6/10/2013

The Black Tower project ABORTED

It is with a lot of sadness that I am here to announce the end of the project The Black Tower - Prototype. Initiated by 2 people (graphic designers) in february 2013, and joined by 2 others working half-time (programmer and music composer), TBT was probably too ambitious for our unknown team. I want to make it clear that the project was realistic, and we are confident in the fact that we could have made it in its entirety with funds. That's why I will be the first one to regret that we have to cancel everything. But facts are facts, and we are 100% sure that it is now impossible for us to fulfill our dream of reviving these 2.5D J-RPGs that we used to like so much. In 15 days on Indiegogo, we haven't reached 1% of our funding goal, with around 80 contributors for 8k visitors. It is now obvious that, even with the 30 days left, it is impossible to make it.

Here are the main reasons that, I believe, leaded to this failure :

1/ Indiegogo

As explained through various comments, we didn't choose Indiegogo because we like it more than Kickstarter.

We had to make this difficult choice for 2 main reasons :

- Kickstarter doesn't allow non-US/UK residents to ask for funds, and it becomes very difficult and very long for a foreigner to share their project. I don't say it is impossible, yet it was not compatible with the following point.

- For various reasons linked to some team members, the crowdfunding had to begin in May. From February (beginning of the project) to May, there is not a long time of development. Understanding how crowdfunding works, finding a good status for us, and starting the procedure to use Kickstarter from France was too slow and we couldn't make it in time.

This is why we chose Indiegogo, and we knew it would become very, very difficult to reach our goal. Because yes, the problem of Indiegogo is that they really not support video games as much as Kickstarter does. Where we reached 1% of the funding on Indiegogo, maybe we could have reached our goal on Kickstarter. We don't know, but it is possible.

Some of you will ask : then why not start a new campaign on Kickstarter as soon as you can ?
Simply because the team is now divided. Some of us had to find a job to live from, and with the end of TBT, they just couldn't wait and see what will happen next. We're not a studio with guaranteed employment for each of us : it all depends on our projects. As everyone is important in the current team, we can't go further when someone lives.

2/ The FF7 ghost

Final Fantasy VII is certainly a game we all love very much in the team. But for once, it became a nightmare. It's true that we wanted to make a tribute to the game, by reviving a part of its spirit through TBT, and it's true that some elements shown in the videos could remind this game. Some people understood us in the right way and supported us for that. All we wanted to say was "look : we can make it too, even though we're indie people !".

However, most of the time, we were accused of plagiarism by people who, in my opinion, lack of imagination. Revealing a worldmap, a hero with a big sword, turn-based battles was in no way synonymous of making a copy of FF7. It was clearly explained in the long presentation of the game on Indiegogo. I fighted hard to explain people (when they were leaving comments about FF7) that TBT would be very different. Most people didn't understand that the recipe of J-RPGs that we loved on the PS1 (2D backgrounds, woldmap, etc...) has been used in most of the best J-RPGs, even if it was different everytime. What makes FF7 different of FF8 or FF9 ? It's certainly not the structure of the game : CG movies, 2D backgrounds, turn-based battles, worldmap... All of that is the exact same. So it has to be the story, the world, the graphics and artistical direction, the characters and also the battle system. What makes Ni No Kuni, Suikoden, Xenoblade or Dragon Quest different of each other ? The exact same reason that would have made TBT different of FF7 !!!

TBT was based on a novel that I believe is very interesting, and I know that it's much more oriented on Sci-Fi than most of the J-RPGs I've played. There was a strong Mass Effect feeling in the lines, and I know that many people would have been surprised in the right way. TBT was the little brother of ASA: A Space Adventure, and when you watch my previous game, does it remind of FF7 ?

The final touch probably came from the press relay. I don't want to find a guilt or anything like that, but when I contacted them and asked that they don't insist on FF7, I was very ashamed when I read titles like "Final Fantasy VII-inspired RPG". That was probably a mistake of mine at the beginning, but as a result, most of the comments in each article focused on the FF7 similarities, instead of seeing an all new project.

3/ Mistakes and misunderstandings

We of course are very involved in the failure of TBT. We know we probably made some beginners mistakes, and most of them were both artistical and technical. The character design wasn't good, the animation was horrible, the music didn't fit the pictures, etc...

All these things were hilighted by people and we did totally agree. That's exaclty the dilemma : we were totally willing to create something improved, and we knew we could have made it with your support, but it was once again a necessity to get funded on Indiegogo.

Look : the character design was easy to improve with the help of a character designer. I know some very good illustrators that didn't have time to draw the heros for free, but that would have been interested in working as freelancers on the real project. Don't forget that we only worked on a Prototype of TBT for 4 months, and that it was obvious for us that it was not perfect. That is the same for the animation : we could have asked the participation of a good animator that we know. And this is true for every point of our to-do list.

Mistakes, there were. And misunderstandings too. It seems that we were not understood when we talked of a "Prototype" version, and that we were not trusted when we explained that most of these mistakes would be fixed. It's not a reproach to anyone. It's just a fact. The prototype was just here to show what the game could be, and we thought people would understand by themselves that it could be even better in the end. This is why we needed such a high funding. 320k euros is a very big sum, it's true, but hey : indie or not, you don't make a J-RPG everyday !

4/ A too high funding goal ?

Indiegogo or not, 320k € is big money, I just said it. Many people probably decided to ignore TBT just because of that. When you see such an amount, it may seem unrealistic.  
"What ? An indie game asking so much ?"
Why, yes ! and I'm proud that I didn't ask even more ! Do you realise that our goal of 320k € is 150 times smaller than the average Final Fantasy-PS1 cost ? This cannot be achieved without a big lot of work, and there's no magic in that, even with the new softwares and technology...
There are also many games on Kickstarter that have a high funding goal, and they're not as ambitious as a J-RPG !

Indie devs are not super-heros. They also have a life, troubles, worries. When someone releases a game like Minecraft or Anodyne, you can be sure that he made a lot of sacrifices in his private life. It may mean eating noodles everyday, or working all the night instead of going to the great saturday party.

For this very reason, I hope that more and more people will start thinking differently about Indie devs and crowdfunding. When we gather money via crowdfunding, we don't keep the money for ourselves ! If we ask big amounts, it's because we really need them for the project, and the project only. We need it to pay the team (which usually is the most expensive part), for the software licences, to promote the product and build a community of people who support us, etc...

5/ Various problems

Well, there would be much more ways of explaining the failure of TBT.

I think of the end of an era : 2.5D J-RPGs don't seem to gather people as much as they used to, especially on the PC. I'm probably very deceived by that, and I wish that I'm wrong. I still have hope that some great new HD J-RPGs will come back, with a worldmap and a great story.

I also think there was a problem of communication. Honestly, I don't really know what happened here. I must have written at least twice to all of the online magazines I found. TBT is on facebook, twitter, blogspot, reddit, and many more, and I tried to make these networks live. I worked hard, during days, in order to gather more and more people. The game has been posted very early in the Concepts category of Steam Greenlight. Then we have been very present to answer all the questions. It's true that we're not businessmen, and we lacked of press relay in famous magazines, despite my efforts.

Finally, I would say we tried to go too fast. The irony is that we had no other choice because of our short calendar (explained in part 1), and we were very aware that it was perillous. But creating a prototype in 3 or 4 months was incredible. Our playable demo was more than 25 minutes long and already included over 20 PNJ and 30 backgrounds. That's amazing. I think that, if we just had more time, we could have reached an even better result.

To conclude, 

I want to thank warmly all the contributors that decided to trust in our project despite the problems and the fact that it's on Indiegogo. We received some big support from french magazines like Game-Sphere.fr and Game Side Story, and it was a pleasure to talk with them in order to improve the project. I don't forget all the nice comments we read over the net. Most of them were very important for us to stay motivated, so keep cheering on indie devs, guys ! And thanks also for all the upvotes on Steam Greenlight.

And now, what's next ? The team is dissolved, so TBT will probably never come back as a J-RPG, or not as is. I'm probably the most affected, as it was my idea, and my dream to revive games with 2D backgrounds. That doesn't mean that I will bury everything. I still have this sci-fi book I have written, and the story can still be used someday. I just don't know when, or how.

For the moment, I will go back to making things all by myself, without crowdfunding. The result will be certainly less ambitious, less rewardful, but there's less trouble in making art that way. I have to think of my personal future too : will I go back to directing short films ? Will I persevere in making games ? Maybe I will think of a sequel to ASA: A Space Adventure. I would make it with another software, to avoid the previous issues, and also more realistic. Or maybe an all new point'n click, 3rd person ?

All I hope is that most of you will keep following my work, even if it's not a J-RPG. I'll let you know when I'm ready to share something new :) Thanks for reading, and talk to you soon !