|Developer(s)||Double Fine Productions|
|Release date(s)||Act I: January 2014
Act II: April-May 2014
|Distribution||Download, CD (special edition box)|
Broken Age is an upcoming point-and-click adventure video game and is Tim Schafer's first in the genre since 1998's Grim Fandango. The game is to be produced and distributed by Schafer's Double Fine Productions for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, and Android platforms. The game is currently being developed in two acts, with the first Act to be released in January 2014.
Broken Age began under the working title Double Fine Adventure (internal codename "Reds") as a Kickstarter crowd funded project promoted by Double Fine and 2 Player Productions in February 2012. Originally set at a modest $400,000 to cover the costs of development and documentary filming, it became the largest crowd-funded video game project at the time, bringing in more than $3.45 million from over 87,000 backers within the month. It remains one of the highest-backed crowd funded projects of any type, and its success helped to establish Kickstarter and other crowd funding mechanisms as a viable alternative to venture capital and publisher funding for niche video game titles. The game's development is being chronicled by an episodic series of documentaries produced by 2 Player Productions.
Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure game based on two characters, a young boy and girl, each "seeking to break the tradition with their lives". The player will switch between the two characters, the boy living alone on a spacecraft, while the girl wants to avoid being sacrificed to a monster by her village. The game will employ context-sensitive actions instead of using verb lists as early adventure games would use, as Schafer stated that in essence, "there really was always one verb, which was 'interact with'" and opted with the more modern approach.
Announcement and fundraising
Double Fine Adventure was announced by way of a Kickstarter project initiated on February 8, 2012. The idea came after Double Fine's Tim Schafer was interviewed for 2 Player Productions' upcoming Kickstarter-funded documentary on the game Minecraft. After the interview, Schafer and 2 Player discussed the idea of the production company filming a documentary about Double Fine as a future project. Double Fine had already had experience as a studio being filmed during development of Psychonauts for an episode of G4 TV's Icons series. When 2 Player completed the Minecraft project, around November 2011, they wanted to create a more in-depth documentary, recognizing that Double Fine had the right type of environment where such a documentary would be possible. The two studios began to work out the specifics of the project, but Schafer realized that publisher interference would make an honest portrayal of game development impossible. Double Fine lacked the resources to self-fund a game, and 2 Player lacked the ability to fund the film, so the two companies elected to crowd-fund the project on Kickstarter, a method Schafer had seen successfully used to raise much smaller amounts for independent game developers. The creation of a new game was initially considered "kind of as a sidenote" by Schafer to accommodate the documentary filming.
The adventure game genre was selected to offer the public a product that would not have existed without their support, and help to distinguish the project from the developer's publisher-financed work. Schafer, a veteran of LucasArts, has long been associated with adventure games, a genre that has long been stigmatized as commercially niche, particularly since the release of Schafer's own Grim Fandango. In his pitch to the public, Schafer argued that funding for such a project would be very difficult to come by, stating "If I were to go to a publisher right now and pitch an adventure game, they'd laugh in my face." Ron Gilbert, another ex-LucasArts adventure game designer at Double Fine, has long expressed this sentiment, writing in his personal blog, "From first-hand experience, I can tell you that if you even utter the words "adventure game" in a meeting with a publisher you can just pack up your spiffy concept art and leave. You'd get a better reaction by announcing that you have the plague." In video interviews taken just prior to the Kickstarter, both Schafer and Gilbert agree that the resulting game will likely use 2D computer graphics instead of 3D, as this would not only keep to the "old school" nature of adventure games, but allow Double Fine to tap into the painting talents of their in-house artist, Nathan Stapley. Schafer explained that the game will not be "museum" or "nostalgia" work, but instead "It's going to be fresh and feel modern and feel like what the next game would have been if I'd made one straight after Grim Fandango".
The Kickstarter drive was launched in early February 2012 so that, regardless of its success, Schafer would be able to talk about it during the 2012 Game Developers Conference in early March. Double Fine set the goal for the project at $400,000, with $100,000 allocated to the film production and $300,000 for the game. Although this was the largest goal of any gaming project yet on Kickstarter, it was the lowest budget the company had worked with, and a small fraction of the budget of the company's previous downloadable games, which cost around $2 million. Schafer admitted that a game made for this budget would be "hobbled," and that the budget was chosen because it was the absolute minimum he thought he could make an adventure game for. The two had originally envisioned a total $200,000 budget, a typical cost for an iOS game, but Schafer had doubts about whether Double Fine could deliver a game for such a low cost.
Various incentives were given to those that pledged $15 or more, including the game itself, early beta access to the game, access to private community areas to discuss the game, prints, and invitations to meet with the Double Fine staff. Further rewards were added through a second update two weeks into the effort, including digital soundtracks, physical copies of the game and documentary, and an art book. In launching the Kickstarter project, Double Fine claimed it was the first major studio to use the model for the funding of a game.
Within nine hours, the Kickstarter project had exceeded the $400,000 goal. Within 24 hours, it had surpassed $1 million. As the funds raised approached $1.35 million, Schafer noted that the total had already exceeded the budget for Day of the Tentacle ($600,000) and was nearing the budget for Full Throttle ($1.5 million). Kickstarter stated on the day after its start that the Double Fine effort is the most successful to date, having attracted more backers than any prior effort in the site's history while others have noted it is the second project – the Elevation Dock project being the first – to achieve more than $1 million in funding through Kickstarter. The Double Fine project passed the $2 million mark on February 20, 2012, twelve days after fund raising began. The Kickstarter closed on March 13 with more than $3.3 million from over 87,000 backers, and with another $110,000 promised by premium backers such as Days of Wonder and Alex Rigopulos. Schafer stated that the total funding was nearly the same as the budget for their previous downloadable titles, Costume Quest and Stacking, as well as his earlier LucasArts game, Grim Fandango.
The Kickstarter page was updated with the promise that additional funds would go to increased production values for the game and film, and deployment on additional platforms. A later update by Schafer affirmed that the additional funding will support development for the Mac OS X and Linux platforms and select iOS and Android devices. Additionally, the game will have voice acting for the English version, and include text localization for French, German, Italian, and Spanish languages. Schafer also stated that a digital rights management-free version of the game will be available after release. With the added funding for better production values, Schafer estimated it would likely take about a year to complete the game, missing their original anticipated October 2012 release. A release in the second quarter of 2013 has been estimated by Double Fine, later delayed to September 2013. At the 2013 D.I.C.E. Summit, Double Fine and Ouya announced a partnership, assuring that the Ouya console would be the only gaming console for which Double Fine Adventure would be released on at its launch, in addition to versions for the personal computers.
After the Kickstarter, Double Fine launched a "slacker backer" program, which would allow players to pre-order the game through their site at a fixed cost, giving them access to the documentary and beta versions of the game once they were released. The slacker backer option was also offered as part of the Double Fine Humble Bundle in May 2013 for those that purchased the bundle at a fixed price tier.
The game will be developed on the open source Moai Game platform developed by Zipline Games, itself built on the Lua cross-platform programming language. Nathan Martz, the technical director for Double Fine, stated that the open source nature of Moai allows them to alter any aspect of the code base easily, and further supports release on all the targeted platforms, including the mobile devices.
As Schafer had not written anything at the start of development, early efforts focused on creating an engine, art style, and answering technical questions. During this stage in development, programmers created a test game involving a red robot, while the artists created a mock up test scenario to establish an art and animation style inspired by the fine art illustrations of lead artist Nathan Stapley, as well as to work out basic interface questions. A sequence involving an unnamed lumberjack character and a cabin in the woods was created and the team decided to use a system of skeletal animation using segmented 2D characters. Once Schafer had established the basic storyline, involving intersecting stories of a boy in a sci-fi world and a girl in a fantasy world, concept artists were gathered for an "art jam" to brainstorm and produce concept art for the game's locations and conceive new locations. During this time Schafer also asked the community for ideas, several of which were then illustrated by the concept artists.
Schafer reanalyzed the state of the project in July 2013 and recognized that at the current rate, they would not be releasing the complete game until 2015. Schafer recognized they would run out of the Kickstarter funds before then and would not yet be receiving money from the sales of the game, either requiring them to drastically cut back on the project or alter their release plans. Schafer opted to adjust the schedule and place the game in its beta state on Steam's Early Access system as to make it available by January 2014, obtaining revenue from sales there to fund the remaining development while gaining additional testing input before releasing a final version. Those that backed the Kickstarter would receive access to the game through Steam Early Access. Initial backlash to this announcement led Schafer to affirm that they were not asking for more money to develop the title, and that "we are using our own money to deliver a bigger game than we Kickstarted".
Several voice actors who worked on previous Double Fine games will voice characters within Broken Age, including Jennifer Hale, Richard Horvitz, Nicki Rapp, Ginny Wescott, and Jack Black. Other voice actors will include Elijah Wood, Pendleton Ward, Wil Wheaton, and Masasa Moyo. Alex Rigopulos, the largest backer of the Kickstarter campaign, will voice a character that was designed in his likeness.
The success of the fundraising campaign establishes crowd-sourcing as a challenge to publisher funding (and control) for multi-million dollar projects. John Walker from Rock, Paper, Shotgun was quick to point out that this doesn't pose a major threat to publishers on a large scale, but added that it would force publishers to ask themselves questions such as "Are we really in touch with our audience’s desires?". Johnny Cullen of VG247 compared the Double Fine Kickstarter to the release of Radiohead's album In Rainbows, which the band had sold through their website in a pay-what-you-want model prior to a physical printing, without the interference of a music publisher. Cullen noted the model of crowd-sourcing has previously not worked for some game developers, and does not expect it to be a guaranteed success for future efforts, as he believes Double Fine is a unique studio with a dedicated fan base, aspects that are not shared by all developers.
Initial commentary largely framed Double Fine as exceptional, citing Double Fine's reputation, experience with the under-serviced genre, and history of difficulty with publisher funding as reasons why Double Fine's case was unique. Initially, many remained skeptical that such a level of success could be replicated. Schafer further agreed that the success of the Double Fine Kickstarter would be somewhat difficult to replicate for other games, even for Double Fine, as it would require the project to be "a good story for people to get behind".
Initial fears that this success would be isolated were allayed as new projects emerged. As the Double Fine Adventure campaign closed, Brian Fargo of inXile Entertainment launched a Kickstarter to fund development of the sequel Wasteland 2, which met its target of $900,000 in funding within two days, and eventually raised more than $2.9 million. Double Fine Adventure brought in 61,692 new users to Kickstarter, and greatly increased the platform's visibility and viability for funding of games projects. Within the six weeks following the launch of the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, the site raised more than $2.9 million in pledges (outside of the Double Fine project) for video game related projects, compared with $1.7 million total for the category in the prior two years, as well as increasing the amount of funding coming into projects of all categories. In October, Project Eternity surpassed Double Fine's funding record, further suggesting the crowd-funding model will continue to be a part of the gaming landscape.
The success of Double Fine Adventure has had a particularly visible impact on the adventure genre, inspiring several other established adventure game developers to use Kickstarter as a means to return to the genre. In the months following its release, the creators of Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Tex Murphy, Broken Sword, and Gabriel Knight have all managed to raise amounts in excess of Schafer's original goal of $400,000.
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