In part 1 we talked with a developer in the waning days of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Project Eternity raised almost $4 million from Kickstarter alone. In part 2, we talked with Chris Keenan from inXile Entertainment about their successfully funded sequel, Wasteland 2. Both of these games have shown that there is a strong desire from the gaming community for unique, innovative and ‘risky’ games. Continuing on with the series, today we talk with a game developer who has recently has had their game “Greenlit“. Simon Dean from Games Foundry chatted with me about Folk Tale, a self proclaimed “City Builder, God, RTS, Adventure Game.”
Folk Tale Background
Steve: For those who don’t know, what is Folk Tale?
Simon: Folk Tale is a city-builder adventure game with elements of RTS and RPG. In single-player, gamers can enjoy two story-driven campaigns playing as either humans or goblins, spanning 20 levels and over 30-hours of entertainment. In multi-player, gamers can pit themselves against friends in PVP mode, or manage a single village in co-op mode. Finally, sandbox mode provides for unending play based on configurable game mechanics.
Steve: Can you describe the evolution of Folk Tale? How did you come up with the game’s core concepts?
Simon: It’s been a really organic approach, a luxury afforded to us by starting as an unfunded indie collaboration with no-one but ourselves to answer to. As Project Lead, I’d never dream of taking such an approach under a publisher contract when there are deadlines to be met. We started with a vision of what we wanted to achieve and set about creating a detailed world in which Folk Tale would happen, without defining fine detail. The demo was identified as a huge pitch we’d need during fund raising, so we’ve used it as a play pen for communicating not only game mechanics but the visual style of the final game. Normally you wouldn’t cram green shire, desert, volcanoes, swamp and snow into a single level, so its something we need to communicate when demo beta testing begins. As the world became more populated, it enabled me to refine the mechanics, throwing out early plans that weren’t working, and introducing new ones that felt more natural.
Steve: Have you been receiving a lot of fan feedback so far?
Simon: Steam Greenlight forced us from first to fifth gear in the space of a week, propelling us from obscurity to one of the top 25 ranked titles. We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from 130,000 gamers. Sure, we can’t please everyone so there is some inevitable negative feedback, but we read every comment, good as well as bad, and review our plans accordingly. This morning, a lovely email from a retired lady was waiting in my inbox asking us not to focus heavily on combat. What I love about being an indie is that we get to really communicate with fans one-to-one. Almost without fail there is genuine surprise when fans receive a prompt reply.
Steve: How have you incorporated that into your work flow?
Simon: Fans made it very clear that the cover art sucked, and having one voice actor do all the parts was not groovy, even if the female nagging wife is funny when played by a male. So, we brought in an illustrator who’s working on the art, and auditioned 22 voice actors. We’ve just finished the recording and I’m going insane cutting up an hour of dialogue into 2 second phrases. There’s a discussion going on at the moment with fans about how we develop multi-player features. A lot of studios pay lip-service to fan involvement, but in our case we actually do listen and more importantly act on feedback. Fans have great ideas, so it’s like having an enormous think tank at our disposal.
Folk Tale Technology implementations
Steve: Why did you decide to support a cross-platform gaming experience? What game engine are you building upon to allow cross-platform gaming?
Sim on: Primarily because we could. Early research lead to a technology plan based on a build-once distribute-to-many mentality. Looking at the market at the time, Unity seemed the most flexible. UDK looked great, but was too pigeon-holed to FPS games for Folk Tale. I have 10 years of C# experience, Unity’s workflow is pretty nice, and the senior management shared a common vision. Now the learning curve is out of the way, I can safely say it was a good decision – I just wish they’d update to Mono 2.8+; the garbage collection in Mono 2.6 is crippling for commercial desktop games development. Building for PC and Mac was easy, and Linux support is imminent. With both Steam and Unity supporting Linux, that’s going to provide a real adrenalin kick for Linux gaming which should see a surge in Linux adoption. It would be negligent to ignore that growth, and the headway Linux has been making in recent years.
Steve: What technologies will Folk Tale be distributed via (Steam, GOG, direct download etc)?
Simon: A number of distributors have already been in touch, but its too early to be entering into agreements. I plan to keep our options open should we need to offer exclusivity. I really don’t see a need in this day and age to have boxed product for our target platforms, so I expect Folk Tale to be exclusively a digital distribution.
Steve: Do you have a date for the start of a Kickstarter campaign?
Simon: Although the project is a global collaboration with a US team bias, it’s all coordinated through Games Foundry based in the UK. As such, we’re waiting for Kickstarter to launch in the UK. We also need to finish the demo, and would like to wait until we are Green-Lit. Both will add to Folk Tale’s credibility. There are too many campaigns launched on ideas alone, and quite often they fail. We don’t want that, so we’ve invested 18 months of our time to prove we can deliver.
Steve: Why kickstarter? Why now?
Simon: It’s a common theme you’ll hear from a lot of studios heading to Kickstarter. Investment is tough to come by in the current economic climate, and publisher contracts are in many cases crippling. Crowd funding is the perfect solution, putting indie developers in direct contact with fans and finance. It’s akin to having the perfect group of shareholders who know the industry, support the team, and believe in the product.
Steve: With the Kickstarter funding will you expect to break even at launch?
Simon: Highly unlikely. The team will write off the 18-months of time and financial investment in getting this far out of passion. But that’s not sustainable. The team have families to support, and without the pledges of fans, Folk Tale won’t happen. That’s a hard commercial reality we face, but one we all accepted before getting involved. Once the game is finished, we hope to recoup some of the initial investment, but more importantly fund the team going forward.
Steve: Since the game is already under development prior to kickstart campaign, who is Games Foundry ultimately responsible to? Fans? Publishers? Investors?
Simon: Fans. Not only as customers, but as our financiers.
Steve: Will pre-order be available for those who may miss the kickstarter or who wish to see what “stretch goals” if any will be added to enhance the game?
Simon: Pre-order will be available, but not at the discounted rate that our Kickstarter campaign supporters will get. On the subject of stretch goals, that’s going to be one long list. Our plans for Folk Tale are immense, and even if initial funding means we have to scale back the scope of initial release, we hope to provide enough updates and DLC to keep the game fresh for several years.
Steve: You mentioned that Folk Tale will be a city-builder RTS game with elements of RPG. Will it be possible to play only the city-builder side of things?
Simon: Certainly in sandbox mode by turning down or off the monster challengers. We hope to also provide the flip side of that coin, and let aggressors do less city-building and focus on combat. Ultimately we want game play to be configurable.
Simon: On default settings we aim for balance. You may start out building, but to feed that, players need to explore, expand and overcome challenges. The single-player campaign modes will take players through every element of game play. Sandbox mode is for the tweaked, open-ended games focusing on game play elements that you prefer.
To make sure players don’t get stuck, we’re designing the final game to have multiple solutions to each challenge. For example, to free prisoners from a goblin slave camp, we’ll have multiple options. A warmongering player can execute a full assault. Sneaky players can enlist rogues to infiltrate the camp and covertly free the prisoners, while a tactician could arrange for the tavern to receive a mysterious delivery of mead that the goblins get drunk on and fall asleep. Not only does this make the game play dynamic, it enhances re-playability.
Steve: Can you talk a little bit about the RPG elements which players will be exposed to in Folk Tale?
Simon: Folk Tale isn’t trying to be a full-on RPG game. However, there are elements such as character development, skills, loot and crafting that fit naturally into the game. We aren’t designing Folk Tale as a zerg-fest RTS. Instead, we want each character to be unique, with the player caring for each one. Character development is part of that.
Steve: How will characters level up? Does the player get to allocate stats or is that handled in some other fashion?
Simon: For demo we’ve had to limit the scope to illustrate how the system might work. So, at the moment new skills are automatically unlocked when a character levels. In the final game, if fans want greater control, the stretch goals will support that.
Steve: Open forum, is there anything you would like people to know about the game, your company or your vision?
Simon: Please sign up for Folk Tale demo beta and approach it with an open mind focusing on the potential. It’s merely a hint of the final game. Be sure to share your feedback and ideas on how we can improve things (link will be in-game). And finally, please support us when our Kickstarter campaign begins, and don’t forget to vote for us on Steam Greenlight
Folk Tale is just one of the imaginative games that may not exist without Kickstarter. The multi-genre approach could be seen as very risky for the often risk-averse publishing companies. As Simon alluded to, game developers are seeking to free themselves of, what can sometimes be very oppressive demands from the traditional channels. As mentioned before, Kickstarter, the Humble Indie Bundle and other initiatives have proven that Linux fans are willing to pay for their games contrary to the popular rhetoric.
Still to come, interviews from the makers of Unity, The Guys From Andromedia, Shadowrun Online, Saturday Morning RPG and more!
Steve Ovens – stratus_ss