The Bulletin

Broken Age

Do-Over!

Double Fine goes over budget, Microsoft tries to recover, and a PlayStation 2-era shooter returns from leave.

By Sam Barsanti • July 8, 2013

The Bulletin is a roundup of a few game-related news stories from the previous week.

Double Fine needs more money to finish Broken Age, won’t stop until it owns all money
Broken Age

At the top of Double Fine’s golden tower, studio founder Tim Schafer sits at a desk carved from the bones of the world’s most endangered animals, counting his piles of Kickstarter money. After setting a goal of $400,000 to fund a new adventure game called Broken Age, fans pledged $3,336,371—making it one of the biggest success stories in Kickstarter-funded game development history—and now Schafer wants more. In a post for the project’s backers (and as reported by Rock, Paper, Shotgun), he essentially explains that his out-of-control creative vision has exceeded even the 800-percent funding that Kickstarter users gave Double Fine in the first place. If Broken Age’s development were to stay at the pace it’s going, Schafer believes that it wouldn’t be ready until 2015, a full three years after the Kickstarter campaign ended.

Because of this, Schafer has decided to split the game in half and release the first part of Broken Age on Steam Early Access this January, which would allow Double Fine to charge money for what is basically an unfinished product and then use that revenue to finish it in a timely fashion. It sounds like a solid plan—especially if it means the game will come out without any major cuts—and this is certainly less shady than starting another Kickstarter to extract more money from people who already gave so much. Of course, there is the possibility that this is simply another step in Double Fine’s plan for world domination, but I guess we’ll just wait and see how that goes.

Microsoft Don Mattrick is dead, long live Zynga Don Mattrick
Don Mattrick—gone!

The news only broke a week ago, so you might not have had enough time to properly process it, but it’s official: Don Mattrick, the now-former head of Microsoft’s gaming division (and a good friend of The Bulletin), is now the CEO of Zynga. Since Mattrick was the smiling face of the Xbox One’s catastrophic reveal and flip-flop, the timing of his exit seems to suggest that someone wasn’t happy with how things were playing out for the upcoming console. But as more information emerges, it sounds like this move has been in the works for a little longer than the past few weeks. Either way, when the guy in charge of launching a new game console jumps ship months before the thing actually comes out, it doesn’t inspire a feeling of hope. But the Xbone wasn’t inspiring much hope anyway.

Now Microsoft needs to figure out its next step, and that means finding a replacement for the great Don Mattrick. According to a Bloomberg report, current Windows division head Julie Larson-Green is poised to take over the entire company’s hardware engineering, which would also put her in charge of the Xbox division. If she does, it doesn’t necessarily mean that any changes are on the horizon for the Xbox One. I doubt someone promoted within Microsoft will have a vastly different vision for the future of game consoles, but crazier things have happened (like, for example, the flip-flop). Also, as this Joystiq article points out, Larson-Green was in charge of the Windows 8 launch, and everyone likes Windows 8, right?

Microsoft to possibly hold press conference at German gaming convention since its last press conference went so well
Titanfall

Titanfall, an upcoming Xbox One exclusive

Suggesting that maybe things aren’t going very well for Microsoft and that it needs another opportunity to make a big show for gamers and convince them that the Xbox One is not an evil soul-sucking demon, a source has told CVG that the console maker is planning to hold a press conference at the German gaming convention Gamescom this August. As Polygon points out, Microsoft skipped the event altogether last year, and the company hasn’t held a press conference there since 2005, the year it launched the Xbox 360. If this rumor is true, it certainly appears to indicate that something is going on beyond just the upcoming launch of the Xbox One. I doubt Microsoft will announce that it is dropping the price and that the system will now be able to play Xbox 360 games and that it will also allow you to communicate with deceased loved ones. But the event will certainly try to show off all of the cool stuff that the Xbox One actually can do. Like, I don’t know, Titanfall? Either way, I’m excited to see if Microsoft can outdo the number of digital people it murdered at E3.

SOCOM creator to revitalize the most neglected video game genre: military shooters
H-Hour

Back in the days before Call Of Duty was the biggest military shooter name in town, Sony’s SOCOM series took a more methodical approach to killing foreign people on the PlayStation 2. The SOCOM games focused on smart tactics instead of twitchy reflexes and were some of the earliest super-popular online console shooters. Now, perhaps by perching on top of my hill and cautiously peeking through a scope for the last few years, David Sears, the creative director for the original SOCOM games has found a hole in Call Of Duty’s defenses. Sears is coming back with, you guessed it, a spiritual successor that is, you guessed it, Kickstarter-funded.

According to the Kickstarter page, the game will be titled H-Hour: World’s Elite (and I assume that doesn’t stand for “Happy Hour,” but what if it did?) and it will be a “tactical, team-based, military shooter” for the PC and PlayStation 4 that will have a heavy focus on user-created clans rather than generic multiplayer matchmaking like in Call Of Duty. Interestingly, the team behind H-Hour, SOF Studios, did not want to use its Kickstarter to pay for the entire game, but rather to pay for a proof-of-concept demo that it can shop around to Venture Capitalist investors. So, even though the Kickstarter has ended with the project fully funded, we still might not ever see more from Happy Hour: World’s Elite. But hey, maybe trying to get some actual rich people on board will mean they won’t run out of money a few years in, like a certain other developer.

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  • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

    I love how much mileage you’ve gotten out of that stupid Xbox press photo.

    • Sam_Barsanti

      I think we should just paste the face of whoever replaces Mattick onto that photo so I can keep using it.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        When you something photo O’Neal it!

      • Electric Dragon

        Or just pretend that the new Xbox boss really does have a head like a question mark.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          At the very least, there’s a question mark where the part of his brain marked “Empathy for the Typical Consumer” should be.

      • Effigy_Power

        I think there was a great moment to photoshop Mattrick’s face onto some other public figure’s body, reading the “Big Book of Butts”… but that moment is sadly gone.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    I don’t play the series, but I hear Saints Row IV will include seven different voice options: woman (1-3), man (1-3), and Nolan North. Because of course.

    • Sam_Barsanti

      I’ve always been more of a Steve Blum guy, but that is pretty funny.

    • TaumpyTearrs

      does that mean no more zombie voice? Because zombie-me singing along to Sublime was a highpoint in 3.

  • Sam_Barsanti

    I’ve always been more of a Steve Blum guy, but that is pretty funny.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    Hey, it’s a game about Peter Molyneux’s life: The Molyneux Experience.

    • duwease

      See, that’s why I don’t cook.

  • lokimotive

    That Double Fine thing is rather disconcerting, though, I think it’s a good illustration of some of the major issues with Tim Schafer and Double Fine’s products up to this point. Schafer has epic visions, and is amazing at world building, but I think he has a lot of problems with managing projects. Double Fine does okay with smaller games, but when things get bloated (like in Brutal Legend), I’m unconvinced that Schafer is able to land the plane.

    As a backer, I’m still excited about the project, and I don’t really feel ripped off or anything with the way things have played out, but I am somewhat concerned about what this signifies of Schafer’s managerial skills.

    • ItsTheShadsy

      Likewise. I realize now that I probably backed a vision rather than a product. Which is still exciting, but a little weird.

    • MarloweSpade

      It’s disappointing for sure, but I’m trying to keep in mind that Kickstarter is a gamble no matter what. Heck, I think the Banner Saga guys pointed out that this sort of thing (concept overreach, schedule/fund underestimates) happens with almost every single game, only with Kickstarter the devs deliver the bad news directly to the end users instead of the publisher.

      Frankly, looking back on it I’m pretty sure I backed Double Fine less for the promise of a new game (although that certainly was the hook) and more as a way to say thanks to Schafer for a ton of great memories.

      • The_Misanthrope

        That has been my position since day one, really. I think of myself as a patron of the arts rather than an investor.

        • DrFlimFlam

          Which is generally the right way to approach it. As putting money out for good in the world, and if you get something back, that’s neat, but you may get nothing for it.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        In his video for the Kickstarter, Schafer himself even said it could very well all go up in flames, but at the very least the catastrophe would be documented for everyone’s entertainment.

    • CrabNaga

      At this point I’m more disappointed that we haven’t been getting bi-weekly documentary updates like they promised. We’re also not even getting weekly general updates like planned. It’s kind of odd but I feel like I paid the Kickstarter money more for the documentary than the game itself.

      • DrFlimFlam

        Nothing quite like radio silence. Music projects burned me so bad a few times I only back artists I am very familiar with. So while I discovered some solid guys back in the early days of Kickstarter, like The Miracals (nee The Smiles) and Stephen Gordon, too man projects took 1-2 years just to get an update.

        Forget THAT.

    • Dave Dalrymple

      I wonder if this is a unique case of Schafer’s ambition over-reaching his budget, or if this is a general sign that we have unrealistic expectations for Kickstarter-funded games.

      • The Guilty Party

        I think it’s typical of all game (and software) development. The issue here is that in the traditional system, you had a publisher to go back to to ask for more money, and who will ride your ass to try to keep it within limits. (Which has its upsides and downsides.)

        But since the money is from the community, there’s nowhere else to go for ‘uh, we need some more money/time’ besides the community, most of whom are suddenly in the position of a manager wondering if it’s wise to throw good money after bad, and who exactly is making sure these dates get hit, and could we get some oversight and some planning and so on.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I think it’s both, really. People expect more in relation to the overfunding of the project, and the creative types who launch these get crazy excited.

        People like Schafer should know that $3.3 million isn’t really much of a game when you get down to it, and should scale for far less than that.

    • Mythagoras

      It’s worth pointing out that it’s not like Schafer exceeded the budget by more than 800%; they scaled up the project because once you raise $3.3 million, people expect you to make a 3.3 million-dollar game (most not even considering that after fees, taxes, the cost of the documentary and reward fulfillment, the budget left to actually make the game is only somewhere in the 2 – 2.5 million-dollar range).

      Sure, he then went over his 2-point-whatever million-dollar budget, but as long as they have a way to raise the money without asking for more donations, who cares?

      • lokimotive

        Yeah, that’s true, though it’s also worth pointing out that the backers email said that if they released the game at this point, it would be somewhere less than 25% done in total. It they’re way past due right now. And what type of epic game are we talking about here, Tim, Full Throttle (a great, but flawed game, that was rather short) or Grim Fandango?

        I think there’s a lot of good reasons that this has happened. I think the amount of money that they got was astonishingly encouraging, so much so that they forgot that they still had to make a tight budget (or at least Tim did). That’s an unexpected problem. 

        I also think the way they’re handling it is quit admirable. Some people have conspiratorially pointed out that Double Fine waited until after the Massive Chalice Kickstarter was funded before they made the announcement. I suppose that’s valid, and I’m sure there was some marketing strategizing going on there, but for the most part Double Fine has been incredibly transparent about the process to the backers, which is really quite nice.
        In the end, I can’t really be upset, and I’m not. By backing I didn’t actually purchase a game anyway. That may be what some people thought they were doing, but I think it was more of a contribution to a grand experiment. Has the experiment failed? No, not really, it’s just had some hiccups, but it’s been a lot of fun anyway.

      • valondar

        I understand the argument it just feels sisyphean. You give people more than they need to get their game made, so they make the game bigger to fill the excess cash and suddenly they need even more cash because they overshot that balance.

        And so you have the success story that changed the way games are funded suddenly in need of more funds. It just… sticks in your craw a bit, regardless of how polite and reasonable everyone is and how fun Tim Schaefer presents himself as.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I think we all got a taste of what it is to be a publisher on a DF project in this. And remembering how, in the past, I sided with DF’s creative vision over, say, EA’s beancounting, I feel obliged to view DF charitably in this situation rather than play the role of irate beancounter.

      I hope Terry Gilliam kickstarts his next insane, over-ambitious film project so I can also be personally affected by his overreaching ambition and impractical creative process!

  • HobbesMkii

    Dissonant Abbreviation thread:

    BYOB: World’s Elite

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      LMAO: The Requiem

    • MarloweSpade

       40% ABV: World’s Elite

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      USPS: Final Saga

    • George_Liquor

      5W-30: Summer Weight

    • ProfFarnsworth

      WD-60: Yeah…it still squeaks!

    • caspiancomic

       SPF 30: Redemption

    • The_Tender_Vigilante

      RSVP: Countdown to Destiny

    • Citric

      RESPECT: You know what it means to me.

    • Electric Dragon

      ZX81:Apocalypse

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      TI-82: Sex

      • HobbesMkii

         I feel like 80085 would have worked perfectly here.

  • GaryX

    I’m legitimately bummed about Ryan Davis.

    Holy shit.

    • TheBryanJZX90

      Yeah, he always seemed like a good guy.

    • TheBryanJZX90

      Aaand now I’m not exactly surprised, but a little bummed at the apparent lack of a crossover between the Gameological and Giant Bomb audience.

      • GaryX

        Ha, yeah me neither.
        For me, though, they both represent the two sides of what I love about video games: the ability for them to be this incredibly new and exciting form and also be really silly, stupid, incredibly fun and make me feel like a child. Giant Bomb also, above all else, always called out what they thought of as quality regardless of its development size or stature, and they’ve been pretty good in the past about recognizing and being off put by games that are weirdly violent, misogynistic, etc etc. I love those guys.

  • Citric

    So this is about me complaining. It’s cathartic, shut up.

    This week I’m getting first-hand experience in why the Xbone’s original plan was awful, confirming that I am super happy 24-hour check ins aren’t part of the plan. My internet broke, mysteriously, on Saturday. No idea what’s wrong, apart from it probably being a problem with the line. For some reason, my ISP won’t look at it until Friday, though hopefully they find the problem and fix it. So I’ve got a week of no internets in my house. Booo!

    So how have I been filling my internet-free time? I’d like to say by being productive and useful, but no, it’s games. So when people complain about the flip flop, like that guy who did on some tech blog about how we were rejecting the future, THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!

    • Happily LS

      People don’t need a reason to not want to be always-online, and any counterargument MS (or anyone else) makes for it is frankly insulting.

      But yes, if I did need a reason, that is an excellent fucking reason.

    • ProfFarnsworth

      My reason…is simple.  Square-Enix’s really REALLY dumb DRM based Final Fantasy VII for the computer.  You HAVE to have an internet connection to play it, AND to save the game at any time.  I was considering purchasing it, and on an impulse  bought it (I suggest not, just get an emulator).  If this is the future, I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I was really tempted but will just stick to my PS1 copy. Even though maxing levels and just playing it sounds like more fun than grinding.

        • ProfFarnsworth

          It does sound fun, but you can find some really fun “cheats” that will help in an emulated version that will are exactly the same thing, and with out the annoyance of waiting for a few seconds up to 15 minutes to save your game.

    • George_Liquor

      ISPs’ infrastructures just aren’t reliable enough to to expect a 24/7 uptime for consumers. For two solid months, my internet connection would slow to a crawl, and then die for a couple of hours each day. Comcast did everything up to and including replacing my modem & rewiring my entire house, but to no avail. Finally, someone there had the wild idea to check the shit out at the other end of that cable line. Though they never called back to say they found anything wrong, my connection problems mysteriously cleared up the next day.

      • ChicaneryTheYounger

         On the plus side to that debacle, free rewiring!

  • George_Liquor

    Kickstarter’s looking more & more like an evil plot to make the big game distributors look less sucky by comparison.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I’m actually a big fan of how much it shows people how hard it is to make and distribute things, and what the point of publishers and distributors is, and why creative types are often less successful than you would hope they would be.

      It also shows how stupidly optimistic stretch goals are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/internisus Skye Nathaniel Schiefer

    There’s no reason to be so rotten about Double Fine.  Read what this game developer had to say about it: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga/posts/529873

    • valondar

       I was pretty okay with Banner Saga’s free multiplayer having purchasable stuff because I felt it didn’t unbalance the game, but believe me, that guy is being polite when he says it was poorly received.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I backed that game bigger than anything else I’ve ever supported ($50 for the finished trilogy and my own banner design, which I’ll have my headstone-carving buddy draw up as a Nordic puffin’s head at some point), and I had no problem with the Factions launch. I have no interest in it whatsoever, so that might be part of it.

  • ObliqueStrategy

    I’m not going to knock Tim Schafer or his team, because I think they’re a bunch of incredibly talented individuals who are a step above a great deal of the competition. 

    That being said – and this is coming from someone who works in the entertainment industry – finding the right ratio of Idea Guys* to Make It Happen Guys* is always a challenge, especially when you’re launching a new project with a new team. 

    Everybody wants to be an Idea Guy with The Vision. Tim Schafer has certainly earned the right to be one. However, The Vision often becomes so big and bright and blinding that you lose sight of exactly how badly you need to focus on the nuts-and-bolts aspects of making it happen and exactly how much you can realistically make happen with the resources available. 

    Idea Guys tend to pull other Idea Guys into their orbit and end up with a team of awesome people that also happens to be a very unbalanced team. It feels complete, but there’s just too many eyes focusing on the flashy, fun creative aspects and too few minding the banal, logistical components of the project. 

    * (read: Guys and Gals)

    • Sam_Barsanti

      Case in point: how many years did it take for BioShock Infinite to come out?

    • DrFlimFlam

      I dealt with a Project Manager at my office for the first time ever a few weeks ago and seeing a good one work was amazing. You realize how much business relies on people who can lay out and execute the real work that makes things happen.

  • valondar

    You know I’ve only put money down for two kickstarter games so far.

    The first was FTL and the second was Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, and I am being mildly disingenuous: I didn’t contribute to either kickstarter, but I did buy the actual games.

    Which honestly is the kind of creator-backing I’m more comfortable with since I know exactly what I am getting for my troubles. I guess that’s small-minded of me, but then as much as I don’t dislike Schafer et al there’s never been a kickstarter that I felt I NEEDED to have, you know?

    • DrFlimFlam

      I really debated Star Command but wound up not doing so. Seeing what the finished product is, I am VERY glad.

      • Sam_Barsanti

        Boo, star command is rad. But I didn’t kickstart it, and probably would be disappointed if I had…

  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    I can’t help but draw a comparison between Double Fine and Anita Sarkeesian’s kickstartering. I’m sure Double Fine is getting some heat for going over budget (i’m assuming, not bothering to venture into internet comments elsewhere), but the huge amount of horrible shit that Sarkeesian had thrown at her because she “scammed people” was fuckin absurd. Like, I know it’s because “gamers” are awful misogynist little shits, but it’s just so fucking blatant. Like, she never asked for more money, she’s making the videos still and they are much more quality than they would have been if she had the $6,000. It’s just so fucking clear that these people complaining about her are just horrible awful people. They don’t even try to not look like it.

    This was a total derail, but mleh.

    • DrFlimFlam

      The whole stretch goal and boost in scope damn so many projects. I think Sarkeesian’s work is better than the original plan, but no, it’s not WORLDS better, and I’m fine with it. Too many people want to back a product, which should involve some kind of NPR-style “you get less than you pay for” fund-raising, with a “pre-order at or below cost” model.

      Too many project creators ask for too little in fear they won’t make their goal and it hurts their eventual bottom line. And too many fans want a good deal, which kind of flies in the face of a good fund-raising project.

      • Sam_Barsanti

        Then there’s the Penny Arcade guys, who wanted to guarantee that they got every penny when they Kickstarted a podcast, so they set the goal at $10.

    • valondar

       No I actually thought of Sarkeesian because a lot of people seem to feel her videos should be more than what she set out to do because she got so much money, which feels disingenuous to me.

      • DrFlimFlam

        Exactly. Because she won’t have to buckle and ask for more money three videos in.

  • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

    I seem to recall somebody mention in jest that Kingdom Hearts III could tap into the Star Wars and Marvel franchises since they’re technically part of Disney now, but Tetsuya Nomura is teasing us now along those lines.

    “Of course it would be great if we could add those licenses as well,” Nomura told Finaland during the Japan Expo 2013. “But there are lots of rules and restrictions by Disney so we can’t actually put in everything people want.

    “So it’s a quite difficult decision but we’re gonna prepare some surprises for you so, just wait for the information.”

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      They’ve finally found out what it would take to make me buy another Kindgom Hearts game: morbid curiosity.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Kingdom Hearts 4: Mickey Mouse, Cloud, and Spider-Man go on a quest to find Nemo.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          You’re forgetting See Threepio!

          • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

            There’s no C-3PO; instead, because George Lucas hates you, Jar Jar Binks features heavily.

  • DrFlimFlam

    Military shooters and F2P tap tap wait games are the future of gaming.

    You have been warned. Weep and collect those tears. They will become the new currency.

  • http://dougwykstra.wordpress.com/ wykstrad

    I like Double Fine, but I think they are definitively answering the question “why aren’t there more games with creative vision?”  Creative vision always ends up costing more than you’d expect.

  • http://ericfate.myopenid.com/ EricFate

    If he didn’t overreach, he wouldn’t be Tim Schafer. I don’t care when or how he finally manages to get it finished, just so long as it is as interesting and fun to play through as his earlier works. I knew his track record going into the Kickstarter.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    “Back in the days before Call Of Duty was the biggest military shooter name in town”

    yup, those were the days