Former core members of Outcast developer Appeal launched a Kickstarter campaign this week to raise $600,000 for the development of the HD reboot of 1999's Windows PC adventure game Outcast, deliberately shunning the avenue of partnering with a publisher.
Yann Robert, Franck Sauer and Yves Grolet established Fresh3D Inc. last year following their announcement that they bought the Outcast IP from Atari with intentions to revive the franchise.
Sauer explained to Polygon that the team considered a Kickstarter campaign when they purchased the Outcast IP last year, but thought it would be interesting to show it to publishers and gauge their interest.
"I'll be honest and say that some were downright not interested in the project," Sauer said. "Because either it was not falling into any of the games genre they are usually targeting or their internal policies were such they were not inclined to signing with independent third-party developers. Fair enough.
It's about staying in control of the creative process and IP ownership so we can later invest in our next game and not give away money to some suit.
"Then we met with those who appear to be interested. You might think that since they are established publishers they would have a professional attitude and share a common vision of how to handle such a project, but the answer is simply they don't," he explained. "What we got from some was a mixed bag of ridiculous answers, ranging from ‘this is a European project it will fail in the US' to ‘OK we'll do this, we take all IP and we pay you at minimum wages but it needs to be on x platforms and be ready tomorrow'. I mean, some of the publishers we met were just a bad joke, really. Having been working in the industry for over 26 years I'm used to it, but I'm still amazed."
There were serious contenders, according to Sauer, but the decision to set up a deal was based on management's personal nostalgia of the original games, which was a source of concern for him.
"But let me tell you this, there were absolutely no formal market analysis to back their decision, it all comes down to individuals," he said. "I mean, is this serious? Then what happens if they change management during production? What happens if the marketing guy doesn't have a clue on how to promote your product, or worse doesn't give a s*** [sic] because it he's planning to change job in the middle of the launch.
"I know internal launch meetings and the like are supposed to help, but where is the developer control over that? Nowhere," he continued. "You do your homework and then just pray for them to handle your product right. You might say it's in their own interest to sell the game? As curious as it sounds, that's not always the case, because large organizations rely a lot on internal politics and sometimes (I've seen that, believe me) someone with internal power would softly kill a project because it serves his own interest best."
Fresh3D narrowed it down to one top-tier publisher where the deal required old and new generation hardware support, but while the budget was adequate, the timing wasn't. Ultimately the developer didn't proceed with the deal because of the royalties conditions.
"There was no way we would do any serious money from the sales of the game afterward. Without going too much into details," Sauer said, "Let's say large publishers are fully in control of the money flow within their multiple-companies organization (distributor, publisher, producer...) and they can easily redirect any money so that you pretty much get a small percentage of a small percentage of a small percentage."
As the developers knew Outcast better than anyone, the team cemented their decision to handle the process themselves. Fresh 3D Inc will self-publish and sell the digital release across online distribution platforms and will use a large distributor to ship the physical release if required.
"In the end, going with Kickstarter to fund the game and making money when selling the game afterward is not about buying sports cars or whatnot," he said. "It's about staying in control of the creative process and IP ownership so we can later invest in our next game and not give away money to some suit. It's a win/win contract between the developer and the gaming community."
Under the Kickstarter campaign, the game's initial target platform is the Windows PC, with new-gen platforms development listed as stretch goals. Microsoft's self-publishing parity clause for independent developers, which requires developers to launch games the same day on Xbox One as other platforms, has not influenced reboot's platforms.
"I think this is subject to changes in the coming month," he explained. "Xbox One is not in a very favorable position right now, so they have some pressure from both their main competitor, the PS4, and the independent scene. I think they might change their policy in the future. Regarding our project, this is a bit early to say, but if our consoles stretch goal is met we are planning simultaneous releases on both platforms anyways so it shouldn't be a problem for us."
Creating a unique visual style that's kind of a rendition of the typical brain-enhanced memories you have when thinking about an old game.
The game's visual assets, such as characters and environments will be redeveloped using modern sculpting and texturing tools, or "at least greatly enhanced." Player controls, pacing, animation and camera controls will be developed from scratch. Quests information will be streamlined along with an overhaul of UI and navigation interfaces. Pending stretch goals, additional content will be created such as a new map, that "will be entirely free from any of the previous geometry constraints, and will be substantially larger."
"The shapes of the worlds will be greatly enhanced too as we don't have the same voxels convexity constraint anymore," Sauer said. "However we will need to preserve most of the ground terrain features to maintain some of the data for enemies covers and the like. What we keep is the story, the dialogs and the music."
Learning from the original title's development, the team have identified that a better management of the information "provided to the player is needed in the reboot. According to Sauer, "more is not always better" and the interface will be redesigned to remove noise from the vital information.
From a technical point of view, according to Sauer, the developers learned that going "against the current technology trends is a very, very difficult path" can result in a marketing disaster.
"The voxel we used were cool from a visual design point of view, but as everyone was looking for games that supported 3D acceleration cards it was difficult to sell a software-only game," he explained. "So what we will do now, is to use well-known technologies but at the same time keep the unique visual feeling that made Outcast so special.
"What we're trying to achieve is creating a unique visual style that's kind of a rendition of the typical brain-enhanced memories you have when thinking about an old game," Sauer said. "That's really our goal, we want the fans to feel home when they play the game, yet experience something new, modern and fresh, and we want the new player to discover the richness of the Outcast universe and enjoy it with the highest production standards."