Christian Allen has a video game Kickstarter, too. And he hopes he isn't doing it wrong. Tim Schafer did it right. That guy just raised a few million for an old-school adventure game on Kickstarter. But Christian Allen knows he is no Tim Schafer, no big-name game developer with legions of fans who love him.
Brian Fargo has made half a million dollars in a day, but Brian Fargo is talking about bringing back a classic called Wasteland and making a sequel to it. Christian Allen isn't doing that either.
But he's not some lotto winner who has never made a game before. He's the real deal. And the game he wants to make -- the game he hopes you'll kick in some money for -- is the real deal.
Allen wants to make a shooter. An old-school tactical shooter (first person or third) like he used to develop at Red Storm. A game like the old Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon. (Here's his Kickstarter entry for it: Crowdsourced Hardcore Tactical Shooter.)
This is what it would feel like to play his game, as he described it to me in San Francisco last week:
"The biggest thing is tension. You've been given a scenario. It's non-linear. You've made decisions on where to go, where to place your guys, getting ready to go in. You don't know what's in there. A real [hostage rescue] team doesn't always know where everything is. There's only a few enemies, but you don't know where they are. If they get the drop on you, they're going to kill you. There is an element of reflex to it, but a lot of it is just proper planning and observation and figuring out your situation. But even if you do everything right, it doesn't mean you are going to succeed. "
And what happened when he pitched his tactical shooter to publishers? Mind you, he was one of the top designers on Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and Halo Reach.
The pitch hasn't gone so well. "It's like pitching a flight sim," Allen says. And the publishers rattle off the excuses: "'It's a super-vocal audience.' 'They don't buy a lot of games.' 'They buy one game a year.' 'Console gamers are too impatient; they won't play this kind of game.' Console gamers literally are too dumb to play this kind of game.'"
Wait… did you catch that one?
"'Console gamers literally are too dumb to play this kind of game.'"
Really, Allen said. "I won't say which publisher, but, yes, literally, 'console gamers are not as smart as PC gamers'. The logic is that, well PC gamers can install drivers and video cards. Console gamers are just 15-year-olds who sit in front of their couch and press a button."
Allen had been a game designer at Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment. That ended in November. He had a second child right around that time.
Trying to figure out what to do next, he decided to take a risk, spend his saving, test his wife's patience and try to make this kind of game. He started thinking about Kickstarter, started talking to friends from Bungie, Microsoft, Monolith and Red Storm, all of whom agreed to work on this game. He rented a studio to shoot a video for his Kickstarter, which is when his wife called him, and said, "'Double Fine just raised $US600,000, like in a day.' I was like, 'holy shit!'"
All gaming Kickstarters don't get great funding right away, though, and so here Allen is, with a Kickstarter that's not quite bursting with money and just might prove those publishers who rejected Allen right.
He's at $US33,000 now from nearly 800 backers, many of them old-school fans of games like Rainbow Six and SWAT 4. His goal is $US200,000. A week ago, he was at $US20,000. (Which was about the amount of money Tim Schafer made during my interview with him last month.)
"I never thought I was Tim Schafer," Allen says, laughing. "He's got way more fans than I do. I've got like five, and then my mum."
But he might be more like Schafer than he realised. Schafer went to Kickstarter because he didn't think publishers would help him revive the old-school adventure game. Allen is trying to revive a throwback genre, too.
He does like modern shooters. It's just not what he wants to make. "They've all gone cinematic, with regenerating health, and that's cool. But that feeling that you're going down a corridor, you've made all these careful plans and you've got to pull it off just right [isn't there]." He doesn't see much out there that offers that experience. ArmA, maybe? But its battlefields are too large-scale compared to what he wants to make.
"Gamers have Call of Duty. They have UnchartedM/em>. And those games do the cinematic experience extremely well. So my theory is that there is this need and this campaign is going to bear it out."
During our brief interview, Allen checked his Kickstarter funding. "Oh, we just made another $US100," he remarked. "Cool."
He's not going to get there with so few drops in the bucket like that. There are 18 days to go on Christian Allen's Kickstarter. He just needs to hit 200K to make an Alpha, to convince publishers that people want this. He's release the Alpha when he hits the mark. If his Kickstarter fails, he'll be fine. He'll go work for a big game company. He can wait it out. His wife makes Microsoft "big-shot" money, for goodness' sake.
"Shooter fans are cynical," Allen told me today. "They feel that they have been burned by games publishers promising things like "tactical" and "hardcore" before, and then been delivered games that didn't meet their standards, and they are wary of the same thing here."
He wants them to believe. He's serious. Hell, he's leading on PC with consoles to follow. He's not making a simplified shooter. And he's assembling a strong, veteran team.
But if he doesn't make that funding, he'll know what that might mean: maybe it was him; maybe he needed to be Tim Schafer; or maybe the kind of shooter he wants to make -- hardcore, tactical, every-shot-counts -- just doesn't do it for gamers anymore.
Christian Allen's Kickstarter ends on April 1. What's it going to be?