Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! Today I am joined by Josef Shindler VP of Joe Got Game to talk about their new Kickstarter Shackleton Crater. Thank you for joining us today Josef.
JS: I’m very happy to be here James! I’m really excited to share my project with you today.
As a current NASA employee and a full supporter of the Liftport group’s endeavour to create a Lunar Space Elevator I am extremely interested by your premise for Shackleton Crater. Would you explain your concept a bit for us?
JS: Shackleton Crater was born out of a couple of elements. The project evolved from pressure that Joe Ybarra’s friends were putting on him to remake M.U.L.E., a game he produced with Dan Bunten and Ozark Software back in the early 80’s. During a lunch brainstorming session he and I hit on the idea that if you were going to extend M.U.L.E, you’d extend it into a colony building game. Some research into colonization efforts around the globe revealed Shackleton Crater as a potentially interesting site on the Moon. When we took all these elements together we saw that we had a concept for a lunar colonization strategy game that could be rooted in hard science while still being incredibly fun.
Shackleton Crater is billed as a “fast paced turn based strategy game” isn’t that contradictory?
JS: Not at all. We are designing a turn in Shackleton Crater to take a few minutes. This allows the rhythm of the game to move quickly while still allowing you to take breaths when you need them.
The game is described as being four stages, are these four separate styles of gameplay like in SPORE or do they just flow together?
JS: The stages are incremental, but they do flow together. The focus of each stage is actually the strategic objective as opposed to the rule set. We did this deliberately to model the direction a real colony would take - they would focus on survival, production, expansion, and finally construction of scientific wonders. You will slide back and forth across the stage boundaries as you undertake each project - a good example of this is when you branch out from Shackleton Crater to build communication dishes on the far side of the moon. You are essentially building a new colony, but all your other work is going on at the same time.
How difficult is the game going to be? Are we talking a hard core simulation here or is it a more laid back kind of game? Will there be management AI’s like in 4X games and management games?
JS: We are constructing the game stages so that the difficulty of the game can be controlled not only by the player (via options), but the game itself. We won’t drop a meteor on your only colony, for example, but we will drop meteors on things you want to keep intact.
How much micromanagement can I do? Will I be able to adjust air mixtures in my structures for instance?
JS: We actually want to avoid super-tactical details like that. That’s a very difficult (a known solution in this case) problem for a lot of people. What we do instead is abstract it one level and allow you to choose what kind of modules and equipment you’re using - you don’t get to adjust air mixtures, but you can choose the filtration system you’re using.
Speaking of modules and such what kinds of technologies should we expect to see represented? Hydroponic labs? Hydrogen/Oxygen extraction facilities?
JS: We want to run the gamut of technologies. You can see a set of the modules we've currently developed here. We want to have all kinds of tech out on the field of Shackleton Crater - one of the mid-game developments we want to add are high-powered solar furnaces that can create carbon nanotubes. We are also incorporating the idea of 3D printers for materials construction. Our objective with our technologies is to not only represent existing science, but to project forward towards what we want the science to do.
Where are you getting the information about “contemporary science and engineering” that is being simulated/modeled in the game? Do you have any current/former NASA/aerospace people on the team?
JS: The vast majority of our research is scraped from the internet. We access publicly available resources and double check our sources. We even keep a bibliography (available here) of things we’ve looked at. We also have spoke with people from Washington University regarding the LOLA data set we’re using for our terrain. Our current team doesn’t include anyone with aerospace experience unfortunately.
Have you spoken to a scientific consulting group like Thwacke?
JS: We haven't, but thanks for the link! We'll definitely look into it. Shackleton Crater is the kind of project that begs for cooperation - the more people we get involved, invested, and interested in what we're doing the better the game becomes.
I have to ask, have you looked into adding a Lunar Space Elevator to the game?
JS: Absolutely. The final goal of Shackleon Crater is to construct scientific wonders such as space elevators, mass drivers, deep space communication relays, mass habitation, and more. Each major wonder you construct scores you a victory point, and in multiplayer the player with the most victory points at the end of the game is the big winner!
You show how you’re using real life altimeter data to model the terrain yet completely random events and terrains are mentioned in the campaign. Which is the “prefered” style? Are the random terrains easier to generate?
JS: From a scientific perspective we absolutely want as much accuracy as possible. However, even the LOLA data set is only accurate to a distance of 5 meters. You can see the resulting extrapolation in the image above. This in and of itself creates randomness, plus we can seed the surface with micrometeorites and other really interesting finds to keep the game fresh.
A personal gripe/interest I have in anything about space is communications. As someone who regularly deals with the reality of communicating with things in space I was wondering if there will be any “communications with Earth” as part of the game? Dealing with line of sight communications with those on the dark side of the moon as well as the RTLT (round trip light time) delays inherent with deep space communications are just two issues that spring to mind.
JS: Yep! In fact, communications with Earth is a critical component of the early game when you’re starting with imported modules. You will have a sponsor (a nation with a space program) who will ask you to complete various objectives in exchange for needed resources until you are self sufficient. Once you are self-sufficient, you can continue to complete objectives in exchange for valuable technology from Earth... or you can ignore your sponsor and try to make your own lunar nation! That’s another of our wonders, by the way - establishing a new nation.
One of the selling points I’ve seen for this game is that Joe Ybarra is part of this project. How big a part of the game’s development is he?
JS: Joe is a huge part of the development process. His work in the industry, especially in the 80’s, was seminal. So not only does he already know how to build this game, his insight helps prevent us from making big mistakes in the design. He’s also hugely into this game; he grew up watching the space program. His vision for this project is essential.
How did you discover Kickstarter?
JS: We first discovered Kickstarter when Double Fine launched their hugely successful campaign, followed by inXile and then Obsidian Entertainment. We immediately saw possibilities with the service, but circumstances have prevented us from launching until recently.
A recent Gamasutra article points to the results of the latest GDC attendee survey shows some 44% of those surveyed are planning to try crowdfunding in the near future. Do you think crowdfunding in general and Kickstarter in particular is going to become more of the norm when it comes to game development?
JS: I think that crowdfunding is here to stay. It’s not necessarily going to be a norm though. Kickstarter is great for launching niche products as well as reviving old franchises, but it’s not appropriate for many kinds of endeavors. There’s also a whole slew of prohibited project types which automatically block out certain kinds of games. So you should totally expect to see more funded games over Kickstarter, but not to the exclusion of traditional processes.
A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer. How are you engaging your backers? What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on? Interviews? Videos? Stories from the project?
JS: We actively engage our backers over every channel we have. Comments, email, forums - we also have being doing a load of interviews like this one. We’ve got several updates planned going forward with new art, game documentation and also scientific discussion about how we’re approaching Shackleton Crater’s subject matter. We’re actually seeing conversion rates for the project that are higher than our expectations. I like being able to engage our backers.
What kind of media attention have you received with your project? How are you spreading the word? Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Youtube? Advertising? Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?
JS: We sure are! Our approach right now is very grass-roots. We’ve gotten more than a few comments that ask why someone like Joe Ybarra is doing a Kickstarter, and I’ll tell you. All of us at Joe Got Game, Joe included, want our gamers to be our first priority. We went to Kickstarter as soon as we thought we had a solid concept and looked for validation of our idea from gamers around the world. We got that, so now we are trying to reach out to as many people as possible.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
JS: Everything you ever learned in a marketing class still works, and using Kickstarter requires you to really know how to communicate with your audience. People want finished goods though, so you have to make sure you’ve got a solid product behind you before you launch.
Thank you for spending your time with us! Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
JS: I want to say that I’m really glad to have the opportunity to work on a project like Shackleton Crater. Not only is the game fun, but the subject matter is really compelling. It’s got the Moon, it’s got strategy, it’s got good science, and we’ve built a fantastic team that is great to work with.
I’d also like to say that even though we’re just pitching a concept at this point with basic prototyping I truly believe in our ability to deliver the final game. Joe Ybarra has shipped loads of games in his career and his ability to finish a project will guarantee we get Shackleton Crater to you on time.
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!