Towards the end of August, Stacy Davidson had a problem. A successful Kickstarter Campaign for his independent adventure game, Jack Houston and the Necronauts, had come to a close almost 20 days prior and some people weren’t paying up. The amount missing was $10,298, not an insignificant amount of money considering the original target of the campaign was $56,000. Jack Houston and the Necronauts was suddenly $2000 short of hitting that target but there was still an option…turn to the fans.
Within two days of opening up to direct funding, Jack Houston was back on track with confirmed support for PC, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux.
Jack Houston and the Necronauts is a point and click adventure game from Davidson’s Warbird Games, emulating the rough and gritty style of pulp sci-fi serials of the 40′s and 50′s. As the Kickstarter page explains, “Think The Dig, if Ben from Full Throttle gut-punched Boston Low and commanded the mission in his place.” With Davidson’s own experience working on previous games The Quest and Shadow of the Lost Citadel, as well as taking on a variety of roles as a film-maker for his Odyssee Pictures Studio, he now brings forward a ‘stop-motion’ interactive graphic adventure. It’s not just Stacy that’s onboard for this trip though. Also contributing to Warbird Games’ debut outing are concept artist Patrick Reilly, effects artist Mike Oliver and international award winning composer Iain Kelso.
Just before the Kickstarter fiasco arose we were presented with the opportunity to ask creator and lead designer Stacy Davidson some questions about the process of developing Jack Houston and searching for backing on Kickstarter.
OWNT: Jack Houston and the Necronauts is a crowd-funded point and click adventure game and as you pointed out in the Kickstarter video we’re going through something of a renaissance for the genre. Was the success of the Double Fine Adventure Game a big inspiration for how to market this title?
Stacy: Oh absolutely. I think even Tim Schafer was surprised by the runaway success of Double Fine Adventure, at least the degree of success. And then we had a sudden flood of designers from Sierra with new projects, in fact I believe the Cole’s of Quest for Glory fame will be on the way next. Seeing this huge surge of adventure game fans funding the next great wave of PnC games was just too tempting for someone like me, I had an adventure game design I had been kicking around for a while and [a] strong urge to do something both in the adventure genre and with a retro sci-fi edge, and I had to jump on it.
OWNT: Since Double Fine’s success there have been a lot of stories about developers misjudging their reward schemes or failing to factor in the slice that Kickstarter itself takes. For Jack Houston, Warbird Games is offering a lot of rewards, both physical (a Ray Gun!) and digital for higher reward tiers. Did it take a while to work out what would be acceptable to give back to pledgers?
Stacy: Absolutely, you really have to research all of this carefully. I spent about a month and a half examining Kickstarter and all the other game projects, and one of the things I took note of were successful tier structures and what sort of overall budgets seemed realistic and at what point the goals became just too pie in the sky. I noticed some old friends I worked with at Origin actually tried to get a game off the ground on Kickstarter and unfortunately they just way over shot on their goal and it didn’t succeed. I tried to learn from projects like that. I became a die-hard backer of SpaceVenture for a while, getting that one funded was a serious passion project of mine because the Space Quests were some of the first adventure games I ever played. I then created a comprehensive budget that took into account both Kickstarter fees and Amazon merchant fees, and planned out and budgeted all of the rewards. I also consulted an accountant for planning out my business structure and taxes, which I highly recommend for everyone.
OWNT: Judging from the concept art available at Kickstarter, this game has clearly been in the works for a while now. When did the idea of Jack Houston first form and when did the project first begin to see movement towards becoming an actual product?
Stacy: Almost three years ago now, but it has been on hold until recently because I really had no way to fund it until the recent Kickstarter boom.
OWNT: You’re aiming for a distinct serial space opera feel with Necronauts. Was that always a genre that you felt you wanted to revive?
Stacy: Absolutely. I’ve always loved serials like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Radar Men from the Moon, as well as early sci-fi movies and the artwork of 40′s and 50′s sci-fi artists.
OWNT: Being based on serial science fiction, what’s the chance that Jack Houston and the Necronauts is the first in a series of Jack Houston titles?
Stacy: Very high.
OWNT: Composer Iain Kelso’s original score for the game is sounding gorgeously bombastic already. What brought him to the project? The notion of working on a video-game, the genre or something else entirely?
Stacy: Actually I have known Iain for years. His latest score for the film Jacob, which I produced, shot and edited, won Best Score at the WorldFest International Film Festival earlier this year. We were actually having drinks at the festival when he mentioned that his inspiration for getting into score composition was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I said “Oh wow, you need to check out Jack Houston“, I showed him the image of Jack and he really lit up. We’ve both been really excited about getting started on it ever since.
OWNT: Stop-motion is a technique that has rarely, if it all, been utilized in games. Has it been challenging developing the stop-motion effect in the game environment?
Stacy: Not at all. I actually think it’s puzzling that it hasn’t been used much in the past. The industry seems to be stuck in using either cell animation, pixel art or 3D models. I just wanted to shake things up, I wanted to tackle new things that haven’t been done, and give people something really unique and interesting.
OWNT: Adventure games are well known for their ‘goofy’ sense of humour. Is Jack Houston going to follow in the footsteps of ‘Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century’ or will it be a more serious sci-fi tale?
Stacy: No duck dodgers here. Jack Houston will be unflinching in its treatment of sci-fi, never kitschy. What humor you will find will be dry and sarcastic, more like Full Throttle, Fate of Atlantis and of course The Dig.
OWNT: Jack Houston is the latest in a long string of crowd-funded games to publicly dismiss the notion of DRM. What was the thought process behind that decision on the Jack Houston team?
Stacy: I think DRM is most associated with casual games, “free to play” titles that offer you a bit of gameplay up front and then constantly tempt you into paying for upgrades that actually make the game fun to play. With adventure games, I think players expect to pay once and have the entire game available to them. The notion of paying to “unlock” content inside the game that they feel they have already paid for comes off as having to pay multiple times for the same game. I want people to know that when they get the game, they get the whole game. And everyone gets the SAME game.
OWNT: Finally, what sets Jack Houston and the Necronauts apart from other adventure games, and what’s the ETA on a release?
Stacy: Jack Houston will be like an interactive Ray Harryhausen movie with photo-realistic stop motion creatures and lush miniature environments, celebrating the golden age of sci-fi adventure. We’re currently looking to December 2013 for the release.