Broken Age: Act 1

Broken Age: Act 1 Features for PC

On: PC
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Broken Age screenshot
Broken Age screenshot

Tim Schafer, eh? The great symbol of independent video game development, the formerly trapped auteur who broke free of the system with your cash, then promptly did a Coppola and couldn't get anything done on time or on budget. Right now there's probably about sixty-five executives laughing, feet up in their super-villain shaming boardrooms, lighting cigars with 100 dollar bills and making the wanker sign to all of us (that's what they do, right?).

And they're right. What's happened to Double Fine - or, more accurately, what it has done to itself - is so drearily predictable that you could have written this copy as soon as the public forked over $3 million on a promise. It's cool for creatives to moan about The Man, as they should. But without boundaries in place, this is what happens, with alarming regularity.

Look at the aforementioned Francis Ford Coppola. Running wild on the success of The Godfather and its sequel, plus The Conversation, he went to the Philippines to shoot Apocalypse Now, which he financed, in part, by himself. He was going to own that sucker. Instead, it ended up owning him, as budget overruns, heart attacks, and natural disasters inflated the budget. It all turned out fine, of course, but only after years in the jungle and a studio having to step in and put up some cash.

But that was a film, I hear you cry. Of course it ran over: Coppola seemed to be insane, after all. Good point. So here's a slightly different example, from Hideo Kojima himself. Remember MGS2? Remember when it was going to be the greatest game of all time? Remember when it turned out to be a crazy, bloated, mess of a game that is one of the most disappointing sequels of all time? Why? Because Konami let 'Krazy Koj' - who admittedly did create the brilliant original - run riot. It turned out to be bobbins. Kojima was the hottest designer in the world, and no idea was too stupid, or too confusing, to be denied. Even though it wasn't technically his second game, Kojima was set free to do everything that he wanted (see also the Wachowski siblings) and fell into the textbook definition of second-system effect.

No restrictions means no-one telling you that what you're doing is wrong, and having creative control clustered around a few people - with no oversight - means that whims will be indulged. Just ask John Romero, who came up with Daikatana after Eidos gave him his own studio, a ton of money, and no-one to answer to but his own ego (and possibly his hair stylist). Romero ended up lost in a cycle of technological catch-up, much like his contemporary George Broussard, and didn't know when to stop, bloating his game beyond all reason.

Broken Age screenshot

So it's a little worrying when Schafer himself says he's made "too much game". I'm not saying that Broken Age will be as bad as the previous examples. It may well even be excellent. Is Tim Schafer a bad dude? No. Is he an awesomely creative individual responsible for some of video gaming's finest moments? Yes. Did he get massively overwhelmed, overconfident, overexcited? Yes. Maybe. Either way, he asked for $400,000, got $3 million, and by his own admission designed too much content.

Which, really, isn't an excuse. Building a video game isn't as simple as just designing something: it's iteration after iteration after iteration, and adding more people or mechanics doesn't solve the problem - it worsens it. Schafer knows this, of course. As such, he ought to know better than to make the mistakes that he has.

But then again, should he? Has it been his job to oversee this stuff in the past? Or was he, the creator, merely told to come up with something and prodded back into line when he didn't do it how the publisher wanted? Maybe. Executives might be assholes - or come across as such - but they get paid so that the creator doesn't run amok.

Speaking of creating, there's also the uncomfortable question of why did Double Fine take on Massive Chalice - and Kickstart it, no less - when it should have been obvious to everyone at the studio that the game people had already paid for was nowhere near done?

I want Broken Age to be good, because Schafer is a wonderful designer, and seems like a nice enough guy. But the simple fact is that the poster child for Kickstarter has just shown cutting The Man out of the equation isn't enough. It never has been, and never will. Creatives need oversight. And without that, we'll be back here again and again, and

Editor's Note: Unfortunately Steve wrote 'too much words' and as such the rest of the article will be published next year.

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Los_VALOS's Avatar

Los_VALOS

Gotta give credit where credit is due though, MGS2 is still one of the smartest games ever made. It's always the same, journos yelling about devs never taking chances, and gamers not biting when they do.. Seems a bit odd that you're putting it so conclusively though, you'd think a competent studio with good management would have the foresight and experience not to overestimate themselves. So I guess it was us who overestimated Double Fine. I still believe in the business model with a more modest dev at the helm though.
Posted 21:45 on 03 July 2013
MJTH's Avatar

MJTH

It's seems that it is just as hard plan in case for if you're far to successful, as it is to plan in case of a failure.

Double Fine made a ludicrous amount of money from their Kickstarter. That sounded like a good thing at first. The problem is since they only originally asked for $400K, they only planned ahead with that in mind. So when they found themselves with over 3 million, they couldn't just make the game that would of cost them $400K. People would see the lack of content, and ask where did all the money go.

So with that $3 million they became over confident and really pushed the boat out. However a year later they found that in the process of making the best game they could for their kickstarter backers, 3 million hasn't stretched as far as they wanted to and now they are stuck with no money left.

I have backed a lot kickstarters (25 as of now, not just games, but a many which I only put in a £1), but I tend to only back games that I see with working footage. It shows that creators in question know what they're doing, have planned ahead.
Posted 18:23 on 03 July 2013
Syme's Avatar

Syme

As much as MGS2 is a self-indulgent mess, MGS3 is probably the best in the series and a lot of things in that game wouldn't have passed with a more hands-on publisher and that would be a shame.
Posted 16:53 on 03 July 2013
Darkr8zor's Avatar

Darkr8zor

Wasteland 2 seems to be ticking along fine - equating the amount of funding (or it's source), to the efficent use of resources, doesn't necessarily tally.

In the long term Kickstarter may prove to be the most effective for developers with a proven track record in successful k/s projects as backers 'invest' their money on success.

Come to think of it, Shadowrun Returns will be out soon and *touch wood* looks like it will be what the backers wanted (and hopefully others too).
Posted 13:56 on 03 July 2013
munkee's Avatar

munkee

Good article.

If I could be bothered to trawl back though the VG blog history I could find a post I wrote about exactly this, how it would unlikely succeed without having anybody to answer to, and why I wouldn't fund Kickstarter projects.

Right now I would type "I told you so" here.
Posted 13:27 on 03 July 2013

Game Stats

Release Date: 28/01/2014
Developer: Double Fine
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Rating: TBC
Site Rank: 663 55
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