Student Endeavours: GD23′s The Last Phoenix on Kickstarter!

Back in July of 2012 five students (David Dryden, Ian MacGregor, Rishi Patkar, Marc St-Onge, and Jay Zhou) finished off their final project “The Last Phoenix”: the crown jewel of their year at VFS, but little did they know that this would just be the start of their journey.

“It was a tremendously visually impressive game, with unique mechanics, and a huge expressive world. Also they were the first group to pioneer with advanced shader techniques at VFS”
- Chris Mitchell: Game Design Instructor

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From Concept to Kickstarter: A Teachers path

I’ve been teaching at VFS for just over a year now, as one of the two Game Theory Analog instructors. I’m also a board game designer (sorry – analog game designer!) and have a partner named Sen-Foong Lim, and we have two games currently published: Train of Thought and Belfort (along with an expansion to Belfort called, appropriately enough – Belfort: The Expansion Expansion). Right this moment though, we have two new games that have launched on Kickstarter and I thought I’d give you all a little history on how each of these games came to be!

 

The two games are Tortuga – a dice rolling pirate game, which can be found HERE

and This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us, which can be found HERE

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The Mandate: Kickstarter to Completion Episode 2

Space Battle Command Display Concept Art

Interested in hearing how industry veterans approach pre-production after a successful Kickstarter campaign? Perihelion Interactive recently sent out a newsletter with updates on their recently funded game, The Mandate, which is currently in pre-production. The newsletter provides great educational material for both designers and producers. Their team has to be commended for sharing light and answering forum questions with such detailed responses. Some questions remain unanswered, but in most cases they acknowledge that these particular problems are still being addressed. The condensed status update includes:

- More programmers have been added but the rest of the team have not been finalized due to legal obstacles and holding out for potential key players

- Their character artist broke his Wacom tablet and is focusing on creating concept art for NPC units and other side tasks until his replacement arrives

- Funding has reached $725,000, and the project is still scheduled for release in early 2015

The more interesting revelations from the newsletter include producer-level insight into adding mod support, their depiction of features in a two-by-two matrix of risk versus value, and how development is being staged during preproduction for both art and gameplay elements.

Current Funding from Kickstarter and BackerKit

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The Mandate: Kickstarter to Completion Episode 1

Features

These are some of the promised features for The Mandate

If you haven’t heard of The Mandate or aren’t one of the 15000+ people who funded it, then you should take a look at its Kickstarter page. This Unity3D science fiction role playing game is being made by a team of industry veterans, and their campaign has been tremendously successful – resulting in funding for more than $650,000 of their project costs. Their campaign is also one of the best documented, most transparent, and has been amazingly responsive to backer requests for more rewards and more ways to get involved. What happens after the campaign though? As for my perspective and biases, you should know I am an excited backer who upgraded my pledge on the last day because they gave me tons of incentives to do so. Now, I will try to examine and summarize the information they provide on their Kickstarter page and try to poke holes in their project plan and objectives as an exercise in game design pre-production. Hopefully, this article can serve as a starting point for a continued description as their production continues, but that depends entirely on their willingness to keep being as transparent as they have been.

 

Budget

The man-months by specialty required for the upcoming development of this game

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Alumni Projects: U55 – End of the Line

Leaving VFS is hard. I dare say just about every alumnus or alumna can sing a song about the emptiness you start to feel once you relinquish your key card…
So what do we do to fill this hole? We move on to other amazing and exciting projects!!

In my case this was U55 – END OF THE LINE, a project that my friend Malte M. Boettcher had started back in Germany.
Unified by a strong vision, he assembled a team of about 20 people, all of whom were eager to get on board the project and contribute to the planning and development of U55.

U55 – END OF THE LINE is a survival horror action adventure set in the subway system underneath Berlin that leads players through a subterranean maze infested with unimaginable horrors.

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Question Block : Focusing on Kickstarter Eh?

As always people, submit questions to rdonaldson@vfs.com and we’ll answer them in upcoming editions of Question Block!

 

What do you think the announcement of Kickstarter being available in Canada means?

It’s great news! Kickstarter has emerged as a viable funding source for creative projects of all kinds, including games. We’ve seen a number of games (and hardware, like Ouya) being successfully funded through Kickstarter, with some projects reaching very impressive funding targets.

Canada has had access to crowdfunding for some time in the form of Indiegogo, but Kickstarter is a better-known platform for game-related projects. Having access to Kickstarter could help a lot of Canada’s studios get the funding they need to get their dream projects off the ground. With the growth of social, mobile, and free-to-play, we’ve seen a lot of new startups on the Canadian gaming scene.

Kickstarter comes to Canada later this summer.

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HTML5 – The Future of Online Gaming


HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the scripting language of the internet. Anything you see in your browser window starts with HTML.

One of the biggest challenges of being an educator is to continually evolve your curriculum to stay one step ahead of the curve. We caught wind of HTML5 a while back and have been keeping a close eye on its evolution. It has not taken off as fast as we expected, however, there are a lot of great features that show promise. For example, the ability to be supported on many platforms including mobile, recognition that it is the new online standard, and faster performance than previous versions of HTML.

What does it look like?

One way to see HTML is to right-click on this blog posting and choose “View Page Source” from the context menu. Below is a code snippet of a simple HTML5 page:

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Question Block : Casually Kickstarting

Question Block Logo

Welcome to another edition of Question Block. As always, if you have questions you would like to see in a future edition, post them in the Comments section below or email rdonaldson@vfs.com. And now, on with our show…

I recently read that Ubisoft has seen revenue growth in FY13 because of its core games like Assassin’s Creed, Just Dance, and Far Cry 3, and less growth in its casual games. Does this mean they will focus less on developing casual games? They are also depending on the success of new consoles. How much will the success or failure of the new consoles affect the company?

We have seen something of a platform transition in the casual space in the past year or two, as companies shift away from Facebook in favor of mobile devices. This has caused a bit of a downturn in revenue for many casual developers as they wind down their social titles, and Ubisoft’s casual arm is no exception. Keep in mind that Ubisoft makes a lot of casual games for platforms like Wii and DS as well, and with slow sales of the Wii U and 3DS, they aren’t reaching the casual install bases they found on Nintendo’s last generation of systems. Despite the slowdown, it’s almost certain that Ubisoft will continue to support casual to some extent, so we can expect that its performance in that space will generally follow the market. Whether that means casual revenue will be at higher or lower levels than before remains to be seen.

Ubisoft has tended to have a very diverse portfolio of games, and some of the titles that we as gamers might dismiss are actually some of their top sellers. True, Assassin’s Creed III shipped 12.5 million units to retail to date, but Just Dance 4 has shipped 8.5 million! (Though keep in mind that shipping to retail doesn’t necessarily mean impressive sell-through numbers.) This pervasive strategy helps the company weather transitions rather well, since it means it has products spread across many different platforms. That said, certain consoles skew towards certain demographics, so a slowdown in Nintendo console sales will lead to a downturn in Ubisoft’s casual revenue; poor sales of Sony or Microsoft consoles would have a bigger impact on Ubisoft’s hardcore franchises.

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The ABCs of Crowd Sourcing The Consortium Project

Consortium Zenlil

Producing a video game for the VFS Game Design program is a lot of work. Scratch that. Producing a game is like jugging six balls while tap dancing on a wire over top of a tiger pit. Tigers that shoot lasers out of their eyes.

And are on fire.

So, if making a game with a five or six person team for a school program is that difficult, what do you think making a game with thousands of recorded lines of dialogue, advanced AI and scripted action sequences is like?

This is the world that I’ve been living in for the last seven years.

I’m a part-time instructor in the Game Design program, and after being in the industry long enough to be considered a veteran — with experience working for Relic, Radical and Turbine — I decided to set out to do my own thing, and make a game by my own standards. Out of this idea, and with help from a team that included Jeremy Soule, the “John Williams of video game music,” Consortium was born. A first person story and character based shooter, Consortium has been in development for seven years and has so far been funded by the Canada Media Fund (C.M.F.) and from out of my own pocket.

consortium cast

The way to finance independent projects has taken a radical turn in the last few years, so through my production company, Interdimensional Games, we decided crowd funding via Kickstarter was the best way to see the game realized.

Remember when we talked about what making a game is like? Creating, running and being successful at a Kickstarter campaign is a whole other beast. I had no idea what was in store for me and what hurdles I’d have to overcome before even pressing that Launch button.
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