This summer, Shaun Inman, Rusty Moyher, and Matt Grimm formed a team and entered into the Ludum Dare game jam. The 24th edition of the competition tasked creators with building a game around the theme "evolution," with just three days to get it done. During that time the trio developed a retro platformer called Super Clew Land, but once the competition was over, a funny thing happened: they didn't want to stop. So over the next month they polished Super Clew Land, fleshing out some of the ideas and building a better overall game. And they enjoyed the experience so much that they've launched a Kickstarter campaign to try and do it again, six more times. Welcome to the Retro Game Crunch.
Welcome to the Retro Game Crunch
Each month, for six months straight, the team will spend three days building a prototype based on a theme. The themes will be provided and voted on by backers, who will also get a chance to play the prototypes and provide feedback. Based on this feedback, the trio will then spend the rest of the month polishing up the game and fixing any niggling issues. After 30 days the completed game will be available to anyone who spends $15 or more on the Kickstarter campaign.
Game jams are popular among developers largely because the intense time constraints and limitations imposed by a specific theme force them to think about things in a different way, often leading to creative new games that otherwise wouldn't exist. Capy Games' upcoming time travel-themed shooter Super T.I.M.E. Force, for instance, started life as an experiment at the annual Toronto Game Jam.
"Limitation encourages focus," says Inman. "Anything you can't do is one less thing you have to try to do. A thematic constraint forces us to think creatively and consider things we otherwise would not. The time constraint forces us to prioritize features that will have the greatest impact. Mega Man 2 was made in 3-4 months, Duke Nukem Forever in 15 years. Are constraints a good or a bad thing?"
"You can do more with less."
As the name implies, the project will add a further limitation by focusing on retro-style games — something each member of the team has at least some experience with. Inman developed The Last Rocket, Moyher is the creator of Bloop, and Grimm composed the soundtrack for Flip's Escape. Much like the enforced theme and time limit, Inman believes that a retro sensibility helps encourage creativity through constraints. "The limited palette, the limited sound channels. You can do more with less."
Retro Game Crunch differentiates itself from the glut of gaming Kickstarters out there by promising to get games in the hands of users very early. At the end of each month backers will have something new to play, and a copy of Super Clew Land will be made available to anyone who donates $25 or more once the campaign wraps up. That's a far cry from many of the bigger Kickstarter projects that will likely be in development for at least a few years. And the feedback loop inherent in the process also gives players a say in the final product. According to Inman, this focus on audience participation is one of the more important aspects of the project, especially considering the medium.
"A game without players is just code, artwork, and music sitting on a hard drive," he says. "Games are about the player. Even when used as a purely expressive medium, if the player doesn't enjoy or understand your game you've failed as a designer. Getting feedback early and often reveals problems that might be lurking in our blind spots and results in a stronger game that's more enjoyable for the player."
"A game without players is just code, artwork, and music sitting on a hard drive."
So far the campaign is going well, and in the first week the team managed to raise around a third of its $60,000 goal, though the momentum appears to have stalled somewhat since that initial surge. The funds will be used so that the three developers can work full time on Retro Game Crunch over the six month period. But the team isn't really thinking about what will happen should the Kickstarter not reach its goal. "We're working under the assumption that this is going to work out," says Inman. "We have high hopes others are interested in what we're trying to achieve with the project: making a bunch of games, over a short period of time, with audience participation." And if the funding doesn't materialize, neither will the games.
"If the Kickstarter doesn't get funded the games don't get made."