A new Kickstarter from game company Pieces of Fun aims to create a spiritual successor to the Commander Keen series and give players a chance to build their own games.
The Worlds of Wander Kickstarter is something of a double-pack. Backers get the spiritual successor to early '90s side-scroller series Commander Keen, Secret Spaceship Club, but they also gain the ability to build their own games. Worlds of Wander is a platform game creation tool that allows users to create and share new levels, worlds and more. To help in the process, however, Secret Spaceship Club will come preloaded into the program. The editor is built in, and users can begin in easy mode to tinker with already created levels.
The project is led by Tom Hall, best known for his work on titles such as Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, and Commander Keen. The game starred 8-year-old Billy Blaze, who under the identity of Commander Keen embarked on space adventures. "It was strangely dear to my heart, because Commander Keen was basically me," Hall said in the Kickstarter's launch video. "I was that character."
"Now I think anyone can make a game and share it."
Hall grew up on Chuck Jones' Warner Bros. cartoons, which gave him a taste for smart-aleck, underdog characters and goofy universes. A love for Star Wars and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy weren't far behind. Under their combined influence, Hall sought to create characters with alter egos in the quirky, sci-fi universe Commander Keen established.
"I really wanted to get back to that game and that kind of fun, so I thought I'd make up another set of characters, another set of places to be in this new universe that I'm slowly defining," Hall told Polygon.
Even more so, Hall wanted players to be able to create their own levels and games. "I thought, wouldn't it be fun to empower everyone to really easily make a game?" Hall said. "Make something as simple as sharing MP3s, or simple as sharing digital pictures. Those media are sort of ubiquitous, and anyone can make a song and share it. Make a picture and share it. Now I think anyone can make a game and share it."
Game and level creators will be able to share their creations through an app built into the system. The game creation tool comes pre-loaded with Secret Spaceship Club, but users will be able to enter a "game buffet" inside the app and browse through other creations. Like Netflix or Amazon, anyone can rate content. "The best content will float to the top," Hall said.
Turning to Kickstarter is empowering and amazing when people and projects come together, but it's a terrifying thing to do, Hall said. It's sort of like "jumping into a crowd shouting ‘Please catch me!'" But The Worlds of Wander Kickstarter isn't his first go.
"It was a novel try, and we learned from it."
Along with designer Brenda Brathwaite and Loot Drop Studio, Hall launched the ill-fated Shaker: An Old-School RPG Kickstarter in October 2012. The project was canceled before it reached a quarter of its million-dollar goal. According to Hall, "rookie mistakes" were made.
"We wanted to work with the community to determine what the favorite RPG-style was," Hall said. "But I think people would just rather see something, "I like it, I'll back it," rather than going into the trenches with us. It was a novel try, and we learned from it."
Hall looks forward to the return of his strange, Commander Keen universe, but his favorite part remains the level editor itself.
"I think there needs to be something that is just so fun to use ... that you don't have to worry about the little details," Hall said. "And even if you do worry about it [and] really change how things work, it's still easy and a joy to use. A lot of things on the iPad are fun just because they're fun to interact with. I'd really like to do that for a game creation tool so people can make platform games and have as much fun making them as playing them."
The Worlds of Wander plus Secret Spaceship Club Game Kickstarter begins today. The project aims to raise $400,000. If funded, the game and platform creator will be available on Windows, Mac, Linux and iOS.