Castle Story's success: more than $600K on Kickstarter and counting
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GameZone: You’ve been working on the game since you’ve graduated from your game design studies two years ago. What was the game like in its very early stages compared to now? How has the game evolved?
Sauropod Studio: The initial prototype we built took place on a 50x50 plate of grass blocks floating in emptiness. From that, the idea of flying islands emerged, and at that time, the idea of having characters build your castles was very uncertain. It took several more months to build the pathfinding systems that allowed characters to exist.
We did not work on smooth terrain until a year later, when Minecraft exploded in popularity. We thought that it would help differentiate us and also kept the gameplay much more fluid because characters didn’t have to climb steps all the time.
GZ: What does Castle Story have that’s missing from a lot of other games?
SS: A mix between creativity and gameplay rules. Modern games usually try to limit freedom as much as possible since it can interfere with story and progression. In our case, our design is based around giving as much creative freedom as possible to our players (ie., building structures block by block instead of placing pre-fabricated structures). In return, we’re creating a universe that’s much more emergent to compensate for that. Players are encouraged to bend the rules, and and hopefully the world will react in an interesting manner.
GZ: How will this funding help you most? Basically, what are your top needs funding-wise?
SS: Two things: people and space. We’ve been working on our own in a cramped little bedroom for almost two years, on computers that are less than adequate. Renting a workspace that is perfect for our needs will ensure that we’re as efficient as possible. Secondly, we can hire people to help us with parts of game development in which we have no experience. Multiplayer programming, website design, user account management, etc ... [those] are all things that we will now need, given the number of players that signed up.
Our community manager and webmaster has been working for us free of charge since last fall, so I think we owe him some sort of compensation. We plan on hiring him full time in the near future as well as a music/SFX/audio guy who we’ve been talking to. It’s all very exciting, and we can’t wait to work with them.
However, I’d like to make sure that we don’t grow too much. We feel that the reason our game is so appealing is that it’s been imagined by a couple of friends, so staying small ensure that we keep the level of quality we have at the moment.
GZ: You mentioned that iPad and Ouya, platforms like that, won’t be supported “until further notice.” Is it strange talking about Ouya — a system that hasn’t even launched yet and is coming from a new contender — on the same level as you would iPad? What are your thoughts Ouya’s success?
SS: We’ve received a lot of comments regarding the Ouya. We feel there’s a general misunderstanding regarding the scope of the Ouya platform, so that’s why we had to address it. The Ouya is bascially an Android tablet with an HDMI port instead of a screen (hence the comparison with the iPad), which means that it’s not very powerful — and certainly not powerful enough to run the current build of our game, which is meant for a desktop computer. Regardless, we are not considering consoles at the moment because the game is heavily dependent on keyboard/mouse combo, like any RTS.
GZ: What has the biggest challenge been making this game, and what do you consider your biggest accomplishment (not counting getting funded)?
SS: The biggest challenge is definitely a technical one. Building such a large, detailed universe that’s completely dynamic is a huge undertaking. One of our team members put his PhD in computer science on hold to work with us, and his abilities are being tested every day.
Staying true to our original idea is definitely our biggest accomplishment. Two years of development is a long time, and I think our past selves would agree with the direction we went in. We’ve been working really hard to keep a laser focus on the features we want to implement, and although we’re a bit guilty of allowing feature creep, I think our design has matured significantly without straying too far from the initial idea.
GZ: Is running a campaign on Kickstarter like you imagined it would be?
SS: Not really. It’s much more demanding than we anticipated. We might not be the best example because the Castle Story Kickstarter is so big. The truth is, we’re spending most of our days maintaining the community, answering questions, and talking to artists, programmers, lawyers, and other people we’d like to hire for help.
I think the Banner Saga guys said it pretty well: "For the duration of your Kickstarter, your job is Kickstarter, not game development." I feel this is necessary in order to run a successful campaign.
GZ: What are your favorite games? They don’t necessarily have to be ones that inspired you -- just ones you absolutely love.
SS: Germain is a big fan of indie games Super Meat Boy, Dear Esther, and Limbo, but he’s also a big fan of shooters and currently plays Tribes: Ascend. His favorite game is [the first] Halo.
François’ all-time favorite game is Final Fantasy Tactics. He currently plays a lot of Civilization V and some Skyrim or Minecraft.
Benoît is a diehard Starcraft 1 player, and although he doesn’t play games as much as he used to, he still holds the world-record single-segment Final Fantasy 1 speedrun on the NES.
GZ: What advice would you give other game makers who are looking into starting their own Kickstarter?
SS: Create something first so you can show it. In our mind, there are two kinds of successful Kickstarters: ones by people with credibility and ones with a credible concept. Tim Schafer got $3 million without having anything to show because people know he makes good games; he’s a game designer with a proven record. We don’t have any credibility because Castle Story is our first game. So instead, we worked on our game before and as a result have something to show to the public that has potential.
It’s hard to take the risk and to work on something before knowing if it’s going to be successful or not, but imagine getting money for something and realizing later that it doesn’t work. That would be infinitely worse.
GZ: Is this the start of a game-making future for you and the studio?
SS: Absolutely! None of us imagine ourselves working in large AAA studios, and we have lots of ideas for future games. So if Castle Story allows us to fund our next game, we’ll be really happy. Making a living out of creating games has been a dream for us since childhood, so we won’t be missing that chance, that’s for certain.
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