Failing on Kickstarter helped Race the Sun find its soul, and improve its design
Race the Sun began life as a game released on Kongregate, where it earned over 300,000 players. The two-man team who created the game - including Aaron San Filippo, who worked in the AAA space for seven years on games such as Singularity and Modern Warfare 3 - made the decision to take the game to Kickstarter to raise the funds for a larger, more robust release. The Kickstarter, thus far, has been a dismal failure. According to San Filippo, this was the best thing that could have happened to the game.
Objects as game play
I had played a demo of the original game, and the simple but striking visuals and sense of speed were both impressive, but I found myself growing restless after only a few minutes. It felt like it was more of an aesthetic than an actual game; there was little there to keep your attention over the long term. Once the Kickstarter failed to take off, the team went to Reddit to look for feedback, and they were told very similar things. The game simply wasn’t there yet. Here's an early trailer to get a sense for the game:“We had to admit to ourselves that the initial Kickstarter reaction was probably a decent reflection of what consumer reaction would be, if we were to make it to a portal like Steam or put the game out on iOS in the form it was in,” San Filipo told the Report. “It helped us be really objective about what was working and what wasn't - and that's often a really hard thing to find when you've been staring at a game for so long as a developer.” The problem was that neither men were graphic designers, and they were making each object in the game by hand. But what did that get them? A cube did the same thing as a house, so why spend time and effort making a house? Besides, you could stack cubes up and make a pillar. A row of cubes could become a wall. A cube that moved up and down was a crusher. Pillars that fell over became obstacles. “We realized we were onto something here with the game and the tools, but we were going about it all wrong,” he wrote on a blog post. They went back to their content creation tools and made it easier to use and animate simple objects. They rebuilt the core game in two weeks' time, and the new video of the game play is a revelation.“The idea behind the 'simplex world creator' is that everything is built out of very simple elements, that are combined into more complex shapes. A cube stretched out can become a propeller, and a propeller attached to some other shapes can become a helicopter,” he explained. “Then the objects themselves are strategically placed in 64x64 grids, and these grids are arranged randomly by the game. There are more patterns in the world than will be seen on any given day, so the idea is that every day it'll feel sometimes drastically different than the day before.” While the old version of the game felt static and a little inert, the new version comes to life. Watch the video, and notice how in one scene it looks like the world itself is attacking you, and the player must fly between two massive structures. That effect was created with two massive cubes. Not only is the game now easier to design, but it feels like a living world, filled with interesting obstacles. It's almost reminiscent of Super Monkey Ball, but mixed with an endless runner. The game now has flavor, and more action. It's a marked improvement. The tools also allowed the two-man team to add content very quickly, and players will be able to do the same thing once the game is live.
The game looks much better, and the two men of FlippFly are re-invested and enthusiastic about the new direction. That doesn't help the fact that the Kickstarter situation continues to look dire. “Our plan if the Kickstarter fails is to push hard on the game's core features, and get it out to as many marketplaces as we can,” San Filipo said. “We'll likely scale back the plans for the game's backend features like the 'user world portals' and try to implement these features post release if we can support ourselves with the sales.” The original plan was to include portals that teleported you to areas designed and uploaded by fans, but with their money running out and six months of work in the project, that sort of thing may have to wait. Still, the two men are upbeat about finding a new direction for the game, and learning from the experience. The game has become something that looks and sounds fascinating, and the sky's the limit when it comes to user-created content. No matter what happens with the Kickstarter, it's clear they're on the right track. Still, they have five days to raise $16,000. Stranger things have happened.