Yesterday I wrote about my search for a Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball demake that I scoured the web to play. Unfortunately, I have yet to get my hands on a copy, but I did have something a bit better. An interesting story behind the developers of a game many of us have had our attentions on for a while.
That game was Project Zomboid and I was kinda shocked by that.
My attention doesn’t ever really stay with zombie games, but you will always get my attention with an isometric RPG set in a unique setting. I had filed this away in the coffers of my mind back when it was in the earlier stages. Yet, to see the evolution of these developers through what is basically an online paper trail was something really interesting.
The Indie Stone’s story follows much of indie gaming’s milestones. It truly does. You have the departure from big business to indie gaming before August 2008. By the time 2D Boy had released their resounding hit World of Goo, they had already finished their 2nd title and had begun pursuing XNA and the XBLIG market. This is understandable as the chance to instantly hop on a console with your game is huge.
Andy Hodgetts would later go on to talk about his experience with the industry at Rezzed: “As you hear it said nowadays (and you didn’t use to hear it said) is that making games is a job now. And it isn’t just a job, and I hate it when people say that.” That is why they experimented with these first two titles and why they went from games industry to gaming indies.
March 2011, the developers get rejected by Microsoft and really begin to see the fault of relying on XNA. Around this same time, Microsoft was going through a number of their own issues with alienating many of the indie developers on the scene. If you’ll recall, 2011 was the year that XNA began to have some very vocal devs with some pretty big issues with the behind the scenes stuff with Microsoft. The most public of which began when the entire indie marketplace disappeared in a single update. That’s not to say that Microsoft had anything specifically to do with derailing the Indie Stone, just that the timeline starts to intersect.
That’s when the developers decided to start being progressive and working off of a pre-order system with an active Alpha. I say decided, because I’m not sure they had any other choice. This was a paradigm which Minecraft had showcased how indies could become extremely successful with. When the Indie Stone began planning Project Zomboid, Kickstarter had become a real thing that had begun changing the concept of indie fundraising. It was a real option to a lot of developers, but unfortunately it didn’t open in the UK until 2012. This meant that these Brits would have to rely on a simple donate button and a concept to net them the rent so they could begin.
Project Zomboid was basically jump started with £3,000 worth of donations. By the time this money was run through, they had enough of a game made to begin pushing for alpha funding. In a post on his blog, Chris Simpson laid out that “£3,000 didn’t last us long. But by the time we needed more, we’d made more to keep us ticking over. And all this started with a blog post, a few bullet points, a screenshot and a Paypal button.”
This Alpha funding would bring the game from little more than a concept, to Desura and then Steam Greenlight where it would be in the first batch of approvals in the process. The problems they had gone through during that time were cautionary tales to anybody starting off with Alpha funding. First, they were taken down by pirate hacks, which had them rethink how they would distribute. Then they had their apartment broken into with 2 months worth of work taken along with their laptops and credit cards, which obviously taught them to back up everything onsite and off.
To top it all off, they have even had a rocket scientist blow up his own car in their neighborhood, forcing them to evacuate and witness a sight straight out of the game they were creating. I can’t imagine what kind of experience getting yanked out of your house by police after hours of work to stumble into flashing lights, people in hazmat suits and the real sense of confusion it instills. If every experience truly does feed ideas, I’m sure that was a doozy.
As if a development period needed to suffer through any more grief, a PC Gamer interview revealed they had their Paypal account frozen, which affected how they would have to approach the distribution method. As Chris would later explain:
“I think Notch has the same problem where, if lots of people buy the game then we get hit by a bus, PayPal would end up liable for giving their money back. So as frustrating as it was…I guess they were only protecting their own interests against someone who was a complete unknown.”
In an attempt to showcase the validity of the sale, they decided to bundle the Alpha release with a trio of cheaply made games like Rock Paper Scissors. The idea being that you were were getting a real product with an Alpha, even though it was the opposite. This was cute in theory, but obviously had it’s issues with many people just not quite getting the reason without the team having to directly explain it. They then used FilePlanet and Desura to distribute the game since they had donation based models setup. Finally, with Steam adopting an early access program in April of 2013, Project Zomboid could have a place on the service next to games like Kerbal Space Program. The team put their game up on Steam Greenlight and immediately were approved.
We can say now that Project Zomboid is some kind of success story, which is fortunate after all the trouble these guys have gone through.
You may still be asking yourselves, what pray tell did happen to the Sexy Seaside Beachball demo that led me down this rabbit whole of discovery? Well, unfortunately when I eventually broke down and out right asked Chris Simpson if he still had a copy, his response was a simple “I wish.” This was quickly followed up by the most disappointing response I could hope for. “(I’m) not entirely sure any actual versions exist now.”
While I might not have any ammunition for an article on demakes, this one game has revealed a fascinating look at a group of individuals that simply wanted to break away and turn to indie development. I found the crazy story that is the Indie Stone. If this interested you at all, check out the Project Zomboid demo, and if you like what you’ve played, step up and check out the Early Access version.
Also, if anybody happens to have an extra copy of Sexy Seaside Beachball, spread it out there. I’d hate for this to get lost to the ages.