20 great new crowdfunded games
5th May 2013 | 09:00
The best publisher-free games coming to your PC
When it comes to innovation, PC gamers always get there first. When consoles had cartridges, we had CD-ROMs. When console games started arriving on DVDs, we got them via digital download. And when games began to appear on Kickstarter, we got everything and console gamers got bog-all.
Despite a so-called upsurge in indie gaming on consoles with titles such as Geometry Wars and Limbo, the PC is still the go-to platform for Kickstarter projects. Why? Because we have Steam, because we play games on the same operating system developers program in, and because PC gamers are a unique breed who salivate over new and innovative projects rather than being drip-fed the next CoD title. In fact, Kickstarter is rapidly reinventing the PC as the single best place to be for innovative and interesting games.
Some fairly hefty developers and big names are actively choosing the PC for their new projects. They don't care about how much money a game's going to make for a major publisher who constricts their every move. They just care about making good games for people who care.
Almost every game we looked at for this feature was a PC title first and foremost. Other platforms like iOS, Macs and Android proved to be popular too, but there was little to no mention of either the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, probably thanks to the constraints they put on developers.
The fact that people like Peter Molyneux and companies like Obsidian are choosing not to develop games for consoles speaks volumes about the current state of the industry, which values cynical money-grabbing over actually making decent games. Luckily for us, the shackles have been well and truly released, so let's see what the ex-convicts have been creating.
1. Elite: Dangerous
Developer: Frontier Developments
Essentially a business management game in a sci-fi guise, 1984's Elite was hugely successful, and its innovative blend of space exploration and trading inspired the likes of Eve Online and Freelancer. It was also one of the first games to use wireframe pseudo-3D graphics and procedurally-generated levels.
The original game fitted into the BBC Micro Model B's mere 22KB of memory, but that didn't stop developers David Braben and Ian Bell packing in eight galaxies with 256 planets each.
The 16-bit sequel, Elite Frontier, contained a model of the entire Milky Way, complete with a staggering 100 billion star systems. It goes without saying that Elite: Dangerous will be pretty damn big, then.
"Imagine what is now possible, squeezing the last drop of performance from modern computers in the way Elite and Frontier did in their days?" writes Braben. The game will be PC-only to start with, and this makes us really rather happy. Not a lot has been shown yet, but the videos of some of the larger-scale ship combat look impressive.
Compared with the somewhat flaky combat Elite fans are used to being hired to protect actual player convoys looks like it's going to be fun. And hey, there's also that full, dynamic, galactic economy for all those business management fans too.
Peter Molyneux's legendary status is well-earned. He single-handedly invented the god genre in 1989 with Populous, and then created a string of hits throughout the 90s: Syndicate, Theme Park, Magic Carpet and Dungeon Keeper. Black & White in 2001 was an interesting concept that failed to live up to its hype, but he returned to form with cartoony RPG Fable.
Last year Molyneux left Microsoft Game Studios, where he served as creative director, to form his own indie company, 22Cans. Its first project, Curiosity, was an intriguing combination of Deal or No Deal and popping bubble wrap, whereas Godus is pitched as a successor to Populous.
As one would expect, this is the god genre updated for the 21st century. It begins in single-player mode, where you can strike the fear of your god into your land's denizens, before expanding into multiplayer, where you can strike the fear of your god into other people's denizens.
It'll be cross-platform too, taking in Android, iOS and Mac, as well as good ol' Windows. It's an interesting concept, but Molyneux will have to work hard to convince a modern audience that there's still room for the god genre. Ubisoft's From Dust – the most recent deity sim – didn't exactly set the world on fire, even if you could so do in-game. It'll also be Molyneux's first big project outside a major studio for ages. Lets hope his ego is reined in by his teammates.
3. Wasteland 2
Developer: inXile entertainment
Culturally, the 1980s were so obsessed with all things apocalyptic that one could be forgiven for thinking the end of all things actually occurred during the decade. While big screens showed the likes of Mad Max, The Terminator and Akira, gamers got a slice of the dystopian action with Wasteland on the Apple II. The 2087-set game dealt with a group of rangers investigating the hostile remnants of the American Southwest, stumbling across pockets of people who'd survived the nuclear war of 1998 (ahem).
If it all sounds a little familiar it's because Fallout was its spiritual successor, though the two are separate entities due to EA's reluctance to give up the rights. Original developer Brian Fargo bought the rights to Wasteland from Konami, and began the Kickstarter campaign with a $900,000 goal, pledging $100,000 of his own money to meet the required £1 million.
It overshot the original goal by a whopping $2 million, which was enough to get Fallout and Neverwinter Nights developer Chris Avellone on board.
Wasteland 2 may sound a little redundant given the fact that we've already got a perfectly decent set of Fallout games, but the developers promise a return to the stripped-down premise of the original. "It's turn-based, tactical, with a storyline that will be deeper and broader," says Fargo.
4. Project Eternity
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Wasteland 2 isn't the only Kickstarter project Chris Avellone has a hand in; he's also working on Project Eternity with his employer Obsidian Entertainment. This is an old-school isometric RPG that cites Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment as influences - all of which Obsidian's staff have worked on in the past.
Project Eternity is a party-based RPG, so you and a handful of cohorts will explore an all-new fantasy world and engage with its inhabitants. It promises a tactical real-time combat system in which you can pause the action, reposition your party and then unleash a devastating attack, which does sound rather cool.
It probably won't be called Project Eternity - that's just its working title - and its reception will determine whether it turns into a franchise. Obsidian went well over its original goal, and is now adding extra features, classes and translations, including an in-game commentary We have high hopes for Project Eternity. Obsidian is a developer that's a little too independent for its own good, and Alpha Protocol and Dungeon Siege 3 both seemed like good games restrained by the meddling of big publishers. Project Eternity's Kickstarter funding could give the developer the freedom it needs.
5. Star Citizen
Developer: Cloud Imperium Games Corporation
Games funded on Kickstarter seem to be united by an almost nepotistic interest from industry legends called Chris. Star Citizen's Chris - of the Roberts variety - has himself backed Elite: Dangerous with his own cash, despite seemingly creating a competing game, which is set up to be a continuation of his own Freelancer and Wing Commander series.
It's a huge sandbox space exploration game with a little modding thrown in. You can play as a smuggler, pirate, bounty hunter or merchant in a full, multiplayer universe. There is also going to be a single-player, Wing Commander-esque component too, called Squadron 42. It sounds a lot like 2003's Freelancer, which sort of delivered on the promise of GTA-like sandbox gameplay transposed into outer space.
Star Citizen appears to take place on a far bigger scale though, with its talk of a persistent world (players can summon help if they find themselves in a sticky situation, or man turrets on other players' ships), and already the gameplay videos are looking amazing.
6. Sir, You Are Being Hunted
Developer: Big Robot
Sir, You Are Being Hunted is set in a procedurally-generated sci-fi vision of the British countryside, in which robots stealthily hunt one another, smoke pipes and drink tea.
The game is already nearly finished, but the Kickstarter campaign was launched to provide a vital extra layer of polish. More 'tweedbots' will be added, and animations and AI will be improved. This is exactly what Kickstarter is great for - providing just enough cash to finish a proven project.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted's take on the stiff-upper-lipped ruling classes looks to provide and unique and fun environment.
Developer: Orphic Software
Despite its bland looks and clichéd exposition (the king's been murdered, blah blah blah), there's a lot to like about Antharion. It consists of a huge world of over 100 dungeons, with 20 cities and 50 unique monster types, and its action point-based combat system sounds solid and exciting. There's also a huge amount of depth in the customisation and NPC design.
Developer: Simon Roth
Sitting between The Sims and The Thing, Maia sees you excavating an underground base to protect a group of colonists from the harsh alien world above. Of course, the world below is equally harsh, and subject to alien attacks and seismic activity.
Maia was initially developed by one man, Simon Roth, and the Kickstarter funds are going into expanding the core team.
Developer: One Dimension Games
Pitched as a combination of FPS and RTS with a touch of Minecraft's world manipulation, Dysis takes place in a world where you can strategically control an army, or zoom in to third-person mode and take out enemy robots one at a time.
Developer: Seth Alter
Pledges: $6,631 to date
Neocolonialism is the practice of controlling countries using capitalism and business in lieu of military or political control. The game lets you do just this.
11. Radio The Universe
Pledges: $78,938 to date
It's nice to see something genuinely weird on Kickstarter. Radio the Universe takes the cuteness of the original Zelda and melds it with some sort of esoteric and horrifically weird anime. Resplendent in its juddery 8-bitness, it sees a cute female protagonist take on a sinister world of machines that look like prototype dot matrix printers, rejected on the grounds that they look too damn scary.
Developer 6e6e6e (see, WEIRD) reckons the game "will take -16,777,216 years to complete," and that "players who die in-game die in real life." We're at once gently intrigued and utterly horrified.
12. Barkley 2
Developer: Tales of Game's
Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden quickly became the stuff of internet legend when it was released in 2008. Set in a "post-cyber apocalyptic Neo New York", the game features former NBA player Charles Barkley performing a slam dunk that kills most of the people in attendance.
The sequel (snappily titled Barkley 2 - an RPG Sequel to Shut up and Jam: Gaiden) is set in the year 666X, and sees you take the role of a young man held captive by a malevolent AI called Cuchulainn and then set off on a JRPG-style adventure to find a Cyberdwarf. Right you are.
13. Meriwether: An American Epic
In 1803, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to find and map the quickest water route from the east to the west of the United States. It was a treacherous mission, and it forms the basis of this historical RPG.
It may sound a bit edutainical but the game takes certain liberties with history, adding mammoths, giant sloths and Welsh-speaking Native Americans to the Midwest. Also, you have a gun and you can shoot stuff.
Developer: Refract Studios
Racing games are conspicuous by their absence from the RPG and god-game dominated Kickstarter, but Distance is a nice exception to the rule. It's developed by the team behind awesome university project Nitronic Rush, and it continues that game's love of adrenaline-pumping sci-fi racing, with an added lick of polish.
Developer Refract Studios cites Wipeout as an influence, as well as 'atmospheric' games such as Half-Life and Limbo. The Tron-like world your vehicle races through is peppered with obstacles, but your car can jump over these, and even niftily sprout wings and fly. A nice touch is that the car's stats - such as speed and time – appear on its rear window, negating the need for a heads-up display.
15. Double Fine Adventure
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Along with the Ouya console and the Pebl watch, Double Fine Adventure transformed Kickstarter from 'cool idea, bro' to 'serious way to fund new and exciting projects'. So if there are any bad games in this feature, blame Double Fine's founder Tim Schafer.
The game itself is ticking along nicely, with a film documenting its creation. Its budget is way beyond those of Day of the Tentacle ($600,000) and Full Throttle ($1.5 million), and Schafer's experience in triple-A game production means he should know how to spend it wisely. It's nice to see him getting back into point-and-click adventures, too.
16. Akaneiro: Demon Hunters
Developer: American McGee
Pledges: $105,201 to date
American McGee's status as a games industry legend is somewhat questionable: his Alice and Grimm titles never quite lived up to their promise, but he's certainly got a unique take on what games can be and should do.
Akaneiro takes its world from fairy tales, but puts a Japanese RPG spin on things, with your heroine fighting a slew of crazy monsters. It'll be free-to-play, with players splashing out on 'karma' if they don't have time for looting, and expansions are planned if it meets its target.
17. Full Bore - An Underground Puzzle Adventure
Developer: Whole Hog Games
Boars are notorious for their love of platform-cum-puzzle adventures, but Full Bore is possibly the first game to document this phenomenon. You control Frederick, a boar who finds himself tied up in a mining company's financial downturn. This happens to boars a lot. It draws influence from Metroid and Mr Driller, with levels changing depending on the blocks you destroy or shift.
18. Carmageddon: Reincarnation
Developer: Stainless Games
We spent the best part of 1997 driving ridiculous cars at stupendous speeds, mowing down pedestrians and taking massive amounts of drugs. We are, of course, talking about Carmageddon.
At the time, it was nothing short of revolutionary, blending the jaw-dropping 3D graphics of, say, Ridge Racer, with Doom or Quake's gratuitous ultraviolence. It was followed by a couple of sequels, but for the last decade Carmageddon has been awfully quiet - perhaps due to GTA going all 3D. Until now.
Original developer Stainless Games bought the rights to the franchise from Square Enix, and started a Kickstarter to fund Carmageddon: Reincarnation's development. It was originally scheduled for release right about now, but Stainless revised its schedule and reckons it'll take the entirety of 2013 to come up with the reboot. We're not sure how it'll fit in with the likes of Just Cause 2 and Saints Row 3, but Carmageddon's sheer pugnacity should pull it through.
19. Legends of Dawn
Developer: Aurofinity & Dreamatix
A fantasy RPG in the Diablo mould, with an open world and easy modding tools.
20. War For The Overworld
Developer: Subterranean Games
Coming full circle, War for the Overworld is deeply inspired by Peter Molyneux's Dungeon Keeper, and the godfather of the god sim has given it his full blessing.