Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams was one of the first Kickstarted games to release to the waiting hordes, and proved that crowd funding is capable of getting utterly fantastic projects off the ground. As we stated in our 8/10 review: "the brothers are history." Flushed with success, Black Forest Games have launched a new, and infinitely more ambitious, Kickstarter campaign for Project Ravensdale.
This "fuel fantasy" cooperative shooter promises to give us a fresh new take on classic sidescrolling gameplay, delivering deep dynamic multiplayer, strong singleplayer and a radical selection of insane weapons and jetpacks alongside knights and orcs. To learn more, I caught up with Black Forest Games and grilled them extensively about the project - and why it deserves your money.
If the idea of "Metal Slug meets Left 4 Dead meets a nuclear pinball machine" in a dieselpunk fantasy setting (featuring a gun that fires flaming beach balls) gets you hot under the collar, your mind is about to be thoroughly blown. With a fortnight left on the clock, it's time to see what this raucously inventive proposition is all about.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn.com): Thanks for talking to us! First things first: could you introduce yourselves and your role at Black Forest Games?
Hello, I’m Jean-Marc Haessig, creative director at Black Forest Games. I’m responsible for the overall vision of our products, which means shaping ideas and enabling the team to bounce on them and going crazy within the given frame. This includes very rough gameplay goals that need to be worked out and polished, the overall look and feel intentions, nailing down the setting with the team, getting feedback to readjust the vision and so on. Most of the time I use visual language as I figured out that sometimes a picture is better than thousand words…
Hi, I’m David Sallmann! I’m the senior game designer in the team, and it’s my job to make sure that all the designers are pushing in the same direction. Apart from providing feedback and making judgment calls, I also do normal design work. My most recent contribution to the Ravensdale prototype is the design of a modular system for weapons that allows all designers to quickly script and tinker with crazy concepts without bugging our programmers every five minutes. The wackier player weapons in the prototype so far include an explosive “beach ball” you and your buddies can kick and bounce around, a rolling ball of fire that leaves a sea of flames in its wake and erupts like a volcano when you hit it, and ricochet bullets that transform into bouncing shrapnel bombs when they hit an enemy. We also have more sedate designs like black hole bombs, lightning that forks whenever it hits an enemy, and a slinky-like projectile that crawls along walls and ceilings. OK, maybe they’re not that sedate.
I’m Emily Steiner, associate producer at BFG and head of the Kickstarter team. Everyone on the KS team plays a separate role in the company on top of their KS duties, which are usually volunteered for. My main job is to organize the calendar, deal out tasks and make sure the team and campaign are on track, as well as backer relations and community management. Outside of Kickstarter as a producer I mainly assist the senior producer from everything organization related including console submissions, documentation, and community management tasks like making sure our social media pages are updated and editing promotional videos for the team.
Hello, I’m Nikolas Kolm, Game Designer here at BFG and currently deeply involved in running the Kickstarter campaign. I already helped out a little bit during the Project Giana campaign, mostly because I enjoy interacting with communities a lot. Normally, I am responsible for overall Game Design but this has currently taken a backseat to trying to make the campaign run and keeping the people involved sane somehow. I also co-host the BFG live-show, and can be found on the forums, our own and many others.
I am Adrian Goersch, one of two managing directors of BFG.
Dealspwn: Could you give us the 'elevator pitch?' What, in as few words as possible, is Ravensdale all about?
David Sallmann: As few words as possible? “Metal Slug meets Left 4 Dead meets a nuclear pinball machine.”
Dealspwn: Wow, that's short and sweet! You describe Ravensdale as a “fuel fantasy” game. What does that involve, and how does it differ from traditional fantasy settings?
Jean-Marc Haessig: The idea is about a clash between the inhabitants of a medieval city that suddenly discovered oil while expanding some catacombs and cellars. It’s like petrol but also has fantastic properties that come to light when it gets mixed with other substances, or gets heated, frozen, etc. It provides energy for engines, armors, weapons, and primitive machinery that emerged after it was discovered. The oil is named Goop and is used for EVERYTHING possibly imaginable. But there’s a dark side to the shiny medal.
Everyone in Ravensdale sees it as an opportunity to become rich and famous … regardless of consequences. While Goop is a noxious substance that corrupts mind and body, nobody wants to face that reality. The only thing that counts for the inhabitants of Ravensdale is making as much profit as possible to stay on top in a dog-eat-dog society. The number of people aware of the dangers Goop poses is dwindling; it has already mutated most of the populace into crazy orcs, goblins, witches and other creatures.
Dealspwn: There are plenty of multiplayer games on the market. What new features does Ravensdale bring to the table? We're very excited about Orcs with jetpacks!
David Sallmann: We intend to explore true co-op, which means that players don’t just play in parallel, but genuinely interact with each other and expand each other’s options. This is reflected in every part of the game, but we are also experimenting with unique elements to further strengthen the bond between players. A feature we are currently testing in the prototype is the Arc Connector, a mobile lightning generator that accompanies the player characters and supercharges the Goop in their armors. It groups together an array of player interactions like pulling yourself to and past other players or piggybacking their movement, surfing on enemies and smashing them into each other, catching enemy bullets, and temporarily boosting and sharing abilities between players. Apart from the ability-sharing, you can also do all those things in single player. I’ll elaborate on that in the answer to question #6.
Jean-Marc Haessig: Goblins with rockets strapped to their backs are indeed very cool. They are a direct consequence of the setting, but also of our intention to do an outrageous game where we can go completely over the top and deliver a highly fun experience.
Dealspwn: Cooperation seems to be a key part of the Ravensdale experience, but many games don't manage to provide profound ways for players to work together. How will you encourage teamwork and tactics?
David Sallmann: Cooperation affects every element of the game – your weapons, enemies and the levels themselves are all geared to reward cooperative behavior. Each of those elements is designed to provide a challenge or advantage in single player that is expanded upon in co-op.
For example, the shrapnel bombs spawned by your ricochet bullets bounce around the entire playing area. It’s a lot easier to catch and trigger them if you have other players in different spots. As the shrapnel ricochets off level geometry, popping the bombs at the right time and location can funnel the shrapnel and maximize the damage dealt to enemies in that area.
A more classic element is that most enemy attacks don’t immediately damage you, but put you in a tight spot from which you can still extricate yourself (like a horde of goblins dogpiling you and tearing at your armor). Recovering from such a bad situation is a lot easier with a buddy coming to your rescue.
As an example for interactable objects, we have huge cannons in the levels that work by shooting them – they absorb your shots and disgorge an amplified version of that shot. This effect stacks, so several players can combine their shots. The cannon is rotated by shooting the top and bottom, and you can rotate it faster by focusing your fire. You’re still vulnerable to attack, so you’ll have to split your attention between aiming and shooting the cannon at the main threats and defending yourself against harassers coming from other directions. This too is easier with a coordinated team.
Dealspwn: How have you managed to balance multiplayer fun with a solid singleplayer experience? That's a really exciting idea!
David Sallmann: As mentioned above, all multiplayer interactions expand on single player elements. Co-op gives you more control and flexibility, but doesn’t introduce radically different elements. What you learn in single player carries over to co-op and vice-versa.
To pick up the previous Arc Connector example, catching bullets is done by evading them, and powers up the Arc Connector (they get stuck on the arc and are slowly pulled towards the generator between the player characters). In co-op, catching bullets also has the natural consequence of protecting your teammates – you can essentially dodge for someone else.
The Arc Connector will also primarily try to maintain an equal distance to all player characters, and secondarily be influenced by some parts of the environment. This means that in single player, the Arc Connector’s movement is influenced a lot more by the environment (e.g. magnets), requiring you to adapt to the surroundings and position yourself accordingly. In co-op, you have a stronger influence over the Arc Connector’s positioning, and can “break” the strategy offered by the level designer and replace it with your own, for example allowing you to pull and launch yourself to locations that would only be accessible via a detour in single player.
Difficulty in Ravensdale is layered, with more difficult and rewarding content being offered in parallel in a level (think sealed areas and alternate routes gated by a challenge). To survive or even access that content, you’ll need player skill, powerful gear or a co-ordinated team. The hardest content and fattest loot will require at least two of those factors to survive!
Dealspwn: You recently confirmed that Mark Meer will lend his voice talent to Ravensdale. Beyond Mass Effect appeal, what will he bring to the role?
Jean-Marc Haessig: We wanted Mark to embody our central character, the players’ mentor we call the Captain. He will brief his men in a secret HQ before sending them out to kick orc asses. Surprisingly, Mark expressed his wish to lend his voice to the orcs as well. We latched on to that idea and figured that it would be awesome to add another layer to the Captain: he’s suffered a crippling injury and needs Goop to survive. This puts him on a narrow path between changing into an orc and death, emphasizing the whole conflict about the usage of Goop: while it corrupts all who use it, it’s damn near impossible to get rid of.
Dealspwn: Ravensdale apparently started life as an RPG, but was turned down by several publishers. How did you go about retooling it?
Jean-Marc Haessig: Our main goal is to make a memorable game in the Ravensdale setting. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an RPG, just as long as it fits. For Ravensdale’s newest incarnation, we’re essentially making a new game within the setting that builds on our experience with Giana, but starts from scratch when compared to the old Ravensdale.
In the future, we may have Ravensdale games that are closer to our first concept, or somewhere in-between.
Dealspwn: As far as I know, Ravensdale contains several gameplay elements that were originally intended for Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. What were they, and how will they enhance the gameplay experience?
David Sallmann: We originally intended for the Giana Sisters to brave the dream worlds together, true to their name, but the twist mechanic caused all kinds of headaches for multiplayer. In the end, we decided to keep the twist and save the strong push for co-op for another game. With Ravensdale, we had an opportunity to try our hand at true co-op, and we seized it.
Dealspwn: What lessons did you learn from Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams that helped you with Ravensdale – both in terms of development and Kickstarter campaigns?
David Sallmann: Test out your concepts as early as possible. Prototype anything new and risky, and don’t make any final art assets until the gameplay has been proven and nailed down. Match the aesthetics to the gameplay. Giana looked cute and friendly, but had a steep difficulty curve and was demanding in terms of reflexes, quick thinking and short-term memory. Oops.
For Kickstarter, Giana allowed us to make more accurate estimates for the preparation and work involved, and the Ravensdale Kickstarter team is bigger than the first one. We’ve also learned a big lesson about the rewards, and now have more tiers, a cleaner tier structure, and hopefully more interesting rewards as well.
Nikolas Kolm: We were able to better structure the rewards and the whole setup of the campaign. We knew better how to prepare the main page, what to put into the spotlight and how to plan the campaign itself. This time around, we had the whole of the campaign planned, obviously knowing we’d have to adapt throughout, but we had a clear picture of what we would have to provide and show.
Dealspwn: Games are expensive to make, and it's naive to think otherwise, but $500,000 is a notably large Kickstarter target for a new IP from a smaller studio. Do you think that this is a bit optimistic? How do you plan to spend it if successful?
Adrian Goersch: Yes, we agree that this is optimistic, but it is what we need and still will only cover part of the development costs while we also put Giana money into it. From this 500k only around 250k to 300k will end up in the development after Kickstarter and Amazon fees and the costs for the rewards. If you match it against the high quality visuals and endless gameplay it is a good deal for every backer. There are 9 months of development left and lots of people on the game. That’s where the money will be spent.
Dealspwn: What do you have to say – directly – to potential backers who haven't yet decided whether or not to get involved?
Emily Steiner: With the current trend in Kickstarter it’s understandable that potential backers can be hesitant towards new projects, it’s a big goal, we aren’t well-known, and it’s a brand new IP in a genre that is relatively untouched in terms of Kickstarter. The most important thing to note when you’re giving our project a once-over, is that we’ve done this once before, and succeeded, and released the game. We’ve carefully crafted the rewards to suit our potential backers, and set a goal that is the minimum it will take for this game to be made. All of the funds go directly into production of this game and costs associated with kickstarter. We are kickstarting to get this game made, so without crowdfunding success, it won’t exist. The way we are going about this Kickstarter is more like what the landscape of crowdfunding was when we Kickstarted Giana a year ago, everything was new ideas and cool projects, and now people are a little more sceptical about what they are putting their money into. It’s completely understandable, but I think what a lot of potential backers really need to hear is that they can trust us, because we’ve proved ourselves in the past.
Dealspwn: Finally, here's a question we always love to ask developers. What, in your opinion, is the most awesome, memorable and badass thing that players can do in Ravensdale?
David Sallmann: What is the most awesome word in a novel? I think that good games have no single badass action per se, but are seeded with potential for badass moments created by the players and the context of the game. For example, spamming the iconic FUS RO DAH at random critters in Skyrim isn’t particularly badass, but shouting a giant off a mountaintop is.
Ravensdale is full of potential for cool moments – imagine launching yourself with the Arc Connector at a mob of goblins dogpiling your buddy, sending the mob flying while you ride a gobbo like a skateboard. You jump, pulling on the arc, sending the goblin crashing into a heavily shielded mech. Using your own momentum and the arc’s pull to sail back overhead in a graceful curve, you harvest the hail of Gatling orc bullets that were about to hit your buddy from above. This gives you just the energy you need to trigger your overdrive, granting your weapon’s piercing ability to the entire team. Together, you blast through the shield and shred the mech in seconds.
This isn’t a single action, or even a situation you’d be able to reproduce over and over again, but a unique moment born of a variety of factors. Your own badass moments will be different, but they will be there.
Jean-Marc Haessig: Join the rebellion and kick those damn orcs out of Ravensdale!!
Project Ravensdale is currently seeking $500,000 on Kickstarter, with two weeks left on the clock. It's slated for a PC release.