“It seems like I’m going to have a funny year!”
– Francois Alain, Sauropod Studios
27th July 2012: Castle Story, a real-time strategy game from Sauropod Studios of Montréal, Canada, launched on Kickstarter. In order to develop the game, Sauropod Studios set an initial goal of $80,000. Seeing nothing more than a simple gameplay video and brief interview with developers, pledgers were so enamoured with the project that they latched onto the Kickstarter in record-breaking numbers. Five hours since launch, the project reached $80,000. Thirty days later, over 27,000 backers pledged $700,000 for the game’s development.
The initial Kickstarter video debuted a 3D world of floating islands against a backdrop of impressive day-night cycles. As its Minecraft and Terraria forbearers, the game’s premise is remarkably simple: build a castle, defend the castle. Real-time strategy elements let you micromanage yellow toons called Bricktrons, which are a cross between marshmallow men and Lego characters. Use them to gather and stockpile resources by day and build, build, build. Because the floating islands awake at night. And your creatures are very small in a very big world.
As a reward for pledging just $25, Sauropod Studios released their game’s initial alpha prototype to supporters. A quick download later, this prototype released on 18th October.
Billed as purely a rough, alpha version, a few minutes into the game’s playtime highlights this. Elements bug out, work orders are lost, and the game itself crashes quite regularly. YouTube tutorials are actually needed to figure out the controls (Spacebar plus holding down left-click to zoom? Really?).
However, despite the bugs – and that is what you get with prototypes – there are great elements worth keeping an eye on. If you mine down too far, your Bricktron literally falls through the earth, never to be seen again! This element of game physics adds a fun layer over the entire gameplay: felled trees roll about and their logs fall off the floating island, sometimes bringing your Bricktrons along with it. Each Bricktron is generated with its own name and it is these constant little touches from the developers that ring home with the gamer that, yes the prototype is buggy and really is in the alpha stage, however Castle Story has true promise.
The developers admit the prototype is but a mini version of the game – a taster, if you will – and contains the key parts of the game they want to get specific feedback on. This prototype is a research tool, not only a mere thank you to their Kickstarter contributors.
The sense of community amongst ‘frontier’ game testers is an element that is lacking in fully developed games, which are released as a complete product. Similar to the introduction of Steam’s Greenlight system, users are now growing a greater expectation of input into a game’s design.
Despite the glaring flaws that are part of playing an alpha release, Sauropod Studios are actually very clever in their approach to developing Castle Story. By releasing an alpha version to the community and admitting it is unfinished and needs the community’s involvement, this generates an enormous sense of ownership by the prototype’s testers. Already, these testers are pressing for the beta release – many want to know when the game itself will ship! The game’s wiki is filling with daily additions as the line between game tester, backer and end user is blurred. Generating this sense of ownership is key and builds the community and support structures in tandem with development. The proposed addition of special rewards in-game for those who help out with wiki-writing or creating tutorials is a fresh concept, which makes it easy for players to overlook the fact that the prototype may be close to unplayable.
As gamers tinker with the Castle Story prototype, the community emerges – one that generates its own user manuals, tutorials and walkthroughs. The developers admit this has freed them up to concentrate on coding, along with moving out of people’s bedrooms and into a ‘real’ office.
While you can only get the Castle Story prototype if you had donated to its Kickstarter, keep an eye on Sauropod Studios’ website. From this promising taster, users look forward to the beta release, which is rumoured to be due out in December! Watch this space!
To take a look at Kickstart page for Castle Story, just click here!
[Words, Eve Power]
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!