Kickstarting Corpses: Dead State

By Adam Smith on March 22nd, 2012 at 11:40 am.

I post about Kickstarter projects more often than I post about indie bundles, which is alarming and is also the reason I’d pledged not to cover any more of them this week…and yet this may not even be the last such post today. The proposed zombie survival RPG Dead State is a concept that sends shivers down my spine like a gentle caress every time I remember it exists. But then I realise that it doesn’t exist, to me, as anything other than a concept and I realise I’m essentially caressing myself. Now DoubleBear have announced that they’re going to start a Kickstarter, which leads me to ask, what are the criteria you look for when considering a pledge?

Is it a game of the sort you don’t feel the major studios are providing? A turn-based, open-ended zombie survival RPG should fit the bill quite nicely for a lot of people. I haven’t played Telltale’s take on The Walking Dead yet but I’m fairly convinced I’d rather it was a risky, ambitious, tense and bitter RPG than an admittedly handsome but possibly QTE-laden adventure.

Maybe you look for pedigree, people on board who make you believe it might be a job done well? Or maybe just the involvement of people called Brian? Dead State is headed up by Brian Mitsoda who was lead writer on Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. We’d all like more of that sort of storytelling in our games presumably, but the proposal for Dead State seems, in many ways, a far more ambitious one. It’s hard enough to write characters that make me care but to do it in a non-linear environment could be even trickier.

It’s important to believe the project will lead to a decent release as well and that’s where everything becomes confusing and murky. Wasteland 2 and the Doublefine Adventure hit their goals while they were still young, they were swimming in money before the umbilical cord was snipped. The speed of pledging isn’t going to make the game happen any faster. It could even slow it down if the project expands along with the piles of cash contributed.

By the time these games are close to release it’s entirely possible that entire nations will have been plunged into debt because their citizens have been kickstarting turn-based pet cat simulations, Printer Repairman: The Movie and Printer Repairman: The Game of the Movie. Kickstarter might be considered the great evil of our generation by the time the good things it assisted come around.

DoubleBear do at least seem to realise that having a game in development so long with so little to show is not the best way to reassure people that their money will be spent well. In a post on the Iron Tower forums, Mitsoda acknowledges this:

I still don’t think we’re quite ready for a Kickstarter launch, but we’re starting to head in that direction. I think putting a bit of distance between any possible launch and the massive projects being funded right now is probably a smart move, though I’m not a bizdev guy, so who knows. While we toil away on the latest Dead State builds and features, I would like to open up the discussion to you, the potential supporter – let’s kickstart a Kickstarter discussion.

We’re planning on showing off some of the gameplay we think represents the game. What would you like to see most to feel confident about contributing to the game?

This I like. Don’t rush into the Kickstarter but rather take the temperature of the interested parties and offer them something. Show ‘em what you’ve got and see what they think of it. Hopefully it’s a way that the team can show what they’ve been working on all this time, with an incentive to do so beyond marketing. They’re pitching to the public and isn’t that what Kickstarter is all about?

I’ve been following Dead State for a long time and I would dearly love to play the game DoubleBear have described. Hopefully, when the Kickstarter is ready they’ll have enough on show to make me believe that it will happen one day.

You can provide feedback of your own over at the forums.

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73 Comments »

  1. stahlwerk says:

    “..like a gentle caress..”

    you know you have lurked the Somethingawful.com forums for far too long when this innocent phrase instinctively leads to snickering.

    On Topic Edit: 2012 – the year in which we learned how to throw money at the screen.

    • mckertis says:

      You mentioned the site-that-should-not-be-named…

    • Ironclad says:

      Oh good, I’m not the only heathen then ;-)

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      @stahlwerk: My thoughts, exactly. :)

    • Apples says:

      Yeah I had to read that sentence about three times – the first time I was a bit shocked that RPS would write something so rude! I’ve lurked for years and I practically visually SEE that phrase as the other word, it’s weird. The idea of a spine being gently caressed is unappealing ):

      • vodka and cookies says:

        I actually sort of miss those filters once your a member you don’t see them any more, also getting SA forums on board would be a good idea for DoubleBear thats what the Banner Saga guys did who are SA goons to begin with.

  2. Wichtel says:

    Take my money! Now!

  3. Lambchops says:

    As I said on the RPS forum thread on this I’m a little more wary of this one. Though if I saw a snack sized morsel of gameplay, something akin to the Project Zomboid tech demo, then I’d be inclined to support it.

    I want this to be made but the fact it has been in development long enough for me to forget about it several times doesn’t make me rush to my wallet!

    • Cooper says:

      This.

      The other day I was thinking “what’s that zombie RPG I remember being made? I’ll see if I can buy a copy”. I’m pretty certain I’ve had that thought once every six months of so for a while now.

      And it turns out I still can’t. Three years after I first heard of it…

  4. JB says:

    I’ve only ever backed FTL on Kickstarter but when DoubleBear put Dead State on there, I’ll be backing it for sure.

  5. Mebius says:

    I’m waiting for release since your first article about it. So, DoubleBear, shut up and take my money!

  6. HexagonalBolts says:

    I would fund the hell out of a kickstarter for something that was very much focused on being open world and emergent, where you could have an influence on the game’s world and the creatures within it in a tangible way. I believe when Oblivion came out (although Oblivion certainly did not live up to this) I read that you could kill a load of farmers, their wheat would no longer be harvested and sold to the baker, the price of bread would go up and some poor people might die of starvation. I WANT TO KILL THE FARMERS.

    It would be full of caveats and ridiculous problems but that would be half the fun of it.

  7. Alexander Norris says:

    which leads me to ask, what are the criteria you look for when considering a pledge?

    Anything that’s original and different, really. I tend to pledge to a lot of stuff that is “game of familiar genre X, but with a completely original aesthetic” or “RPG based on an odd concept.”

    As an aside, my problem with Dead State is that it has the potential to be the perfect zombie game, so I don’t want them to rush development.

    To be honest, I’m not even sure I want it to come out; maybe the world will be a better place if Dead State forever remains the perfect zombie game just out of reach, rather than coming out and falling short.

    • Lemming says:

      “what are the criteria you look for when considering a pledge?

      A combination of factors for me: good developers I know from the days of yore, a resurrection of a genre I love that apparently ‘doesn’t sell’ these days and originality. If it’s only the latter that peaks my interest, it usually takes a bit more to push me into the ‘donate’ category. After all, plenty of original indie games get released without having a Kickstarter fund.

    • Hodge says:

      what are the criteria you look for when considering a pledge?

      For me it’s the same as buying a game through any other means – namely, do I think it stands a fair chance of being worth the cash? That decision will be influenced by all the usual suspects (developer pedigree, the opinions of people I trust, price) regardless of how it’s being put to me.

      In the last week or so I’ve purchased Stacking (conventional release on Steam), Gratuitous Tank Battles (paid beta access) and Wasteland 2 (Kickstarter). I bought them all sight unseen based on the previous work of the respective developers and I didn’t really think about how they were funded.

      I’m really interested in all the Kickstarter stuff and I think some great things will come out of it, but it won’t influence my decision to purchase something.

      • jrodman says:

        My criteria for funding a game: I’m dead certain I’m going to enjoy it.

        I have no time for games that abuse me, run roughshod over my fun time, make fun of my abilities, refuse to be completed, troll me as a player, or otherwise waste my time. I’m certainly not going to give people money to make such games. So I’d better be dead certain it’s going to be enjoyable, completable, completed, and solid. Otherwise, good luck on your experiment, let me know what the critics say.

  8. Cerius says:

    Mitsoda didn’t design Bloodlines?

    He was the Lead Writer. He did Quest Design on it, but he contributed most on Dialouge/Narrative.

    Saying he “designed” it is a little too much here.

  9. Maldomel says:

    I’ll fund anything with Bison references. Yes, I’m like that.

    • c-Row says:

      That logo is truly hillarious.

      • eclipse mattaru says:

        That logo alone makes me want to throw every monies I can find at them. And then I’ll sell my cats’ kidneys and throw that money at them too. Dead State could be a hidden object adventure or a match-3 puzzler for all I care, I’ll be burying them in money anyway just because of this kind of stuff. That’s the kind of detail that makes Bloodlines so f’ing brilliant, and one of the reasons why I think Mitsoda should work in every game ever. Gaming needs a lot more Mitsoda.

        Also, maybe a Mitsoda/Wolpaw crossover.

    • apocraphyn says:

      In the words of Bison himself: this is delicious!

  10. Frank says:

    “You can provide feedback of your own over at the forums.”

    Not happening; doublebear’ll have to come here to see what lazies like me have to say. First, a fact: the name “doublebear” is awesome. Second, I’d want…

    * Details on the mechanics: a shot of the character stats screen explaining how leveling and whatnot works, a shot of the inventory screen explaining what role scarcity and trading play in their view of the zombpocalypse, a video somehow illustrating the nonlinearity of the game (in the large, storytelling side; and in the small, combat/navigation/non-storytelling side, if also present), and finally a video of combat (even if the animations look terrible) explaining it, too.

    * As far as rewards, I’d just want the game before December 2013 (or the Kickstarter +18 months, whichever is later) and updates maybe every two to four weeks. Depending on what info’s shown on the Kickstarter page, I’d pay $10-15. I really like the idea of a turn-based RPG by the Bloodlines guy, so I don’t really need to see anything more before committing.

    EDIT: …or by the Bloodlines’ narrative guy (per Cerius’ correction).

  11. sneetch says:

    I just noticed the “Mmm, Bison”, brilliant!

    I want Dead State, it seems so… good for want of a better word. I’d kickstart the hell out of it (now I’ve signed up I find myself quite willing to “pre-buy” interesting games through kickstarter).

  12. Chris D says:

    I think the question I’d need to find an answer to before donating would be “Why should I spend money on a game that I might be able to play in 2 years instead of a game I can play as soon as I’ve finished dowloading?”

    That answer would probably break down like this:

    1. It would have to be a concept exciting enough that I’d want to take this risk. I game I’d absolutely have to play. There are more games than I can play out there at the moment anyway so it’d have to be something special.

    2. It would have to be sufficiently different from any game currently available or in development otherwise I might as well just play that.

    3. I’d have to have a reasonable degree of confidence that the team behind it could actually deliver.

    Throwing all that into the extrapolation machine and making the outrageous assumption that a significant number of people think along the same lines I guess that means that kickstarter is good for reviving neglected genres by people who already have a reputation for doing something really good. I don’t see it being as successful at genuine innovation or for new developers just because that significantly increases the risk. Much as we like to chastise publishers for not taking any creative risk when it’s my own money on the line I can kind of see their point. Much as I like games, if I’m giving to charity there are worthier causes.

    In that case I’d guess the Kickstarter phenomenon will probably have a fairly limited lifespan. There’s only so many dormant genres/franchises to go around. On the other hand if it can show that these genres are still commercially viable that would only be a good thing.

    I

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      Interesting points. Personally I’m not so concerned about playing now vs. playing later, as I already have several dozen games which I’ve never installed due to lack of time. The idea that I can support a company I believe in at such a vital stage of production, while not immediately adding another game to my backlog is quite appealing.

      I agree that Kickstarter will work best for established players. That said, I think there is room for designers to establish themselves by making free demos or small single-serving games. Basically they donate some time to the players, and earn goodwill to drum up funding for larger projects later. We shall have to see how it all falls out in practice, though. It’s likely that people will gravitate towards industry veterans, who will continue to have much easier access to money than new designers with new ideas – a situation similar to the fiction market, with its massive pay inequality between best selling authors and those who are long established but sell to a niche audience.

  13. Malcolm says:

    Zombies. Meh.

  14. trjp says:

    Kickstarters will soon be so common as to be more harmful than good for many people using them – but a few guidelines will probably help.

    1 – Kickstarter Projects need pedigree. Developers who’ve created great games before, franchises which people are fond of etc. etc.

    2 – a slight exception is possible for new developers/concept where there’s already some interesting in the game (generated via all the usual means)

    3 – you need something to show people – you cannot Kickstarter an idea and a handful of concept sketches – this isn’t “investment”, people are basically buying your game before you’ve made all of it (not NONE of it)

    That said I’m not a big fan of this model because I think it will run out of steam faster than Bundles did – simply because it’s easily abused. The first game to take people’s money and not deliver (either at all or in terms of a crappy game) will be the last one this works for…

  15. Scroll says:

    If giving them lots of my money helps that awesome concept to actually become a game then I’m all in.

    Also if they can update backers at least once a month on how the project is going then that’d be really nice.

  16. frightlever says:

    I wouldn’t Kickstart anything. I’ve thought about this quite a bit. I have about 150 games I’ve never even installed, mixed between Steam and physical copies. There is no shortage of games for me to play. There is, I suspect, a far higher chance that one of those unplayed games is going to be closer to my idea of a perfect game than anything that’s often little more than promises on Kickstarter.

  17. gschmidl says:

    What I’m looking for in any game, Kickstarter or no, is NO GODDAMN ZOMBIES. Christ, are we STILL not done with this tripe.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      Yeah, the market is over-saturated with zombies.

      • Kleppy says:

        Yeah it’s like an outbreak.

        I’m sorry.

      • Doesn'tmeananything says:

        It isn’t, however, saturated with well-done zombies. This game understands the zombie genre. It knows that it’s not about killing zombies, it’s about people and interactions between them, where surviving aspect is also highly accentuated. It’d be pretty silly to dismiss such an unfortunately unique take on zombies in gaming just because it was done badly numerous times before.

        • Ysellian says:

          I’m glad there are people that feel the same way as I do about zombie stuff. I feel the vast majority of the stuff out there completely misses the point of what I enjoy about a good zombie title.

        • Kaira- says:

          This is the point. Shooting zombies? Meh, that’s done to death and it’s not good anyway.

          But a proper zombie game? This I like.

        • Miltrivd says:

          I would say this could very well be the truly first zombie game that’s not centered on the zombies, but in the people surviving the catastrophe, and I very much like that focus.

  18. Starayo says:

    Man! I’ve been waiting for dead state for ages expectantly! I’d pay for it in an instant, but that’s because there are no good zombie games out there.

  19. Drake Sigar says:

    I’ve wanted this game even more than Skyrim. People groan and say “not ANOTHER zombie game” but the fact is the premise has barely been explored outside of the Resident Evil series or fast-paced co-op shooters. (“But Drake, Resident Evil now IS a fast-paced co-op shooter!” you say, zing!) We need a game which does more than encourage you to shoot wave after wave of zombies, we need an RPG.

  20. Jason Moyer says:

    I’d contribute to a Dead State kickstarter, but he needs to give me at least 2 years to procrastinate before I can put the money up. I also need the option to withdraw my donation halfway into development.

  21. Vander says:

    That i get a cut of the profits? If i have understood how kickstarter works correctly.

    No, because when i help to fund something, and i take the risk of the game not being finished, i expect more than a few goodies.

    Dont get me wrong, the dead state project interest me a lot, and Brian Mistsoda has written some of the best dialogues in videogames in my opinion, but from a consummer point of view, it is not worth it. If i help fund a game i am an investor, and i the project is succefull and make money, i expect a return for the risk i have taken with my money.

    Would buy it when it is launched if the game is any good tough.

  22. Squirrelfanatic says:

    Instead of kickstarting (read: fund) a project at the beginning, I would be far more likely to support developers that have already something in the making but lack the money to finish it.

    • Fumarole says:

      That would be this project. Development momentum has slowed as the developers have all had to take on part-time jobs to stay alive. A successful Kickstart would allow them to drop the jobs and focus on finishing the game.

      • Squirrelfanatic says:

        Damn, you are right. Now I really have to give them my money. :) Kidding aside, of course the game/project needs to interest me in the first place.

  23. Kleppy says:

    Yeah, I don’t know about this. It’s one thing when you have stuff like Idle Thumbs or an old school 2d adventure game, which realistically aren’t going to be very viable without community aid, this is something different. I’m not willing to throw money sight unseen at every developer unless I have a personal sentimental stake in the game. Also, as others have said, there are SO MANY games out there, literally hundreds of games I’m interested in which I still haven’t played, that I honestly see no point in this kind of gesture towards games which can quite possibly not be very good.

  24. NathanH says:

    What would entice me to fund a game? Let’s make some simplifying assumptions. Let’s assume that the game is going to be released with probability 1. Let $G$ be the random variable corresponding to my utility for playing the game in question, and let’s suppose that this utility can be considered in terms of money, so I judge a particular game I’ve played to be worth its utility in money units. This assumption is bad but keeps us in the territory of analysis I can do without having to think.

    Let’s also suppose that my utility for money and the money-value of a particular game will be the same now as it is in the future, because putting distributions on my preferences is not the sort of thing I do for random posts on a gaming blog.

    Let $p(cdot)$ be my prior density for $G$. Let $c$ be the kickstarter level required to get a copy of the game (because I’m a sensible hobbit, that’s all I’m going to contribute). My expected value for kickstarting the project is therefore $E(G) – c$, where the expectation is taken over $p$. What’s my expected value of waiting?

    By the time the game is released, I’ll have observed a certain level of game footage and press reaction, $R$. Let’s suppose this can take values $R_1, cdots, R_n$. What I need is $E(G |R_i)$, but that’s unreasonable for me to specify directly. Instead I can specify $P(R=R_i|G)$, the probability of a particular press response given the quality of the game. Armed with this and the density function for $G$ I can find $E(G|R_i)$ and also the marginals $P(R=R_i)$. As a final simplification, let’s suppose that the price of the game on release will be $c_r$. In practice this is going to be dependent on press response and quality of game, but then we have to do a bit more work so let’s ignore that detail.

    I’ll buy the game on release if $E(G|R_i) > c_r$ for the particular $R_i$ that I observe, for expected reward $E(G|R_i)-c$. So my expected reward for waiting is $sum_{i=1}^n P(R=R_i)max{E(G|R_i)-c_r, 0}$.

    So it seems that I invest in the kickstarter if $E(G)-c > sum_{i=1}^n P(R=R_i)max{E(G|R_i)-c_r, 0}$. This isn’t quite the whole story, since given that $c>c_r$ (else I do not invest), I have $c-c_r$ to spend on something else. So I invest if $E(G)-c+E(X(c-c_r))> sum_{i=1}^n P(R=R_i)max{E(G|R_i)-c_r, 0}$, where $X(c-c_r)$ represents the gamble of “what can I best do with my $c-c_r$ remaining”.

    Naturally, I have options to spend $c$ and $c_r$ on other things that might give me higher expected return, but I think you can see quite easily how this would slot into the calculation, so I’ll omit that for clarity.

  25. InternetBatman says:

    It’d be nice to know how much they have done and how close they are to completion. The game is full of ideas, but it seems as dead as Age of Decadence.

  26. theleif says:

    Honestly? For a game like this, I would gladly give 40$ just based on the concept, if that increased the chance of the game to be released.

  27. RagingLion says:

    I might actually be interested in Dead State quite a bit, but I can’t be sure 100% because I would have prefered real-time combat and I don’t how much that will change things for me in terms of the feel of the game. Basically, I want to know if the narrative is something special and if it can successfully create a really good atmosphere and connection to the characters in the game.

  28. Strangerator says:

    My criteria for funding a kickstarter?

    A game that has the guts to experiment and potentially create an entirely new genre would likely get my money. Survival RPGs sound fun, and I’ve had a similar concept for a game in my head for quite some time.

    I think of it as a way of supporting the arts, not as if I am purchasing a product. I think too many people are thinking by supporting these kickstarters, they are buying the games of their dreams. This will undoubtedly lead to massive rage when these games are all released, with people feeling cheated because “beard customization was not up to par” or what have you.

  29. TsunamiWombat says:

    “But then I realise that it doesn’t exist, to me, as anything other than a concept and I realise I’m essentially caressing myself.”

    A healthy habit for any adult, don’t let the prudes shame you!

  30. wodin says:

    It’s been in development for awhile now. So how will kickstarter money help get the game finished? Money was never mentioned as an issue i don’t think, just time.

    I like the idea of the game, and if it was a new announcement about it being developed I’d back it, however the extremely slow progress so far puts me off. So not this time.

  31. greenbananas says:

    Not the biggest fan of paying for something 18 months in advance but for games of this or Wasteland 2′s potential? Might as well take my wallet.

  32. Radiant says:

    I’m going to start a kickstarter.

    It’s for a game called ‘Lunch’ and it chronicles one man’s doomed choice dictated purely by how much money he can raise online.

    It’s an ARG.

  33. RegisteredUser says:

    Glad to see this made it to the front page.

    I am very much looking forward to this and may be tempted to buy this over DF Adv. or W2.

    I just wish the entry hurdle were lower on most of these projects($15 is real money currently, <=10$ would be better for me right now. Ask me again in 5 years, then I'd pony up $25).

  34. ezekiel2517 says:

    I think what represents the game better is Mitsoda himself. They should dress him in many different ways while he is filmed in different angles while walking in the streets yelling at signposts, large televisions, intercoms, white people, and threatening museum staff that enemies will come out of those paintings if he gets too close.

  35. celozzip says:

    no mention of project zomboid adam? it’s really come along in leaps and bounds over the last few weeks, check it out everyone.

  36. Isometric says:

    I’d definitely back this and I know of more than a few friends who would too.

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