#CrowdPleasers #001 – Long Gone Days on IndieGoGo

My passion for crowd-funding was kindled during the time I spent as part of the nascent Indivisible fan community as we campaigned to help Lab Zero Games reach their oft scoffed at funding goal. I grew to appreciate, through my efforts as well as through observation, the work that goes into setting up a campaign and the emotional toll that the ride from launch to finale can take on those involved. I started to want to understand what exactly it takes to make a good crowd-funding campaign, and have spent hours just poring over the category pages of KickStarter and IndieGoGo looking at not only what catches my eye but what doesn’t, and why. I’m not going to call myself an expert, or say that I have this down to a science, because I’m not and I don’t. I will, however, dedicate some of my time to trying to point out campaigns that I believe people should be paying attention to, and highlight in them what they do right, what they do wrong, and try to help those on the fence make a decision on what to do with their hard-earned money.

To that end, let me introduce you to Long Gone Days, presently on IndieGoGo, with just over a week left to reach its fixed-funding goal. Take a minute to open that link in another tab, scroll through it a bit, and then we’ll get down to business. The first thing that jumps out at you about this campaign is how clean and pretty it looks. Information is well organized and clearly labeled throughout the page, and all of the art assets are stunning. The in-game pixel art on display is smooth and attractive, with an aesthetic that is fresh and separates it from the bulk of 2D RPG Maker styled games on crowd-funding sites. Long Gone Days let’s you know, right off the bat, that it isn’t like anything else you’ve seen a million times before. This stellar sprite art is complimented by a near flawless level of execution in the Anime-styled character portraits and cut scene art. It all looks so shiny, smooth, and, best of all, professional. Professional is always a good note to hit. Crowd-funding sites are rife with projects looking for your money that, from just a casual glance, cause you to instantly question whether or not they can deliver a fully realized, polished, completed as proposed result.

Their campaign’s rewards are also well thought out, focusing primarily on easily deliverable digital content, with the physical rewards all being lightweight and shippable items that do not require a lot of effort to guarantee they are produced on-time and to specifications. Fifteen dollars will net you a copy of the game on launch, while thirty gets you the game, the OST, and a digital art book. They’ve priced these tiers well, I feel, as it guarantees that almost anyone can get in on the game – let’s be fair, I know not everyone has $15 to throw around online, but the average person who is going to be looking at crowd-funding campaigns for video games probably does. Even when they do get to the higher tiers, which on average are home to more complicated rewards for a campaign to deliver, I see nothing which is inherently difficult for them to bring to fruition. At $250 and up you can, in some capacity, get yourself or something you designed, added into the game world but the physical goods on offer still remain trinkets, posters, signed prints, and the like. For a game asking a budget of only twenty thousand, this is a smart move. I’ve seen numerous stories about crowd-funding campaigns being wrecked by the unanticipated costs of an ever changing international shipping scene and too many bulky physical goods to ship to their supporters. Long Gone Days’ campaign keeps it simple, which in turn keeps it deliverable.

With our faith in them bolstered by their clean, crisp, and professional looking campaign page, and their achievable funding goals for the project, let’s  get to the meat of this: the game they want to make. You may not have noticed that small quip at the top of the campaign page, in plain text, indicating that they have a demo available further down the page. Uncomfortably far down the page. This does them a strong disservice, as their demo is of superb quality. After the success of campaigns like Indivisible or Undertale, and the failure to deliver from Mighty No. 9, it is becoming increasingly imperative that video game crowd-funding efforts include some kind of playable demo. As such, the availability of a playable demo, particularly one of as high a quality as Long Gone Days has on display, should certainly be a highlight of the campaign and not be relegated to the bottom 1/8th of the page. It most certainly should not be below fan art contest entries in your main campaign page. I wonder how many people never downloaded the demo because they got bored of scrolling down to find it?

promo-demomac_yvwyha

Image taken from their campaign page.

If the unique setting, gorgeous visuals, and professional campaign page actually got you all the way to the demo, it offers up a wealth of talking points. The pixel art images shown on the campaign page hold up well in the demo, with a nice smoothness to them that is only marred by a slight stutter in the walk cycle of main character Rourke. A fault I anticipate will no longer be present in the final game. The environments in the demo are, of course, limited in scope but are all lovingly rendered. The colour palettes used from scene to scene really help enhance the emotional state of the characters in those moments, which could be happenstance or serendipity, but which I would hope are intentional efforts made by the artists on board. The sniping mechanic that is introduced quite early on in the game is a fun, if brief, excursion into how to create a secondary combat system in a retro-styled RPG. The “night vision” aesthetic makes the targets clearly identifiable, and the demo gives you plenty of time to fiddle and adjust your aim so it is on target. Without spoiling a big plot moment I can’t tell you why, but this sniping segment is remarkably easy to get through. It perfectly demonstrates what the ideas behind the mechanic are.  There is a lot of potential here, and I’m certainly curious about how the sniping features will function when the enemy targets are more responsive, Will they run in evasive, less predictable patterns? Will they take advantage of cover to make sniping more difficult? Will they fire back with weapons that have the range to hit you? Will there be sniper/counter-sniper duels? Answers certainly won’t be forthcoming unless the game is made.

 

While the demo is, certainly, outstanding and I still have more positive things to say about it, there are some areas where they could do to improve. Everything about the demo would be far more engaging, personally, if it had gamepad support. The control scheme on the keyboard was uncomfortable for my setup, and did the game a bit of a disservice and I do not think that I would, anytime soon, purchase a new keyboard exclusively to make one game feel more comfortable to play. Realistically, I don’t think allowing gamepad functionality would be too difficult for them to implement and I hope that they do.

Long Gone Days has a very well thought out world, which feels like it is rich with backstory and pregnant with tensions and meaning. The technologically advanced, secret and, literally, underground militarized nation known as The Core feels familiar and terrifyingly fresh at the same time. Combined in them is the fear of the deep, the mysterious things that come from below to assail us,  and the fear of fascism and military dictatorships prevalent in the 20th and 21st century zeitgeist. There is an interesting plot to be had here, and interesting characters to enact it… However, this is all marred by how poorly paced the plot is, and how poorly explained the characters’ motivations are. The believability of Adair’s defection is particularly suspect.  He goes from being cynical about Rourke and knowing, in advance, what kind of shenanigans are part of the mission they are on to being a full-blown, willing defector in what feels like a heartbeat. Like a binary loyal/disloyal switch was just flicked by the grand deities of fiction. That crucial establishing act of the demo feels like everything is just moving too quickly. This as well, I hope, is the fault of the limited scope of a demo and should be corrected in a full release that gives the player the time investment needed to properly develop character and motivation.

The game’s morale system, as explained in the campaign’s page, paints a wonderful picture of potential. However, in my experience with the demo, it wasn’t difficult at all to navigate the morale prompts as they were presented. It left me feeling as if the morale system were underrepresented in the demo. Yet, I still came off of it feeling as if it had unexplored depths that would come with major game changing ramifications if you have to balance multiple characters against each other as you aim for the optimal morale for success. I don’t know what the final roster size the developers intend to give their audience, but this feature of the game would be best served by a larger cast. At least, as I see it playing out. I would be happy to have them prove otherwise.

With exciting potentialities in mind, it’s the perfect time to discuss how the “interpreters “idea has legs. Long Gone Days, being set in a version of reality just a touch off centre from our own, takes full advantage of an asset rarely used to full potential in video games: Languages. As you move through the game’s world you are forced to interact with people and in-game elements that Rourke does not understand, because they are in a foreign language. Dialogue and other text emanating from these sources is written, in game, in an actual language other than English. Take, for instance, the early signpost Rourke and Adair encounter written in Cyrillic. For the player to be able to take advantage of these characters etc., they must actively seek out and recruit interpreters who can bridge the gap. I doubt we will see this concept taken to its limits mechanically, from a game design standpoint, but this feature screams of flavour and immersion. The greater the number of characters and languages available, the more that this feature will help to give players who want to learn as much as they can about the game world to latch on and find something to look forward to. Each interpreter recruited allowing you to backtrack towards new rewards again and again, without it feeling entirely arbitrary.  The biggest fear I have with this feature is that they’ll incorrectly use a language’s grammar or make an egregious spelling or word choice error. The magic in this feature is in striving to present each language as impeccably as possible.

The battle system in Long Gone Days falls into a neutral position for me. Aesthetically it is very pleasing. Crisp, simple menus enhanced with just the right amount of graphical design flair compliment lavishly illustrated enemy sprites. I’d expect nothing less from this game. Aesthetics aside, however, it isn’t as polished as it would seem. The ability to target different parts of your enemy, like old RPG composite monsters but for every single opponent you face, lends a sense of real world tactical combat to the game. This enhances the flavour of the Long Gone Days greatly, but unfortunately I often felt lost in combat, not understanding what the optimal strategy would be against these enemies. Figuring out the combat learning curve wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t also accompanied by an unusually high and sudden spike in difficulty for a demo. The enemy troops dole out damage in amounts that I felt ill-prepared to deal with based on the supplies made available to me through my playthrough. I can see how that could be intentional, to make the player feel the pressure these characters are under to survive ill-equipped in a hostile world, but it didn’t work out that way for me. I felt frustrated by it, not immersed in it. Once again, as this is a demo, I can see room to easily grow and make the game more welcoming for a diverse player base. At least so far as the early stages of the game are concerned.

I aim to be honest in my assessments of a campaign and the samples of content that they have available for the public to make financial decisions upon. Long Gone Days is a stellar campaign, with a superb demo, that is not without its flaws. These flaws are, in my assessment, not indicative of any crippling issues and will likely be negligible, or not present, in the final version of the game.

I WOULD SPEND: $30-$150

When it comes to supporting crowd-funded videogames, I always, at a minimum, select a reward level that will net me a playable copy of the game upon completion. More often than not, if my budget allows it I opt for a tier that includes a physical copy (and if I have it in the budget, a physical art book!). With that in mind, this is the price range that I would recommend you put forward. If you’ve made it this far, hopefully your interest in Long Gone Days has been piqued.

 

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