LAST LIFE stuck in limbo

As can be seen from last month’s retro console and age experiment, it’s fair to say I like a bit of data so let’s start this post with a few statistics. Since first using Kickstarter in 2013:

  • I’ve backed 31 campaigns in total, all but one in the video game category
  • Five were unsuccessful in reaching their fundraising target and two were cancelled
  • One was suspended by the platform for strange high-value pledges and OUYA fund-matching
  • I’ve received 11 games so far (not all of them good) from 23 successful campaigns
  • The longest I’ve been waiting on is from a campaign over four years old

  • I picked up on that last point above while updating my profile on the platform recently and checking out the list of projects I’ve pledged to over the past five years. I’ll admit that I don’t always read the Kickstarter updates sent by developers and was therefore out of the loop on the title’s progress so some catching up was necessary. A few internet searches later however left me feeling disappointed, and as though I may have given my money to a title we could never get to see.

    The history of LAST LIFE

    LAST LIFE by Sam Farmer was a project which caught my eye immediately. The sci-fi noir adventure was inspired by modern point-and-clicks such as Kentucky Route Zero and would take place over three episodes. It featured a recently-murdered Private Investigator who had been 3D-printed back into existence to reopen his last case and uncover what he originally missed: a hunt which would reveal AI corruption, corporate espionage and the conspiracy which may have led to the Earth’s doom.

    It was launched on 10 April 2014 and veteran Tim Schafer appeared in a video for the campaign page to announce that Double Fine Productions had selected it to be their second Double Fine Presents game. Kickstarter themselves also jumped on board and declared LAST LIFE as their ‘Project of the Day’ on 26 April 2016. Two days later on 28 April 2018, the original fundraising target of $75,000 was met with still over a week to go until the deadline.

    The end of the campaign on 09 May 2014 saw a total of $103,058 pledged by 4,822 backers (over 137% of the original target). The first stretch goal had also been achieved and voiceovers for all speaking characters and interactive flashbacks would now be incorporated into the game. After a successful crowdfunder, Farmer appeared in interviews with several news outlets during the next few months stating an intended release window of ‘next year’ in 2015.

    So why are we backers still waiting to get their hands on the first episode of LAST LIFE over four years later?

    Sewing the seeds of doubt

    There have only been 12 updates from Farmer via Kickstarter since the end of the campaign. The length of time between these ranges from a month to over a year and seven have been for backers’ eyes only; and while this may have been acceptable if we could be certain work was progressing smoothly, not all have contained useful information. The latest update was published ten months ago and those who pledged towards the project have been left in the dark since.

    Tim Schaefer, video games, office, LAST LIFE, video

    The thing a lot of us had been holding onto was the fact that Double Fine were supporting LAST LIFE’s development and would be releasing the finished title. Even now Schafer’s video is displayed on the Kickstarter page, Double Fine Presents is mentioned on Farmer’s personal website, and the game’s press kit states that it is being published by the company. With a big name like that behind it, surely it means there’s still hope for the game and that we might get to play it one day?

    Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like it. The last Kickstarter update on 06 August 2017 was a long message from Farmer containing the following news:

    As you probably know, we launched our Kickstarter campaign with the help of Double Fine. However, they shifted priorities and we parted ways at the end of 2015. We are on good terms, and I wish them every success. I’ve since been looking for another partner to help with publishing and also to provide financing to finish the game.

    Backers should have been provided with this information two years earlier to keep them informed about what was happening. In addition, the sites mentioned above should have been updated immediately to remove Double Fine as the publisher and make it clear where the future of LAST LIFE was now heading. Instead, the official website is continuing to accept pre-orders and will ‘definitely take your money’ according to research by Cliquist in February.

    Where is Farmer?

    The full update can be seen in this video if you’re interested but to sum up: although the Kickstarter campaign raised enough funds to create a single episode of a three-part series, the decision to ‘expand the single episode into a feature length film’ was taken so players wouldn’t be left unfulfilled. However, the money had now run out and Farmer was trying to ‘secure the financing needed in order to cross the finish line’ and ‘searching for the right partner’. He wrote:

    Unfortunately, whilst we were really happy with the expanded scale of the game and everything that meant for the project, we’ve been unable to find a way to produce it at the quality we wanted, within the budget we set for ourselves. We stretched our single year of funding into three years, until we were relying on my own personal finances to continue the project, but that well has now run dry too.

    I had a look at all the comments left on the Kickstarter page and the last I could find from Farmer himself was from February 2017. His latest tweet was in April 2018 and was nothing to do with LAST LIFE; in fact, last time he tweeted about his project was in March 2017 when he said that he had ‘made good progress’. Backers have now received no update in almost a year and the campaign page is filling up with many confused and angry comments.

    Former Cliquist Executive Editor Josh Griffiths tried to track down Farmer on several occasions but as of February this year, still hadn’t been able to get in touch. The email address listed on the official website no longer exists and responses to messages sent to other addresses, as well as to Double Fine, haven’t been responded to. It seems as if both the developer and LAST LIFE have disappeared along with $103,058 of Kickstarter funds from thousands of backers.

    Kickstarter is a gamble

    All we really have to show for that amount of money is an unlisted video of an eight-minute demo published at the end of July 2017, shortly before the last Kickstarter update mentioned above. Despite Farmer announcing he was ‘rapidly approaching beta’ in June 2016 and requesting for volunteers to help QA test the game and provide feedback, it doesn’t seem as though any interested backer actually received an invitation. LAST LIFE therefore appears to be stuck in limbo and there’s a chance we may not ever get to see it.

    As written by Griffiths in a Cliquist article: “It’s ironic Kickstarter doesn’t allow campaigns featuring gambling, because that’s exactly what crowdfunding is – a gamble.” The platform isn’t a store and backers aren’t placing a pre-order; instead it’s a way for creators to raise independent funding for their projects and work with their audience to make something special. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to receive the product you’re putting your money towards however and should therefore never part with cash you can’t afford to lose.

    That’s why the pledge I’ve lost here doesn’t bother me and I’m fully aware of what becoming a backer for a project means. But what frustrates me is insufficient communication since the campaign completion in May 2014 and the gaping holes and contradictions in the updates we have received. While I can appreciate that game design is a long a difficult process, and inexperienced developers may come across unexpected problems that take time to resolve, such a lack of transparency is almost unforgiveable.

    Perhaps Farmer will resurface one day and LAST LIFE will eventually be made. Perhaps not. While this incident won’t stop me from making Kickstarter pledges in the future, it certainly leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

    Come fly with me

    I‘ve never been a competitive gamer. Adult responsibilities mean I don’t have enough time to improve my skills to an adequate levels to be able to compete and I don’t want to spend the free hours I do have being slated by my teammates for not being good enough.

    This was something I pondered over in March last year last year after reading an article by a blogger about whether you could still enjoy gaming if you ‘sucked’. In that post I concluded that yes, you could indeed have fun but your teammates may make it extremely difficult if you’re playing in a competitive environment. It’s not the games or the genres themselves that are the issue, but the people we play with and our own attitudes when it comes to winning and losing.

    It’s therefore understandable that I was hesitant when asked to step in for a round of Guns of Icarus Alliance while at Rezzed in April. My stepson had first encountered the game at the PC Gamer Weekender back in February and had fallen in love with both it and the guys from Muse Games straight away. They’d been extremely kind to him that day, taking the time to guide him through their project and giving him loads of trading cards which he keeps in his wallet even now.

    They appeared again at Rezzed and, despite already having the game at home, Ethan made us go back to their stand six times over the course of the weekend. During the final match, my stepson and two other attendees sat down but they needed a fourth before they could start; and after being asked by the developer if one of us would mind stepping in (and my other-half nudging me forward), I found myself in front of the sort of title I wouldn’t normally touch.

    Fortunately one of the team was on standby and told me what I needed to do to steer our airship after being put into the most difficult role of pilot. Once I had the dirigible in place to enable my teammates to blast the enemy from the skies, I dashed around bashing things with my trusty hammer to repair our equipment before leaping back to the steering wheel. The developer told me I’d not done too badly for my first go despite Ethan cheekily telling me I’d been rubbish.

    The following weekend, he spent the entire evening playing Guns on my PC with us spectating from the sofa. A weird sensation took over as I saw him listening to his pilot’s orders and firing the ship’s weapons: I remembered what it had been like playing the game at Rezzed and had to admit I’d actually enjoyed myself. My other-half was watching me and asked me what I was thinking – and was amazed when I told him I thought I might buy a copy for myself.

    A few days later I ended up installing it on our PlayStation 4. The developer had told us it had taken an awful lot of work but they’d managed to sort out cross-play, so I thought it would be cool if my stepson and I could play together. Obviously I needed to get some practice in first so he’d no longer think I was, so that’s what I’ve been putting hours into for the past month. And I’m not going to lie: I’m completely hooked. I’ve not even touched The Elder Scrolls Online for ages.

    I’m currently a level nine Engineer for the Anglean Republic and, although I prefer the co-op play mode, I’ve participated in a few PvP matches and even managed to win on a couple of occasions. There’s something about working as part of the team, focusing on my role of repairing our vessel while listening out for their commands and doing what I can to help, that’s strangely addictive. Women are in the minority but there are more female characters than I expected to see so I feel at home.

    I wrote last year that games which inspire extreme competitiveness and players who take winning incredibly seriously weren’t my idea of fun. There’s some of that in Guns, but on the whole everyone has been lovely to play with and supportive of their team. There are some who drop out as soon as the match isn’t going our way, similar behaviour to that I picked up on with Rocket League, but an AI immediately replaces them and so you don’t feel at a complete disadvantage.

    If it hadn’t been for Rezzed and the developer needing an additional person to be able to start a match, I’d never have realised that maybe I can find a competitive game enjoyable. I’m not sure I’ll ready to move on to another any time soon (despite Pete regularly teasing me now that next I’ll be taking on Call of Duty), but I’m content cruising the skies with my teammates. I can imagine how much fun it would be to play with a group of friends rather than strangers…

    …if anyone wants to fly and needs an Engineer on their crew, you know where to find me.

    Silence should have stayed quiet

    Although I’m an adventure fan, I don’t enjoy releases by Daedalic Entertainment. There’s something about their logic I can’t wrap my head around and the puzzle solutions don’t make sense to me: give me a mouse to obtain a pair of pantaloons and I won’t have a clue.

    It’s therefore weird that I added Silence to my Steam wishlist after hearing about it in late 2016. Despite being created by the developer and looking way more ‘cutesy’ than the releases I’d usually go for, there was something about the trailer which attracted me to it. The story about a brother trying to find his sister in the world between life and death intrigued me and the artwork was particularly nice: not as cartoony and with more subtlety than the stuff usually produced.

    When the game appeared as part of the recent Humble Daedalic Bundle 2018, I decided to give it a go despite my aversion to the developer. I had a few days off work scheduled so the timing was right; I could pick up Silence at a discounted price, give money to charity at the same time and dedicate a decent amount of time to playing it. It was just a shame that State of Mind wasn’t included in the bundle as it looked great at Rezzed in April and seemed as though it would be more my thing.

    The first two hours of the game were pretty good, despite my reservations. Instead of being a literal point-and-click, it featured the use of some other mouse movements which added a nice little twist on the standard adventure gameplay. The story wasn’t as cute as I thought it would be and there were elements of darkness and danger hidden behind the pretty environments; exactly the sort of thing that would drag you in and hold your attention for a lazy day of gaming.

    But then doubt started to slowly creep in. During a conversation between two characters, details about their history were revealed – but not in a this-is-the-part-where-we-share-more-of-our-backstory kind of way, but with a we’ve-been-here-before-and-are-repeating-it-for-your-benefit vibe. A quick Google search revealed that Silence was actually a follow-up to 2009’s The Whispered World and there are several reasons why this has completely p****d me off.

    Firstly, the game’s description on its Steam page makes no mention of the fact that this is a sequel. As I discussed with Bandicoot Warrior at this month’s blog party, I have a weird gaming habit where I can’t play the latest release until I’ve completed the others; for example, I can’t touch Fallout 4 because I haven’t played the previous instalments yet (and I can’t get the original title to work on my PC). I wouldn’t have bought Silence yet if I’d known this was the case.

    Secondly, I had to stop a playthrough two-hours in and switch to another title. Fortunately The Whispered World was reduced by 90% in GOG’s #SummerGaming sale so a short download later saw me gaming again – but it’s everything I hate about Daedalic Entertainment adventures. The story is full of characters who aren’t particularly likeable, the protagonist has a voice and attitude so annoying it makes me want to punch him, and the puzzles don’t make sense (who’d use a mouse to reach some pantaloons?).

    Thirdly, and worst of all: Silence spoiled the original game for me even more than the main character did. That conversation I wrote about earlier turned out to contain a complete overview of the story – even the plot-twist – and now every moment of foreshadowing in The Whispered World is blatantly obvious. I’m stuck playing a title I’m coming close to hating, with the aid of a walkthrough to get through it as quickly as possible, and without even the payoff of a revelation at the end of it.

    I understand that developers want to make their projects as accessible to as wide a group as possible, and that means making them playable by gamers who haven’t already completed the previous games. But surely recaps and backstory-sharing in the latest game can be done with far more subtlety than this approach? And what’s wrong with confirming that your title is a sequel in its Steam page description so potential players are aware of its history?

    I know some people would tell me to give up on the original instalment or watch a gameplay video and move straight onto Silence. But as I mentioned above, I can’t bring myself to do it; wanting to see those credits before moving on to the next game in the series is my little quirk. But what I will say is that I dislike Daedalic Entertainment’s games even more now than I did so before – I’m not sure I can forgive them for this oversight and it’s highly unlikely I’ll play another of their titles in the future.

    But State of Mind though…

    Ok. Ignore that last paragraph.

    198X: every 80s game in one

    Last week I wrote about Backbone, a detective noir adventure I’d come across on Kickstarter. Its pixelated art and ‘challenging, thought-provoking storyline featuring themes of power, corruption, social decay and systemic discrimination’ caught my eye and made a pledge.

    In that post I mentioned I’d found the campaign for 198X by Hi-Bit Studios on the same evening. While Backbone appealed to me as a gamer and is more in line with the adventure releases I usually play, there was something about this title which drew me in. The retro-futuristic artwork featured in the promotional video, ambient electronic beats, and a lone protagonist called Kid who talked about finding new meaning in video games; all the elements combined into something I wanted to know.

    The title is set in Surburbia, just outside the city, sometime in 1980X and follows the journey of a teenager ‘stuck between the limitations of innocent youth and the obligations of inevitable adulthood’. The story unfolds when Kid discovers the local arcade and the new worlds within it; and our protagonist grows stronger with every visit, every game uncovered, every move mastered and every demon defeated. The line between game and reality starts to blur…

    The Kickstarter page describes 198X as an arcade epic, a ‘coming-of-age story told through multiple genres, worlds and characters’. The project is built around five distinct arcade games and players will find themselves confronted with the beat-em-up, shoot-em-up, RPG, ninja and racing genres. Each are fully playable and will feature several stages with familiar settings and well-known core mechanics – not to mention a few unique twists, unexpected turns and lovely pixelated artwork.

    It’s the last of those genres I’m looking forward to the most as I was a big fan of OutRun while growing up (I used to steal my brother’s Game Gear so I could play it when he wasn’t around). And I love the way it’s described by the developer: ‘Take your deluxe sports car for the ride of your life. Race the setting sun to reach the metropolis of your dreams, brilliant as a gemstone in the dark. Cruise with attitude as you overtake nobodies and become one with the rhythm of the open road.’

    Although very intriguing, not much is given away in the video above or the second trailer released at the end of May. There also doesn’t seem to be much about the title online and it’s therefore it’s difficult to tell how Hi-Bit Studios are going to combine these arcade elements and the storyline. But the details revealed so far make it seem as though 198X is every 80s video game rolled up into one and that fascinates me; and there’s every chance for us to get something unique yet familiar out of this campaign.

    There’s something about Kid’s monologues in these videos which reminds me of 80s movie protagonists such as Ferris Bueller and Allison Reynolds. When talking about the arcade, the protagonist says: “Some nights I just wanted to get away from it all and, down there, everything made sense.” It’s lines like this which give me the same feeling I get when watching films like WarGames and Flight of the Navigator; as though something deeper is going on just underneath the surface and is about to break through…

    198X was successful in meeting its SEK 500,000 fundraising target and actually surpassed this by over 35% with the help of 1,920 backers last month. Hopefully we’ll get our hands on the game around March 2019 and pre-orders are being taken via Indiegogo if you’re interested. In the meantime, take a look at the official website and give the Twitter account a follow to stay up-to-date on their progress.

    Getting to know you

    Thank you to everyone who came along to last week’s blog party! By the end of the event, 27 amazing articles had been shared, over 260 comments had been left and new connections were formed. We may even see a virtual panel for GameBlast19 next year, some new short fiction and a possible My First Time Being a Mage collaboration as a result.

    I’d like to think we’re friends after partying away the day together and pogoing on the dancefloor, and that we’re ready to get serious: let’s take our relationship to the next level and get to know each other a little better. The lovely Zerathulu from The Zerathulu View has given us the perfect opportunity to do just that after their very kind Versatile Blogger Award last month and this here post is dedicated to them!

    As part of the nomination, bloggers are usually required to share seven things about themselves and then nominate 15 other writers to do the same. But instead of doing that I’d like to invite everyone reading this to leave their answers to the following questions in the comments below. Hopefully this will act as a channel for us to find out more about one another and see the person behind the blog:

  • Where you are in the world
  • What you’re currently playing
  • Your guilty pleasure game
  • Most annoying character
  • Best game soundtrack
  • Video game location you’d most like to visit
  • Preferred ice-cream flavour

  • It wouldn’t be fair of me to ask you guys questions I wouldn’t feel comfortable with answering myself (which explains why none of them are that embarrassing). It’s therefore only right I share my answers too so I’ll pop up in the comments at some point later today to reveal all.

    A huge thank you again to Zerathulu for the nomination, and to all of you awesome people for your support. I’m looking forward to checking out your answers!

    Maize: killing them with corniness

    My other-half and I decided to pick something from our Steam backlogs to keep us entertained for a few spare hours recently. We had plenty to choose from and after considering several options, we finally settled on Maize: a first-person adventure about what happens when two scientists misinterpret a memo from the US Government.

    It was a title I’d picked up during a sale at some point after hearing positive things about it from Will at geeksleeprinserepeat and watching one of his gameplay videos. However, it had sat untouched in the back of my library for a year waiting to be installed. Pete didn’t look overly keen when I told him the Steam page said it involved ‘sentient corn’ but he gave in after a promise of chocolate; so after a quick trip to the corner-shop, we settled down on the sofa.

    It’s hard to explain what Maize is about for two reasons. Firstly, as is the case with many narrative-driven releases, it’s difficult to hint at several plot points without spoiling the whole thing; and secondly, it’s just so damn weird. The developers have left the game’s description deliberately vague and I can only guess they made this decision so as not to put anybody off. Trying to summarise the story here would make a lot of readers think it was something best left in that dark corner of my library.

    But doing so would have meant I missed out on what was one of the most enjoyable – and certainly the strangest – titles I’ve played in 2018 so far. I’ve read a few reviews since finishing it and most of them aren’t completely favourable, mentioning mundane puzzles and a certain ‘annoying’ teddy-bear, but Maize turned out to be just what we needed that evening. Who knew that messing around with government conspiracies and sentient corn could be so much fun?

    Finish Line Games’ project definitely won’t be for everyone and I’d advise you to stay away if you’re looking for something serious or challenging. For those who love mad adventures, point-and-clicks and casts of bizarre protagonists however, you might find something here that tickles your fancy. Just be prepared before going in: your character opening their eyes to see a corn-field at the beginning of the title is the end of anything remotely normal happening.

    Maize is a release which manages to make fun of itself and the adventure genre as a whole (although I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure whether this was intentional). Rather than trying to avoid filling up your inventory with useless objects, it puts 75 items with pointless information into your ‘folio’; and instead of trying to disguise the fact you’re being steered down a path, it blocks off routes with bright orange filing boxes. Their existence is explained in one of the documents found lying around the farmhouse but it’s still totally outlandish!

    Vladdy, a robotic bear you construct partway through your journey, is there to remind you how ridiculous this all is and insult you in his Russian accent. Not only does he bear a striking resemblance to an animatronic toy from our childhoods, in some ways he reminds me of Murray from the Monkey Island series: at first it seems as though he’s going to be enemy but then a beautiful love-hate relationship forms. Although many reviewers quickly grew tired of him hurling abuse at them, Vladdy won me over and I was sad to see him leave.

    Speaking of Monkey Island, there are several puzzles within Maize which bear (no pun intended) a resemblance to the cutscene Governor’s Mansion where Guybrush goes up against the tremendous dangerous-looking yak (take a look at this video if you’re not sure what I’m talking about). Sending Vladdy into a vent to unlock a door for you results in loud crashes and bangs from behind the wall before he tumbles out and once again calls you a stupid idiot. Charming.

    As mentioned above, the main criticism of this game seems to be the lack of challenge when it comes to those puzzles and granted, we didn’t come across anything which had us scratching our heads for too long. But that was exactly what we needed after being at work all day. It was good just to be swept along in the current of the story, to not have to think too hard about what was happening in front of us and just enjoy it for what it was: humorous and silly storytelling.

    In fact, the title ends on a plot-twist so bizarre that it’s almost not a shock after everything else you’ve witnessed. And with a final battle which involves a sequence like a Dance Dance Revolution round to an upbeat track about top secret experiments, it’s such a fitting way to round off a game such as Maize. Partying with sentient corn and scarecrows in the middle of a field, dancing to an 80s-style song while trying to save their world – now that sounds just like my kind of shindig.

    Sometimes a game doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile. The smile on Pete’s face by the end of the game was proof that sometimes a bit of silliness (or ‘corniness’ if you will) can really hit the spot.