Thursday, April 26, 2012


It's been a REALLY long time since I've done one of these, but... here's an even-more-random-than-usual post about things that I think are cool!

First, on a time-sensitive note: WOO-HOO, Shadowrun just passed the $1.5 million mark! That's really incredible; they're on track to raise quadruple their original budget. I think they're being very smart about how they approach this windfall. After some early speculation about significantly expanding the scope of the project (adding multiplayer, etc.), they decided to stick with a game that's achievable within the timeframe they've declared, and just making that game as awesome as possible. "We" have already gotten great music (they're bringing in the composers from the SNES and Genesis games!!!!), a lot more content (including an initially-backer-exclusive mission that ties together Jake's and Harlequin's stories), a better mission editor, etc. Any more money they raise will translate into more and better content.

I eventually decided to chip in at the $60 level, which is about the going price for a AAA game these days. Shadowrun Returns will NOT be a AAA game, and I imagine it will retail for around the $15 cost of the smallest reward tier, but I have a history of getting a lot of mileage out of these sorts of games. I agonized for almost a week before settling on that tier; I do love T-Shirts, and the digital exclusives and Doc Wagon card are nice bonuses. That said, I was mightily tempted by each of the next tiers. $100 puts your name in the credits, and I do like the idea of that kind of immortality (I'm one of those immortal geeks whose names are in the final credits to the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition movies). The newer $125 tier brings in an awesome-looking Deluxe Box Edition; Jordan borrowed this idea from Tim Schafer's wildly successful Doublefine Kickstarter, and I have a ton of fond memories of cracking open a box and finding goodies inside - a thick manual, a map, perhaps a Moonstone if I was lucky. The dogtags they're creating seem awesome. That said, I don't have the same box fetish for Shadowrun as I do for other series, so I could let that one slide. If I was REALLY crazy, I would have sprung the $250 for early access to the level/mission editor; I haven't really done much game modding since my Civ II days, but with this setting and this energized of a community, I could definitely get behind it.

ANYWAYS. There are about two days left in the fundraiser, so if you've been on the fence, now is a great time to contribute! Even the basic $15 pledge will, in addition to the items listed on the front page, give you access to a backer-exclusive mission. It's Shadowrun! Come on, chummers!

In other sci-fi news: I just beat Mass Effect! No, not Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 1. I know, I know, I can hear you groaning. In my defense, I'm always way behind on the games I'm playing. Now that the series has ended, I'm finally going to go through and play the whole thing, not unlike how I experienced The Wire. And actually, that's not a horrible analogy. ME's cast of characters is much smaller, of course, and more heroic / less ensemble-ish, but it's an emphatically story-based experience that goes through many arcs and immerses you in a fully realized environment.

The story was what drew me most to ME, and I was not disappointed. ME is famous for giving a real story that has important choices with profound consequences; it isn't a story like Final Fantasy that runs on rails, or even like Baldur's Gate that tends to offer the same actions with varying motivations. You'll be deciding who lives and who dies, and those people will affect the course of this and future games.

ME also deserves massive props (heh) for its morality system. I've often railed in this blog about how much I dislike the Manichean ethics of games like Fallout and Bioshock. ME is one of the best systems I've ever encountered. Instead of the boring and reductive "good" and "evil" categories - really, how many people actually think that they're doing evil in the real world? - ME uses "Paragon" and "Renegade". These aren't intrinsic properties of your character; rather, they're how your character is perceived by the world. You might choose to execute a criminal in order to protect the lives they may threaten in the future; that's a "good" action that you're taken for noble reasons, but it will also cause people to fear you. These are two separate axes that your character can move on, fairly independently of one another. I came to think of Machiavelli, with Paragon roughly equating "Love" and Renegade standing in for "Fear". It is better to be both loved and feared, but you can choose to be only one. I tended to hew pretty closely to the Paragon path, and had maxed out those points by the end of the game, but did take the Renegade path at a few points, and really appreciated being able to do that; it made my character more nuanced, and didn't penalize my gameplay. (In contrast, for example, in SW:TOR, once you max out your Light Side, you need to be really careful to not take any Dark Side actions at all, or else it will gimp your character.)

The gameplay itself was... fine. There were a few things that I really liked; the level designs were pretty logical and fun, and only the Citadel occasionally overwhelmed because of its sprawl. I actually came to appreciate not being able to jump. It's such as common thing in first-person games, even ones that don't really need it, but you would NEVER see a team of heavily-armed soldiers bouncing up and down while on a mission. On the few occasions where vertical movement is required (like mounting a low ledge), it's simply an action your character can take. Combat was fun; I played as an Engineer, and mostly focused on my tech abilities while letting my squad shoot bad guys down, but near the end I got better at using my pistol and had fun with that.

My complaints: first and foremost, inventory management was a huge pain. You get an obscene amount of weapons and armor and equipment in the game. You'll use only a fraction of it; most gets converted to omni-gel or sold for cash. They really should have just given you that gel or cash to begin with. There's a limit to how much you can carry before you need to recycle items; that's usually just an annoyance, but on Feros I was forced to convert a bunch of equipment I would have much rather sold, since there were no shopkeepers there. It's really, really hard to figure out whether a given piece of equipment is better than another; they're ranked by numbers, but it's often the case that, say, a certain level III pistol will be better than another level V pistol. To make matters worse, when you're buying or selling equipment on your ship, you can't tell if any item is better or worse than what a squad member currently has equipped.

Also: the Mako was cool at first, but got really annoying by the end of the game. I loved doing it, but I hated spending so much time trying to climb up steep mountains. I found out too late that combat from within the Mako also gives you a 40% XP penalty, which really annoys me; if I had known that earlier, I would have reached level 50 by the end of the game, instead of my measly 49.

Anyways. I know that Bioware radically reworked ME for the second and third installments, and I'm guessing/hoping that it will improve on those aspects.

There's a bunch more I could say about ME, but I may save it for a future post that covers more of the series, maybe behind spoiler tags. In the meantime: jumping around a bit, but in between my ME sessions, I've been playing the old Shadowrun Genesis game on an emulator. It's a lot of fun; I'd never even seen this game before, and it's quite charming. It shares many of the trappings of the SNES game, but the story is completely different, and in particular the Matrix seems to be a lot more complex than I remember. The Genesis version is also way more squad-based. I'm currently playing as a Decker with a permanent Troll Samurai and an Elf Mage as fellow-runners. There's a ton of stuff to do, and a lot of interesting strategy in planning out how to upgrade my characters. Oh, and I think this game actually has one of the best economies of any game I've played recently. Money is scarce and useful, and I think carefully about each major purchase, and each purchase has a drastic impact on my effectiveness.

After I finished reading the Sandman Companion, I realized that for the first time in nearly six months, I didn't have another book immediately available to start reading. So, I went looking for another book. I must have blinked, because now I suddenly have seven books to read: an assortment from the library, plus a few from Amazon (which I often hit up to research books but rarely actually purchase from), plus a few used ones plus the new Chris Moore book from Kepler's (about which more later). I finished a quick read of a comic: the graphic novelization of "Neverwhere". It was very cool, though I kind of wish that I'd been able to get ahold of the original Neil Gaiman novel before reading the comic. Still, it was a great book: weird and dramatic and fun. I find it interesting that Gaiman does so much mythically-tinged work, and yet it all feels so different from one another; Sandman and American Gods and Marvel 1602 and Neverwhere don't have any direct overlap at all, even though each is filled to bursting with mythology, either real or created.

Oh, yeah, Moore! I'm on Kepler's email list, and always enjoy hearing about what that shop is up to, but I rarely make it all the way down to Menlo Park. That said, when I heard that Chris Moore would be coming there to promote his new book, "Sacre Bleu", I knew I had to go. Moore is incredibly funny in person; he's self-deprecating, but quite smart and knows his audience really well. He didn't read from the book, but riffed for a while on Rastafarianism, the "rent-a-friends" that escort him to book-signings, why he doesn't go to Kansas, and the wonders of medical-marijuana delivery. He talked for a while about writing the book, and the cool stuff he learned about art while doing research. Moore had an extended question-and-answer session that covered a lot of fascinating stuff; among other things, he described the painful and drawn-out, year-long battle with his publisher over the production of Sacre Bleu. If you get a chance to pick it up, I highly recommend it; as a work of art, the book is remarkable, with blue ink, gorgeous reproductions of 1800's paintings, and a striking front cover. You'd think that, in an age when publishers were panicking about e-books, they would want to support a book that made such a strong argument for the printed word, but apparently not. (He also revealed that he started work on this book four years ago; he quickly wrote "Bite Me" because he had a mortgage payment due, he claims.) I was most delighted to hear of his upcoming projects: he's currently working on a book in which Pocket (from "Fool") travels to Venice, and encounters events associated with "The Merchant of Venice" and... I think "Othello". (In the signing line, he mentioned that he wrote the invocation to the book in iambic pentameter. "At the rate I was writing, if I wrote the whole book that way, it would take twelve years to finish.") He also said that he won't be writing another vampire book... but he does want to write a sequel to A Dirty Job, and hinted that Abby Normal may find her way into that story.

Oh, yeah, public service announcement: I haven't finished the book yet, but Chris said (justifiably annoyed) that almost every single review of the book that he's seen has given away a crucial piece of the story in the very first paragraph. Sometimes in the very first sentence. So, if you want to be surprised, be like me and avoid all reviews until you're done. (Feel free to peek at the star ratings or letter grades if you like, just don't read the prose.)

I hung around afterwards for the book-signing. Moore was very gracious and cool, and engaged with everyone who came through; that meant that the line moved slowly, but nobody seemed to mind. I've gotten better at these things, and actually try to think a little about what I might want to say (not because I want to take up time, just to make things less awkward). I eventually decided that I could mention that I had lived in Kansas and 100% agreed with his assessment; however, I overheard him chatting with the ladies in front of me about iambic pentameter, so my brain went "Oooh! Shakespeare!" and so I asked him about that instead.

Fun fact: Moore says that his readership is about 70% female. I wouldn't have expected that, but from looking around the room, that seemed totally accurate. In fact, I think I may have been one of the only males my age there; I saw a few older gentlemen, but not many younger. Which seems a bit odd; I think pretty much all of his books that I've read feature males in their 20s or 30s as protagonists. Plus I tend to assume that males are more into horror books than females; then again, I guess women tend to enjoy vampires more, so maybe that's where that disparity comes from. Eh. Anyways, I thought it was interesting.

Phew! I think that's it from me for now. I'm heading out very soon for the lovely environs of Big Sur (not to be confused with Pine Cove), where, for the third year in a row, I'll be walking down Highway 1 for the gorgeous 21-Miler portion of the Big Sur Marathon. For the first time, I'll be doing it in the company of a group of friends. The weather looks to be gorgeous, the company should be fine. I will see you all on the flip side!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I still proudly bear the unique trappings of my literary nerd-dom. Unlike the more commonly recognizable trappings of being a computer nerd (using hex notation), fantasy nerd (memorizing the Valar and the words of the Great Houses), or a backpacking nerd (having very strong opinions on the matter of goose down and Mountain House), the stuff a literary nerd gets excited about may not immediately strike someone else as being especially nerdy. Make no mistake, though: it's just as nerdy, just with a longer heritage.

One of the nerdiest things I do is read books about books. I did this when I was studying English Literature, but I actually enjoyed it, and continue to do so now. Not nearly as often, of course, and only for the best books; I'd guess that I probably read about one book-about-books for every forty or so actual books. I do get a lot of pleasure out of them, though. One of the best was a guide to Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49." I'd already read that amazing book multiple times, and thought I'd gotten everything I could out of it, only to discover that there was a whole host of other clever allusions and inside jokes that I'd completely missed. It's like getting a bonus pack for a favorite video game!

While I've done that for novels before, I recently finished reading my first literary-criticism-ish book on the subject of a comic series. Appropriately enough, it was for my favorite series of all time, Sandman. "The Sandman Companion", by Hy Bender, isn't traditional literary criticism, but arguably something a bit better: it combines a synopsis of each major arc of the series with some discussions about the process of creating the comics and, my favorite, an extended conversation with Neil Gaiman himself. Neil is always wonderful to hear, and his personality and intelligence come across wonderfully in transcript form.

There are all sorts of wonderful nuggets tucked away in this book. Hy also spoke with many other people connected with Sandman, including artists, inkers, letterers, and other comics creators. In one sidebar, he recounts an anecdote that Alan Moore told him about a dinner he had with Gaiman and some other friends, when Gaiman became ill while Moore was describing a scene from his upcoming graphic novel "From Hell." About a hundred pages later, Gaiman independently brings up that exact same scene; the perspectives are slightly different, but it's amazing and amusing to thing of these two giants in the field sharing an encounter like that.


One of the big questions I remember having after finishing the comics was who, exactly, was to blame for Morpheus's death. After considering several suspects, I eventually decided to settle on Loki, who seemed to have been working behind the scenes to put the major players in the tragedy into action. On subsequent re-reads through the series, though, I came to believe that Desire was ultimately to blame; in "Three Septembers and a November," she pretty much comes out and says what she intends to do, and she was thwarted during her first attempt at that plan earlier in the series.

Hy and Neil talk about that a lot, and as I should have suspected, there isn't a tidy answer. You could say that Sandman himself is responsible for his own death; even though he doesn't act out of a conscious desire to kill himself, he did make all the decisions that led to it happening, and crucially avoided making other decisions that would have let him avoid his fate. Desire and Loki are also very culpable movers in the tragedy. Interestingly, Gaiman also names Lucifer as another possible source of blame, which initially surprised me. Then again, Lucifer did arguably set the wheels in motion: by surrendering Hell to Morpheus, he caused the Sandman to call his conference, which in turn led Loki to make his deal. If Lucifer had never abandoned his realm, then Loki would never have been set free and would not have caused Lyta to invoke the Kindly Ones.

Of course, the Kindly Ones would have had no cause to pursue Morpheus if he hadn't killed Orpheus; and (though I didn't realize it until reading this book) he wouldn't have killed Orpheus if not for the changes in his personality as a result of his imprisonment. So, you could just as easily point to Burgess as the villain.

The point being: this comic is complicated, and real life is complicated, and as much as we love pat, tidy explanations, there tend to be a multitude of causes and effects that are impossible to untangle. Yet another reason why I think this series is amazing.


There's a good amount of criticism that comes in this book as well. The author rightfully praises some of the most remarkable entries of the series, like the stunning "Ramadan". There's also frequent discussion of fan reactions to the series; I was happy to hear that I wasn't the only person who didn't care much for the minimalist artwork in The Kindly Ones, and also appreciated hearing Neil's explanation of why he chose that artist for that series. They also talk a bit about some specific issues that didn't work as intended, but tend not to dwell on them too much.

The Sandman Companion is definitely not required to enjoy Sandman - like I said, it's been my favorite comic series for years - but if you love it as much as I do, it's a great way to deepen that love a little more.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Buying Art

Have you seen the recent trend of classic videogame franchises funding their resurgence via Kickstarter? It's been beautiful to watch. The events kicked off in fine form with Double Fine's Tim Schafer, who was behind some of the best graphic adventure games from the genre's last phase, including Day of the Tentacle and the sublime Grim Fandango. Double Fine has been making games in the interim, some of which echo the same sense of humor and style that Schafer deployed at LucasArts, but they've never made an honest-to-goodness old-school adventure game. They had the bright idea of going directly to the fans to get their funding, and it has paid off in spades: after originally asking for $400,000, the project eventually raised more than $3 million! This has made people deliriously happy: not only is a new adventure game getting made, but it's also a very public sign that there still is a community and a market for these sorts of games. It's been nearly a decade since we've seen a AAA title in the genre, which has been declared dead, but there's at least the chance of a renaissance.
The project I'm currently gaga over is Shadowrun Returns. Jordan Weisman, the original creator of Shadowrun back in the 80's, saw Double Fine's success, thought, "Shoot, I'm a grizzled game veteran who would love to make a new old-school game!", and put up his own Kickstarter project. His current company, Harebrained Schemes, has made some mobile games, but he's been able to license back the Shadowrun property and has a vision for creating a strongly story-based 2D, turn-based RPG. Again, this is a genre that has been dead for ages, but the response has been phenomenal. They hit their own $400,000 goal within a few days, and are currently closing in on $1 million, with about two weeks left on the clock. This has allowed them to greatly expand their original goals for the game: they will now be releasing versions for Mac and Linux, will be able to hire a composer to create high-quality, music, will add "rigger" characters (in Shadowrun argot, riggers are people [not necessarily humans] who can directly control vehicles through a mind/machine interface), and even (assuming they reach $1 million), add a second city to explore within the game.

Since then, I've also learned of yet another Kickstarter project to fund a sequel to Wasteland. I never played the original Wasteland so I don't have the same emotional connection to this as I do to the other projects, but I know that Wasteland was hugely important in the history of computer gaming, and is still praised by many people... as can be seen by its 50,000 backers pledging nearly $2.5 million (still three days left to chip in!). Unlike the other two games, which seek to resuscitate supposedly-dead-ended genres or properties, Wasteland's spiritual successors are doing well today, as best evidenced by Fallout 3's critical and commercial success. I imagine that the new Double Fine adventure and Shadowrun Returns will make a small group of people very happy, and hopefully create enough new fans to keep the tradition going; Wasteland 2 looks like it may have the potential to actually be a minor hit in its own right.

I want to ramble today about two things, Shadowrun and how commerce funds art.

It's probably been years since I last thought about Shadowrun, but when I saw the Kickstarter (thanks to a link from Steve Jackson, who has been inspired in turn to start his own Kickstarter project for OGRE wargaming), a flood of memories came pouring back. My experience with Shadowrun was almost entirely connected with its SNES incarnation. This may seem odd, since I never owned a Super Nintendo, let alone its Shadowrun cartidge. But, this was one of the games that I totally glommed on to, vicariously enjoying it by visiting friends' houses. (I may be slightly unusual in that I get nearly as much pleasure from watching other people play video games as I do from playing them myself, even more so if they're story-oriented games like Final Fantasy or Shadowrun.) It was so strange, so unique, and touched many chords that I didn't recognize I had.

Shadowrun was the only cyberpunk experience I would have for the first 20 years of my life, and it was a glorious one. It's set in a grim world, not exactly post-apocalyptic (only a few nukes were detonated), but fairly dystopian: greedy corporations run the world, governments have become largely ineffectual or corrupt, police agencies have been turned over to private companies, and much of the population is addicted to virtual entertainment. I was most intrigued by the "deckers", the hackers of Shadowrun, who would plug into the "Matrix" (remember, this was the late '80s), a global, interconnected network of computers and electronic systems. A decker could open a locked door, or take control of a defense robot, or steal nuyen (money) from a bank account.

Much later on, when I read other examples of Cyberpunk (most notably William Gibson's "Neuromancer" and, to some extent, Neal Stephenson's phenomenal "Snow Crash"), I came to realize that Shadowrun is more of a hybrid genre; most notably, in addition to the futuristic elements of megacorporations, cyberware, bioware (hah!), and decks, it also features shamans, trolls, orcs, elves, and the astral plane. That aspect of it didn't have as much of an impact on me - after all, I was used to seeing magical creatures in RPGs - but with the benefit of hindsight I now see what a big deal this was. To be clear, it isn't a big deal that everyone endorses: some people see it as a bastardization of cyberpunk, or a shameless appropriation of Tolkien into an environment where he doesn't belong. It's cool, though... I can get behind it under a "more is more" philosophy.

I loved the game Shadowrun. You start out waking up in a morgue: two morticians are about to dissect you, and freak out when you stand up and walk away. You've suffered amnesia, and spend much of the game trying to piece together what happened to you, as you explore the world around you. One of many elements of the game that I loved was its use of companions. I don't think that I'd ever played an RPG before with companions; stuff like Dragon Warrior and Legend of Zelda only had a single protagonist. In Shadowrun, though, you could hire other shadowrunners who would join your team for jobs. Shadowrun was what you might call an action RPG; it has the stats and inventory of an RPG, but combat took place in real-time, and your companions would fight using their own AI. I particularly remember one expensive runner who was... I think an ork or troll or something, but he was really strong and used a machine gun. When he was in your party, the two of you could blast through a bunch of enemies.

I don't think I ever beat the game, or saw the ending, but saw enough to be intrigued by the contents. Dragons running corporations, junkies prowling the junkyard, no-holds-barred arena gladiator battles... it was a grim, dark, fascinating world. I kinda want to find an emulator now so I can play it for real. I've also learned in my recent, fascinated browsing that there was also a Sega Genesis "Shadowrun" game, which many people claim is far superior to the SNES one. Yet another thing for me to look forward to!

Shadowrun aside, I find these recent successes tremendously encouraging. They remind me of conversations I've had with my friends and brothers for years. It seems like, for most of the past 70 years, our society has had certain models in place to financially support the creation of new media, and those models hadn't changed much at all until the Internet era. The music industry was supported by record/album sales; magazines, TV, and radio shows were supported by advertising; movies were supported by ticket sales (and, starting in the 1980s, sales of cassettes and DVDs); novels were supported by book sales; and so on.

There's been a great deal of public agonizing over how the Internet has disrupted these models, with attending predictions about the death of new art. When people could download MP3s for free without buying records, people thought that new bands wouldn't be able to record their albums. When people started TIVO-ing and time-shifting their TV programs, and advertising dollars began drying up, people started to worry that we'd seen the end of decently-budgeted high-quality comedies and dramas. E-books and the attending piracy made people wonder if people would bother writing books any more.

Of course, this overlooked the fact that there are multiple ways to fund art, and those dire predictions seem somewhat funny even a few years later. The era of huge record deals may be over, but plenty of bands are doing well by supplementing their record and iTunes sales with merchandise, ticket sales, licensing their songs to advertisers, and so on. Shows that were driven off the air due to low ratings, like Family Guy and Futurama, were later brought back once the studios realized that their DVD and syndication sales made them more valuable than reality programs. And more books are getting published than ever before, with lower barriers to entry; I can assure you that writing a book won't make you rich, but it isn't nearly as hard as it's been in the past.

So, no big news here; there are multiple ways to make money from producing art, and it's silly to proclaim that only the one way you grew up with is feasible. One of my favorite ideas to kick around has been that of a return to the patronage system, as was famous during Renaissance Italy. In this period, great works of art were commissioned by a single wealthy individual. The result might be available to the masses, by being put on display in a cathedral or museum, but the masses weren't expected to subsidize its creation. Rich people would pay for this creation for many reasons: perhaps because they wanted to be immortalized, or because they simply enjoyed the art in question. (And, to be clear, I'm not just talking about Michelangelo painting the ceiling, but also many works of literature and poetry.)

Isn't is possible that such a system could work today? It's tempting to think of something like, "Bill Gates presents Season 2 of Firefly". The super-wealthy among us could indulge in their tastes, and the rest of us could enjoy the results, along the way projecting our good thoughts at those who had made this creation possible. This seems like a great way to fund art creation, and could be one of the perks of us living in a new Gilded Age. It also potentially could allow for even greater eccentricity and variety than what currently gets funded. For example, instead of major movie studios only funding movies that they can count on to hit 3 of the 4 quadrants (kid/adult, male/female), movies will get made that fit one individual's tastes. Which won't necessarily be that of a while male billionaire.

Anyways, what I find so tremendously exciting about Kickstarter and its role in these game projects is how it inverts my prediction/dream about how good stuff will get made in the future. Yes, it rejects the current domination of oligarchical entertainment corporations, but instead of replacing them with entrepreneurial plutocrats, it gives us an enthusiastic rabble. This is reform the Barack Obama model, not the Ross Perot model... a wide array of passionate little people chipping in for a shared vision.

Of course, this can have huge benefits. Right off the bat, it instills a sense of community and shared purpose, and can really engage non-artists in the artistic endeavor. We aren't just standing around sharing our admiration of a common object; we are actually creating that common object, and generating a sense of pride in it as well. I imagine that it also gives the creators more confidence and perhaps autonomy in their work. Instead of worrying about pleasing the whims of a single benefactor, they can cheerfully know that they already have thousands of people on their side, supporting their already-expressed vision.

I'm also fascinated by the purely economic repercussions of this approach. Simply put, this is more of a subscription model, or an up-front producer model, rather than a post-production consumer model. For the vast majority of art, we wait until the art has been produced, and then spend money to experience it; the biggest exception is for TV shows, where advertisers pay when we consume it, and magazines, where we pay in advance for a stream of content. Steam has previously democratized the video game business model by enabling tiny publishers to reach tiny markets easily, but it still followed the linear temporal model of "work now, pay later." Kickstarter upends that: in all of the projects listed above, one of the "rewards" for "donating" to the game is a copy of the game itself. You can pay as much for the game as you want; $15 will get you a copy of Shadowrun Returns, and $60 will give you the same game with some exclusive in-game and real-life goodies. But, when Harebrained Schemes is working on the game, they KNOW already that more than 20,000 people have ALREADY BOUGHT the game. Personally, that would make me pretty nervous; it's a huge responsibility to please people who have already paid with their hard-earned money. At the same time, it's exciting and encouraging. What happens if not a single person pays for the game? Well, in a sense, it doesn't matter: they got to make the game that they wanted, and everyone who donated gets the game; that doesn't make the developers rich, but it's a darn sight better than the fate of big-label flops that burn through huge budgets and never recoup their costs.

It'll be interesting to see where we go from here. I'm immediately reminded of Louis C.K.'s recent awesome experiment in direct-to-fan sales of his Live at the Beacon Theater special. He bypassed all the typical art/commerce models for comedy (advertiser-supported basic cable, subscription-supported premium cable, studio DVD sales) to directly sell a super-high-quality video for $5. He apparently grossed around a million dollars by doing this, which is awesome. I've wondered for a while whether this would be a viable approach for other artists to take in the future, or if it was a one-time fluke event; he got a lot of media publicity by being the first (or at least the biggest) person to try doing this sort of thing, and I wondered if it would be tough for later attempts to get the same amount of attention. That said, what I'm seeing on Kickstarter now makes me optimistic that this could be a good trend for the future. Double Fine earning $3 million hasn't prevented another $3.5 million being pledged to Shadowrun Returns and Wasteland 2, so this seems to be driven mostly by the love of the games, not just the novelty of the situation. I'm not necessarily saying that Kickstarter is the end-all be-all of cool game development, but it's a wonderful avenue that seems perfectly designed for funding games with small but passionate followings.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

My Favorite Google Maps

Taken from the April Fool's "Quest" layer. Yes, the Ferry Building really does look like that; and yes, there really is a Treasure Island.