RPGs can mean a lot of things, but originally (and we’re talking way, way back) an RPG was a game you played with your buddies on top of a table. And in these ancient (not really) RPGs, creativity and depth were really at the forefront. You could do almost anything, you could play almost anything, and there were hours of hours of lore and gameplay elements to dig through at all times.
That kind of depth is missing from a lot of modern RPGs. And it’s that kind of depth that’s extremely present in After Reset RPG, a new RPG from Black Cloud Studios.
Think of After Reset as the oldest of old school- the original Fallout era of RPGs. Black Cloud has developed its own combat system (yes, like SPECIAL in the original Fallout), SACPIC, and they’re promising as much worldbuilding and hard science fiction as any classic RPG, on a table or not.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Richard Nixon the creator and game director of After Reset(if you’ve noticed the art refers to the game as Richard Nixon’s After Reset), to delve into some deeper RPG mechanics, the current state of RPG gaming, and the road After Reset RPG has taken to get to Kickstarter.
1. You describe the current gaming market as being flooded with “fast-food MMOs.” What exactly is a fast-food MMO, and why do you think they’ve become the norm among modern RPGs?
Frankly, Adam, I can’t regard MMOs as a RPG sub-genre. And despite of the PR made by publishers, I suppose they should be viewed as separate genres. SWTOR is not KOTOR, Neverwinter is not Neverwinter Nights, etc.
“Fast-food MMO”, in my point of view, – it is a casual “don’t think, don’t feel – just point and click” massive multiplayer game which concentrates on the young adults (youngsters grown up enough to spend money) and that is developed accordingly as one of several specific marketing strategies. Its development’s budget is usually divided as: 10-20% for low cost, low quality development; 80-90% for PR and marketing. You can’t bring anything from these such games into your real life experience. There is no soul in such games – only money making strategies from large companies.
Why have they become so popular among publishers? Because a publisher is a company (even if it is represented by public famous person). As a company, its main purpose is to generate profit that is provided by lowering costs and maximizing income cash flow. And nowadays fast-food MMOs provide that profit as no other genre in the gaming industry can.
2. After Reset‘s first Kickstarter campaign was not funded, but this rebooted campaign was fully funded in only ten days. What have you learned from the original campaign, and what differentiates this new version of After Reset from the one you initially tried to fund?
As some of the people who now follow After Reset know, I started to work on the game about 3 years ago. That time it was my hobby only. I just did that for myself with a whole love, thoroughness and keenness that every favorite hobby demands. Just one evening of the Fall of 2013 I decided to show my work to a decent group of other gamers by putting it on STEAM Greenlight. I didn’t expect something because I’m a skeptic in the nature. But on the next morning, there were so many people who liked the world that I created and the game I was developing. I was really surprised when After Reset RPG was Greenlit in 5 days with the best statistics I’ve ever seen on Greenlight. Anyway, votes are just votes and I remained skeptical, but I decided to put the game on Kickstarter as well to see if people were actually interested in the game. I did this to see if they were ready to support it not only by words but by money as well as I did.
So that was just a first trial, if I may, a first experiment. I just gathered the core of the free-lancers which I used to hire for the development for a long time, made a plan of development, sorted all things I had done by that time – and put all these on Kickstarter without any proper PR or marketing preparation.
And again, my fellow gamers fueled my belief in the game. We managed to collect $50k. And despite the fact that we didn’t reach the goal of full development ($900k) we were able to form the group of first fans, our first supporters – the core of inspirers and believers.
Then there was the successful campaign for The Fall of Gyes – a sci-fi graphic novel which precedes the game. And once more, fellow gamers showed their belief and trust. I aim to do my best to repay them by quality, attitude and my heart; a piece of which I put into every part of After Reset.
Beyond that there was about $15k of direct pledges via PayPal after our first campaign from our true believers. That helped us to continue development on the game at that time. I am eternally grateful to those people who trusted us, trusted me, and made this possible.
So by now, Adam, I just keep working on the game and transparently show people what it turns out to be. That is all. No PR agencies, no cheats to get/keep in the top of Kickstarter Popularity chart, no fake backers, no self-backing etc. 90% of hardworking with passion, 10% of boring marketing. I see people, the same gamers like me, understand it, like it and respect it. “Just be dedicated, be honest and don’t fuck gamers that believe in you” – I guess, it could be the credo of our studio
Ah… one thing… for the current campaign we’ve prepared daily updated (45 news) to show what we’ve accomplished for the $15k of donations.
3. You emphasize both the need for player freedom in forging their own stories, and the need for dramatic, personal storylines. How can you ensure the player will experience a dramatic storyline, but still give the player room to go his or her own way?
I reckon, the secret is in the stage-craft. As an old school RPG gamer, I’d like to feel a real freedom of actions. However I also want to be caught by some very special story but in such a way that I can’t be able to see the director’s intervention into the stage. I know, I’m too picky of a player… but I guess, all old school RPG players are the same in this way
As a developer, I adopted Fallout 1&2 as an example of freedom of choice and Walking Dead: The Game and The Last of Us as examples of a special story. I mean, I really thought that the gameplay choices of mine when I played The Last of Us I really didn’t know by that time that the storyline was linear. The guys from XXXXXX are really awesome. I didn’t regret that I had bought a PS3 only to play that game (to be honest, I also bought it to play Beyond: Two Souls as well).
4. And on that note, how much freedom will the player have, exactly? Your Kickstarter refers to D&D and Dungeon Masters- are you the DM for each player, or do the players have the ability to shape the story individually?
As D&D’s Dungeon Master, I prefer to give both to players. Frankly, I schemed even a third variant but I’m not sure we the have funding for it right now to announce. I am responsible for my statement, so I can’t just say later “Ok, guys, I decided to cut off all feats and steals system I promised… thanks for your money and see you”
5. Hard science fiction games are unbelievably rare- you mention on your Kickstarter that After Reset RPG may be the first true hard sci-fi game in existence. Why do you think hard science fiction is so rare in the gaming world?
I can assume, Adam, there are too few of true nerds as a consumer group for game industry. There are more profitable mass audiences exist on market.
Besides, it is much more expensive in time/cash to develop hard sci-fi game instead of others, I believe. E.g. to design several territories from the game that are within the Indian Alliance’s area of influence I had to study history, culture and society of native Indians of Nevada state, Olmecs’ culture etc. for a half year. If it was just a business, just money, I could just download some $5-15 assets from Unity Asset Store and forget about realism. The same approach we cultivate when we work on concept arts or models – I could pick on any details: what is that? what is it for? how does it work? what do they eat? Etc. Attention to details is very important to us: even if gamers don’t know it – they can feel it. I remember that some people even left the team because as a game director I accept only the best quality or nothing. I understand them: 10-20 times of redoing something could be a real pain in the ass. But it is worth it in the end.
6. And although the game sticks to hard science fiction and tries to be as realistic as possible, is there anything that simply couldn’t be realistic, for the sake of the gameplay?
Sure, we adopt some assumptions but try to ground them by science.
One such example is “alien invasion”. It is really unlikely, but it is in military doctrines of US, China and several other largest countries. And we reckoned the consequences according to those documents.
Another example is “pole shift”. I mean, it was too boring for many old school gamers to roll again over the same landscapes they’ve rolled in post-apocalyptic games all their life. And I decided to bring more fun in the word of After Reset. And despite its unlikeliness in real life, it took us 3 month to calculate geological, biological, geographical, climatic possibilities and consequences of such event. So that even if you live in Nevada or California you’ll find landscapes native and alien at the same time. Beyond that, that was how Red Zones were born… But no more spoilers
7. You refer to character morality as “Heisenberg or Mr. White.” Is it a coincidence, then, that the character in the “Monsters” promo art looks more than a little like Bryan Cranston?
I’m just a fan of Half Life, Breaking Bad and House of Cards, you know. Just decided to show one of the possibilities for your character to become throughout the game by playing on associations.
8. And will we see this Heisenberg-looking character in the actual game?
As you may know, we get rid of GOOD-EVIL scale in alignments for our game mechanics. The same event or action can be regarded as god, as evil, as nothing by different people and different groups of people in the game. So it will be completely your way to treat something as good or as evil.