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Warhorse On Kingdom Come's Kickstarter, Episodic Plans

Deliverance From Publishers

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If Mafia-director-led team Warhorse has its way, Kingdom Come: Deliverance will be gigantic. Like, hundreds of hours gigantic, when it’s all said and done. But this is a smaller team designing a colossal open world full of stories, NPCs, and – yes – warhorses. It was never going to be easy. So Warhorse is doing two things to stave off the monetary death siege banging down its doors: 1) slicing the main plot up into three episodic acts and, yes, 2) going to Kickstarter. But even a successful £300,000 crowdfunding drive won’t be enough to pull this cart over the figurative mountain. A mysterious outside benefactor will handle the rest, apparently. I spoke with director Daniel Vávra about how that will affect the game, if players will still influence development, and whether hacking such a cohesive world into pieces will hurt the final product. 

RPS: Why Kickstarter? Do you really think you’ll be able to make enough money to fund something this enormous?

Vávra: There was always a chance to self-publish the game. Our colleagues from Prague, Bohemia Interactive, do it successfully all the time. We were always thinking of that as a possibility. After long negotations, things always slowed down to a crawl with marketing and upper level executives at publishers. They were too afraid to take risks. People who played games liked it, but we couldn’t get things to go faster. So we decided to self-publish.

[pullquote]This isn’t a PR stunt or anything. It really is, if we don’t get the money, it’s game over.[/pullquote]

But there is a trick. We have a very strong private investor, but he’s from outside the gaming industry [UPDATE: Turns out, it’s Zdenek Bakala, one of the richest people in the entire Czech Republic]. He doesn’t understand games. It’s a little bit unusual, probably. But he would be willing to finance the whole game if he sees some commitment. So we agreed with him that if we go to Kickstarter and get just a fraction of the sum we need – which is about $500,000 – he will fund the rest of development.

RPS: How is that approach going to change the course of development, if at all? Are you going to do a backer alpha, Early Access, and all the other stuff basically everybody does in the year 2014?

Vávra: That’s why we’re announcing the game so early in development. We still have nearly two years ahead of us to go. But we’re going to do it like Chris Roberts on Star Citizen. We’re going to release smaller chunks of gameplay as soon as possible so people can test them. Modules, as he calls them [laughs]. We’ll update this build and then when we’re ready we’ll release [a more cohesive] Early Access beta. We’ve split the game which was originally going to be 100 hours, as big as Skyrim basically, into three chapters that will be released sooner than usual after each other. Like, eight months apart. So not two years or something.

RPS: Yikes. That sounds like it could really hack up a big, cohesive story like the one you’re trying to tell. Same with the world. I could see this ending really badly if not handled well. Why’d you decide to take this route?

Vávra: The good thing is that the story was written from the beginning as three chapters, so it makes sense to do it this way. Every chapter is placed on a new map, but if you’re on a quest in chapter two, you can come back and do quests in the chapter one location. But otherwise the new story takes place on a new map. So we decided this was ideal.

The first chapter still has nine square kilometers [of map size] and 30 hours of gameplay, so it’s not a small game. We will lower the price accordingly, though. It’s not going to be $60 per episode, but rather $35 or something. That’s our plan.

RPS: You’re using Kickstarter to attract an outside financier, which I suppose is more akin to Kickstarter’s stated purpose than, say, being a glorified pre-order platform, but your fans aren’t really as much of a factor. They’re just providing the initial push, a small burst of kinetic energy. How much does that change the way you approach crowdfunding?

Vávra: This is tricky, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. The game will not happen if we don’t succeed on Kickstarter. This isn’t a PR stunt or anything. It’s really, if we don’t get the money, it’s game over. We’re not the investor. The investor is someone who, luckily for us, is still believing in the project somehow – but not enough to give us the money now. So it’s not some greedy PR stunt. It really can’t happen without the money. This isn’t just a way to promote the game for free or something.

RPS: How involved in development will players be as a result of the Kickstarter? 

Vávra: We’re planning to be similar to Star Citizen, so we’d like to get our first very early core feature modules out in the next six months or so. Very core features like interaction with the world, dialogues, and stuff. In a smaller environment. Then we’ll add new features over time. Small quests, horseback riding, bow shooting. When everything’s ready, we’ll release everything on Early Access.

So we definitely want to see how people react to that. What they think of mechanics, if everything runs fine, etc. For an RPG, I think this is especially valuable because RPGs are usually very buggy because they’re so complicated. So having people interact with us during development is great.

RPS: How much will you change the game as a result of feedback? Could we see, say, a detailed third-person view in additional to the (already somewhat controversial) first-person requirement?

Vávra: This is something we’re still arguing about. I’m totally against it. I know that some people have a problem with first-person view here, but I think we get much better immersion. At this point, we don’t plan to have third-person. However, if there are very large protests from people, we may change our mind [laughs]. But I think the immersion is worth it, especially with how we work with the camera. If you look down, you see your body and legs. If you interact with stuff, you see your hands.

RPS: Early Access on big single-player games like this kind of puts players in a tough spot. On one hand, they can try the game early and help with development, but on the other, spoilers abound. And they end up experiencing those moments in a non-optimal state. It can also be anticlimactic, as evidenced by everything from Divinity to even more “complete” games like Broken Age and The Banner Saga. 

Vávra: Well, we already built the location that should be in this module, and I think it will spoil the visuals of the area but nothing else. It will be more about seeing stuff, controls, doing basic core mechanics. There will only be one quest. We just need to find out if everything works. So I don’t think it will spoil the story or anything.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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