Brathwaite & Hall Pull The Plug On SHAKER Kickstarter

By John Walker on October 20th, 2012 at 11:16 am.

In a rather surprising move, Brenda Brathwaite and Tom Hall have announced they’re cancelling their Kickstarter for SHAKER, formerly Old-School RPG. Despite their having already raised a quarter of a million dollars, and the realistic possibility that they’ll see that quadruple in the next two weeks, they’ve chosen to retreat in the face of criticism that their pitch just wasn’t strong enough.

And it wasn’t. As I said at the time of launch, their pitch video consisted of trying to invoke nostalgia like a wizard trying to get a spell out of a broken wand. “REMEMBER?!” they pleaded, taking the rather peculiar thesis that all games from the past were necessarily good, and games today just aren’t. Since neither is true, I do wonder if gamers looked at the wealth of RPGs available now, remembered some of the hefty duds of the past, and just wondered why exactly they weren’t explaining what their game was going to be.

It seems they’ve started wondering the same. Explaining in an update on (the still live, oddly) Kickstarter page, they say that they have listened to feedback, and despite the possibility that they could still meet their goal, they’re retreating anyway.

“Ultimately, our pitch just wasn’t strong enough to get the traction we felt it needed to thrive. Sure, it may have made it. We could have fought our way to a possibly successful end. In reading your feedback and talking it over internally, however, we decided that it made more sense to kill it and come back with something stronger.”

I’ve just watched the pitch video again, and am trying my best not to get cross all over again. Despite renaming their project from the farcical “Old-School RPG” to SHAKER, this was rather undermined by their pitch video still beginning by saying they want to make a game… or maybe two. And then not saying what either game would be, other than possibly containing a cloth map. They literally didn’t describe a single feature, beyond that it wouldn’t be bad like new things, but good like old things. Oh, with permadeath.

I like their grace about this now, however. They point out the reality that games get pitched all the time, and few ever go on to be developed. They’re counting their pitch among the larger number, and going back to establish something more concrete. Or in this case, hopefully something at all.

We all want to see a new RPG from these two fine developers, and I’m really enthused that they plan to come back and do this again. I really hope that in doing so, rather than sneering at modern games, they instead aim to create something that embraces the best features of RPGs from the 70s through to the 2010s.

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139 Comments »

  1. Lemming says:

    “their pitch video consisted of trying to invoke nostalgia like a wizard trying to get a spell out of a broken wand.

    I love this line.

    • Danorz says:

      Ask your Archmage if Firaga is right for you

    • DarkFenix says:

      Indeed. In fact I’m rather glad it flopped like this, shows that nostalgia on its own is not enough to run with on a big budget Kickstarter.

      • Grygus says:

        They picked up a quarter million dollars. I am also glad that they decided to come up with a better pitch, but I don’t think this demonstrates the inefficacy of nostalgia on Kickstarter; quite the opposite, in fact.

        • EPICTHEFAIL says:

          It does demonstrate people`s ability to do potentially ill-advised things because a 15-years-out of date synapse says they should. This is actually a rather interesting study in psychology, specifically people`s habit of making the logical leap that old=good.

          • LionsPhil says:

            People make the new=good leap just as much.

          • Phantoon says:

            Sure, but those people don’t have nostalgia.

          • socrate says:

            nostalgia in this case is replaced with Overhyping that is pretty much the same….old nostalgia usually remind us of what we don’t have anymore in game today which is alots of gameplay,now a day everything is dumbed down and made simple,thus why FPS get so much attention they are feeding stupid people with it.

            but there is also a bad nostalgia that people get mixed up on how stuff was back then also…some people remember a good time in a game that was poorly made and will defend it at all cost,which in turn bring back bad idea back into today gaming making everything old look bad.

            There is also people that have a beautiful vision of the past game that were just plain horrible and for some reason can’t stop thinking about them and embellish them in their brain…il never understand that

          • masidab5154 says:

            Looks like Brenda will have to go SHAKER cane at some children instead.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQnd5ilKx2Y

        • Baines says:

          Indeed, I’ve a feeling that a “nostalgia with no substance” pitch probably netted them more money than they’d net with a detailed game pitch. Selling on nostalgia without substance lets everyone dream that it will be the game for them. It’s when you get to the specifics that you get people going “Oh, wait, no… I don’t want that game, I want this other oldschool game. With this particular modern convenience, but with that particular oldschool mechanic.”

        • DarkFenix says:

          Weeeell, yes and no. Efficacy is somewhat relative. Yes, it managed to raise quarter of a million dollars and this is a large amount of money for people to throw at a total non-pitch, but compared to PE’s roaring success that does seem rather tame, a flop even. Certainly not the reception they were hoping for at any rate.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        It worked for Obsidian, to the tune of $4 million. They had barely any details about their game (though they also mentioned a cloth map, how terrible of them) but people were prepared to back them on nostalgia. They had nothing but a map of the world with generic fantasy names on it, and a vague promise that “It’ll be just like these old games!”

        Granted, Obsidian has a much stronger recent history. But even now, there’s a whole one screenshot to look at and that didn’t exist when they launched the Kickstarter.

        Interesting that Walker doesn’t get ‘cross’ about Obsidian’s lack of detail too, but then he’s always been good at picking and choosing what his opinions will be.

        • DarkFenix says:

          Obsidian had at least something resembling a plan, they sounded as though they knew what they wanted to do with the money, this one had precisely nothing but playing off nostalgia with some vague intent to think up a game once people donated enough money.

        • Eclipse says:

          yeah but obsidian has the creator of Planescape Torment leading the thing, and while I really love Tom Hall and his games, the thing that goes nearer to an oldskool rpg he did is Anachronox, that’s a wonderful game, but it’s a rare breed of “western jrpg”. I’d love to see a game that uses his great humor from him. Anachronox war truly bizarre, and I really liked Hyperspace Delivery Boy too (I’m probably one of the ten people that played it in this whole planet or something)

        • pantognost says:

          Well, in defense to the truth, Obsidian presented a very specific design goal. They said that they intend to make an isometric party based RPG with pausable real time combat and static Hires backgrounds with overlayed game agents ala Baldur’s gate and Planescape: Torment with today’s graphics and old school RPG mechanics and stories. Well…for an undeveloped game that gives a very thorough idea of their design goals…Hence the 4 mil.

    • Dorull says:

      It’s a fitting line really. I thought I’d give their pitch video a chance, but found absolutely nothing that would describe the game. So I just started skipping trough the video but all I heard was “Old school” repeated.
      And that is how not to do your pitch video.

  2. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Wanting to find out what “old school” really meant inspired me to look up the history of RPG’s (both video game and non-video game). On the wiki page, after talking about the games and how popular and fun they were, I was amazed by this:

    “Meanwhile critical and theoretical reflection on role-playing game theory was developing. In 1994-95 Inter*Active, (later renamed Interactive Fiction) published a magazine devoted to the study of RPGs. In the late 1990s discussion on the nature of RPGs on rec.games.frp.advocacy generated the Threefold Model. The Scandinavian RPG scene saw several opposing ideological camps about the nature and function of RPGs emerge, which began having regular academic conferences called the knutepunkt conferences, which began in 1997 and continue to today.”

    Seriously? RPGs spawned an actual ideological schism? With conferences? Blimey. I shall never look at Skyrim the same again…

    EDIT: The whole article is fascinating actually. Had no idea RPGs had such a torrid history http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_role-playing_games

    • Archonsod says:

      The whole roleplaying versus game argument has been going on since 1979 at least. It’s as integral to the geek scene as Trek versus Wars ….

      • Meat Circus says:

        Man, labels are SRS BZNS on the Internet.

        I think I’m with Vince D. Weller on this. The sine qua non of an RPG is choice and consequences.

        • Hmm-Hmm. says:

          That’s the core of it in my opinion. Although I would add the word significant before both words.

        • Carbonated Dan says:

          I have to disagree, that’s the sine qua non of a strategy game – to quote wikipedia’s entry on the word ‘strategy is more about a set of options (“strategic choices”) than a fixed plan’

          on the other hand, Role Play is about choices and consequences considered through a specific, fantastical, lens – without the perspective of the avatar there can be no Role to play, without a social veneer most RPG choices would be senseless and the rest would be the gearing and party tactics of a strategy game

          EDIT

          see Spinks’ comment below, he knows his jazzmatazz

        • ocelot113 says:

          I thought Role Playing game meant, playing a role in a game. Mainly, interjecting your being or avatar into a game world. Period. That’s what I’ve always believed anyway.

          • Rad says:

            By that definition, “Duke Nukem” and “Half Life” are RPGs…and they aren’t.

          • Meat Circus says:

            Quite the opposite, in fact. If an RPG was a game in which you played a role, pretty much every game ever created would be an RPG. And they ain’t.

          • drinniol says:

            So if you have a table-top session with premade characters, it’s not an RPG? :P Inquisitor is a rule system with no traditional level-based or skill-based progression with GM premade characters encouraged – by your definition not an RPG.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Reading RPS makes my brain grow :)

    • Meat Circus says:

      Not surprisingly, though, 40 years on, and we’re still no closer to agreeing on a definition of what an RPG actually *is*.

      Meanwhile, most sane people decided it doesn’t really matter what arbitrary genre label you apply to a game, but whether or not it’s actually any good.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        Except it does matter that among videogame players the label ‘RPG’ has been so corrupted by Bioware’s slop that people think RPGs need dull and meaningless conversation trees and romance options. It matters because when someone tries to make an actual RPG, a whole segment of the potential market thinks they’re an outdated grandpa trying to hold on to the past (rather than a smart designer who actually knows what they are doing).

        Just yesterday I watched a video in which a games journalist suggested that Far Cry 3 is like an RPG because it has fetch quests. It’s reached the point of complete fucking absurdity.

      • sinister agent says:

        An RPG is a game that gets tiresome people bickering over meaningless semantics on the internet for hours on end until everyone involved gathers enough embarassment to last the rest of their lives.

    • Taltos says:

      Some further reading on the history of role playing games: http://insomnia.ac/commentary/on_role-playing_games/

      And yes, the rest of that website is ridiculously opinionated, but the dude writes good unoffensive articles here and there.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Unfortunately its essay-length white text on black background, which makes me feel like I am jamming a pencil in my iris. Then I walk around with black bars superimposed on everything I look at for 5 minutes.

        Anyone know how to force-change the colours that inconsiderate web designers have chosen? (IE9 or chrome?)

        • Tilaton says:

          Why don’t you just copy the text and paste it on a word processor or something. It is just text.

        • Hoaxfish says:

          Under Chrome you can get into the CSS and change it that way. Just right-click the page and pick “Inspect Element”. This opens an html window along the bottom.

          The easiest way to get black text on white is to just find the ‘head’ section, expand it, find the ‘link rel=… style.css’ bit. Right-click it, and select delete node.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            Cool! Thanks hoaxfish. I can haz lernd to computa innit.
            What can I change it to to make it have all the same layout and formatting, but black text on white background?

          • Sheng-ji says:

            @SuperNashwanPower – follow the instructions up to the delete the line instruction and instead click on the link to navigate to the style sheet.

            In the Body { section, change the value of color from #FFFFFF to #000000 – you should see the text on the actual page change as you adjust this value.

            In the wrap{ section, change the background: from black to white

            Enjoy!

          • Hoaxfish says:

            slightly harder to do that because it’s like a scalpel compared to a hammer:

            1. open the “inspect element” thing again
            2. select the ‘div id=content’ tag
            3. in the right-hand sub-window, find the #content section
            4. click in the white space just after ‘margin: 8px;’ (this should open a new line to type in)
            5. type ‘background: white’ then press enter (this will make the background white, and move you to the next line)
            6. type ‘color: black’ and press enter (this will make the text color black)
            7. you can then carry on… reloading the page will reload the normal colour scheme though

            another option is to pass it through Readability’s website and click the readbility view button at the top to basically extract the article and format it in a nice and readable version (the sidebar can adjust formatting for your comfort).

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            Thanks guys, both work :) I am going to stick that readability thing in my favourites. No more walking around with Ghost Venetian Blind effect after reading websites!

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            sockeatsock says:

            Might I suggest this stunning pluggin, Clearly: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/clearly/iooicodkiihhpojmmeghjclgihfjdjhj

      • InternetBatman says:

        I disagree with the vast majority of his argument, but it boils down to “we haven’t made a successful AI to play GM, so CRPGs show almost no progress.”

      • Gentlemantiger says:

        …that person has never actually played most of the Shin Megami Tensei Series. Most of the Dragon Quest series, or any tabletop RPGs other than really stupidly complicated ones. They’re opinions in this case are basically meaningless.

    • Spinks says:

      Oh yeah, I remember the threefold model. It was GNS — game, narrative, simulation and the idea was that they were completely different styles of RPG, where simulation led to virtual worlds and narrative led to strongly story based games. (I think the game style was all about solid game mechanics and challenge.) And that players who preferred each style would be looking for a very different social contract with the GM (like: simulationist players wanted a rigorous simulation and didn’t mind if the story wasn’t great or things didn’t feel like fair challenges.)

      It eventually led (after lots of drama) to the indie RPG movement as per The Forge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php) which spawned really cool pen and paper games where the game mechanics included lots of narrative elements, such as Sorcerer and Dogs in the Vineyard. (Check those out if you like pen and paper games, btw.)

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        I like this idea. It seems to me to be saying something obvious though – different people enjoy different things when it comes to RPG’s. As an example, I personally found the focus on story and chatting to be a bit boring in Mass Effect, and found myself wanting more in the way of spaceflight simulation, planetary exploration as well as satisfying squad combat, none of which I felt truly satisfied with. For other folks its the narrative and chatty parts they like. Game / simulationist for me then.

        In STALKER (which maybe some may not consider an RPG at all) I loved all of it, including the story element. Couldnt wait to get to Chernobyl and find out what the hell was going on.

    • Baines says:

      Heck, *Roguelikes* spawned years long debates with conferences over what the definition of a Roguelike was. Like many such ideological schisms, it held a lot of “This is my arbitrary opinion, and I’m sticking with it regardless of whatever logic or evidence you use to counter it” points, it also ignored how “accepted” features had already changed with the passage of time, and the resulting “definition” was immediately picked at, edited, and then mostly ignored for being irrelevant to making games anyway. (The biggest impact was probably the attempt to use it as a means to call certain games off-topic in the Roguelike Usenet newsgroups. But the debate had gone on so long before being “officially settled by self-appointed officials” that it didn’t even work for that, because everyone had long before already decided where they stood.)

      Fighting games had a similar schism when Smash Bros became popular. Just without the conferences, because the existing self-defined fighting game community was heavily behind the argument that Smash and other party brawlers should never be considered a fighting game. The silliness really started when they tried to make a series of rules that explained why stuff like party brawlers couldn’t be fighting games, because pretty much all the mechanics you could find were either already present in acknowledged fighting games, or could easily be the basis of an accepted fighting game.

  3. Chalk says:

    When I saw this Kickstarter go up, I was all ready to pledge. Then I watched the video.

    Brenda and Tom come across as so awkward and forced in the video that it isn’t even funny (despite the fact that they are clearly *trying* to be funny). I’m still willing to give them a shot, but their initial video just came across as them attempting to jump on the bandwagon. (I actually found the video creepy and cringe inducing).

    Merely throwing their names about is not going to be enough to get the millions they want.

    Also – I think they put up their stretch goals far too early, which were also excessively high.

    Oh, and the Kickstarter page is still live because they have been ‘unable’ to cancel it. They are getting error messages when they try.

    • AngoraFish says:

      They vastly over-estimated their personal fan base, then massively over-emphasised “old-school”. The two combined left them looking out of touch and disingenuous.

  4. Jimbo says:

    Looks like Brenda will have to go SHAKER cane at some children instead.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Just imagine if this had made it onto steam with a multiplayer element. The anti cheat would have been called the SHAKERn VAC

  5. JackDandy says:

    I’m not surprised.
    their pitch reeked of “Jumping on the kickstarter bandwagon”. Especially how they just repeated “OLD SCHOOL” over and over without actually talking about the game, it really put a lot of people off.

    They also didn’t really have any substantial part in making RPGs in the past, so I imagine they didn’t have people’s trust.

    Also, “Shaker” is a fucking terrible name for an RPG.

  6. Meat Circus says:

    Hear, hear, John.

    There is the core of an idea in Shaker that I like. So it’d be nice if they tried to sell it to me.

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    Yachmenev says:

    Good article about it John. If you talk to Tom Hall and Brenda Brathwaite about it more, please ask them for the reason why all the details appeared 1-2 weeks in to the project, instead of being there from the beginning. Did they hold back information, or did they come up with all this stuff only after people asked for actual details?

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      i think it’s pretty obvious why those details came later in the process.

      • AngoraFish says:

        Yep, they panicked when the ship started taking on water. Unfortunately, the hole left in the side of the ship by the iceberg was simply too big for some last minute patching.

  8. Entitled says:

    They clearly had a good idea for a game, as they eventually revealed mid-project, I think they just underetimated the significance of first-day backers.

    They wanted to gradually reveal information, to constantly get into the news, like “Now Old-school RPG has a name!” “Now SHAKER has a setting!”, “Now SHAKER revealed gameplay mechanics!”, but at this point, every reader was already cynical of them because of the first “Old-school RPG” fiasco. They should have relied on a strong first announcement hype instead.

    • Premium User Badge

      Yachmenev says:

      If that´s their tactic, I hope other developers learn that if you´re not in a place where the audience already have great confidence in you (Double Fine, Obsidian), you need to treat the intial project page as an actual pitch.

      I´m a great supporter of Kickstarter myself, but I hate how so many of them are focused on rewards and stretch goals, instead of actual gameplay specifics. The Wings kickstarter was perhaps the biggest offender of this, but this comes in a good second place.

  9. CletusVanDamme says:

    After dismissing the project based around that initial video, I revisited the page out of interest a few days ago and saw they’d actually added something of substance to it (as well as changing the name). There was a lot of stuff there that I found quite intriguing – not enough to quite wash away the taste of that initial pitch, but enough to make me want to check in before the close of the Kickstarter again, see where they were at, and make a decision.

    I think this might be best for their project though. This was a total botch job and I’m surprised it made 250k after that pitch video. That speaks volumes though – if they can do a better job with their pitch and actually bring a fully fleshed out idea to the table in a future Kickstarter they may stand to make quite a lot of money. Worth watching out for I think.

    • malkav11 says:

      Pretty much. I’d be willing to back an RPG project from them, especially if it returned to mechanics, perspectives, etc that have been written off as outdated by today’s conventional wisdom despite continuing to be perfectly viable and offering a distinctly different gameplay experience. But they need to show me what I’m putting my money behind and do it out of the gate, which they absolutely did not do with this project.

  10. SuperNashwanPower says:

    An abandoned old school role playing game? I think they deserve another roll of the dice.

    • Meat Circus says:

      Armor class the first Kickstarter as a practice run. But I’m sure they’ll be THAC.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        They really need to produce something a Level Up from this though.
        Oh god. I have become Alan Partridge.

        • Lanfranc says:

          I don’t want to hit point any fingers here, but I would certainly expect their concept to be a little more on the fireball next time.

    • InternetBatman says:

      They just need more Kickstarter experience.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        This is not a pun. Please edit so you sound more like 1970′s Roger Moore in every Bond film with him in it ever.

  11. TommeH says:

    The video was a huge turn off.
    It was like some kind of competition with the goal to use the term “old school” as often as possible in a video.

    “So our old school RPG is going to be very old school! Did we mention that it will be very old school?”

    I hope that they rethink this project and then try it again with some actual genuine ideas.

  12. Premium User Badge

    dahauns says:

    I’m really glad of their choice of action. Their Kickstarter updates (y’know, those acually telling something about the game) really, really piqued my interest, but overshadowed by that horrible pitch (whoa, dodged a Freudian here) they wouldn’t have stood a chance…

  13. Wulf says:

    At this point, I actually want to see some more picture heavy interactive fiction games, rather than RPGs. The problem with RPGs is that they get too caught up in numbers. People like that, and that’s fine, but it means that there’s a certain sterility that overtakes the storytelling when you’re bound by numbers.

    At this point I could really go for something that echoes the likes of the Gateway games, because those were oh so, so good. Perhaps we could even see a reinvention of that, not quite interactive fiction, not quite point & click. But at this point I’m beginning to wonder if all I’m aching for is more Uru. But that’s not it. I want exploration, storytelling, significant choices/consequences, and the odd puzzle peppered in. Unencumbered by anything else. Held back by no sterility or need to be thing A or thing B.

    The problem with ‘RPG,’ I feel, is that it carries a lot of baggage:

    - An RPG is numbers, maps, and spreadsheets.
    - An RPG is a casual take on medieval/historical settings.
    - An RPG is elves and dwarves.
    - An RPG is swords & sorcery.
    - An RPG is very black & white.
    - An RPG is comfortable and familiar.

    If I look at something like New Vegas, is that an RPG? It’s not quite so heavy on the numbers, or at the very least they don’t matter as much. Or what about the aforementioned Uru, or To the Moon? What about Interactive Fiction games? And again, the aforementioned Gateways?

    I think we need a new genre for those things which an RPG is not.

    - Defined by significant choice and consequence.
    - Unencumbered storytelling.
    - Creative, exotic, alien settings without being bound to ‘traditional fantasy.’
    - Unbounded discovery, embracing what it means to have fun with exploring (more about finding hidden ruins than getting +2% of your world map cleared).

    I want to see a genre emerge that focuses on these things. And maybe then ‘RPG’ could die a quiet, dignified death. That’s something I think that almost needs to happen at this point for us to move on. To overcome the stagnant decadence and familiarity of the ‘RPG.’

    • Meat Circus says:

      I don’t think the trad-RPG needs to die, merely that mechanics and interactive fiction are bifurcating down two distinct and largely unrelated paths, and you’re more interested in following one than the other.

    • Entitled says:

      “The problem with RPGs is that they get too caught up in numbers. People like that, and that’s fine….
      ….And maybe then ‘RPG’ could die a quiet, dignified death.”

      There is nothing wrong with having some established gameplay formats, and genres. Originality is a tool, not the goal. If there are enough people interested in the old-school RPG format, and how it can continue to be interesting to them with minor twists, it doesn’t need to die.

      If you want another genre, with another set of rules to emerge, good luck on that, but that doesn’t mean that the old ones are obselete. What you propose, is neither “thing A” nor “thing B”, but only because it would end up being “thing C”

      It’s natural that games are drifting into established gere formats, because while gamers want a certain level of originality to provide surprise and entertainment, we also need to feel comfortable about knowing most basic mechanics before starting a game, so we are drifting twards established genres.

    • InternetBatman says:

      So you want a new genre to emerge that’s pretty much a vn with exploring, and that will automatically make RPGs go away? This post is repeatedly and consistently wrong:

      An RPG is spreadsheets – Yes, but the largest spreadsheets in RPG development is the dialog.
      An RPG is high fantasy – Ignoring all the p&p systems, that’s still blatantly false. Shadowrun and Cyberpunk aren’t high fantasy. I’m not even sure if Torment had elves and dwarves in it. VtmB certainly doesn’t. Fallout definitely doesn’t. Neither does Precursors.

      An RPG is black and white – Fallout 2 isn’t black and white. Parts of it are, but the NCR uses some pretty sinister tactics, Vault City is full of old school racism, and even a nice innkeeper in the first village keeps a slave. Dragon Age also has many choices that aren’t right or wrong (such as the leader of the dwarves).

      An RPG is comfortable and familiar – It’s genre entertainment. Genre entertainment is comfortable and familiar as a rule. A new genre won’t solve that.

      Most importantly, numbers are not sterility. They’re just a way of representing the system, and almost every game uses them, from FPS to Turn-Based Strategies to many VNs. Furthermore, they are part of the story, part of roleplaying, and part of the world. They’re a great way of expressing reactivity, and forcing characters to role-play. A 90 pound weakling wouldn’t be able to haul 80 guns around. A violent, mentally-retarded melee fighter isn’t going to be able to talk his way out of problems. Having the ability to create these characters is largely dependent on a transparent rule system that reacts to your numerical choices. Divorcing a game from these systems generally means a less reactive game.

      And finally, the idea that a genre should die just because it doesn’t meet your expectations is pretty self-centered.

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      ffordesoon says:

      “RPG” is one of those terms, like “comic book,” that’s both spectacularly unsuited to the actual thing being discussed and so ingrained that it isn’t going anywhere.

      I think the best thing for the genre’s evolution isn’t to define “RPG” so strictly that games without X element aren’t RPGs, despite obviously being them. I know the hardcore Codexers would rather everyone do that, but they’d also like it if the only people still playing RPGs were all Codexers, which is just stupid.

      No, the best thing for it is to break it up into more subgenres. Action-RPG. Role-playing shooter. Adventure-RPG. Sandbox RPG. Pure/classic/true RPG (which I think should really be called “cRPG,” because that’s what most of the people who use that term are talking about). Party-based RPG. Protagonist-based RPG. Narrative RPG. Dungeon crawler. Roguelike. Et cetera.

      We also need to get away from saying that there’s only one thing that defines an RPG as an RPG. There are a few elements that mark an RPG as such, the valuing of character skill over player skill being only one. Significant choice and consequence is another. A deep character progression system. Gameplay that consistently rewards at least two distinct playstyles. Combat with an outcome that can hinge on the proper application of skills other than the PC’s (in the case of a protagonist-based game). Multiple paths through the story. Multiple classes of weapons with distinct numerically-defined properties that affect gameplay. An inventory in which you store loot. Exploration of a large gameworld. I could probably come up with more.

      I’d say that if your game has any three (I would settle for four, or five in a pinch) of those elements (or any common RPG elements I didn’t name), it’s some sort of RPG. What sort of RPG it is depends on what the key elements are. The point is that there are elements unique to games we typically call RPGs that aren’t just “character skill over player skill!”

      • MadTinkerer says:

        EDIT: Ooops, I was originally trying to reply to ffordesoon, so I guess I should.

        RPG subgenres have existed since at least the early 80s. Nintendo knew that Dragon Quest and Zelda were similar to each other but had their own niches. That’s why there was “Adventure” and “Action Adventure” categories.

        The problem now is that, before the Kickstarter revolution, there were so few RPGs each year that they started to all get lumped together. Again. This also happened in the late 90s before Final Fantasy VII PC and Baldurs Gate proved that RPGs not only weren’t dead but were barely started.

        I have a feeling we’re going to get another explosion of good RPGs, above and beyond what’s been funded via Kickstarter this year. These things tend to come in massive waves.

        [insert segue here]

        Well I do hope they figure out what they’re doing next in a timely manner. Because I want it already!

        ” I really hope that in doing so, rather than sneering at modern games, they instead aim to create something that embraces the best features of RPGs from the 70s through to the 2010s.”

        I think the sneering aspect comes from the fact that the people making the big decisions on modern RPGs can’t have orgasms unless they make something that copies WoW’s gameplay exactly. So then millions of dollars are spent making games that people can’t play anymore, ever, because the servers are gone now. And it’s okay because the executives in charge have had their orgasms and they don’t care about all the gamers they’ve fucked in the process.

        I’ll never get to play City of Heroes again, but hey: KOTOR still works fine.

        Among other reasons.

    • JackShandy says:

      Why would To The Moon be considered an RPG?

      It’d be nice to have an accepted category for “Story-based Games”, but they don’t need to rise from the ashes of RPG’s. The two genres don’t really have anything to do with each other.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        It’s made with RPG Maker.

        Therefore.

        ;)

      • Premium User Badge

        ffordesoon says:

        Yeah, To The Moon is pretty solidly a point-and-click adventure. It just happened to be made in RPG Maker. I think they even say it’s an adventure game on the official site.

        Which doesn’t mean more games like To The Moon wouldn’t be awesome.

  14. Tuco says:

    While I generally agree with the criticism against their kickstarter, what i really can’t agree with John Walker is about the implication that there are redeeming qualities even in modern RPGs.
    NO, there aren’t.
    Not a single feature typical of modern RPGs that wasn’t already implemented in the past would help to make a batter game.
    Seriously. I can’t think of a single one, and no, I’m not being hasty and rushing my judgment.

    Well, unless we don’t count decent production value as a “feature”, but I would consider it more tied to the budget and tech available to developers.

    • Entitled says:

      [linguistic nazi mode]

      You mean production COSTS.

      “Production value” pretty much means quality, as in showing skills in a respective genre. In this sense, a nicely polished, complex, bug-free, visually appealing 2D RPG can have better “production values” than most modern blockbuster games, even if it’s “production cost” were lower.

    • USER47 says:

      How about detailed AI configuration in NWN2 or Dragon Age 1/2? In most old RPGs the AI was generaly unusable without lots and lots of micromanagement. Also, there used to be a lot of unnecessary annoying stuff like sleeping every two minutes because of spells, crappy interface etc…These are the things that newer RPGs often solve better. Streamlining is not always bad thing.

      • Tuco says:

        Not a fan of any AI automation in party based games, for a start. Neither I appreciate games like Dragon Age where it’s essentially mandatory to make use of it cause of the very short and frequent cooldowns.

        Baldur’s Gate 2 handled it far better with the autoattack being the backbone of combat and then with a lot of asynchronous timing for very situational use of abilities.

        About the second point, “rest” mechanics are anything but a “useless pain”. In fact they are based on the principle of managing a very limited resource. If anything, the issue with many of those games (for instance the Infinity Engine games) was how rest-abuse was not punished enough with an adequate amount of risk.

        And to be honest when it comes to interfaces i can’t really remember any improvement made in recent years. If anything they got far worse, with a lot of text based menus taking the place of the far more comfortable grid based graphic inventories, mostly to adapt to controllers instead of mouse and keyboard.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Dragon Age had spells working together, which was quite a nice feature that wasn’t in the IE games it was emulating.

      • Premium User Badge

        ffordesoon says:

        Yeah. If only that worked more often than once in a blue moon.

        • InternetBatman says:

          More combinations definitely would have worked better, but oil and fireball or storm of vengeance never failed for me (until everyone was high level enough to ignore the oil thanks to autoleveling).

          In another note, something modern RTwP systems have been getting consistently better at is not having the lag between movement and attacks. It’s really noticeable artifact of turn-based systems in the IE games, and later in Kotor, how your characters move up, wait for the turn to finish, and then do their next action. If a player had to react quickly, it could do nasty things like cause a spell to fizzle (and thus be lost for the battle), or an attack to not go off. Dragon Age was somewhat better about letting characters move freely and then attack when they got there, and this was the one area where DA2 showed some improvement.

          One thing I hope they take out of all future RPGs is spell resistance. I really, really hate it, and implementations frequently make no sense.

          • BobsLawnService says:

            It makes no sense to get rid of spell resistance. Physical damage has resistances in the form of armour and dodging so you need spell resistances to provide negation of arcane damage or your entire combat system becomes unbalanced. This is game design 101.

    • Mordsung says:

      I think most modern RPGs have better combat than the old ones.

      RPG combat systems have usually been their biggest weakness as they rely on random numbers often.

      I prefer the move in a lot of modern RPGs for the combat to involve my own personal reflexes and aim, not a random dice roll.

      If I could remove random dice rolls (or RNG of any kind) from all games, I’d be a happy man.

      • Meat Circus says:

        This is why RPS were so brilliant in deciding to side-step the entire thorny (and rather pointless) debate by labelling Mass Effect not as an RPG but as a Guns’n'Conversation game.

      • Emeraude says:

        Conversely, I know people who, could they remove twitch reflex and personal skill from every RPG game, would.

        Nice that there exist different products that caters to each of or own preferences, and those that come between them.

        • Mordsung says:

          For me, it’s about ‘who actually did that action?’.

          A dice roll feels disconnected to me. I didn’t win, a random number did. I didn’t hit, a random number did. I didn’t persuade that NPC, a random number did.

          I’ve been working on a table top RPG with no dice for a while, but it’s a very abnormal concept and I keep getting stuck since there’s not a lot of room to inject skill into the mix.

          • InternetBatman says:

            One way I’ve found to make skills work without dice is to have skills checks be there, and have players just use their modifiers and not role the dice, and to have the gm give a stronger circumstantial bonus based on the actions the player is taking. I feel like that doesn’t quite represent real life either (sometimes we plain forget things we know, sometimes we stammer when trying to convince someone, sometimes we don’t try quite hard enough on the climbing wall and are successful the next time), so I’ve been considering using a normal dice instead of a d20 for skills.

          • devlocke says:

            The dice roll is the bit which makes it a role-playing game, for certain definitions of RPG. You take on the role of your character, and are bound by your character’s limitations and skills. The dice roll simulates that, allowing you to perform as your character would, not as YOU would, by generating a random number that is compared to your character’s skill and determining how that action would have/did work out for your character. Not for you.

            Without the dice roll to simulate the character’s limitations and skills, you’re either playing a choose your own adventure style game, where you just pick whichever outcome you want, possibly with no regard whatsoever as to the character whose role you are theoretically playing, or in order to gameify the CYOA, some mechanic that requires PERSONAL skill is inserted, making the outcome of your character’s story reliant on your own skills, rather than the skills of your character.

            Which is kind of cheating/lame. For some definitions of RPG.

          • malkav11 says:

            That’s exactly it: who did the action? In an RPG, that should be the character you’re playing, not the player. I should not have to be a good shot to play a sharpshooter. (Of course, I also feel like this holds true in other game genres to an extent. If the character I’m playing has been defined as this immense badass who can casually defeat hundreds of men without breaking a sweat, they should probably be able to do that without a lot of finesse on my part because otherwise the character is mostly going to flail around a lot and take it in the face.) Statistics and random dice rolls help put the burden on the character, rather than the player. There are other ways of approaching it, of course, but some are more suited to computer games than others.

          • malkav11 says:

            There are quite a few diceless RPGs out there already. Check out the Amber (as in, based on Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber) RPG, or Nobilis. I really, really recommend Nobilis, which is a fantastic game and a fantastic read.

          • InternetBatman says:

            @devlocke

            I disagree that randomness is what defines “the character did this rather than me.” The numbers that define a character are a better expression of this, and do not need randomness to be effective. In some cases that randomness offers greater verisimilitude, but in many cases it does not.

      • Tuco says:

        “I think most modern RPGs have better combat than the old ones.”

        I don’t.

    • Frank says:

      Well, the new King’s Bounty has better hex-arena battles than its predecessors. That probably doesn’t meet your definition of RPG, though; I’m not sure it meets mine.

      A modern RPG could hypothetically have improved UI, but I wouldn’t know as I don’t buy Bioware/Obsidian or Elder Scrolls since Morrowind (and, as far as I can tell, no other modern RPGs exist, unless DX:HR counts). I bought into the Obsidian KS mostly because they hired Tim Cain, who apparently had a lot to do with Fallout.

    • Hulk Handsome says:

      What if you throw them into a deep fryer? Would that make them batter games?

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      User interface, graphics, audio, visual feedback, polish, and general accessibility to people who weren’t already playing RPGs.

      Whether or not making gains in those areas was worth something of a regression in other areas is up for debate, along with whether that regression was even necessary, but it’s undeniable that strides have been made in those areas.

      • Tuco says:

        Accessibility is usually a diplomatic way to justify idiot-proof games, and idiot-proof games are completely uninteresting more often than not.

        Other things you are listing didn’t improve at all over the years. Sometime is even true the opposite. I have yet to play a party-based game that felt so intuitive and comfortable as Baldur’s Gate 2 was 10 years ago.

        Dragon Age: Origins wasn’t a terrible attempt, but it feels a lot like the small retarded brother you don’t want to criticize too hard.
        NWN, NWN2, DA2 were all atrocious.

      • Wizardry says:

        Wizardry 8 had a fantastic interface, and I can’t think of any newer RPG with better. But I guess 2001 isn’t considered old.

  15. qptain Nemo says:

    Oh yeah Hall and Brathwaite are so so bad indeed! They’re terrible. So bloody clueless about what makes a successful project, aren’t they? Even though less than a month ago Project Eternity has made 1 million in 1 day with a video that was not even a bloody bit more informative and was entirely composed of vague nostalgic drivel as well.

    And why the hell throwing their names isn’t enough? Even leaving PE and Schafer’s game aside, where throwing names was clearly enough, why the default stance is to *distrust* a designer who previously actually made some absolutely mindblowing stuff, like Anachronox? But many people seem to be actually taking pride in rejecting that. “Not enough information” they say. Well you’re bloody right, there is clearly not enough information in your head. Specifically, it’d would seem as if you don’t have a clue how to recognize a talent even if it hit you right in the face. But you wouldn’t want to admit that, would you?

    I don’t care how bitter this sounds, it’s an utter disgrace to me. I find no space for optimism when the most talented developer is the one that gets rejected and people even somehow find it appropriate to be smug about it.

    Just to clarify, this is aimed at all people taking critical stance on this, not only and specifically at John. Though I must say, I am very much saddened by John writing these words. Sure i see the point, but in my perception that point requires too much of importance to be overlooked to be made at all in this context. I don’t mean to offend John or anyone else, but I absolutely can’t bring myself to any degree of approval of this unhealthily sceptic attitude.

    • USER47 says:

      There is a difference between Obsidian and these guys. Obsidian has been making great video games for past godknowshomany years. They have experienced team used to work on big titles and extremely talented people in charge of these projects.When they say they are able to make a good video game, I believe them.

      On the other hand, Hall and Brathwaite haven’t made anything note worthy in last ten years, they have a studio focusing on some facebook social games and then they come up with this crappy video, saying how the game will be “old school” and nothing else…Meh.

      I am actually glad they didn’t succeed with such a terrible pitch.

    • Tuco says:

      I think they are both great and can brag about an amazing curriculum, and I wish for them to succeed.
      But that doesn’t change how their pitch was damn weak and as generic as you can get.
      The only way to made it worse was saying something like “If we get enough money we could use them to make some sort of game”.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Their game didn’t even have a name. There were no updates about combat systems and story. They didn’t even say what type of old-school rpg they would be emulating. Project Eternity had a map, a clear idea about the world they wanted to make it in, they were active in social media, discussed how the combat system would work and the nature of discussions going on, had more updates during their run than many successful kickstarters have had since then, and by the end of it had what was almost a screenshot.

      Project Eternity was admittedly half-baked. “Shaker” hadn’t even been in the oven. I hope they succeed, but they need to bring a stronger pitch to the table.

      Schaefer clearly didn’t have much of an idea for it, but he did promise absolute transparency and a movie product even if it failed horribly.

    • USER47 says:

      btw:
      “…Project Eternity has made 1 million in 1 day with a video that was not even a bloody bit more informative…”

      This is nonsense. Obsidian said in the beginning they want to make an RPG in the style of old IE games. 2D environment, party based, with pausable realtime combat. They said it will be set in fantasy world with some original twist and that they want to combine great writing and mature themes of Planescape with enjoyable combat of Icewind Dale.

      Brenda and Tom said they want to make an old school RPG. Nothing else. Oh, one thing, they mentioned cloth map in a box.

      They didn’t even specify what do they mean by old school RPG. Is it Dungeon Master? Or Final Fantasy? Wizardry? Zelda? Fallout? Planescape? Baldur’s Gate? I don’t know and neither did they from the looks of it. They specified sci-fi/fantasy setting and first person view few days later, probably made it up on the spot, trying to save the day. Didn’t work though.

      • Kadayi says:

        ^This. Their pitch was weak and uninformative and just didn’t capture the imagination (illustrate what you mean by ‘old school RPG’). Dribbling on about cloth maps and appealing to bygone era nostalgia Vs actual details about the game, as well as making one of the stretch goals a two games for one deal Vs using that money to enrich the principal project was frankly bizarre.

        Hopefully they’ll work through some concrete ideas (the post launch data seemed hashed together) and come up with a better KS a few months down the line.

        Also not sure how John figures that they might of quadrupled their pledges by the months end. They needed to have hit the bulk of their target by now to remotely stand a chance of making it.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Wizardry 8, Anachronox, and Daikatana vs Fallout, Torment, Icewind Dale, The Sith Lords, Mask Of The Betrayer, and Alpha Protocol. Doesn’t seem like much of a contest.

      • Wizardry says:

        Wizardry 8 is the best one there, but the problem is that Brenda didn’t do much more than the writing for it, and Tom Hall obviously never even worked for Sir-Tech.

    • Premium User Badge

      Revisor says:

      No one is criticizing them personally, just their insufficient work on this KS.
      You also don’t have to take the critique personally, sir.

  16. kwyjibo says:

    I thought they would make their goal. With Eternity funded, this was the only old-school RPG around.

    I also thought that their story with it’s different worlds was kind of interesting, and played to what Anachronox did. On the other hand, that could have put off the beardy weirdy people.

    They clearly wanted a break out success, they didn’t want $1M.

    • Kadayi says:

      Even with a likely uplift at the end the projections weren’t hopeful. The funding stagnated pretty early on.

  17. Spinks says:

    It wasn’t a good pitch, and it didn’t really sound like a solid plan for a project they were enthusiastic about either. That’s something I’ll bear in mind if I see either of their names on a kickstarter again.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    2-for-1 kickstarters are not a good idea. It was a bad idea for Revolution to announce Beneath a Steel Sky 2 as a stretch goal for Broken Sword and it is an even worse idea to start a pitch with two ideas.

    It suggests that one of two or both will not get the attention they deserve. Better to do a single successful kickstarter, complete that project, then come back and do another one if need be (though maybe by then the first is successful enough to fund whatever prequel-trilogy-xpansion you had in mind).

    I thought the tongue-in-cheek tone of the pitch was fine. It being largely information-free was the problem. What they added later definitely sounded more interesting than what they originally pitched.

    • Kadayi says:

      Agreed. It make it sound like they could just essentially shit the games out to order and that’s not what people want to hear. With Eternity every stretch goal was about enhancing the core game with further content.

  19. MistyMike says:

    I was waiting for this, but didn’t hold my breath. Now I’ll just have to shake it off.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Revisor says:

    Also interesting enough to mention, the dev of another old school RPG, Grimoire, chimed in the Kickstarter discussion with pretty strong accusations.

    Brenda already got her Kickstarter at Sir-Tech. It was called Wizardry 8 and it cost two million dollars for Brenda to play game designer. Sir-Tech believed Brenda when she told them that nobody was interested in playing old skool RPGs anymore. It ended with Sir-Tech going bankrupt with less than $50 in assets at their hearing.

    If anybody had thought Brenda was a good bet to head up another team after Sir-Tech went out of business, with her huge social networking skills I am sure she could have headed up another team. Brenda is good at social networking but not much of a game designer. If she had any pleasure or enthusiasm for the genre she’d be working in it instead of writing politically correct social games for FaceBook. She wants another two million, this time to pay her to make a game she can’t even seem to describe. Maybe that is because she is more interested in two million dollars than old skool RPGs.

    For those of you who don’t understand why Sir-Tech turned away from their core and blew their money on junk like DRUIDS, it was because they thought Brenda knew what she was talking about. That’s why they are out of business today.

    Also

    I know who these people really are. I sat six inches away from the woman behind this Kickstarter and listened as she lectured me in front of the other staff at Sir-Tech about how nobody was interested in Sir-Tech’s core product, old skool RPGs. She told me I didn’t understand the industry. The Siroteks thought she knew what she was doing and they abandoned their core and started to make games like NEMESIS and DRUIDS under her Rasputin-like influence and they ended up with $50 to their names in bankruptcy court.

    See http://www.kickstarter.com/profile/cleveblakemore/comments

    Interesting indeed.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      How is that interesting? The guy you’re quoting is a well known crazy person and quite possibly a compulsive liar. Why are you giving it any credence whatsoever?

      http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/why-did-sir-tech-go-bankrupt.53695/#post-1460792

      • Premium User Badge

        Revisor says:

        I don’t know him and don’t know whether he’s crazy. Alright, he is at least antisocial judging by his comments. That doesn’t really mean anything.

        Still I’d like to know more about his claims. Thanks for that link at least.

        • Jay says:

          That guy is infamous even by rpgcodex standards as an absolute lunatic. I’m not sure he’s got much of a sense of perspective regarding anything. That Grimoire project of his has been in development for 17 years.

          • Premium User Badge

            Revisor says:

            Thank you all for your responses, I didn’t know his history and opinions.

      • meatshit says:

        In my experience, anyone who uses “politically correct” seriously is usually a horrible person. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was just a bitter, old misogynist ranting against a woman who dared participate in a male-dominated field.

        • InternetBatman says:

          Oh, it’s far worse than your average run of the mill misogyny. He thinks that people with Aspergers are the descendants of Neanderthals, and that neanderthal descendants are a better species than cro magnon descended rest of humanity.

          Yeah. I’ll just leave that there.

      • Premium User Badge

        ffordesoon says:

        Oh my God.

        Thank you for linking to that thread. It is more entertaining than six James Bond movies and an Avengers.

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        Holy balls, that man has an infinite rabbit hole for a brain.

        I think Revisor is well excused for not knowing who this guy is.

  21. Cosmo Dium says:

    I’m disappointed with how this KS campaign has played out, particularly for Wizardry 8 and Anachronox fans like myself. The demand for this sort of game is clearly there, but the expectations the devs had, given the scant information they were providing up front and the fact that they hadn’t been active in the hardcore PC gamespace in ~11 years (unlike Obisidian, which has released several PC games in that timespan), set them and their backers up for disappointment.

    Mr. Walker is is right to fault the devs for being vague about what their ‘old school’ game is about. Making broad statements while not accurately acknowledging recent innovations in RPG game design did not further their cause. Still, Mr. Walker and fans shouldn’t demand or expect that the devs alter the gameplay of their project. However we feel about their philosophy, let them make the game they want to make. They just need to sharpen their pitch.

    • Erinduck says:

      “Games like this” kinda implies we know a thing about the game in the first place when the only thing we knew about the gameplay was stuff like “first person perspective” and “old school.” But without any real detailed information we have to fill in the blanks ourselves! All the world-building in the world doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t know how we’ll be able to explore and interact with the world.

  22. RvLeshrac says:

    What, no one is going to mention Grimrock?

    I guess that’s up to me, then.

  23. Dark Acre Jack says:

    “We don’t get out of bed for less than $4 million” … as graceful as a banker.

  24. The Random One says:

    Ironically, this would have made me decide to fund it.

  25. googoogjoob says:

    DEAR TOM HALL IF YOU SEE THIS PLEASE KICKSTART ANACHRONOX 2 I WILL GIVE YOU ALL THE MONEY I EVER EARN

  26. Infinitron says:

    Wizardry, where are you?

  27. Beelzebud says:

    Reality just made Romero its bitch. …again.

    • Stackler says:

      No, it’s more like:
      “Kickstarter made John Romero it’s bitch”

  28. Sunjammer says:

    I’m still pissed off that all these devs go on preaching how they’re FINALLY going back to the old school and how that’s supposed to fucking matter. Spiderweb have been putting out superb oldschool RPGs forever and it’s like nobody gives a shit. Oldschool is not a dead art, and shouting about how you’re going to bring it back makes me want to spit at your shoes.

  29. Stackler says:

    And I KNEW it right from the start that these two will fuck this up.