I backed Nox Archaist's second Kickstarter

May 6th, 2019 7:27 PM
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Last week, 6502 Workshop launched the second Kickstarter for Nox Archaist, an original 8-bit RPG for the Apple II.

As a teacher of crowdfunding workshops at every level from local libraries to graduate programs at Emerson College and Harvard University, I'd been invited to consult on this campaign several months ago. I gave them some advice, though mostly minor, as they'd already learned their lessons from their first Kickstarter.

That previous crowdfunding attempt launched in September 2017 and was cancelled a month later after raising $19,656, well short of its $43,078 goal. Using production and marketing strategies they outlined in the March 2019 issue of Juiced.GS, the team behind Nox Archaist brought their costs down to $8,500. The second Kickstarter hit that goal in under two hours and raised more funding in 8.5 hours than their first campaign did in an entire month.

The campaign's success is now a certainty; the only uncertainty was whether I should've backed it.

That's not a question of the game's quality, which looks amazing; the team's dependability, in which I am confident; or my own eagerness, which is evident! But I always think twice before backing a product that I'll ultimately be responsible for reviewing, or for editing a review of. Nox Archaist is a prime candidate for a Juiced.GS review or feature, and one could say that, by dropping $89 on the collector's edition boxed set, I have an investment in the game's success. I would counter that I'm simply preordering the game, which is less ethically complicated than a member of the press accepting a free review copy — but then, why preorder the game instead of just waiting to buy it when the finished product is made commercially available to the general public?

The answer has to do with the size of the Apple II community. There is almost no one making sizable (or any) profits off Apple II hardware or software these days; everyone does what they do for the love of it. The very first Kickstarter I ever backed was for Jason Scott's sabbatical. Shortly thereafter, when interviewing him for a Computerworld article, I asked him a question that had been lingering in the back of my mind: why should I have backed his Kickstarter, primarily to fund the completion of the GET LAMP documentary, when he'll be eventually make money off the finished documentary's sale? Jason acknowledged that this was a valid question, and if I wanted to judge a product by its commercial viability, then I shouldn't back such projects. But not every product that's valuable or important is also commercially viable, and a single person's pledge can make the difference between such a product existing and it not existing.

I want Nox Archaist to exist. Even if I never play it, I want to live in a world where Nox Archaist exists. Having spoken with 6502 Workshop's Mark Lemmert online and at KansasFest, I know Nox Archaist is something he's passionate about. He's made his investment; now he's asking us to match it with dollars.

If that means putting a disclaimer in an issue of Juiced.GS, then that's worth it.

Nox Archaist on Kickstarter

October 16th, 2017 4:19 PM
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Nox Archaist, an 8-bit tile-based role-playing game in development by 6502 Workshop, is currently in the last week of its Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

Nox Archaist first hit my radar in April 2016, when developer Mark Lemmert emailed me about contributing content for Juiced.GS. Mark has since written three articles about the behind-the-scenes development of this game and recruited me to contribute a unique issue of Juiced.GS available exclusively to Kickstarter backers.

Nox Archaist and games like it are important to me, as I grew up playing the games that inspired it, like The Magic Candle and Ultima III: Exodus. While I love the narrative of modern RPGs, they're often more linear, with a definitive route from the beginning to the ending. By contrast, games like Ultima offered an open world in which I could discover towns haphazardly, receive clues that wouldn't make sense until much later, and marvel with my friends at the different places, people, and monsters we were each encountering in our unique journeys.

Game design has come a long way in the thirty years since, and it's possible to recreate those early experiences while still applying everything we've learned in the intervening decades about elegant user interfaces, character progression, and more. While Nox Archaist isn't the first game to recently promise the best of both worlds, it seems likely to be the first to hit market.

The Nox Archaist crowdfunding campaign is seeking $43,078, which is ambitious by itself but modest compared to Unknown Realm, a similar RPG whose Kickstarter received $126,343 earlier this year. Nox Archaist's campaign started off strong, with donors making an average pledge of $109 each — no doubt enticed by getting in-game towns and artifacts named after them. The campaign currently stands at 41% funded — and 78% of projects that raised more than 20% of their goal are successfully funded. But without continued momentum, the Kicktraq prediction for this campaign is not favorable.

If this Kickstarter does not succeed, then per the platform's all-or-nothing nature, 6502 Workshop will receive none of the pledged funds. But I'm hopeful, even if that happens, that the game itself will nonetheless be a success — whether it seeks additional funding via a more flexible platform, such as Indiegogo, or simply proceeds as an exclusively homebrew effort. The Apple II needs games like Nox Archaist.

Game Informer's Top 100 RPGs

June 19th, 2017 7:51 AM
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In the 1980s, role-playing games, or RPGs, were my favorite genres of computer and video games. The hours of character development and narrative created a much richer fictional world than the era's action games. Perhaps due to their inability to translate to arcades, RPGs were a niche genre, and so I hungrily played any I could get my hands on.

The decades since have seen an explosion in the popularity of RPGs, or at least the willingness to serve that niche — so much, that the cover story of issue #290 of Game Informer is the staff's picks for the top hundred RPGs of all time. To have had that many to choose from in the 1980s would've been staggering, though Game Informer admits that the definition of RPG has become nebulous, now encompassing such modern titles as Mass Effect 3, Destiny, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Fortunately, Game Informer acknowledges the genre's roots by including several Apple II games on their list:

The criteria for the staff's selection were not disclosed, so it's hard to say whether these games were acknowledged because they were fun to play then, are still fun to play, or are important to the evolution of gaming. Wasteland, for example, is noted as being the pre-cursor to Fallout; Wizardry is "often cited as the first party-based RPG"; and for The Bard's Tale, "Some players may still have their hand-drawn graph paper maps tucked away in an old box."

Regardless, with so many franchises, platforms, publishers, and developers at play, it's impressive that the Apple II got so many mentions. But any listicle is bound to be contentious, and no one will fully agree with the choices or order of games. For example, Game Informer has probably never played one of my favorite Apple II games: The Magic Candle. With a jobs system in which player characters could learn crafts and trades, earn money from town jobs, and even split the party, it was an innovative and ahead of its time, being released three years before Final Fantasy V, which is often hailed for its job system.

What Apple II RPGs would you have included on this list, and why?

Competing for a gamer's heart

July 11th, 2011 3:54 PM
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Popular culture abounds with tales of lovers lost to gaming addictions. Guys and gals who can't tear themselves away from World of Warcraft often emerge from their fantasy to find themselves without the partner they'd attracted offline.

Peter Molyneux. Photo by Daniel Alexander Smith.I never understood the competition some romancers feel toward electronic entertainment. Computer and video games can be great bonding experiences, whether you're playing cooperatively or competitively, or simply offering a passive experience for your partner to observe and enjoy.

Nonetheless, resentment has been a popular emotion engendered by gaming for longer than there have been MMORPGs — though role-playing games do tend to be a trend, as evidenced by Peter Molyneux's own tale. The creator of popular PC and Xbox games Populous, Black & White, and Fable was recently prompted to recall his first encounter with computer games:

The first proper game was probably Wizardry on the old Apple II. I totally became obsessed with that game, to the point where I lost my girlfriend by playing it – I left her down the pub three times! Because it was on floppy disk… Once, my floppy disk was written off and that night I immediately got in the car and I drove 150 miles to find another Wizardry player so I could get a copy of the disc. It was the first game really that I ever played with levelling-up. It was set in a dungeon, and there was a mad god, and it had spells. It was wireframe, but in my imagination I was down there in that dungeon.

Given the career and status this famed developer has attained since being inspired by that Apple II game in 1981, it's certainly the girlfriend's loss to have not seen the potential in that marriage.

Have you ever had to curb your gaming enthusiasm to placate your partner? What have you done to try to turn a paramour into a player?

(Hat tip to Neon Kelly)