A Grim Couple Of Hours With Akaneiro: Demon Hunter

By John Walker on June 18th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

American McGee’s Akaneiro: Demon Hunters was Kickstarted only this February. Squeaking past its goal in the eleventh hour, it’s only four short months later that a playable build is available. For free, if you go to their own site. Or for money, if you get it from Steam. Huh? This whole odd situation asks some interesting questions about such models, and when is the right time to let people start buying your game?

Because the answer here is: not yet.

Many Kickstarters and alpha-funded games have sold themselves on the promise that gamers would get to get their hands on them far earlier than they usually would. Get to respond and influence the direction of the game. Get to see the iterations and changes along the way. Get to… well, be free play-testers, seemingly. And when a game is already great, it’s a great plan. Although that rather strongly reveals the issue with the model, I think. It is to say, really: when the game is basically good enough to be called done, it’s a great plan. The rest of the time? You’re playing an unfinished, buggy, scrappy game. And I’m not entirely clear why anyone would want to.

Akaneiro starkly reveals this to me. Running in a tiny resolution that can’t be changed, blurring up into a real mess when fullscreen and far too tiny on my 27″ monitor to be played in a window, it staggers, blips, and coughs its way through an incredibly primitive experience, both in visual design and how it actually plays.

This is trying to be a very typical action RPG, infected with free-to-play purchases. Left click attack, right click special, loot, vendors, etc. It’s very familiar But in a world that’s just given us the Grim Dawn alpha, Path Of Exile, Van Helsing, Torchlight 2, and so on, the basics we already have in plentiful supply. What we need is the thing that makes a game special. That doesn’t tend to be its being half-finished.

Akaneiro is a clunky mess. Is it a clunky mess because it’s not finished? Or because they’re making a bad game? I can’t tell. I can only assume that all of the interface is placeholder, because it’s all dreadful. The inventory is a vast mess of square tiles that are visually uninformative, the comparison information floating confusingly. Enemies run through scenery while you cannot. Quest information is meaningless, while the dungeons are insipidly bland and offer no challenge at all, because it forces you to play them on Easy the first time – I’ve yet to experience anything I’d want to play a second time. And it’s so damned easy that the only time I saw my health go down at all was when I stood still just to see if it even could. Are these fair criticisms if the game’s not finished?

Except, well, can we really say it isn’t? Because, in fact, the Steam page describes it as “a launched state”, despite its being sold as Early Access. And yes, being sold. Despite being available for free elsewhere, to play the Steam build requires a £7/$10 buy, and guess what – it’s littered with in-game purchases you can make, using Steam’s in-built store. Pay the ten bucks and you’re gifted with thirty bucks’ worth of in-game stuff. But, well, still. So why is this happening? Spicy Horse say,

“Why $10? Our initial launch of Akaneiro across our SpicyWorld platform and Kongregate, though successful, simply hasn’t provided us with the necessary feedback to prepare the game for the next stage, for crafting and co-op. When Valve discussed placing Akaneiro in the Early Access program, we saw this as an opportunity to leverage the experience of the Steam community before opening the game to a wider audience.”

Which is a deeply peculiar statement. It asks a question it absolutely does not answer. Why $10? Because, erm, something else. So why $10? It’s not as if that’s the minimum you can charge on Steam!

When I started playing the game, I honestly believed that this was a case of Spicy Horse simply making a mistake in allowing players into their build too early. But instead I can only perceive this as charging money for an entirely unfinished mess, no matter what intentions may be behind the decisions.

But those intentions themselves seem very problematic to me. This idea that their Kickstarter backers, and their deal with Kongregate, has not generated them enough feedback, so etc etc. What? I’m a huge advocate of developers ensuring they experience outsiders playing their game during development, but they can’t be depending upon them to do the work for them! It shouldn’t take a community forking out cash for an unfinished product for a development team to know how to make a game. That’s ludicrous.

I’d argue that this is the rather bad side of this recent attention on consumer feedback. Many Kickstarters and the like boast of how much backers will get to define the game – something I’ve always thought sounds like a terrible idea. Partly because I want to play the game that’s the vision of the developers, and partly because some other people are complete idiots and I don’t want their thoughts defining the game I’ll play. But here we’re seeing a situation where it’s implied that rather than this being a sop to gamers to encourage funding, it’s become an unhealthy dependence.

Yet how can it take audience feedback to tell a developer to have their game run in resolutions appropriate after 2003? Do you really need to crowdsource the idea that forcing someone to play every bland level on Easy before offering anything worthwile is damned stupid? By the time you’re calling your game “in a release state”, do you think it might be appropriate for it to indicate how exactly you upgrade your skills, rather than forcing the player to clunk around all the various shopkeepers until you find the right one? (Oh, and guess what – levelling skills doesn’t take XP, but the in-game currency bought with real-world money.)

In the end, Akaneiro is a game that’s available to buy, and as such I’m happy to judge it: it’s awful. Absolutely awful. Will it still be by the time they declare it finished? Once they’ve had enough feedback? Who knows. Why $10? Um, er, LOOK OVER THERE!

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39 Comments »

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  1. kwyjibo says:

    Yeah, the pay to be a tester thing isn’t for me.

    Counter-Strike beta 6, yes. But that’s because it was awesome and free.

    Planetary Annihilation for £70? Fuck no.

    • kwyjibo says:

      Also – Spicy Horse did not need the Kickstarter at all. The game was already gearing up for alpha/beta launch.

      They ran the Kickstarter because it was free money and free publicity – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/spicyhorse/akaneiro-demon-hunters/posts/380580

    • RobinOttens says:

      Remember when Minecraft did this? Alpha was the cheapest deal because the game was more incomplete, then each version added a few features, and slowly raised the price accordingly. Early adopters get a slightly broken game for less money. Now that makes sense.

      What Planetary Annihilation is doing though? Not so much.

      More on topic. I’ll be curious to see how this game ends up. American McGee hasn’t made a good game in a long while.

      • NathanH says:

        The first game I remember using the “price increases as development progresses” early-access model was Mount and Blade. I think that started in 2004. Perhaps someone can remember an even earlier application.

      • Ultra Superior says:

        Did he ever ?

        American McGee is just some guy who labels his things with his name thinking that will make him another Meier or Clancy.

        It’s sad, because his name doesn’t really convey anything other than Tim Burton wannabe failure.

        • Phendron says:

          Leave American out of it, EA thought it would increase brand recognition because it worked for Sid Meier, apparently he had little input in the matter.

        • RProxyOnly says:

          Agreed, Ultra.

          @Phendron.

          If he’s so much of an idiot that he locks himself into a contract which has basically sold his own name out from under him, then that pretty much proves what an asshat the guy is.

          • Premium User Badge

            Bradamantium says:

            Or perhaps he was required to do such a thing and didn’t really have any method of stopping it short of suing his employer/the people paying for his game? I don’t see how some guy’s name preceding his game’s title affects the quality of his game. Maybe a little egotistical, sure, but without any real effect in the long run.

          • Iamerror says:

            @Bradamantium

            Anyone who gets this angry at the fact a designers name is attached to their product probably isn’t worth the time it takes to explain why their viewpoint is so illogical.

  2. NathanH says:

    ” It is to say, really: when the game is basically good enough to be called done, it’s a great plan. The rest of the time? You’re playing an unfinished, buggy, scrappy game. And I’m not entirely clear why anyone would want to.”

    Several possibilities present themselves. You may have the opportunity to steer the game towards a direction you feel happier with. You might like to be one of the stronger players of a game on release, if it has multiplayer elements. If sufficient changes are being made, you will get the opportunity to play a game that essentially will never exist ever again (this can be *extremely* cool). You might get a better deal buying early, and think that you may as well have a go at playing since you can. You may not currently have anything else particularly filling your time and want to take advantage of such a lull to try something else. You might enjoy being an active part of a pre-release community in the same way that buying a game on release gets you to be an active part of the on-release community. If you lack self-control to avoid strategy-guide websites and the like, but would like to avoid them, you may wish to play before such websites exist. You may enjoy being the person who can tell all the new people how things work.

    This is the product of a short think. I imagine other people will be able to add to this list.

    • Premium User Badge

      Bradamantium says:

      But that sort of stuff is all contingent on the particular release, and the degree to which any given developer actually embraces feedback or encourages a community. I think the trouble here is that what should be an “apply to beta, then test” phase is being turned into a monetized thing where bad (or downright awful) gameplay is handwaved as something that’s still in progress.

      There are definite incentives to early adoption of some games, but considering it’s currently a pretty massive trend and not all developers look further than the dollar signs, it’s also a significant risk. In the end, weighing the positives and the negatives, I’m in agreement with Walker.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    No, no, no, “I *have* a vile tongue.” Verb “to have”.

  4. KDR_11k says:

    Didn’t this also race through Greenlight? I’m guessing GL is showing us why Valve used to reject these games.

  5. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Concur! I gave up trying to review it a while ago because life’s too short.

  6. The Dark One says:

    It’s dawning on me that this article isn’t about the kickstarted action RPG I expected.

  7. crinkles esq. says:

    Considering how well-designed I thought McGee’s Alice was, it’s weird to see this from him. And the obvious money-grab reduces my respect for him a bit.

  8. RProxyOnly says:

    “(Oh, and guess what – levelling skills doesn’t take XP, but the in-game currency bought with real-world money.)”

    EXCUSE ME? Should that not have been the very first fucking line of the article?

    American McGee, you can shove this game right up your arse.

    • MyLittleMetroid says:

      That statement is highly misleading. The currency you use to buy skills is earned in regular play. You can buy a big chunk of it with real money but that’s just to accelerate things.

      There’s a different currency that only seems to be able to be earned with $$$ but that gets used to buy rare equipment and boosts.

      I get that the author didn’t like the current state of the game (IMHO nice art style, serviceable gameplay, needs tons of work) but that was either low or woefully misguided.

  9. Bhazor says:

    America McGee in shit game shocker. Movie at 11.

    • Premium User Badge

      DrScuttles says:

      Aw, now that’s not fair. He was.. er, worthy… of note.. back in… 2000.
      There’s possibly a comparison to be made between id software and The Beatles. They were loved and all at the time and everyone bangs on about how they were great but really you only rate one or maybe two or their games/albums and everything the individuals have gone on to do was only ever a mild curiosity and a faint reminder of that massive legacy. But I wouldn’t be the one to make it.

      • sabrage says:

        Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s, White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be

        I think you meant Aerosmith.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        One or two of their albums????

        WTF dude…. if you don’t have a clue then don’t bloody post.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        Paul (including Fireman but not Wings, meh), George, and Ringo made nothing but great albums after they broke up. And Lennon’s albums are great if only because it made it easier to get Yoko’s music.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Both Alice games were a blast, so I don’t know WTF you’re going on about. Aside from that crappy serial game he did, what else it there to bitch about?

      • RichardDastardly says:

        @SkittleDiddler

        Well Scrapland was “meh”. Bad Day L.A. sucked. Grimm is pretty lame for an episodic game series. And the flash/iPod games he’s put out in recent years have all sucked.

        Basically, other than Alice, this guy makes boring games left and right.

        • RProxyOnly says:

          I really wanted Scraplands to be good.. but in the end it was just a bag of balls.

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          He did Scrapland? Ugh.

          Looks like he’s created a lot more trash than treasure, if your list is anything to go by.

  10. mrcalhou says:

    I see nothing wrong with giving people the option of playing an alpha or beta, while giving them the information to make an informed decision.

    With regards to the $90 PA Alpha, the developers were upfront about the reason it is that price and while I won’t pay $90 to play an alpha for this game, I can’t say that for any other game.

    • Caiman says:

      I certainly agree, if devs want to do that then go right ahead. There’s probably an interesting article to be written about the pros and cons of paid alphas though, case studies where it’s worked and where it hasn’t etc. It’s becoming an increasingly popular way of doing things, and the good examples seem to greatly outnumber the bad, but there have been missteps along the way. The PA paid alpha was not a problem for anyone until it was “released” on Steam under Early Access. The storm of puerile shit that resulted from that is an embarrassment to us all, but there are obviously lessons to be learned. (ie. don’t use Kickstarter alpha pricing on Steam, also the childish potty mouth-breathers that infect many Greenlight discussion threads also use the Steam Community forums)

  11. Jupiah says:

    I played the beta really early on. It was all style, no substance then, and apparently it hasn’t changed much.

    It has very pretty graphics, lovely music, complete shit interface, unclear game mechanics, and bland, easy and repetitive gameplay. A lot like my experience with his Alice games, actually.

    I kind of wish a competent game studio would hire American McGee to be their art director but not let him anywhere near the developers and programmers. He’s good at art, but shit at making games.

    • gschmidl says:

      Yes, it’s still the same, including a lack of punctuation on all dialogue. It’s just sloppy and lazy all over.

      On the other hand, being in the beta since the earliest builds has netted me enough free in game currency to unlock large parts of the game for free. On the third hand, it’s not interesting enough to keep playing, especially with all the games mentioned in the article being out or coming up. Oh well.

  12. Shooop says:

    And this is why I don’t pre-order games like I used to.

  13. Philomelle says:

    Having seen their development progress ladder on Kickstarter and chatted with one of their staff at a Groupees chat, I think the huge mistake they made was labeling this game a beta version. Akaneiro’s current state is more like a mid-level alpha. The crafting was just implemented, the vast majority of interface’s elements are placeholders, the lore delivery and in-mission narrative haven’t yet been properly implemented and multiplayer functions are barely there.

    Though I agree that the game is currently in poor condition, I wouldn’t be so harsh on it yet. Right now, discussing its quality is like eating dough and complaining it doesn’t taste like cake.

  14. Pinkishu says:

    Less talk about the free vs. paid version and more info about the actual game?

    • Ragnar says:

      Did you read the whole article? The actual game is terrible. Great art style, poor interface, bland boring gameplay, tiny fixed resolution, in-game purchases, charging $10 on Steam for an unfinished product because Kickstarter / Kongregate has not made them enough money.