coins Ever! Seriously detailed, high-quality coins, many of these pieces are inspired by historical examples. They're also non-denominational, meaning that they don't have a prescribed value printed on them, so if you want to throw odd pence-shilling-crowns around in your gaming, you can.

And probably one of my favorite projects of the past three months has to be the Hollow Earth Expedition: Revelations of Mars. Hollow Earth Expedition (HEX) is an RPG by Exile Games that I've followed for a while but never got into. Built on a cinematic system based on dice pools, HEX is founded upon Jules Verne and E.R. Burroughs imagery as they populate the center of the 1930s earth with a land full of weird science, dinosaurs, and savages. If you ever watched the Aussie show Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, you're on the right track. Revelations of Mars expands that setting to the red planet, with beautifully bejeweled alien princesses and big bug aliens needing stomping in grand E.R. Burroughs fashion. Since my wife and I enjoyed John Carter (of Mars!) so much, she actually mandated that I pledge on this particular RPG campaign. Well, who am I to look an RPG mount in the mouth? I pledged to receive Revelations of Mars when it releases next year and the preceding HEX books digitally right away. Wow. I'll do an in-depth article on HEX at some point, because I don't think I've had so much fun just reading an RPG sourcebook since the Serenity RPG came out.

So that's it for catch-up, but what's out now and worthy of a nerd's radar?

Mars Attacks

What it is: Mars Attacks began life in 1962 as a trading card series. A somewhat linear series of cards featuring alien invasion, slaughter, and torture before the eventual human counter, Mars Attacks was a violent, gory romp in pulp sci-fi, with rayguns, flying saucers, and swooning women at their mercy on a lot of the cards. Now, hot on the heels of their Kickstarter successes with Kings of War, Dreadball, Loka chess, and Deadzone, Mantic Games is producing a licensed miniatures wargame adaptation of Mars Attacks. The game is a lighter treatment to wargaming than their previous projects, evoking quick violent skirmishes between Martians and human resistance without a ten pound rulebook to slow things down. Even movement and ranges are based on a coarse 3-inch grid to eschew the all-but-ubiquitous measuring tape of other games.

Why it's exciting: This game, based on a well-known classic license by a seasoned producer of wargames products, stands poised to be Mantic Games' greatest hit yet. With three weeks to go, the game is already at $438,000 pledged out of their original goal of $50,000 so there's already dozens of stretch goals, updates, and add-ons unlocked. Being an old-salt and game snob myself, I tend to turn up my nose at rules that don't let me pull out my tape measure and have fewer than five stats per model, but I can't deny that the quality miniatures in this set--and the insanely good deals attached to the campaign's success--are extremely enticing. If nothing else, I might be seduced by the promise of their plastic US soldiers and flatbed truck-turned sci-fi transport/technical.


What it is: Rimworld is a sci-fi colony sim game for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Players must coordinate the survivors of a crashed colony ship on a procedurally-created world rife with natural disaster and other hazards. Colonists can be directed to mine, farm, build free-form buildings and facilities, and defend the colony from raiders. The game has developed a number of dynamic, interesting features that are coordinated by an AI director that can be selected to suit your play-style--whether looking for an exploration-focused game, a life or death struggle, or a relaxing buildup experience. Right now this is a one-man project with a lot of promise, but the campaign seeks to let the creator, Tynan Sylvester, hire a dedicated artist to add nice graphics to his ambitious game.

Why it's exciting: With over $140,000CAD raised of an original goal of twenty grand and two weeks to go, Rimworld is definitely going to be a success. Creator Tynan hasn't set any stretch goals for the game, wanting to work on it organically without imposing artificial goals leading to development bloat. That's a promising, healthy attitude for a small indie game, especially since so many games that succeed on Kickstarter fall victim to development bloat (Double Fine being the flagship example of this pitfall).


What it is: Mandate is a sci-fi PC RPG with an epic scope. Set in a galactic empire inspired by 19th century Russia, Mandate is going to place the player in command of a Mandate ship at the outbreak of a civil war, giving the captain tactical control over their crew and boarding parties and maneuvering their ship in battle as well. Apparently, the game's campaign will grow from commanding a single ship to controlling outposts and stations and building up to having a subordinate fleet of their own. It's being developed on Unity engine, which means that not only is the game going to support Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems, but they're already releasing preview modules of the game on their website for fans to sample--right now they have a build-a-ship module that allows players to customize and then destroy a flagship of their very own.

Why it's exciting: I have a few different buttons that can easily cinch my support for a Kickstarter. Sci-fi role-playing game with tactile elements? You got me. Cross-platform support planned? Nice. Preview modules of the game? Cool. Dynamic choice-based gameplay? Yes yes. Russian space empress voice-over for the intro video? Easy buddy, you've already made your sale. I'm in for this game, and I haven't been this anxious to see a Kickstarter succeed since Interstellar Marines (mentioned in a previous post here),  which was another cross-platform Unity-based sci-fi game. At $135,000 right now, Mandate has a long ways to go to reach their half million goal, but they also went for a longer campaign and so have well over a month to get there.

Holy moly. Not only did I just touch base on more than twenty Kickstarter projects in one post, but this is also the third article this week, which means that it's knocking off a point from my 31 post deficit.

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