I’m a Backer: Blackspace – Plan. Dig. Defend. Survive.
Welcome to the sixth installment of your favorite weekly column, “I’m a Backer.” To date four of the previous five projects we have discussed have funded successfully (some very successfully), with last week’s contender currently just above the halfway mark. If you are a mobile gamer, I encourage you to stop by and give it a second look. While I understand that not every project I back can be successful, it would be a shame if I missed … I mean, if all of us missed out on the opportunity to play this wonderful game.
This week we continue with another video game, Blackspace. Whereas the last video game we covered was a beautiful retro game brought forward into the modern age, this week’s fabulous project is straight from the future. This re-imagined RTS brought to you by PixelFoundry, is as sleek and modern as they come. Straddling some boundaries tastefully, while shattering others entirely, it is a feature-rich breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale genre that has been dominated by a few aging dynasties. Intrigued?
If you want details, follow me.
Blackspace as I mentioned previously is an RTS, first and foremost. You gather resources to build units and buildings, and then use those units and buildings to advance up tech trees, gather more resources, and ultimately kill bad guys. In this particular game you are given two choices with which to do this: you can use the units, or the lander to accomplish tasks. The lander is a player controlled avatar that functions as your own hand of god; it is equipped with a variety of (upgradable) features capable of mining or killing with equal ease. You see – this whole game takes place on asteroids, and creation and destruction are two sides of one very thin coin.
The resources aren’t static nodes like in most examples of this genre. They are buried in the ground, and you’ve got to dig them up if you want to use them. You can assign the little worker bees to do it, or you can launch a salvo of missiles at the canyon wall, and bam – instant quarry. When you have these resources you can use them to build buildings that range from warehouses to turrets. Many of those buildings can then be used to build units that can mine or fight to varying degrees. If all of that sounds like it takes too long, you can also take large rocks and fling them, meteor style, into your opponents. It looks quite impressive in the videos.
This game is an RTS in the broadest sense, but it is more than that. I see in its long list of influences voxel games (currently all the rage on Kickstarter), more resource intensive strategy games like Sim City, and even tower defense games in the way combat flows. Taken as a whole, the title looks vibrant, and compelling, but as we all know, there is more to a good Kickstarter than the product.
The presentation on their project page is professional and engaging. The art assets are abundant and fill in the blanks left by some of the placeholder geometry in the video. Taken as a whole, you can see that the creative team behind this project is certainly not selling vaporware, but that they still have a ways to go to make the finished game we all want to play. This is, I think, the sweet spot to come to Kickstarter and ask the masses for their money; if you come before this point you don’t have much to show besides pocket lint and a dream, but if you arrive nearly done, then people rightly ask why you need their money. I was gratified to see that this project backed several other related projects before putting themselves out there.
As far as problems with the project, I have few to report. The only area I see that they could have improved on is better explaining why they need $350,000. Telling us how much of that goes to overhead, licences salary, and outside help like a musician goes a long way towards establishing urgency and credibility. Currently Blackspace is ~30% funded, and I think they are well positioned to succeed.
After taking the time to write this review, I had a chance to ask the creators a couple of questions about this wonderful project:
Asteroid mining is a favorite topic of mine, but it seems a strange setting for an RTS. Why did you choose it?
One of my favorite parts of RTS gaming is the resource collection. Being able to set up the processes just right to accommodate the plans I have for domination. It seems a good place to have a constricted environment for RTS play without arbitrary borders. These borders are enforced by the nature of the play surface. The asteroid setting also gives the game design opportunity to really exploit some of the inherent dangers to this setting. It is very fertile ground for introducing new and interesting game mechanics. I am also fascinated with the real life possibilities as well, it’s really inspirational that people are doing it for real, albeit a bit differently than in my world.
I talked briefly about how I feel the style of this game is very eclectic; what would you say its strongest influences are?
The design takes parts of the things that I love about games. I’ve been an RTS fan for a long time. Warcraft to me is still an RTS. I was also a big fan of the defensive end of this genre. I was the turtle, conserving my resources and slowly expanding across the map. In C&C back when you could be effective as a turtle, and in Total Annihilation where I amassed my Ethernet crushing army of airplanes. I wanted to make a game that reflected the most enjoyable parts of the game for me. I also quite enjoyed games like Battlezone and Giants: Citizen Kabuto. I liked the idea of being right there and involved in the battle. Then there’s the games like Plants vs. Zombies, say what you will about casual games, that one did a lot of things right. The balancing was superb, if a bit clinical. I’d say all these games are in some way influential in the game design of Blackspace.
Will a successful KS campaign enable you to hire more personnel, or will you continue on as a three person studio?
We absolutely want to hire. Its pretty much the reason we started the campaign. The only way to get a game like this done in a reasonable amount of time is to hire some talented people. This isn’t Starcraft, but it isn’t a small game either.
Can you explain to everyone (including me) why you need a successful project on both Kickstarter and Steam’s Greenlight? What is the relationship between those two efforts?
Greenlight is another great place to connect with gamers, and to hear from them on a large scale. It helps us get a gauge of how our game is perceived by the community in general. If Greenlight is successful, the ability to sell the game on the worlds largest digital distribution platform is quite obviously very attractive to us. It also has already raised some attention to our Kickstarter project, bringing people who hadn’t previously heard about the game over to Kickstarter to check it out.
Blackspace looks like a great game. What are your plans after you release it? Expansions? More features? Other projects?
Depending on the success of Blackspace, we have some goals we want to reach before starting new projects. We will try to support more languages, port to other operating systems, port to consoles, and the biggest feature we want to add is Multiplayer Co-op and PVP. If that is successful, we want the world of Blackspace to grow. We see Blackspace as a universe within which many games can fit. We hope to see a long line of space based games come from this initial one. Games that compliment each other and actually overlap. Imagine building a mining empire in Blackspace and then ferrying those resources for trade in an extension game. Or a game more like Sins of a Solar Empire where space trading and resource gathering are simply small parts played by real people in your vast network of control. I think it’s possible to spawn a variety of games off of one small concept. Obviously we have to live in the moment and get this game off the ground, but who knows, if this is successful I can see some very interesting titles growing from this, there’s no shortage of ideas.