Anarchy’s Tim Whitehurst and Alex Jamieson stopped by to talk about their adventure Devil’s Cove and staying indie. Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin reports
Over the past year there has been an explosion in the number of video game projects on Kickstarter. The most known projects come from the likes of Double Fine, Brian Fargo and Obsidian as Kickstarter has enabled independent developers to go directly to the public to get the funding they need. The crowd-funding site has now become a hive of activity for indie developers, all showcasing different games. Yet for every high-profile project we hear about, there are dozens of deserving others that don’t get the same attention.
One such studio is Anarchy Enterprises, which launched its Kickstarter appeal for Devil’s Cove – a point-and-click adventure game for the PC, Mac, Android and iOS devices – last month, setting a goal of $185,000. Anarchy is an indie studio that has developed more than 25 games since being founded in 2000, including several Tycoon games – such as Coffee Tycoon, Deep Sea Tycoon and Moon Tycoon – and more recently has developed adventure games such as Redrum, Hide and Secret, and Ghost Encounters. Devil’s Cove, however, is the studio’s first attempt at using crowdsourcing methods to fund a project.
The game takes place in a cursed harbor town, where an unknown evil is running rampant. The villagers thought it might be a plague, so they called in the expert who specializes in these kinds of things – the notorious Plague Doctor. But soon the town discovers the plague may be the least of their concerns, and they may have inadvertently let the devil in through the back door.
I recently got the chance to speak with Anarchy developers Tim Whitehurst and Alex Jamieson about Devil’s Cove, as well as their history as an indie developer. I began by asking them how much of a challenge it’s been for the studio to remain independent throughout the years.
Anarchy: “We think any indie developer will tell you it’s always a challenge to stay independent and make the games you want to make. We have been fortunate enough to continue to do what we love, even as the genres change. We basically just love to play and make games, so no matter what we end up doing, we are always having a good time. Perhaps the biggest challenge we’ve encountered is finding a way to make some new game ideas that don’t fit into any genre, or even to make some nostalgic-genre games that publishers may not be interested in anymore. But recent games like Double Fine [Adventure] and Broken Sword 5 on Kickstarter proved that there are fans of old-school point-and-click adventures out there, and that’s a type of game we’ve always wanted to make. With little interest in that genre from publishers, Kickstarter might be the best bet to make those kinds of games again.”
With the advent of downloadable, on-the-go games as well as the rise of crowd-sourcing, PCs and mobile devices are easier and easier for developers to work with. It seems as though, however, the consoles are still inaccessible for a lot of indie developers. I wondered if Anarchy thought there were too many constraints to console development for indies.
A: “We’d love to release our games on the consoles, but there are different barriers to entry for indie developers. We’re creating Devil’s Cove in Unity3D, so in theory it’s possible for us to easily create console versions, but maybe not so easy to be able to sell them. Our plan is to develop and release Devil’s Cove concurrently for PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. If the game is successful enough, we hope it should then open doors to the console world. Speaking of consoles, we are very excited by Ouya – it has the potential to be really huge, especially for indie developers like us. Since we are developing in Unity3D and will already be publishing to Android, we feel confident that a Ouya version will be coming in the near future.”
One of the most notable things about Devil’s Cove is its art style. From the brooding atmosphere of the harbor town, to the menacing Plague Doctor – Devil’s Cove has a striking aesthetic. Anarchy elaborated on what inspired their looks, as well how they implemented lighting and color into the game.
A: “For this game, we were originally interested in the visual look of the French film The City of Lost Children, which helped to inspire the dark feeling of the town of Devil’s Cove. Other films with imagery that compelled us include Pan’s Labyrinth and 12 Monkeys. Probably what happens is we’ve absorbed the look and feel of countless other games and movies we like to play or watch over and over again, and then what comes out of us is some kind of synthesis. Over time, the graphic look of this game has gotten tighter and tighter since we obsessively scrutinize each scene – the color themes, which areas to have the most contrast, etc. We end up working and reworking the art, and sometimes also swap color themes to create some variety as we go along. The lighting in the game begins at twilight when you’re in the first section of the harbor town, but then we get darker and darker as you explore the depths of the game. With each darkening night, a new scream heralds a new death. And when it’s light again, the ghastly scenes are revealed in more vivid color…”
For a lot of indie developers, one of the biggest challenges on Kickstarter is to get noticed in the first place. Anarchy is more than up for it though.
A: “Launching on Kickstarter might not be for the faint at heart. The challenges are many, but the rewards can be great. For Anarchy the greatest benefit is building a direct dialogue with the game players. Often game development is a process between a developer and a publisher – that can have benefits, but what if the player gets left out of the process? There are pros and cons to everything, but having the players involved has been an amazing experience for us so far.
“Competing for a player’s attention is definitely a challenge. There are so many developers with really exciting projects and players have a ton of stuff to choose from. We are game players, too, so it has been exciting for us as well. We’ve backed a number of projects ourselves and are eagerly awaiting the final games like everyone else. We have exciting big name projects like Double Fine Adventure and a new Broken Sword, but also smaller indie projects like Chris Taylor’s Arakion (the other, other Chris Taylor) and 10×10′s Conclave.”
A few weeks ago, controversy arose when Obsidian chief executive Feargus Urquhart stated that he had been approached by a publisher, who asked the team to fund Project Eternity through Kickstarter and they would then publish it. It raised the question of what purpose Kickstarter served – should it only be used for the indie spirit? I put this question to Anarchy, and asked what Kickstarter meant for them.
A: “Well, Kickstarter is open for the players to choose to fund what they want. So when it really comes down to it, it should be up to the players. That being said, we think it is important that there should be some transparency to who is going to make the project. If publishers try to be part of Kickstarter, we would hope they are upfront about it and not hide behind a developer. But who knows what’s going to happen? Just look at Project Eternity – those guys are sending a deafening wake-up call to traditional distribution, and publishers are going to adapt in order to survive also.
“What does Kickstarter mean to Anarchy? It could be the future of game development for small studios like ours. If it helps take the funding burden off publishers, that could be good for everyone. Kickstarter creates new opportunities for indie developers to make the games the players want, while allowing the players to be part of the development process. It’s evolving every day and we are very excited about the possibilities – we can’t wait to see where it takes indie development, and all other forms of creativity!”
There are a plethora of reasons why developers turn to Kickstarter. Sometimes it’s to fund an entire project, other times it’s merely to raise more money to finish assets, other times it’s merely to try to raise funding to market it. I asked Anarchy what they planned to use their Kickstarter funding for.
A: “We’ve been working on the beta, but it’s by no means complete. Rather, it’s deep in the oven and there is still lots of work to go. Our typical process is to polish off the first hour of gameplay to really immerse the player into the story, make sure the characters are really engaging, and to get the gameplay really tight. That’s when we do our first beta test. From what we learn there, we have the opportunity to make changes and adjust our plans for the remaining parts of the game. So we still have tons of artwork to do, lots of voice acting to be recorded, music, effects, etc. We are creating a much larger world with this game, and it’s going to require a lot more hands-on.
“If we reach our funding, it will first help us recoup a lot of expenses for money we already spent. We already broke the piggy-bank to license an extremely powerful (but expensive!) custom toolset inside of Unity3D, which is perfectly suited to accomplish all the fantastic things we want to achieve in Devil’s Cove – even across the multiple desktop platforms (Mac/PC/Linux) and so many mobile and tablet devices (iOS and Android). Beyond helping to pay our debts, this funding would allow us to bring on more people to expand the gameworld, and add much more depth to the gameplay. More puzzles, more challenges, more story, more fun!”