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$93,168 pledged of $299,400 goal
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$93,168 pledged of $299,400 goal
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The future - part 2!

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Hey everybody!  Chris here.

Update #18, To... the future! has a ton of information about what is going on with the kickstarter in terms of our plans for a re-launch and so forth, but I figured it was time for an update.  That was 8 days ago, after all!

30% Funded!

First off, just had to mention this.  We did at least hit that number, so that's very exciting.  As of this post, we're sitting at $91k raised with 49 hours left in the campaign, so that's pretty exciting.  Last week I had been wondering if we could break $90k, but now I'm wondering if we'll actually top $100k before this is all over.

Evidently there's lots of evidence that the "spike at the end" is a myth, but at the same time evidently you can have a campaign remind you two days before it closes.  I've used kickstarter continually-if-intermittently since funding Castle Story in 2012, but there's still lots of things I'm learning.

Why Didn't We Cancel?

Last update I said that we'd run the campaign for "at least a few more days," but folks were imploring us to not end it early.  For one thing, "you never know," but also an unsuccessfully-funded campaign looks better than a canceled one I guess?  I see the logic behind that, and I think that when I've looked at other creator's bios and see a lot of canceled projects, that does send a certain message to me subliminally, so sure.

The other reason is that we needed time to get our ducks in a row anyhow for a re-launch, and canceling this first campaign wasn't going to make that happen any faster.  May as well have this first campaign open and visible and gaining new backers who hopefully will follow us to the re-launch next week!

Next Week?

That's right!  We're planning, barring anything unforeseen, to have a relaunched campaign on November 17th.  We've been unusually quiet on this kickstarter for the last little while (really sorry about that!) because we've been working really hard on the new kickstarter.

A Better Second Outing!

We've had a huge amount of support, but a lot of folks have commented that our video in particular was underwhelming in a few ways, and that our campaign copy itself could use some work.  

We spent a lot of time during this campaign rewriting and redesigning the campaign itself (both from a backer reward tiers standpoint and a visual standpoint and an amount-of-text standpoint).

That's something that we've addressed as much as we could within the time constraints of the first kickstarter while also getting all the other work done.  Ultimately we spent a lot of time on things that didn't net us any real success (advertising is too high of a cost per acquired backer, for instance), and so for the next campaign we won't be running around trying to do that stuff.

The campaign should look better and cleaner from the start, and we're redoing our approach to the video as well.  Overall Tom Chick as well as a number of folks here made it really clear: we need to spend less time on talking about what makes this different and better compared to the first game (preaching to the choir to some extent), and more time early on explaining what the player experience is going to be like in general.  How will it feel to play this game, and what is it like?  Etc.

Obviously speaking about improvements over the original is important as well, and we'll continue to do that.  But those sort of folks are engaged enough that they can generally be bothered to scroll down the page to read that.  At the very top of the campaign page, when we're basically trying to grab the eyeballs of anyone and everyone, we need to be better on message about what this is rather than how it evolved from something they may not be familiar with.

Your Feedback Helps!

We'll be sharing our new campaign page with you in advance of the re-launch and soliciting feedback on it, and we hope you'll weigh in if you see something amiss.  

In the meantime, if there's something you think we should focus on that we didn't really address clearly in this first campaign, or that you had to scroll around too much to find or whatever, please let us know!

What's Different About The Re-Launched Design?

I'm normally a super open book, and so it pains me to say that there are a few things on this front that I'm not yet comfortable talking about -- solely because I don't want to create accidental misinformation.

Keith is working on the design document for the second campaign, and he and I have been kind of negotiating ideas and figuring out a core budget and what goes in stretch goals and how to accomplish certain things.  Since that isn't all nailed down yet -- and in particular since we're having to make so many decisions based on a harshly cut budget -- I don't want to misrepresent something that he's working on that we're not in sync on yet.  I don't mind eating crow and being wrong about something, but I also don't want to give you conflicting messages.

The biggest overall change in the new campaign is going to be the people involved.  Blue and I will still be involved on the art front in particular, and I'll be involved in basically "presentation layer code" (GUI aside), but Keith will be taking over a lot more of the design work.  You're in super good hands with him, as he basically ran the show for AI War Classic from 2011 to now.

An important note on that front, though, is that he and I have a bit different approaches to design.  He's retaining the coolest things that I or others introduced as ideas for AI War 2 (sometimes those are stretch goals, though, simply for budget), but he's also adding some cool new things that I wish I had thought of (and that fit better in a reduced budget), and overall is retooling a number of the ideas from this first design so that they fit better in the new budget.

There were some things that I was basically building in an R&D budget for in the sense of "we're making this massive new interface for planets that we'll have to spend a lot of time refining, but it's okay because we're setting aside X amount of budget and buffer for that."  Turns out we don't have that much budget to work with, so he's focusing more on things that don't require so much experimentation, but that are clear and strong improvements over the original game (to a crazy degree, really, in so many cases).

This is horribly vague, but my goal is for us to have an actual design document and budget to start showing you later this week so that you're able to actually see specifics.  Sorry about the vagueness in the interim, but I figured that an overview was better than radio silence.

That said, here is one important preview from the new design document which gets at a lot of things:

Adjusted Statement of Purpose

Our original design document for our first AI War 2 Kickstarter was long and in-depth, and outlined a certain version of what this sequel could be. This vision was driven by Chris, and perhaps almost too-grandly reinventive.

Taking a bit of a step back: at core, our goal ultimately has to boil down to this: to revive AI War and get it growing again. The new vision certainly involves Chris, but is fundamentally driven by Keith, who was the chief architect behind some of the golden years of the AI War Classic creation period (AI War Classic 5.0 through 8.x, mainly).

Bear in mind the above is subject to change in the short term prior to the re-launch, but we're confident enough in it that I don't feel too much at risk of sharing misinformation by presenting this now. ;)

Once we re-launch, of course, we're locked into what we promise.  So we want to make darn sure we get it right, and have our focus in the best possible places with the core.

Adjusted Budget For The Re-Launch

The exact starting budget is something that we're still figuring out, but we're trying to keep it under $50k if we can.  Based on this first kickstarter, it seems reasonable that we might actually hit that goal within the first 72 hours and then spend the rest of the campaign pursuing stretch goals.

If that's the case, that would be incredible, because there's a lot of stuff in stretch goals I'd really like to see.  Breaking with tradition from this first campaign, we actually will be laying out some of our first stretch goals from day one of the new campaign, so you can see what we're shooting for (and our core video can refer to those things, too, then, which will be nice).

Beyond the point where our first campaign conservatively tells us we can expect funding, we'll start only revealing stretch goals as we near them, since that's the general good advice for kickstarters.

My Role Coming Up

To be blunt, in order to keep Keith having a job long enough to actually finish the new AI War 2 core in a way that maximally benefits the players, there's not too much room in the second kickstarter's core budget for me.

A variety of the stretch goals bring me in more and more, which is one reason I'm excited for those, but either way the project will be something that I'm involved in from a producer's position.  But I'm basically being demoted from design lead to instead being a co-designer at best, and some of the programming work is being shuffled to Keith instead of me.

So what the heck am I going to be doing with myself??  Well, obviously I'm still going to be involved in the project either way -- I have quite a bit of code to contribute still, and some design bits to weigh in on, and general producer duties, and playtesting on my own personal time, and so on.

But in terms of my core working hours, I'll be working on some other project instead.  I want to be super clear about that up-front, so that you're not surprised if we launch another kickstarter after this one for the project I'm working on, or something of that sort.  We're still trying to figure out that stuff, but AI War 2 is the priority focus so that's still pretty nebulous.

Put one way: I've had to partially lay myself off of this project in order for it to be the best that it can be and come to fruition, but I still need to work to put food on the table so to speak, so you'll see me doing other things.  I'll always be plenty happy to answer any questions about where money is going in budgets, and we'll be as transparent as we can upfront about that, too.

Arcen has had multiple simultaneous projects at a number of points in the past, with basically split working groups where Keith is the design lead on one set and I'm the design lead on the other.  In those cases we each tend to program on our own projects more exclusively, but will pop across to help one another on areas of our respective expertise.  It works out really well -- all of the last 3 AI War expansions were all developed under that sort of arrangement for example.

That's Enough Rambling For Today!

The TLDR is that we're still working away, AI War 2 is still going to be great, and we'll share everything on the new vision for it with you soon.  Things are changing in a variety of ways, and it's a lot of complex juggling to make sure that we're doing things in as optimal a fashion as possible, but we're getting it figured out in a way that is making us happy, so that's a good sign.

Until next time!

Chris

dpwiz, Paul Drager, and 13 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Chris Park/Arcen Games 2-time creator on November 9, 2016

      Keith also weighed in: http://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php/topic,19311.msg210541.html#msg210541

      From him:
      ------------------------
      There are three main reasons I've been absent:

      1) My life has been crazy. Up to four daughters now, had multiple deaths in the extended family, moved to a different state this year (which was a huge saga; we had like 6 different addresses in 6 months), etc. I won't go into a lot of detail because I generally keep my personal life offline, but it was worth mentioning in this case.

      2) Projects like SBR and SR really consumed all available resources. I was rowing as fast as I could to get the galley to the other side. What hours I had left I needed to put towards my family, and honestly more programming on top of all that sounded exhausting, not relaxing.

      3) When Chris is taking point on a project, I generally keep quiet in public. We often have different goals and different methods for getting there, so having two "official" sources that never seem to say quite the same thing is not helpful. I often disagree with him, but we handle that privately. The alternative is chaotic.

      My hope with AIW2 is to revive the game and the joint effort between Arcen (specifically me) and the player community to refine it.

      I will be taking on outside work regardless of how the kickstarter relaunch goes (our current plans for the kickstarter are based around me working on it 30 hours a week), but honestly I think that's in AIW's favor because I'll no longer be using all my desire-to-work-on-games on whatever the main-burner Arcen project is at the time just to make ends meet.

      I'd love to just get back to keeping up a steady rate of refinement on this. No funding drama, no wild swings in availability because of some other game project, etc. Just more dungeon-mastering >D

      In practical terms that means:

      1) Building a new foundation that lets us get out from under several "but the game would have to be built that way from the ground up!" situations. Multithreading, modding, 3D, etc.

      2) Making some key design changes that aren't prevented right now by the [i]technology[/i], but would be very difficult or impossible to do [i]right[/i] due to the sheer scale of things already in the game. Reworking the whole hull bonuses and armor thing, better balance between "glass wall" and "bend but don't break" defenses, etc.

      3) Starting with a core of content, and then considering with you which pieces we want to put back first, what we wanted to change about those, and to "do it right" rather than having more layers of "some great stuff, some cruft".

      Longer term, my hope is that the new model will be much easier for y'all to keep things going even if I'm not still doing this.

      But for now I'm focusing on this opportunity, because I very much want to get back to doing this :)

    2. Chris Park/Arcen Games 2-time creator on November 9, 2016

      Evidently my comments in this section really freaked out a lot of folks on the Arcen forums: http://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php/topic,19311.msg210537.html#msg210537

      So to clarify some things, I'll just cross-post what I said there:
      ---------------------

      Hoo boy. Wow, lots of stuff in this thread. This is part of why I've drifted away from the forums some recently, I think -- there's just so much discussion that I'm getting overwhelmed. There's a lot of chaos in my life right now in general, and I've kind of taken it for granted that folks here are more "in my corner," so to speak, so I've neglected you and focused outward instead. I apologize for that.

      To some of the questions (and I understand I may be missing others, so please feel free to follow up):

      1. No, I have no intention of becoming just a UI and graphics programmer or whatever the exact wording is. I haven't fallen out of love with game design.

      2. That said, my stamina for redoing a project that took 2+ people 5+ years to create is low if I'm having to do it by myself, yes.

      3. Why is #2 the case? Well, one big reason is Stars Beyond Reach. I spent soooo long trying to make that work, obviously with a team that time, but ultimately it failed. It would be really hard for me to jump into a project with that degree of longevity if I'm working on my own. Having up-front funds would be nice in regards to taking of the pressure of "what if this doesn't sell after all this work," which has bitten me in the rear repeatedly over the recent years. But that's only part of it.

      4. In all, I really want to be able to focus on things that are more concrete and that I can polish, in the main, when it comes to my game design work. I've had a lot of time working on really sprawling projects that always seem to run over budget and still not have the polish I want on them. I want to be able to sit down with something and really make it more exactly what I want it to be.

      5. In a lot of respects, I'm not excited by the parts of AI War where I'm locked into simply redoing work that I did before. Keith is very much the guy for that sort of thing, because he is doing it better and more modern, and he's getting to focus on improvements and polish and all that jazz much the same as I was. On the flip side, the parts of AI War where I'm actually allowed to innovate in various ways are enormously exciting to me.

      6. You can talk about tedium in jobs all day, and that's fine. But ultimately I've poured my soul into Arcen for a really long time, and I have to avoid doing it to that degree in the future. It's hurting my family, my marriage, and my health. There have been periods where I've worked 7 days a week for months at a time, as recently as August of this year. I just can't do that sort of thing anymore. But when it comes to the creative side of things, the parts that make a game shine and show it's crafted with love, you have to have a certain amount of gusto that is difficult for me to muster on [i]certain parts[/i] of this project at this time.

      7. There's also a question of opportunity cost. I'm quite capable of making smaller games on my own or with an artist as the only help, and I get to be both unfettered by past expectations as well as really reveling in every aspect of the work. I'm not sure where the idea came from that I don't like tedious things, as anyone casually observing would probably think I have a fixation on such things, honestly. ;) But there's a big difference between me giving you 100 tasks that will take you a year to complete, and only part of the funds and time to actually do it, versus me giving you 5 tedious tasks that you have enough time and funds for and that you can really just focus your attention on.

      8. I've realized in the last few months that I'm not really burned out on making strategy games. I'm burned out on making GIANT ones, where I'm designing the whole thing. I'd rather build intricate, complex, and compelling smaller experiences. The mindset of a strategy game is kind of at the core of most of my gaming unless it's just stress relief type work, though.

      9. To the question of if Keith is leaving or not: no. Someone asked why we don't delay the kickstarter for months, and my response was meant to be basically "because Keith has bills to pay, and I can't pay them while we wait during said months, so he'd have to go do something else by definition." I apologize for being unclear.

      Cheers.

    3. Chris Park/Arcen Games 2-time creator on November 8, 2016

      Oh: incidentally, the very best times of year overall are the first half of October, and then the late April through late May time periods. We launched maybe 5ish days later than would have been ideal for this current sweet spot, and it's a particularly dense AAA Q4, but still.

      Overall Valve has been really consistent with me with the message that they have hit stuff launch on Steam basically every month of the year, and so a lot of it is just down to the game. I would also add luck and preparedness into that, and I think the worst time periods are August, the first 3/4 of September, and especially the second half of December.

    4. Chris Park/Arcen Games 2-time creator on November 8, 2016

      If we were to pursue a relaunch around that period, Keith would have had to move on to fulltime work outside of Arcen, and Blue and myself would be fully invested in something other than AI War in order to make our own ends meet.

      We'd still be a company, but it would be the end of any 2017 AI War 2 most likely, and quite possibly push it out years more or indefinitely. If it's just me working by myself on design and code, honestly I don't think I have the stamina for something the size and complexity of AI War 2. I mean, if there's no time pressure I could brute force it, but I don't think I'd enjoy myself and there would probably be more interesting (to me in terms of how I spend my working hours) way to make ends meet.

      That's not to say that I'm not looking forward to working on AI War 2, because I definitely am, but there's a certain area of technical challenges that I'm most mentally invested in these days, and unit balance and simulation efficiency for a game this scale are not among them. I'm just really into making the GPU do tricks these days, and seeing what can be streamlined on the user experience side of things, and pushing physics and lighting and other things of that nature.

      Some more tricky things like realtime level editing and a variety of positional audio things and other things along the lines of particle effects and procedural meshes and various aspects of animation (particularly fusing code and the traditional art pipeline) are really my jam. Inverse kinematics and I have a bit of a rocky relationship, but overall I'm a fan and want chances to do interesting things there. I'm in love with splines and extrusion and efficient tweening.

      I suppose the main thing, for me, with the technical side of coding AI War 2 all by myself would be: either I've already done it, or else it's not the sort of technical challenge the excites me. For Keith, it's either something he's been itching to fix for a long time, or it's something that's right in his wheelhouse.

      Aside from the money he makes via crowdfunding, though, and his royalties on Arcen's existing residuals from other games, I have no money to pay him.

      We don't need to have the Biggest Kickstarter Ever, and in some respects it will be kind of nice if we don't -- keeps expectations more in line. If we raised $5m or something, expectations would be so insane it would be a whole other kind of problem. Ideally you're more in a sweet spot of getting what you really need and not having to slash to the bone, but still.

      Overall if we're able to pull in enough to handle the basic AI War 2 experience and people resonate with that, we can come back to the well for further funding in chunks either through kickstarter or patreon as needed. I think it makes a certain amount of sense for backers, too, really: funding it in parts has the advantage that you can choose to withdraw your support if we really mess up the early parts or in general you don't like the direction it's heading.

      Anyhow, it's the story of my life running this company: I rarely get to decide the timing of anything. When I do, it's great, but that's been a big minority of cases.

      Incidentally, if I had my druthers we'd go for mid-January for this re-launch: people are spending more then in general, there's not a lot of competition from the AAA companies yet, and it's timing that has worked well for us repeatedly in past years on Steam (2010, 2011, and I think 2014). Beyond that, something like April or May is the next really sweet spot.

    5. Paul Zakrzewski on November 8, 2016

      Timing is always an issue - like Benjamin said.
      -
      But often we don't have the luxury of choosing the best possible time and there are many unknown and uncontrollable factors.

    6. Benjamin Walsh on November 8, 2016

      I have to say maybe your largest mistake is the timing of your kickstarter and the relaunch may just prove to be further compounding that error. You started the first one in a month colloquially known as broketober. During october and early november there are a lot of AA games sent out to market, games with a certain guarantee of quality and a definitive release date. Thus looms the prioritization of funds. What must I sacrifice and buy later? November has much the same problem except people are starting from a position of fiscal weakness and they are preparing for a Thanksgiving feast with family and getting early christmas shopping out of the way with black friday and cyber monday.

      I know you guys are anxious to get back to work and damn do I want a new ai war game to play but I think a relaunch would be better suited toward the end of fiscal quarter 1 of 2017 after people have recovered from the burdens of family obligation.

    7. Chris Park/Arcen Games 2-time creator on November 8, 2016

      I've written about the future DLCs thing before, but basically I don't want to promise that because I don't know for certain there will ever be any.

      What if support for this dries up and after getting past the core and the stretch goals we have to put it on ice for a long time?

      What if Keith dies and I'm committed to something else for a while?

      What if we're struggling to make ends meet and there's a better opportunity for us to make money on some other project?

      In those varyingly-plausible scenarios, I'd have sold you something that now I'd be having to back away from actually delivering.

      I'm really against preorders and season passes in a generalized sense, typically because they tend to be vague and assuming certain future performance that may or may not materialize.

      When I'm making a promise to a customer on a deliverable item, I want it to be something that is concrete and that I know we can fund and how. I'll be happy to tell you what I'd _like_ to do in the future if things go well, and obviously that includes years of expansion of the game, but there are a variety of things that could conceivably prevent that from being possible or ideal-for-me-to-keep-doing. So I wouldn't want to promise it, if that makes sense.

      A kickstarter is different in that we're being extremely concrete and shorter-term about things (from a game design standpoint a year is pretty short term), and we have an exact and specific plan about where the money comes from, etc.

      I like the Early Access philosophy of not relying on EA sales to fund the game. So many companies break that, and then you wind up with situations like Spacebase DF-9 and whatnot. They weren't trying to do anything unethical, but they set themselves up in a situation where there was a high likelihood of them having to choose between themselves and customers. That's never a good place to put oneself, and so I try to look down the road and avoid going down paths that could lead to me being cornered in that particular way.

      Selling things that don't exist and only in theory might exist is one of those roads that leads there super fast. :)

    8. Charles Davies on November 8, 2016

      I'd like an option to back this game plus an add-on for 'future DLCs' given that this game is going to develop more like AI1 due to the more limited budget.

      This way I can give you money (happily blindly) and know I'm getting all you can give me. :p

    9. Chris Park/Arcen Games 2-time creator on November 8, 2016

      Yep, still doing the 3D graphics for sure. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, yes, the improved performance IF we're going for the true sense of scale. Aka having ships that actually feel large and small, versus just shoving some similar-sized sprites around. And even that has issues of its own.

      And when moving to things like a resolution-agnostic screen display, things like sprites become exponentially less efficient. If we wanted to keep that feature, there's basically no way to do that with sprites that wouldn't make the game incredibly vastly slow compared to the original (sprite RAM and so forth requirements go up by the square of their sides, so a side that is made for a screen that is twice as large -- or twice as pixel-dense -- is actually going to be using 4x as much RAM and GPU pipeline and so on. It's just such a huge issue in so many areas.

      The other reason for keeping 3D is that frankly we're not sure we could sell this to a wide enough audience without that in order to fund the rest of it. We'd spend a bit less money not doing 3D, but at this point a lot of the hardest work to get 3D in place has already been done (all the core R&D, for instance), so the difference is no longer too extreme and the amount of extra funding it can help us raise likely is extreme (relatively speaking).

      Overall one of things it boils down to is that I'm basically eating a lot of those costs outside of the kickstarter, mostly in work already completed that the kickstarters aren't reimbursing me for. Ideally the game will sell actual copies and I'll make some money from that aspect of it, but it will start out as a loss for a while. No great surprise there -- typically in non-crowdfunding situations a game is 100% a loss until it comes out, since nobody can buy it yet.

    10. Paul Drager on November 8, 2016

      Still doing 3D graphics then? I guess you weren't overselling the improved performance.