Wotta Clanger: Neal Stephenson’s CLANG Is Dead

While not quite the most-funded failed Kickstarter – that dubious honour belongs to the disastrous Yogventures and the $568,000 that didn’t result in a videogame – sword-fighting title CLANG isn’t far behind at $526K. Of course, we already knew that the steel-clashing brainchild of author Neal Stephenson was in trouble, having been put “on pause” this time last year when his studio ran out of funds. He had, however, maintained that the motion-controlled game of blades would continue in some form, at some point. Today brings the not entirely unexpected announcement that this will not be the case. CLANG is dead.

Money remains the smoking pistol here, as reportedly the ambitious project did not attract the additional investment it needed to become a reality – it was one of those where Kickstarter was only ever going to get it rolling, not over the finish line.

“Members of the team made large personal contributions of time and money to the project before, during, and after the Kickstarter phase,” writes Stephenson in a new, and final, update on the Kickstarter page. “Some members, when all is said and done, absorbed significant financial losses. I am one of them; that has been my way of taking responsibility for this.”

Apparently the CLANG project morphed repeatedly behind the scenes over the last year, but “I have delayed talking publicly about these projects for a long time because I kept thinking that at least one of them would reach a point where I could describe it in something other than generalities. I apologize for that delay. But now a year has passed since the last update and I’ve decided that it’s cleaner and simpler to cut the cord, and announce the termination of Clang.”

In retrospect, he feels that last year’s prototype build “probably focused too much on historical accuracy and not enough on making it sufficiently fun to attract additional investment.”

Refunds have been sent to those who’ve asked, which was apparently a couple of dozen at the time of the update post, and he claims there’s a possibility of future backer incentives from other projects he may or may not work on. There’s a mailing list to find out more about those, if you like.

I think it’s too much of a generalisation to say that we’re now in the hangover after the great Kickstarter party of 2012 and 2013. There were always going to be some casualties, and right now they are outweighed by games that did come to fruition. It’s very hard to imagine Kickstarted games ever bringing in the sort of money they did around the time of CLANG, however.

68 Comments

  1. Nibblet says:

    Well clang it, the clang and i were looking forward to this one.

  2. SominiTheCommenter says:

    As penance, Stephenson should write a proper ending for one of his books.

    • Carr0t says:

      Have you read Anathem? It was the first Stephenson book i’ve read that actually felt like it had an ending, rather than that he simply got bored having finished the action-filled finale and just… stopped writing…

    • iucounu says:

      Aw, I like those endings. I often try to imagine how they could have gone on longer, but fail.

    • Matt_W says:

      REAMDE was a pretty straightforward thriller. It had a real ending.

  3. Cinek says:

    Wasn’t it dead…. like…ages ago?

    • Anthile says:

      Previously it was only never-found-the-body dead but now it’s properly died-in-the-origin-story dead.

      • jezcentral says:

        Only DC comics could bring it back now.

        • MadTinkerer says:

          Well yeah, but there was that time Marvel comics did a six issue mini-series where they explicitly state at the end that they’re not going to do resurrections any more because the character resurrections were causing the universe to physically destabilize and then next month Colossus got resurrected. Again.

          So…. I think maybe Marvel could as well.

    • Bradamantium says:

      I think they said the project was going dark but hanging on by a nights-and-weekends sort of thread.

    • Baines says:

      Yeah, like when they claimed a concept demo met their promised reward of the downloadable game.

      • Shuck says:

        Technically it was exactly what they promised. And frankly, anyone expecting more for the amount they raised, with a studio group trying something new, had completely unrealistic expectations.

  4. Deano2099 says:

    A game just bought in 2.8 million the other month, it’s far from over… link to kickstarter.com

    • Gothnak says:

      And everyone who puts money into it will make a profit.

    • Niko says:

      Wow. How in the world?..

    • Anthile says:

      That’s an average of $237 per backer. What.

      • battles_atlas says:

        Whats really ‘what?’ is that the average of $237 is $87 more than the highest backer tier….

      • Baines says:

        Look further down the Kickstarter and you’ll see a long pricelist for a bunch of extra content that you can also order. The previous games, extra figures, extra board tiles, special dice, all sorts of stuff.

        If you are already dropping $150 for a board game, then it isn’t too much of a surprise that you’d drop another hundred on extra materials. That’s just part of the nature of the semi-modular board game market.

        Even if you were going for a cheaper tier, you might choose to add money for some extra items. Particularly when some of the content is Kickstarter exclusive, and stuff that you can potentially resell for a profit later.

        You’ve probably got some stores ordering product as well.

    • soulblur says:

      Well, it’s a miniatures boardgame for starters. Totally different proposition. Loads of opportunities to buy add-ons. You can easily drop 250 USD on this sort of thing. And it’s from an established boardgame studio, and it’s not a risky product (in that it’s only an expansion to something they already produce – not something new). So totally makes sense.

      • Niko says:

        Alright, that makes some sense. I haven’t heard of that particular game before, but I’m not that familiar with board games in general. Plus, zombies are still popular.

      • Deano2099 says:

        True – but it’s interesting as board games are basically a few years ahead of videogames in terms of Kickstarter, they’ve had the learning curve, the late projects, the projects that never delivered, the projects that were crap, and so on.

        What we’re seeing is that it’s tough for new companies to make money, but established ones with a good track record can still pull in very high sums, and the record keeps going up. I’m fairly sure the next Double Fine or ineXile project will still do really well.

  5. Geger says:

    good news indeed. stop trying to make “realistic” fencing games for PC. imitating swordplay with keyboard/mouse just does not work.

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      Harlander says:

      Wasn’t this meant to be done with motion controls?

    • specialsymbol says:

      This is exactly what CLANG didn’t want to do. It wanted to establish a framework to use motion controllers for realistic swordfighting.

    • Niko says:

      Good thing PCs have ports and there’s a wide range of various devices which you can plug in those ports.

  6. yonsito says:

    Somehow I didn’t expect historically accurate sword fighting to be much fun. I’ve always had the impression that sword fighting in the Medieval Ages was a rather unpleasant business for all involved parties.

    • Gothnak says:

      I did about 9 months medieval swordfighting training as a non-boring form of exercise. It was pretty fun, apart from when you go up against the biker who decides not to try and score points with quick cuts, but instead bashes you on the side of the head or arm and you go home covered in bruises with blood leaking from your ear (And i won the freaking match).

      I think you could make a decent swordfighting game with various guards, feet position and attacks and counters, but you certainly wouldn’t be swinging a sword by waving the mouse or your arm about. Close 3d space represented on a 2d screen just won’t work.

      • yonsito says:

        I stand corrected.
        Where do you think he went wrong? His goal was to develop special hardware so you wouldn’t have to wave around with your mouse, wasn’t it?

        • Reapy says:

          I believe the team jumped in over their head technically, coding up a good melee game is not a simple thing to do, you really have to have some experience with animations and coding, not something you just pick up overnight. I thought they had access to those people, but apparently not.

          The level of bs the guy slings is pretty horrible. His update was insulting, hey, hey we did all this stuff with clang this year, but yeah its WAAAYYY to long to read, its SO MUCH, so I can’t actually put that out there, yeah, but it was a lot, trust me!

          As a backer they did a terrible job communicating the kickstarter was for a demo to get more money to make something, my view was that it would be an ongoing development of a framework and basis for a melee system, even if it ended up a unity module of some sort.

          Eh whatever, old woulds here getting scraped up, I guess they thought sufficient time had passed so they could cut the cord fully, which really is the only move they could possibly make is to get as far away from the name as possible.

        • Gothnak says:

          Well, I’ve worked in the games industry for 19 years now, so this isn’t just a fan’s point of view. In short, he tried to take a real world action and translate it directly onto a computer. Things like this are fine when translating over something that have a simple input system such as a car (steering wheel and pedals) or a gun (aim & trigger, magazine). However, swordfighting requires the fighter to do everything.

          Let’s assume you are righthanded. You need to be able to place where you are in 3d space, this in itself is tricky, even with Kinect. Next, the rotation of your wrist is critical as this can define the style of guard you are holding or even with a quick 2 second flick of your wrist, you have changed from a guard to an instant attack. The position of your feet is also vitally important as you need to close quickly before attacking and one of the main points of combat is not to move your feet before swinging as it gives away an attack is coming.

          So, then once the sword is swinging, the opponent has to be able to see it coming accurately in the simulation and have time to respond. In real life this is VERY HARD! with lag on a computer, i’d say it would be impossible. Of course, if you manage to see an attack coming you then have a number of options on how to parry, counter, block or avoid. Again in the real world, you can see the arc of the weapon, where it is going to hit, on a 2d screen? unlikely. And once you have decided what to do, you need to move your sword to the relevant location, again this is difficult in the real world, you can often miss and get hit, on computer, can you place an item in 3d using a 2d interface? unknown.

          Now considering I had 9 months of lessons (1.5 hours a week), I got hit a lot, and in a realistic combat game, that would mean severe damage if not death, how fun would a game be where you were getting chunks knocked out of you especially at the start of the game where you are trying to work out how to use the interface.

          So, in short, what he did wrong, was to try and translate a real world behavior onto a 2d screen without a perfect interface. What he should have done is abstract out swordfighting into its REAL elements, such as seeing attacks, responding in time and then choosing how to respond based on the style of attack. That is the important and fun part of sword fighting that would translate well, the 3d aspect would be a nightmare.

          Perhaps when we have full haptic suits and 3d goggles it’ll be possible, and then you will still be rubbish initially, because it is bloody hard work.

          • Niko says:

            Yeah. I guess maybe he didn’t take into account that other developers tackled that problem before and it turned out that fun mechanics will be simplified and not very realistic (Dark Souls or Chivalry.)

          • xao says:

            To be fair, getting chunks knocked out of you while tried to adapt to the interface worked pretty well for Die By The Sword.

    • Niko says:

      Well, real firefight is probably not a very pleasurable thing either, but look at all those shooters.

    • Merijeek says:

      As a sexist pig I must disagree: link to fscclub.com

      Thanks, Cracked!

  7. melnificent says:

    I see a pattern forming…
    Big name + kickstarter + greatly exceeded funding request = 90% Failed Project
    Little Name/Unknown + kickstarter + greatly exceeding funding request = 50/50
    Any Name + kickstarter + just meeting funding request = 90% success

    • EPICTHEFAIL says:

      *cough* Star Citizen *cough*

      • specialsymbol says:

        Cringe.. but this is what I was thinking the very moment

        Well, to be fair: I put some serious money in Star Citizen at the beginning, because I really didn’t want this to fail. Then it went to Kickstarter. And then it went viral and the community grew and somehow things went awry.

        I spoke to Chris Roberts last month and his intentions are most sincere. And unfortunately he still takes the “listening to the community” too serious. That could have worked with the initial few thousand backers who understood the concept and the origin of Star Citizen. It doesn’t work now with 100.000 MMO-experienced social manipulators who have developed their own agenda (make profit in a MMO).

      • eggy toast says:

        Anybody who thinks that’s going to pan out is a fool. Chris was selling an impossible thing from day 1 and people who smashed their eyes shut to pretend otherwise get no sympathy from me.

      • Shooop says:

        It’s been how long, and how much money raised and they still don’t have anything but a glorified hanger simulation?

        It’s the new Duke Nukem Forever. Never-ending ambition leading to endless feature creep, and therefore never a finished game.

        • It's not me it's you says:

          Hmm? While I’m sure it’s got plenty of opportunity to fail, it’s got multiplayer arena deathmatch / ctf and a racing mode, arena against AI in a swarm mode and a racing game type. A far cry from where they’re hoping to get to, but certainly further on the path there than you suggest there.

        • Quiffle says:

          You can start comparing it to DNF once it:

          A) Changes engines multiple times
          B) Get passed from developer to developer
          C) Exceeds a production cycle of at least a decade

          Otherwise you’re just making yourself sound silly.

    • xao says:

      Of course, you don’t hear about most of the unknown folks either successful or failures unless there’s egregious mismanagement or scandal (Haunts, etc). There are also plenty of well funded success, especially when you consider that the really big projects are still underway. Divinity: Original Sin, Shadowrun Returns, Sir You Are Being Hunted, Awesomenauts: Starstorm all come to mind as successful projects that all received at least double their funding threshold. The first of the big three, Wasteland 2, drops today. We’ll see how good it is, but it’s definitely been delivered.

      All in all, not sure I’m seeing the pattern.

  8. AngoraFish says:

    At least this one was up-front about being for a prototype at best, and a CHANCE that some investor might pick it up from that, which is quite different from the failures that promised full games.

  9. specialsymbol says:

    This is pretty sad.. it would have gone so well hand in hand with the Oculus Rift and Kingdom Come: Deliverance.

    I am a Clang backer and frankly – I am glad they tried. I like what they did achieve. And I hope that they somehow continue. So keep my money, that is what Kickstarter is for.

    Learn from the mistakes (community communication!) and do try again!

    • MadTinkerer says:

      The way I see it is like this: Clang didn’t work out. But Wasteland 2 just launched and Chasm is in Alpha release with Distance coming real soon.

      For every notable failure on Kickstarter there seem to be at least two successes. Which is a far better track record than, say, 25 Maddens, Dead Space 3, Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age 2, Battlefield 4, Sim City 2013, Dungeon Keeper Mobile, and The Sims 4. Not to mention “Ultima” games so bad that they don’t make me angry because I keep forgetting they existed.

      So despite the failures, Kickstarter has yet to even come close to EA, as just one example.

      • Matt_W says:

        Which Ultima games? Ultima 8 was actually not all that bad beyond the clickfest combat and horrible platforming. And Ultima 9 is consistently underrated. It looked pretty rough and required a monster system (for the time) to run, but there was actually a pretty good game under all that.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        I’ve found Dungeon Keeper Mobile not too bad for a touchscreen, microtransactions&timers-infested game.
        I’d say that the issue with it was the expectations people had due to the name Dungeon Keeper (while I doubt you can reproduce the PC DK1&2 experience with a touchscreen as the only input).
        While if Dungeon Keeper 1 & 2 had never existed, I’m sure it would have received much better reviews (though might still have been called a Clash of Clans clone).
        It’s certainly better than for instance Simsons Tapped Out, which I wouldn’t even call a game.

  10. kwyjibo says:

    Wotta thunk.

  11. Psymon says:

    I won’t say I’m glad it’s dead, because there was potential here which I hope will find revival in some form, but I do think this is a fine reminder that kickstarter is not a pre-order, which so many seem to treat it as.

  12. Shabbaman says:

    Neal Stephenson is pretty serious about that swordfighting thing. I was reading one of his books, which turns out is another one of his swordfighting projects. It’s a cycle called The Mongoliad, not bad.

  13. BlueTemplar says:

    Can someone please explain to me how Neal Stephenson happened to be part of that company?

    • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

      I think that when the founders went to sign the initial contract they found Neal Stephenson had mysteriously materialized amongst them.

  14. cptgone says:

    Clearly, what the world needs is a Gravity’s Rainbow game. Whoever you are, if you’re reading this, read the previous sentence.

  15. nrvsNRG says:

    this was so predictable right from the very second I first read about it.

  16. Matt_W says:

    I just got an update to the Kickstarter terms in my e-mail. It seems pretty clear that Mr. Stephenson’s update proceeds line item by line item down the list of responsibilities creators have when they must cancel a project. Suggests a possible impetus for the supporter update in the first place:

    If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they’ve failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers. A creator in this position has only remedied the situation and met their obligations to backers if:
    * they post an update that explains what work has been done, how funds were used, and what prevents them from finishing the project as planned;
    * they work diligently and in good faith to bring the project to the best possible conclusion in a timeframe that’s communicated to backers;
    * they’re able to demonstrate that they’ve used funds appropriately and made every reasonable effort to complete the project as promised;
    * they’ve been honest, and have made no material misrepresentations in their communication to backers; and
    they offer to return any remaining funds to backers who have not received their reward (in proportion to the amounts pledged), or else explain how those funds will be used to complete the project in some alternate form.

  17. MacTheGeek says:

    Well, that’s just great. How are the trolleys supposed to go now?

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Hee hee OK, that was just obscure enough!

      I still hear that song being sung by Tom Arnold and Rosie O’Donnell on the ‘B’ ship every time it gets a mention.