Clever RPG stalwarts Spiderweb Software have succesfully crowdfunded a remaster of Geneforge on Kickstarter in under 24 hours. They started the campaign on Wednesday, seeking a humble $30,000 dollars (£23,000). Their long-term goal is to freshen up the whole series, but that’s a bridge for another time.
2002’s Geneforge was the first of an interesting series of story-heavy RPGs, set in an original and carefully thought out world dominated by Shapers, powerful wizards who can create and control sentient creatures to do their bidding. They gave players a lot of options in resolving the plot, and some nuanced moral considerations along the way. We could use more games like them even today, so this is welcome news.
I replayed the first Geneforge in 2014, and was again pleased that the game’s magic wasn’t just painted onto a stock medieval setting. Rather, the society was defined by the power of Shaping, and the Shapers, with its own political factions largely defined by their attitudes to each. In it you’re a newbie Shaper shipwrecked on a long abandoned island where heretical ideas and creatures run rampant. You’re to explore, figure out how to leave, what’s going on, and what to do about its handful of jostling factions.
I almost pitched a feature on the Geneforge games a few years back, you know. They have workmanlike graphics but cool ideas and features, not just in creating and levelling up your little creatures (or using disposable ones as cannon fodder while you stab suckers or chuck fireballs), but in details like how the primary ranged weapons are javelins, and Shaped plants that shoot thorns. I liked how the faction of sycophants will do anything to serve you, but love the flavour of boots so much that they’re basically useless.
The Kickstarter is candid about the cracked paint and rusted hinges of the series, and aimed primarily at refreshing the nigh-20 year old game with more modern production values. As its page states, “This Kickstarter will help us to hire professionals to help with art, interface design, and adding all the other things the original game is lacking. We will take the time to rework every location, encounter, and line of dialogue”.
But they’ll also be adding some stuff and features they weren’t able to fit in at the time: “We plan to expand the world, adding new characters, storylines, abilities, games systems, and other ways to go crazy with your mutant monsters”. Their follow up in the comments promises an inventory system like their more recent games (presumably last year’s Queen’s Wish, or Avernum 3), and a screenshot gives us a glimpse of a new menu where players can tweak their Shaped creatures for a bit more flexibility, or just to feel more connected to them. They insist it’ll still be possible to play through without fighting anyone, although I’ve never managed it.
I’m pleased they’ve got off to such a good start. I’ve never taken the time to get into Spiderweb’s other games, but they’ve been dutifully serving a somewhat niche audience for several decades, focusing on their creative strengths rather than technical frippery.