Interview: Kitfox Games' Tanya Short Talks About Moon Hunters, Kickstarter, and Success with Square Enix Collective
Kitfox's Kickstarter game Moon Hunters is one of the first and most successful games to go through the Square Enix Collective's community selection process.
I had the chance to sit down with Tanya Short, Creative Director of Kitfox Games, and discuss Moon Hunters and the crowdfunding process. Tanya clued us into the workings of the Square Enix Collective, discussed the Kickstarter process and an exclusive new stretch goal, and told us about some decisions that are going into the making of Moon Hunters.
The Moon Hunters Kickstarter campaign has already sprinted past its initial funding goal of $45k CAD (~$40.6k USD) and has already reached $117k CAD (~$105.6k USD) from nearly 4,000 backers at the time of this writing. The funding period will close on Friday, September 26.
Square Enix Collective provides support and visibility, but NOT additional funding.
The Square Enix Collective is a collection of crowdfunding proposals curated by a branch of Square Enix. Projects are submitted according to set of guidelines and those projects that are accepted are put into a pre-funding page where the enthusiast public can vote for the best of the best.
If a project gets enough votes and is approved through the Collective, then that project gets additional publicity, production insight, and campaign support for a 5% fee of the eventually pledged funding - but, the project does not get additional funding from Square Enix.
"We see our #1 enemy as obscurity, if you know we exist, all we have to do is make something you want to play." -Tanya Short on crowdfunding
The process gives aspiring developers extra time to build groundswell, gain a following, and generally see if there is actually any interest in their game idea before putting in the herculean effort required to run a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign.
Gamers get to vote on what games we'd like to see crowdfunded. The Square Enix Collective's voting process echos the grassroots appeal of crowdfunding and kingmaking efficacy. It's cool stuff.
The Collective has been out of the popular spotlight since it launched, but community members have continued to support and vote for projects. Moon Hunters joins a currently small pantheon of community-approved games.
We asked Tanya about the experience so far:
Jay Ricciardi (JR): The Square Enix Collective isn’t providing funding - so what exactly are they providing? Do you feel like the 5% fee is worth the additional exposure? Kitfox is one of the first to go through this process and we are very curious.
Tanya Short (TS): The Square Enix Collective is a way for us to reach more people. Phil Elliott from Square Enix is a true supporter of indie games and studios, and he's been really helpful! I think our project in particular might benefit more than some others because it feels a bit influenced by older Square Enix titles, so our fanbases have a strong overlap, but their network and ability to grab press attention shouldn't be underestimated.
We felt it was worth 5% of whatever we earned, just at the chance of having those bigger press outlets and their mailing list hear about us existing. We see our #1 enemy as obscurity -- if you know we exist, all we have to do is make something you want to play, and we think that's the easy part. So we're glad Square Enix will help with getting our name out there.
What is Moon Hunters?
Moon Hunters is a collaborative co-op game featuring top-down brawler combat mechanics and a pixel-art aesthetic, but with an interactive storytelling twist. The game is short, randomly generated each playthrough, and relies heavily on what Kitfox is calling a mythology system: inspired by the real tales of mythology in our world, your character's mythology is defined by branching decisions made in reaction to each newly generated game world. Worlds have a set number of factions and consistent lore, but levels, bosses, and other encounters may differ in each playthrough.
The emphasis is on decisions and what you, the purveyor of your own mythology, will be remembered for:
Your choices each become part of the myth, joining your tribe's pantheon of heroes. How will you be remembered by your tribe in generations to come?
- Moon Hunter's Kickstarter page
JR: The idea of mythology being more about decision making instead of conquest is intriguing - where are you drawing inspiration from?
TS: Honestly, looking at actual mythology and folktales is where I get most of my inspiration, and they're often very strange. Not often really about war. I mean, The Iliad is obsessed with gory battles and grisly deaths, but almost any other source is just full of stories of humans, doing interesting things. Seducing, transforming, eating, traveling -- almost always traveling.
Whether you're looking at The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Poetic Edda, or Journey to the West, it's always about going somewhere interesting, meeting interesting people and eating interesting food. They're stories about going places, which is perfect for games. And of course as a designer, I can't help making it all about decisions along the way.
JR: How will boss/milestone encounters be represented in-game? Will there be multiple per playthrough? What aspects of player mythology affect boss encounters?
TS: Each play-through is only a couple of hours, so there's usually only one major boss fight per journey, but I don't want to spoil too much. Suffice to say that your legend and traits effect the characters around you, and it will be very difficult to escape becoming a hero without being someone's enemy.
JR: How is the idea of player death worked into the theme of mythology? If it is possible to answer without spoilers: what marks the end of a player’s mythology?
TS: We've had a few questions about how Moon Hunters holds up as a roguelike, and I want to clarify that it's really not a game about dying.
It's OK to give the controller to your little brother or sister and let them play a few rounds. It's less about punishment (boss fights excluded here, naturally), and more about exploring the possibilities of the world and the tribes.
Kickstarter: Developer Perspective
JR: The introduction video is gorgeous and the campaign page, full of gifs and art, shows some solid production value - How much preparation and pre-campaign work went into the Kickstarter pre-launch?
TS: Thanks! Well, Xin and I have been working off-and-on on the art direction and world-building for the past 8 months or so, filling up the art bible and initial concepts/direction.
But the full team has only been on the project for about 2 months, and we plan to re-vamp a lot of that to account for the online co-op we're likely to be able to afford due to the Kickstarter's crazy success. I don't think most of that work was waste though -- we created initial prototypes for the systems, and now we're ready to really buckle down and get the game ready to ship next summer.
JR: Kitfox has the distinct advantage of having a successful and notable game already under belt on Steam - what lessons have you learned from Shattered Planet that you are applying to Moon Hunters?
TS: Well, we definitely learned a lot about each other (since that was our first game together), and even more about procedural generation. Our main learning (besides each others' favorite candy) was that for a more story-driven game, to have real consequences and deep flavor to everything, we needed to zoom out the procedural generation a bit.
Where Shattered Planet is generated tile-by-tile in little tiny stand-alone bits every time, Moon Hunters will be built out of pre-designed chunks that fit together, more of a Diablo philosophy. We'll get to create a much richer world this way.
Shattered Planet: Kitfox Games' first success on Steam
JR: In a previous interview on GameSkinny, you mentioned the internal debate and discussion of payment model for Shattered Planet. What payment model has Kitfox decided on for Moon Hunters?
TS: Moon Hunters is 100% premium. Pay $15 up-front and you get the game, on all platforms (Steam, Humble, PlayStation 4, Vita, whatever)! No debate at all, haha, except whether maybe we should have charged $19.99... the price might still go up depending on a few variables, so be sure to grab it on Kickstarter if that $4.99 matters to you!
JR: Now that you’re just about to hit the online multiplayer stretch goal, will multiplayer be cross platform? Or will PC/Mac and PlayStation 4 multiplayer games be separate?
TS: It will probably be completely PC and Mac, not PS4 at all! But by the time Moon Hunters comes out, we're hoping the PlayStation 4 has the "pass the pad" technology Sony announced at E3, in which case our local multiplayer will obviously allow online as well, by default.
JR: Speaking of stretch goals: With the current trend of funding, it looks like the final announced stretch goal ($135k - Vita version) is near at hand. Any ideas for additional stretch goals if you do hit $135k?
TS: Oh yeah! We have lots more things on our wish-list, the biggest one of which is a sixth player class. I can reveal here -- a GameSkinny exclusive! -- that it's a Sun Cultist, so a bit of an anti-hero, hated by everyone for worshipping such a symbol of ancient evil and death. But I'm hoping we achieve that particular stretch goal, as I think belief conflicts are some of the more interesting moments in human history, and it'd be fun to write from his perspective.
Note: Bold added for emphasis.
JR: If you had one piece of Kickstarter advice for other aspiring game developers looking for funding, what would you tell them?
TS: Whether or not you're Kickstarting, if you're a game developer, you have to start marketing and building your community NOW. Don't wait until you have a video, don't wait until you have a Kickstarter, and definitely don't wait until you have a game. Show off what you have. Find people that like it. Get a mailing list going. It'll be slow at first -- but that's how it works. It takes time, and it's easier to be patient now, before your game's finished and sitting on a store page.
MAKE A GAME! Whoever you are! There are free tools and tutorials online and it's an art form like no other. Make a game!
For those who love charts (like me) and would like to visualize Moon Hunter's recent success, check out the below Kicktraq mini-graph:
Images courtesy of Kitfox Games' Kickstarter page.