Wait, don’t get your hopes up. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is positively, completely, utterly dead. As dead as death that died in strange aeons can be. Or as dead as a cosmic deity from another dimension lying eternally in a sunken city can be.
You get the idea.
It’s sad you know, journalists getting tired of tentacles and complaining that videogames still fail to get Lovecraft right. If only the world was offered the chance to have a faithful game adaptation… exhaustively and passionately researched… with the involvement of renowned scholars in the subject like S. T. Joshi… a literary experience doing justice to the essence of the works from an undisputed master of the horror genre.
Luckily for you, we’re still doing another horror game in the same vein, one that’s been a long time coming and is slowly but steadily awakening from its ancient slumber. If you like a bit of Lovecraft in your games, it’s imperative that you put ASYLUM on your Steam wishlist (and also follow the game for news!): https://store.steampowered.com/app/230210/ASYLUM
It’s all coming together rather nicely, if we may say so. Look at all the things we have:
Thrilling retro trailers!
Even the updates are thrilling!
We’re very excited with this. If you backed Dexter Ward, chances are you knew about ASYLUM already. But if it wasn’t in your radar, then point your antennas to the links above. The game is actually happening, we swear, and it’s looking incredible on all fronts.
And hey, you’re welcome to join our exciting Discord community. We’re well over 1000 people discussing adventure games and horror on a daily basis: https://discord.gg/senscape
The time has come to bid farewell. It’s been a memorable month, to say the least, and this final update will be a recap and analysis of a campaign that has many still wondering why in Azathoth’s name it wasn’t funded. As we’re going to see, there’s no easy answer, but first things first:
THANK YOU. Those of you who are here have been extremely kind and supportive. You were as passionate about the project as we were, as can be attested by the sheer amount of shares, likes, and comments. This level of involvement isn’t seen even with campaigns with well over 6,000 backers, and as of this writing you number 1,800. The game has been extremely well received, with overwhelmingly positive comments on its look and feel, character design, and music. The average pledge per backer is an astounding (by today’s standards) $50. In this regard, the campaign has been a resounding success.
Unfortunately, we have to move on. We’re disbanding part of our team as we focus solely on completing Asylum, which is coming along great. Let me clarify that in spite of this disastrous and shameful conclusion, Senscape is in no way at risk, and we have money to deliver an amazing horror game that will stay in your memory for aeons to come. It would have been great to work on two projects at the same time, especially as they share the same roots, but there’s nothing left to do; this was our best shot. As I will explain next, this project required a monumental effort and the launch of the campaign was carefully orchestrated. We can’t easily reproduce that, not without taking more time away from Asylum, which isn’t an option. The same goes for talking to investors and publishers: these things demand time and effort. The whole idea was to produce an amazing game based on Lovecraft’s novel, with a generous budget and no constraints. I don’t want to develop this game under other conditions, and risk not doing justice to the source material. Thus, I’m afraid The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is being put on hold for the time being.
What happened? Let’s try to figure this out together as I review the campaign.
While you were all happy with the presentation and progress of the campaign, three negative things about it come immediately to mind:
Asylum. It’s not ready yet, which has rubbed some people the wrong way. However, I explained at length why we needed to do this Kickstarter, and while some unbelievers showed lack of faith, the majority of our backers were happy with this new project.
The official Lovecraft license. This was supposed to be tremendous news for the adventure game genre, and while many were blown away with our efforts to bring to video games an adaptation of a Lovecraft story researched to scholarly standards, the news was received negatively in the more hardcore community of Lovecraft fans. I explained our position and the nature of the agreement we have with the Lovecraft Estate in Providence, and the controversy died down.
The admittedly ambitious target amount. It may seem like a lot, but game development is becoming very expensive. Even if we scrapped the documentary and the physical rewards, we couldn’t make an adventure game of 8-10 hours with full voice acting and this level of cinematic quality for less money. This isn’t the case with Asylum, which was well into production when we launched its Kickstarter. With a brand-new game it’s different. Still, the goal can’t have been the problem — not when mere months ago games were passing the 100k mark without major problems.
These three points may seem problematic, especially when combined, but they clearly aren’t enough to explain why we haven’t reached our goal. The most troublesome aspect voiced by many — the fact that Asylum is still in production — appeared in a revealing new light when I looked closely into our stats. I compared the list of supporters for Charles Dexter Ward with the list of supporters for Asylum. What I found was very surprising: one third of those supporting this project are Asylum backers, which is far more than I had anticipated. I truly meant it when I said I wasn’t expecting them to back this new project. It turns out that a big chunk of you are reoffending Asylum krazies, so thank you again for yet another vote of confidence.
That 33% is a particularly interesting figure. We needed about 6,000+ people to make Charles Dexter Ward a reality, and, assuming the ratio of new vs. old backers remained the same, this project would have been funded with 2,000 backers, or 66% of all our Asylum backers. That’s a lot. Therefore, Asylum can’t have been the only problem.
But this still doesn’t answer why we aren’t funded. It’s impossible not to notice a sense of apathy towards Kickstarter these days. Previously I would tweet about an adventure needing backers, and experience an outpouring of support with retweets, favourites, and such. Today I say “Kickstarter” and not even crickets reply.
In short, few people seem to be backing games these days, including our own. This can lead to only one conclusion…
Kickstarter is dying
I didn’t want to believe it, because I love the idea of crowdfunding, but there’s no way around this: we are experiencing its decline. It would be a whole different matter if our campaign were an isolated case of plain bad luck, but it’s not — from small teams with modest goals to high-profile developers with solid track records, we’re seeing a very grim scenario where too many campaigns are failing for no other reason than lack of interest. Note that I’m saying lack of interest in crowdfunding, not the games themselves, which generally have received great feedback. October in particular has been a dreadful month for Kickstarter, perhaps the worst I’ve seen, and it’s supposed to be the second month of the Kickstarter year that attracts most pledges. It’s hardly surprising after reading this article by GameSpot claiming that funding for Kickstarter games has dropped by more than half in 2014. How I wish they had posted that before we launched this campaign…
Take Kicktraq for instance. Right now I see barely two games on their list of Top 25 hot projects. Remember the time when the Top 10 alone were all games? I sure do, and it wasn’t that long ago.
Many of you have been saying we should relaunch the campaign, but this was our best shot. There’s no way we can achieve again the momentum we had during the first three days. I can’t stress this enough: the announcement of Charles Dexter Ward was huge. Between our pre-launch campaign, buzz on Twitter, local and international celebrities supporting us, our own posts that went viral, and a massive article in the second-biggest newspaper in Argentina, I estimate well over 100,000 people heard about Charles Dexter Ward. And again, that was only during the first three days of the campaign. It boggles the mind, then, that barely 2,000 people have backed the game — with such a strong launch and the evident appeal of the project, a year ago we’d easily have reached $400k.
It gets even worse when you take stats into account. I’m no stranger to Kickstarter, and my approach was very thorough: we created hype, got in touch with journalists in advance so as to warrant articles on the launch date, ensured a solid tier structure, had an interesting and informative project page, a killer pitch video, attractive rewards, compelling game materials, and fun updates, encouraged activity and comments, etc. We did everything by the book. The resulting launch was a tremendous success: we raised $10,000 in three hours, were covered by over 150 sites and blogs, got shout-outs from many other campaigns, and the vast majority of people were thrilled with Charles Dexter Ward. For crying out loud, we were Greenlit on Steam in nine days.
To compare, Asylum took 24 hours to raise the first $10,000. Our initial trending was through the roof, and the project should have been funded. But then pledging took a gigantic nosedive that made me literally livid — you can’t imagine how stressed I was during those first hours. The reason for this nosedive is obvious when you compare the graphs for our two Kickstarter campaigns:
Yes, it’s that bad. Whereas with Asylum the ratio of pledges from the Kickstarter community vs. external pledges (that is, the result of our own efforts in promotion) was evenly divided; with Charles Dexter Ward we see that only 30% came from Kickstarter itself. Now, you might say, “Sure, but you couldn’t have made it even with the previous ratio,” but it’s not such a mathematically linear relationship. If the Kickstarter community hadn’t kept dwindling since Asylum, we’d have received pledges amounting to at least $50,000 on the second day. And Kickstarter is all about psychology — if people get the impression that a campaign can make it, they’re more likely to support it. Enthusiasm is contagious, but there wasn’t enough to begin with. Of that estimated initial 100,000 people who heard about the project, only a very small portion visited our Kickstarter page, and even fewer were inclined to back the project.
I stress again: the response everywhere else has been incredibly positive. It’s just that none of that enthusiasm translated into pledges. Take IGN, for instance. It’s hard to get noticed by the press, and even harder to get them to write about Kickstarters, but IGN was kind enough to post a very positive article about this campaign. Would you like to know how much in pledges that article got us? OK, wait for it…
I’m officially clueless. As of today, I have no idea about Kickstarter. In the past I was happy to advise other developers, but forget it, nothing I say will matter because crowdfunding is becoming a matter of sheer luck and randomness, impossible to control. There’s simply no correlation between marketing efforts and buzz and incoming pledges. You could get coverage on most mainstream websites and still not make it (I’ve actually seen that). This erratic and unpredictable behaviour can drive you nuts: like a macabre joke, our most celebrated update with a talking Charles — so well received on social networks — resulted in a negative day.
To be fair, some campaigns are still finding success, albeit with a tight margin. Crowdfunding can still work for smaller projects, and you might see the occasional celebrity raising millions, but it’s no longer working for projects like our own that fall somewhere in between. It could be just a phase, and 2015 might be better, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up, because the trend shows decline since 2013.
I’d just like to add that the Kickstarter team has been extremely supportive, featuring our project on two occasions and always addressing our questions in record time. They’re a nice bunch, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them. As an advocate (a former one) of crowdfunding, I’m truly saddened by this whole situation.
So what next? We have Asylum of course, which is looking better than ever. We know it’s delayed, but we always make sure to keep you updated on its progress, and you’re going to love what you’re about to see. As for Charles Dexter Ward, wish I had better news, but I don’t. You know how I kept pushing the campaign and delivering rich updates, but the truth is that by the first night I knew we weren’t going to make it. Since then I’ve come up with a plan B that may help us fund the game ourselves, but it will take time. For the time being, it’s best if you don’t keep your hopes up.
No, I don’t feel like coming back to Kickstarter, at least not in the foreseeable future. While crowdfunding Asylum has been a fantastic experience, a remarkably fun and fantastic learning process, this Kickstarter is leaving a very sour taste in my mouth. It was too much stress and work, and it wasn’t nice for you, either: I hated seeing friends upping their pledges when I knew very well they were going through financial troubles. Asylum left me wanting more, but it’s clear that I’ve had enough of crowdfunding after Charles Dexter Ward. This was perfect timing as well, before we go into epic crunch mode on Asylum and before Cordes Jr. arrives in January. There’s no way I can go through another month like this one in 2015.
So goodbye, Kickstarter, we’ll always have the Hanwell Mental Institute…
On the positive side of things, we have attracted much attention with this project. Our community grew a lot as well, with hundreds of new likes and followers. Speaking of which, make sure you follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Hey, you can always register in our awesome and friendly forums as well.
The most important thing about this campaign was your support and confidence in the Senscape team, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it, but we have other things to look forward to. And yes, they all involve fear and nightmarish terrors.
As for Charles Dexter Ward… Now is the moment to let go and submerge him in the depths of uncharted seas where strange star constellations are sometimes glimpsed on the darkest nights and alien things surface occasionally, putting him to rest in that sunken city of oddly angled shapes and ever-present slime where an abominable being awaits patiently and speaks to us in our deepest dreams. Time to fhtagn.
Dear backers, the end is near and the outlook is darker than the sky of Yuggoth, but don’t fret! Life is too short to be worried about a video game. Cheer up and love each other — we’ll try to make Charles Dexter Ward happen somehow.
On the positive side of things, the campaign was extremely well received and you loved the things we showed you. But today I want you to listen to things, as I’m sharing some of the themes we created for the project. My brother Pablo Cordes has been working on the soundtrack of Asylum for some time now, and we couldn’t be happier with his moody contributions to the sinister atmosphere of that game. However, our approach has been very different with Charles Dexter Ward: most of the story takes place in broad daylight, Providence is supposed to be an idyllic town (at least at first), and the general look and feel of the game is autumnal and nostalgic, with muted colours reminiscent of Renaissance paintings.
Accordingly, Pablo had to expand his horizons and compose music that goes from beautiful and hopeful to dark and brooding. The best example of this range is clearly the game’s main theme, which is very representative of what to expect in the audio department. Initially my references were Ennio Morricone’s throbbing soundtrack for The Thing or that sense of fatalism or impending doom that Howard Shore has achieved with Cronenberg’s movies, but the final result is a style of its own. After trying different approaches, and many takes, we settled on the main theme of the game, a fabulous piece that brings back memories of vintage horror movies, as it should. It goes from suspenseful and mysterious to very dramatic and powerful, bringing to mind an epic battle against unnatural forces seizing Providence, then segueing into a majestic tune that makes us crave the adventures and journeys ahead in spite of the unspeakable horrors awaiting us, and finally reprising that initial sense of lurking threats. It ends on a dark, jarring note, and the whole suite is a perfect fit for the game we have in mind. I’m now bringing you the complete theme in its current form. While you’ve heard parts of it on the trailer and the Kickstarter video, now you can listen to the whole thing:
We have some more themes already composed. The following is something Pablo produced while in “nice and shiny” mode for the initial excursions in Providence. It’s a beautiful piece, but perhaps too nice for the game, so we’re not sure if it will make it in its current form. Still, here’s another chance to stimulate your ears with more impressions of Charles Dexter Ward:
There’s an alternative and unmastered take on the above theme, sadder and more intimate. We had something like this in mind for the John Hay Library, as the tone is more appropriate for interiors rather than exteriors. This one is perhaps too sad, but you be the judge:
I love the next one. Another early take that would work great for the Ward residence. It has a homely sense of familiarity, with a hint of impending tragedy, perfect for the occasion:
Hope you enjoyed this sonic trip into some of the moods of Charles Dexter Ward. Those last poignant themes are quite appropriate for the final stages of this Kickstarter. But don’t be sad, we’re always thinking ahead and there are many more plans that hopefully will come to fruition. We intended to do a Halloween live stream for the conclusion of the campaign, but we probably won’t be in the best of moods. However, I’m writing an extensive post-mortem that will consider all the things that went wrong and right, and that will try to answer the pressing question of why this campaign wasn’t successfully funded — so stay tuned for that. I think you will be interested to hear what I have to say.
So, is there anything else you can do at this point? Someone suggested robbing a bank, an idea which I absolutely don’t endorse. Note that I didn’t say “no”, just that I don’t like it.
(DISCLAIMER: That was a joke. Please, do NOT rob a bank. However, you may attempt to secure $170,000 by any legal and ethical means.)
The quiz must go on!
Indeed, and here’s a new phase for you adventure game experts. In case you’re a newcomer, the rules are explained in this update. Please stay tuned to the comments section for the remaining phases!
Shout, shout, let it all out…
But before we leave, shout-outs, because Kickstarter is about solidarity. First we have Black The Fall, a sort of cyberpunk version of Limbo that looks real good. It has less than 2 days to reach its modest funding of £25,000, so it must happen:
And then there’s this project from Erin Reynolds, called Nevermind, dubbed a “biofeedback horror adventure game”. Basically, it’s a game that promises some extremely effective scares because it monitors your fear and stress levels and uniquely adapts its gameplay — the more scared you are, the harder the game gets. Nevermind got lots of attention in the press earlier this year, and I assumed it had been funded, but amazingly it hasn’t. Here’s your chance to make it happen, with only 4 days to go:
Sorry, I had to use that pun. It’s no secret that our Charles, the main protagonist of this horrifying tale about occult arts, has a lot in common with H. P. Lovecraft himself. Indeed, he looks just like him. It’s commonly accepted that Lovecraft based young Charles on his own appearance and character. You can almost feel he was describing himself in the novel:
“One may picture him yet as he was in those days; tall, slim, and blond, with studious eyes and a slight stoop, dressed somewhat carelessly, and giving a dominant impression of harmless awkwardness rather than attractiveness.”
We took this description to heart, especially when designing his awkward walk with the mild limp. Our Charles is almost cute, though, whereas Lovecraft was a decidedly unattractive person. So unattractive, in fact, that he was unashamedly called ugly by his own mother — yet another aspect of his very troubled childhood.
While it’s clear that Charles has strong autobiographical traits, S. T. Joshi argues that many specifics of this character were based on a certain William Lippitt Mauran, an actual person living in the Halsey mansion at the time Lovecraft wrote the novel. This house was used as a location in the story, including the exact same address. It’s highly likely that while studying the Halsey mansion Lovecraft observed Mauran, a sickly child whose family owned a farm in Pawtuxet. That’s too much of a coincidence, wouldn’t you say? Nevertheless, this is how I always pictured Charles: a young, blond version of Lovecraft. And our wonderful Jenny Pattison did a remarkable job bringing this character to life.
One of the most challenging aspects of the project so far has been creating Charles’s shady ancestor — Joseph Curwen — who is supposed to look exactly like him. This posed a real problem: Charles is described as an innocent, fragile boy who is hopelessly drawn into a hideous plot of witchcraft, whereas Joseph Curwen is described as a cunning “wizard” who exerted his evil power on the colonial town of Providence. How can we deliver these two drastically different impressions with, essentially, the same facial features?
Again, Jenny achieved glorious victory with her excellent rendering of Curwen’s portrait. Note that it’s basically the same face, yet something about the way he looks at you is downright chilling. To be fair, we had to redo those eyes at least five times. A minimal change made all the difference in the world.
The next step was to give a voice to our main protagonist. This was a no-brainer to me, as I instantly gave the role to my old pal Dominic Brewer, a professional theatre actor who has performed in plays by Shakespeare.
I’ve known Dominic for over ten years now, since the time we both used to frequent the Just Adventure+ forums. Eventually Dominic voiced a certain Robert Blake in Scratches, in a most memorable Easter egg and probably the most fun sequence in the game. I was so happy with his work that I thought his talent was wasted in a secondary role, which is why today Dominic is the voice behind Lenny, our enigmatic inmate in Asylum. He’s downright amazing.
But there’s a reason why I decided Dominic was ideal for the role of Charles Dexter Ward. In our quest to make the most faithful adaptation yet of a Lovecraft story, I conducted research to try and figure out how the author himself sounded in real life. Alas, there are no recordings left of his voice. Apparently he hated how he sounded and never bothered to record himself (yes, the technology was available at the time). However, Joshi’s definitive biography gives us a good lead on the sound and tone of the voice, as Hart Crane — a poet who corresponded with Lovecraft — is quoted as referring to Sonia’s “piping-voiced husband”. L. Sprague De Camp also mentions this remark on Lovecraft’s voice in his flawed but still essential biography.
We can only speculate upon whether Lovecraft really sounded that bad — certainly, one thinks of a deep, menacing voice when reading his stories, say a Christopher Lee or perhaps a more devious Vincent Price. Dominic has a beautiful voice, though, and I found his high-pitched tone not only ideal for Charles, but also close to how Lovecraft may have sounded in real life.
Please note that this is a work-in-progress video with serviceable lip sync and in no way representative of the final quality of the game. As I’ve said before, we’re going with a Shadow of the Comet style for the character close-ups:
And that’s it for today! Hope you enjoyed this look at our approach to character design. The campaign is soon coming to an end, and I want to thank you all for your continued support!
Greetings from the harsh coldness of the Antarctic, where spectral echoes repeat incessantly the words “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!”. You seem to have enjoyed my previous update about the Necronomicon. That’s great, but today we have an eclectic summary of things going on with the campaign, a potpourri of assorted horrors and seemingly useful information. Don’t expect a coherent narrative of the sort that you got accustomed to with past updates. Think of this one in abstract terms, like photographs scattered all over a table, or the blurry landscape you see through a train window. It doesn’t matter how you read it, only how you experience it. It’s like a Picasso of updates. Yeah, I like that. Picasso.
Many of you are expressing concern about the rough days ahead of us. We’ll just keep going until the day counter reads “0”. It’s the least we can do after the effusive support you’ve shown us. We’ve had lots of shout-outs from many friends and colleagues who’ve run successful campaigns, notably Broken Sword, Dead Synchronicity, Mage’s Initiation… and others are coming. The pledge counter may have stalled, but we still get dozens of comments, shares, mentions, likes, etc. every day. Just yesterday my shameless cry for help had 60 retweets:
It doesn’t look good, but we sure want to go out with a bang, so I’m working on something — a sort of “secret weapon”. It’s a wild idea, even for us, but you never know. Hell, stranger things have happened. You have been a weird year, 2014!
I’ve been doing several interviews recently and still owe a few, but here are some that were published recently and that you might enjoy. The lengthier piece was for the Adventure Gamers gang with new details on Charles Dexter Ward and Asylum, and thoughts on Kickstarter and being a game developer. Quite an in-depth read!
But if you have something against words — those poor misunderstood sequences of letters — here’s a video interview for Obsolete Gamer. I’m sorry I didn’t shave that day:
Finally, a briefer and more intimate interview with the Paladin of Adventure Games, Serena Nelson, for KickstartVentures. We talked about some things that haven’t been discussed elsewhere.
Inside the John Hay Library
Last weekend I had the chance to talk about Asylum and Charles Dexter Ward at a popular game event in Buenos Aires, showing footage from both games. It was a brief presentation, but still the first time we showed these things in public:
Backers of Asylum can look forward to an update with a new gameplay video, but since this Kickstarter is for Charles Dexter Ward, let me tell you a bit about the style we’ve achieved with this game. You see, the audience was very surprised with the playable scene I showed. I was asked quite a few times whether it was real 3D or hand-painted graphics, and my answer was “both”. Our original inspiration for the style came from the approach The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 took to projection mapping. It’s an amazingly insightful video by KING Art Games with a surprisingly effective technique, so check it out. At first we tried doing something like that with Charles Dexter Ward, but it quickly became apparent this wasn’t the right style for the scenes we had in mind. We wanted to have large scenes with depth in them, and projection mapping tends to look a bit flat under such conditions. Our pick to test the style for our game was the famous John Hay Library, a key location in the game and in Lovecraft’s life. After a few iterations of the scene, we decided that pseudo-full-3D was the answer:
But why does the final result look so “artistic”, then? You can almost see the traces of a brush on the walls and ceiling. Here’s where our lovely and daring Jenny Pattison comes in, repainting the entire 3D scene to achieve this effect:
But! Here comes the “but”, and why I say the game is pseudo-3D: the scene still favours a particular angle and perspective of the camera. We can achieve some cinematic motion, but the overall angle must remain the same. As a result we have something that works more or less like projection mapping but also fits our needs just fine. The above John Hay Library still elicits “wows”, and we couldn’t be happier with the result. It’s the style we want to bring to the rest of the game.
If you’re here, chances are you like adventure games. I mean, who doesn’t like adventure games, right? I know there are people like that, and I feel for them, so all that’s left for us to do is pass the word and keep extolling the benefits of playing adventure games. For example, adventures make you instantly cool. Period. And Her Majesty’s SPIFFING is a really cool adventure:
However, strange as it may be, there are some games out there that aren’t adventures. I know, it’s baffling. Fortunately, we have some extremely talented developers making amazing non-adventure games. But wait, because Nubarron is a puzzle game that you, adventure game player, will undoubtedly enjoy:
Look, even the subtitle of the game says “adventure”. I rest my case. Francisco Tufró, the mastermind behind “Dagonity” and the fascinating volumetric fog effect in Asylum is working on this game, so please show him some love.