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.

    Rezzed 2018: the Schafer experiment

    Anybody who visits the blog regularly will know how attached I am to the Monkey Island series. The original was the first game I played on my Amiga 500 as a kid in the early 1990s and this was the title that sealed my fate as an adventure fan and wannabe-pirate lover.

    It was therefore with some excitement that I learned Tim Schafer, one of the designers of the franchise, would be giving a developer session at 2018’s Rezzed event. I knew my blogging partner-in-crime Ben would be hyped about this too; when we first met in person around five years ago, he launched into an enthusiastic in-depth discussion on why Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle are some of the finest games ever made.

    We made our way over to the room in the Tobacco Dock an hour before Schafer was due to appear on stage and eagerly took our place at the front of the queue. We had the pleasure of bumping into Luke from Hundstrasse while we were waiting and sneakily edged him into the queue with us, before quickly heading down to the first row of the hall once the doors were opened (thank you to the lovely EGX staff who made this happen for us!).

    As Eurogamer editor Oli Welsh asked questions about his career, it became obvious that Schafer was the sort of guy who had plenty of experience along with great sense of humour: you’d love to take him to your local pub for a chat about his favourite video games over a pint or two. He gave some good advice for aspiring developers on how to handle crunch and avoid the mistakes usually made by people trying to break into the industry.

    When discussing his design process, Schafer picked up on the concept of ‘free writing’: “I use a pen and a notebook, and you just have to write for a certain amount of time – it can be two minutes or an hour – and you just can’t stop writing. That’s the only rule. So even if you’re just writing one word over and over, you have to keep writing. It’s a strange thing where putting your mind in that position makes ideas come out.”

    He continued: “I think it’s a similar thing to when you’re creatively stuck and then you go to lunch with somebody, and you’re telling them how you’re stuck. As you’re talking, you start to solve the problem out loud; they never say another word but you’re like ‘Thanks, I fixed it, that’s great!’. Sometimes it’s just the act of going verbal with your thoughts, it opens doors and it’s a weird phenomenon but it’s helpful.”

    Schafer then went on to explain where this process came from: “I learned it in seventh-grade English class. It was just like, we had to write for two minutes and I just did it. At first you’re like ‘This is dumb, why am I writing, I’m hungry, I really have to go to the bathroom’ – then all of a sudden, poof! Some weird idea comes out, then you get excited and you start writing, and you’re turning the pages because you just designed an entire game.”

    So on his advice (that everybody should try it because ‘it’s really cheap’) I’d like to propose a short experiment for anybody reading this who’s willing to give it a go. All you need is a timer, your keyboard and an active imagination. Simply set your stopwatch for two minutes, click into the comments box at the end of this post, write whatever comes into your head and don’t stop typing until the time is up.

    Will the WordPress community be able to come up with a groundbreaking idea for an awesome new video game that we can pitch to Schafer and Double Fine Productions? I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody’s free writing experiment produces. Even if it ends up being only thoughts on hunger or needing to go to the loo – hey, existing games have been developed on lesser concepts than that.

    Let’s end this post on a high point with a bit of inspiration for the rest of the day. In the words of the great man himself: “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.”

    Rezzed 2018: a round-up

    This past weekend saw us attending 2018’s Rezzed expo in London. Thousands of gamers hit the rooms of the beautiful Tobacco Dock to get their hands on over 200 playable titles and meet their creators on the show floor, as well as attend developer sessions by some well-known designers and find out how to get a job in games at the GamesIndustry.biz Career Fair.

    In the introduction post published on Friday, I mentioned that the thing I love most about the event hasn’t changed in the six years I’ve been attending. That’s the atmosphere: a real vibe of support for independent developers where everyone comes together to celebrate indie gaming. It’s not as flashy as some of the other annual events and you can really get to spend some quality time with upcoming titles.

    Although the atmosphere was still there this time around, the event felt different somehow although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our time at Rezzed however; we had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and be attending again next year. Here are the highs and lows of 2018’s show along with a few teasers about the posts coming up over the next week.

    Highlights

    Surely the best thing about Rezzed was being able to attend again with Ben (who wasn’t able to come last year) and getting the chance to meet the awesome Luke from Hundstrasse in person! It was also good being able to catch-up with Terry from gamingatheart, Will and Murr from geeksleeprinserepeat and Kevin from The Mental Attic. It was lovely to see them all and hopefully we’ll bump into each other again at EGX in September.

    The other highlight was being in the front row for a developer session with Tim Schafer, one of the designers of my beloved Monkey Island. This was pretty apt considering the increase in the number of narrative games on the show floor this year; I’ve added quite a few titles to my Steam wishlist including Disco Elysium by ZA/UM and Lamplight City by Grundislav Games, both of which are due to feature in a post coming later this week.

    My stepson Ethan attended again and continued making friends after striking up a bond with Gillian Hickman from Other Ocean last time. This year it was Steel Rats by Tate Multimedia which caught his attention, and lead designer Rafal Sadowski kindly chatted to him while he played. The guys from Muse Games also remembered him from the PC Gamer Weekender in February and we had several rounds of Guns of Icarus Alliance with them.

    Lowlights

    While Schafer’s section was a highpoint of the weekend, the other developer sessions were unfortunately lacking. In previous years I’ve always found at least a few I’ve wanted to attend but the range of subjects on offer this time just wasn’t as interesting, and nothing else caught my attention. The presentations have always been something I look forward to when going to the expo so I was little disappointed.

    Alongside the increase in narrative titles on display this year, there seemed to be more games in general and additional space had been filled at the Tobacco Dock which was good to see. However, there seemed to be fewer ‘standout’ titles: those you see as you walk into a room and think to yourself ‘I simply have to play that.’ That’s not to say I didn’t find some gems – simply that they were harder to come across this time.

    And to anyone reading this who works for Eurogamer and coordinated the event: please sort out the food next year because it wasn’t great! A gamer can’t live by chips, cans of coke and Mars bars alone, you know.

    Did you attend this year’s Rezzed event? If so, what did you think of it and what was your game of the show? There’ll be a few more posts coming over the next few days and in the meantime, take a look at the photo gallery below to see what we got up to.

    Rezzed 2018 photo gallery

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    Rezzed 2018: the fun starts today

    This morning sees the start of 2018’s Rezzed. The expo is hosted by the team behind EGX and features many playable pre-release games on both PC and console, with a strong focus on indie titles. Developer sessions by well-known designers give attendees the opportunity to find out more about their projects, and creators are happy to answer questions out on the show floor.

    This will be my sixth time at Rezzed and the thing I love most about it hasn’t changed in all those years. The atmosphere is one in which everyone comes together to celebrate indie gaming and there’s a real vibe of support for independent developers. It’s not as flashy as some of the other expos and there aren’t as many publishers trying to push their wares into your face, so you can really get to spend some quality time with upcoming titles.

    I’m going to be at the event all three days and it’s special this time around for several reasons. Firstly, the lovely Ben will be joining my other-half and I today after being unable to attend last year so we’re all really excited! My blogging-partner-in-crime loves getting the chance to chat to developers and find out what their up to, so who knows: maybe this is just what he needs to ease him back into writing on the blog.

    Secondly, my stepson Ethan will be joining us on weekend. We took him to Rezzed with us for the first time in 2017 after deeming him finally old enough and he had such a good time; he called it ‘one of the best conventions he’d ever been to’ and took a real liking to Giant Cop, his first virtual reality experience. It’s going to be a bit of a family day out as Ben will be bringing his son along on Saturday too.

    Then on Sunday, we’ve got some partying to do: both Pete and I turn another year older this week and will be celebrating levelling up at the expo. There’s nothing like playing a few video games, yelling at pixels on s screen and taking down a few opponents to make you feel ten years younger. If we have any cake left, we might be willing to share it so come and say hello if you see us.

    And finally, there are plenty of awesome people who are going to be at the event. We’re looking forward to catching up with Will and Murr from geeksleeprinserepeat along with Kevin from The Mental Attic, and we’ll hopefully get the opportunity to meet Luke from Hundstrasse (I owe him a coffee after missing him at EGX) and Khinjarsi from Upon Completion. I guess we really had better save some of that cake…

    Tim Schafer, man, person, sitting

    There are loads of games on show this year and I’ve marked out 15 in particular that I’d like to spend some hands-on time with. These include Harold Halibut and Raji: An Ancient Epic, two titles I backed on Kickstarter but which sadly weren’t successful. There’s also the fact that Tim Schafer, one of the designers of my beloved Monkey Island, will be doing a developer session today – hopefully I’ll be able to get a seat.

    If you haven’t yet bought your tickets and would like to attend, head over to the official website (there are still some available at the time of writing) and be sure to check out our gamers’ guide to London for some tips on places to visit. Let us know in the comments below if you’re going and we’ll keep an eye out for you!