Solarix has all the makings of a Kickstarter success story in the making. A first-person psychological survival horror game set in a decaying science fiction setting, it draws its inspiration from System Shock and Thief. John and Alec have already cast their eyes over the game, but as I awoke this morning from uneasy dreams, I found myself transformed, at my desk, into a fervent supporter of sci-fi terror. Imagine the very real horror I felt when I noticed that the Kickstarter is just over 24 hours away from completion, with £7,000 left to raise before it reaches its target. I contacted the developers to find out more.
Producer Adrien David replied to my questions, one of which covered ground that the project page has already gone over. I wanted to be clear as to why the Kickstarter goal was set at an extremely low £10,000. The team have been working on the game for three years, and have already secured a publisher for assistance with marketing (more on that later), so the months until the expected January release will be spent applying the final touches to Solarix.
"We are mainly polishing the game now. Up until now, the team has been investing its time and Baris, the Founder, his personal money. We simply need a final push in term of funding to be able to cover the final details," says David.
Those details include environmental design and audio. Of the former, David says the setting will always be 'oppressive' and 'dark' but there will be variety, 'particulary in scale'. As for the audio, "it is like being alone in an old house in the dark, when you can hear the wood creaking. Replace the old house with a space station, and the wood with some fans and rusted metal."
One of the game's key features is the use of large non-linear spaces, which allow players to navigate freely. Horror games don't traditionally make use of open-ended levels, often relying on a level of control over the player. David says that giving the player's freedom as to how they want to progress and deal with confrontations won't detract from the oppressive atmosphere.
"Resources are very limited on the Solarix station and that's something [players] will have to keep an eye on and manage at all time. At the end of the day, players are free to use their ammunition how they like but they better not waste any bullets because there will be other situations when they could have been useful."
Bullets aren't the only thing in short supply in Solarix. Reality is wearing thin as well. "Imagine being on a spacestation where you're never really safe and never know what to expect next and then imagine that you can never really believe what you see or what you hear. Reality is not something completely consistent in Solarix."
Given the imposing nature of the two influences listed in the first paragraph, which are also mentioned on the project page, I asked if there were any other particular inspirations.
"The most unusual influence is probably our team! We've all put some ideas into the game that are from our own experience as players and spectators." Quite what those experiences are might reveal too many surprises. Despite the game's grand scale and ambition, David's final words suggest that Solarix' devil will be residing where devils always do.
"Our most memorable souvenirs are always made of small details."
I've included some detaisl on the role of KISS, the publisher of Solarix. This doesn't cover any specifics of the game but I'm always interested in the ways that Kickstarter and other changes across the industry are changing traditional roles. And also people's perception of those roles. Crowdfunding was seen by many as a way to escape from publishers but it's possible that it will also turn out to be a way of recalibrating what a publisher is.
The fact that the game has a publisher, yet is turning to Kickstarter for £10,000 of funding, is unusual but just as Kickstarter itself has become an ordinary part of the landscape in recent times, the role of publishers is changing.
Dave Clark, Head of Marketing at KISS, explained that his team work primarily with studios of around five people, assisting with marketing, and communication with press and distributors. The fees charged are taken as a percentage of sales, he says, which means that the publisher's success is tied to the client's success. Unlike a traditional publishing model, on funding is provided, although in the case of games using Kickstarter for crowdfunding, KISS provide use of their own Kickstarter page. For studios outside 'supported' countries, like Turkey-based Pulsetense, this is particularly useful.
In Clark's view, the new breed of small publishers have more in common with independent record labels (he compares KISS to Stiff Records during our conversation) than traditional publishing models in the world of games. As well as providing access to digital distributors, KISS can help to deal with press and promotion at events.
"Not every developer has the skills to market themselves or their game, just as not everyone has the skills to create a game," he says. "And every minute spent on marketing and distribution deals is a minute spent away from development." He also points out that KISS don't retain any rights to the IP.
In practice, much of the functionality sounds like the traditional role of a PR firm rather than a publisher. Clark points out that he'll put together press packs and communicate on behalf of clients, but that KISS will never interfere with development. It's a hands-off role.
Solarix has just over 24 hours left on the clock.