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Another Fine Adventure

Happy commercialised love day, readers! Should you be acceding to social pressure and purchasing a token of affection for your significant other, I certainly hope it is one of these stunning heart-shaped cakes. By comparison anything else can only be considered failure.

Speaking of spending money on things you love, since its inception the crowd-sourced funding site Kickstarter has scaled up from small arts projects to a feature-length independent sci-fi film I helped fund called 95ers: Echoes, which has now released a trailer.

Last week the exponential growth continued when game developing legend Tim Schafer launched a Kickstarter project to fund a small, old-school point-and-click adventure game. Having co-designed the early classics of the genre, Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, this swiftly captured fans’ imaginations and (more importantly) wallets, hitting the $400,000 target in around eight hours. A day later $1 million had been pledged. With 28 days to go, it looks on track at least to break $2 million.

While some hail this as a paradigm shift for the gaming industry, it really isn’t much more than it was for the music industry where veterans have used alternative internet funding in what artists like Amanda Palmer see as a return to the older patronage system. Pay-what-you-like sales, for example, allow major returns for those with established careers over which they have built up a fanbase, all typically within the label/studio system. It is certainly not available to everyone. But for accomplished auteurs, crowd-sourced funding represents a way to maintain creative control and integrity once you have garnered sufficient trust from fans.

Quintupling the funding goal brings its own risks. No longer is this a tiny $400K pet project; we’re already looking at a game with a budget two thirds the size of Schafer’s Grim Fandango, the best adventure game ever made (this is not opinion: it was a beautifully stylised hilarious noir romp through the Mexican Land of the Dead by way of Casablanca — even conceptually how can one top that?). The stakes have been raised by a not insubstantial measure. But they have my money, I’m invested and I really want them to succeed.


Ostensibly a casual puzzle game, Stacking’s novel game mechanic, distinctive art style and colourful world will draw in almost everyone. You take on the role of Charlie Blackmore, the youngest (and smallest) of a family of matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls if you prefer. The Depression-era story is one of child labour as Charlie must rescue his siblings who have been pressed into service by a corrupt industrialist.

Set against this backdrop — complete with silent film inspired cutscenes to progress the story — the game itself is a light-hearted romp rather than heavy-handed social commentary. Charlie can do little alone, but has the ability to jump inside the other dolls that populate environments. Doing so lets him use their abilities to solve puzzles. The draw is that each puzzle has multiple solutions and while finding one or two is usually swift, others will take some creative thinking.

If you breeze through for the story alone, Stacking may feel somewhat slim even at its low downloadable price. However the urge to collect the unique dolls and discover all the puzzle solutions encourages return trips to completed areas and will keep most players engrossed for several hours.

While Tim Schaefer’s critically-lauded creativity has not resulted in the financial success it deserves, it’s great to see that Double Fine has found a way to push through fresh and interesting game design (between this and last year’s Hallowe’en-themed Costume Quest) in a small package that reduces the innovation risk associated with large-scale releases. While their next big project gestates, this provides developers with a creative outlet and keeps fans happy, so it’s hard to see a downside. Perhaps more studios should take note as the downloadable game market continues to mature.

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2021 Priyan Meewella

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