What do Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, Fallout 2, and the Realms of Arkania series have in common? They were worked on, or created by, a man named Guido Henkel. One of the grand masters of the CRPG genre, Henkel has been responsible for some of the greatest games in the history of the genre. After an absence from the CRPG scene, Henkel and his company G3 Studios have launched a Kickstarter campaign for Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore, a grand return to the golden age of CRPGs.
We recently caught up with Guido and asked him a few questions about his latest project.
First of all, thank you for answering our questions. For starters, can you tell us a few words about your project?
Deatfhire: Ruins of Nethermore is a single-player first-person role-playing game with turn-based combat. Instead of creating an open-world game where the player’s focus is on crossing huge distances, slaying everything in his path in an action-oriented hack and slash approach to grind for levels, we are creating a game that hearkens back to the Golden Days of computer role-playing. Our focus is on the creation of a setting and gameplay in which the player is at the center. A kind of game that is much more intimate and in many ways conjures up the dynamics of a classic tabletop game instead.
The story centers around the disappearance of people. All around, people are vanishing. Mothers, fathers, sister, brothers, sons and sisters… only to reappear a short while later. But they have changed. They are undead. Zombies with no mind of their own.
Rumor has it that an evil Nethermancer has unearthed an ancient spell that burns people’s souls into oblivion, kills them and then raises them from the dead as mindless servants. The name of the spell? Deathfire. Banished from lore and books for centuries, the Nethermancer seems intent to use this abominable magic to build himself an army of the undead.
But are those rumors, true, or is there a lot more to these events, something far more sinister?
Why did you decide to start a campaign on a crowd funding platform? Why Kickstarter?
I’ve been an independent developer and publisher for much of my 30-year career and I have always found that I produced the best results when I was able to be involved in most aspects of the business. Naturally, it has disadvantages, but considering the choke hold publishers have on developers and the exploitative nature of their business, the thought of going the traditional publishing route never occurred to me. I knew this was something we would do ourselves, and from the beginning the plan was to raise the necessary funds through Kickstarter.
As to why Kickstarter in particular? To me it is really the only viable crowd funding platform, especially in the budget range we are operating in. Kickstarter has the widest reach and the most active backers, so the decision is easily made.
What advantages or uniqueness are you bringing to the table?
We are trying to build a role-playing game that brings back traditional RPG values and core gameplay back to the genre. Over the past ten or fifteen years, RPGs have become watered down shadows of themselves. Gameplay has been cropped to a bare minimum in today’s games, in order to cater to a mainstream audience of gamers, many of which have never played a true role-playing game and are therefore not familiar with the depth and richness a good RPG can offer.
We made it our mission to bring back the glory of traditional computer role-playing games with all their features and the depth to match. We are creating a story and characters that revolve around the player and don’t just throw him in an open world sandbox without real narrative motivations or emotional investment. Keeping the player engaged and at the heart of the story is key to us, and then giving him the tools to properly react to the events and to interact with the game world, to create a fascinating and hopefully memorable gaming experience.
Is this your first Kickstarter project?
Around the same time last year I tried to fund Thorvalla, an isometric open world RPG, but we cancelled the campaign about two weeks into it. Nonetheless it was a great learning experience and made us much more aware of the expectations people would have, and the amount of work we would have to put into the campaign in order to create something that is compelling enough for people to entrust us with their hard-earned money.
What kind of rewards did you come up with? What would be your advice to others regarding the rewards?
We put together rewards packages that we felt were interesting, yet would not eat away too much of our funds. After all, a Kickstarter campaign is there to raise money to fund the development of the game and rewards are meant to serve as an incentive for backers to support the project. The rewards themselves should never be the “prize” themselves, however. When a reward costs more to produce and ship than you’re actually taking in, it is defeating its purpose. Therefore we created spreadsheets and very carefully priced out various items to see which arrangements would work best without eroding the actual funding too much.
Over the course of the campaign we added more rewards, adding tremendous value to the respective tiers, but we always kept an eye on the time it would require to prepare them and the cost involved. It is easy to get swept up in the moment and try to give backers everything you can, completely forgetting that you will eventually have to produce and deliver these goods. So a lot of care has to be taken when working on and reworking rewards.
Naturally, balancing and juggling them into place is the hardest part, and with so many tiers and individual items, it is very easy to lose track.
What would be your advice regarding creating a project on Kickstarter in general? How important was the video?
The most important thing is preparation, really. It is easy to underestimate the amount of time and work that needs to go into the preparations before the campaign actually launches, and that’s only the beginning. What follows are 30 days or so of intense work on a grueling schedule, as you continue to explain the project, create updates, answer questions, push for exposure, do interviews and such. The better one is prepared for all that, the easier and smoother the campaign will go.
The pitch video is exceedingly important. Many backers never read the text. They will watch the video and decide within the first two minutes whether they like it or not.
What did you do to promote your Kickstarter campaign?
We began by announcing the upcoming campaign on our official website, accompanied by a countdown. In addition, we made the information available to the public through the press. We have a media list that contains well over 2,500 media contacts, which we repeatedly contacted with news, information, screenshots and other information about the project and the Kickstarter campaign.
However, the press, being what it is, trying to get coverage is always a hit or miss proposition. If one percent of your media outlets cover your story, you’re already among the lucky ones.
But we continued to work the media long before and after the Kickstarter launch. Hard as it is to get coverage, especially on major gaming websites, it can result in a lot of exposure and attention.
I’ve also done countless interviews to promote our campaign, both in written form as well as video interviews and podcasts. Every little bit counts, and considering how hard it is to get good coverage, it is very important to seize every opportunity you get. Never turn down an interview, even if it means getting up at 4:00 in the morning in order to talk to someone on the other side of the world. Kickstarters are international affairs and they do not operate on your schedule.
Please share some details about your company, staff, and history.
G3 Studios is an independent studio I founded around 2000, when I began making mobile games. It has since grown to also serve as a publisher for books and other digital content, but in the end, it is really just the umbrella to accommodate all of my endeavors.
The team itself is what is important, and for Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore we have put together a team of game developing veterans so far. Some of our team members have worked with me as far back as Shadows over Riva, and other games. I myself have also worked on games such as Planescape: Torment, Fallout 2, Neverwinter Nights and others.
Some of the Deathfire team members have been part of the Divine Divinity series, the Sacred series, Heroes of Might & Magic 2 and many more. So all in all, we have a team of people who know how to build solid role-playing games and have the track record to back it up.
Can you tell us something about Deathfire that isn’t covered on the Kickstarter page?
One of the things that is a little hard to relate to people is the depth we are bringing to the game. Things such as character interaction, for example, where player and non-player characters have distinct personalities that create certain dynamics between them. So, the way the game will throw the player in the midst of these personalities to deal with them, is one thing that isn’t instantly obvious but will give the game its unique flair.
But there are other parts also, such as the interaction with the game world itself, in terms of how the player’s actions change the story and the outcome of events. We are making sure the player is truly at the heart of the story, and everything you do will affect the world around you. Innocent people may get killed as a result of your actions, as a result of a decision you made. The entire flow of the story may be redirected. After all, the game has four entirely different endings, each with variations, depending on how the player worked his way through the story.
Thank you for your time. We can’t wait to play Deathfire.
If you’d like to contribute to Deatfire: Ruins of Nethermore and help make it a reality, head over to the Kickstarter page. A copy of the game can be yours for as little as $20, and your name can be in the credits for as little as $5.