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The Kickstarter Game: Rounding up the best in crowdsourced game development

Kickstarter should need no introduction for gamers at this point. The crowdsourced funding service’s reputation was sealed with the joystick jockeys of the world following the runaway success that industry veteran Tim Schafer had with the upcoming adventure game, Double Fine Adventure. (Full disclosure: I am one of DFA’s backers.) Since then we’ve seen of a flood of projects pop up there and find success as fans flocked to support one thing or another.

No one is under any illusions here. The traditional publishing model that applies to AAA titles like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Halo isn’t going anywhere. Kickstarter just isn’t built for generating the sort of nine-figure capital that goes into creating and marketing games like those. What it does do is give games that wouldn’t necessarily get a lot of — or any — love from a big-ticket publisher a shot at success, by putting the power over whether the project lives or dies in the hands of the people who would ultimately decide its fate anyway: the consumers.

Backing a Kickstarter effort is like putting money down for a no-risk pre-order that isn’t necessarily a sure thing. You might pledge $30 to see the game you’re interested in get made, but you’ll never spend that money if the funding goal isn’t reached. The amazing thing about what we’ve seen on Kickstarter in the wake of DFA‘s success is that, more often than not, the goal is being reached. That’s what this feature is about, offering you a snapshot of some of the more noteworthy unfinished Kickstarter video game initiatives that are currently in the mix right now.

Carmageddon: Reincarnation

What is it: Carmageddon: Reincarnation is an attempt to revive 1997′s classic PC-exclusive racing game built around destruction, pedestrian death, and smashing your way to victory. Think Burnout, only with more blood. In reality, the original Carmageddon was one of the big precursors to the Criterion Games-created racing series.

Why you should care: Stainless, the original indie developer behind Carmageddon, has recovered the license to its series after years of negotiations. Reincarnation is meant to be a reboot, with development guided by the studio’s original founders. Stainless hasn’t exactly been dormant since 1997 either; the studio is responsible for a variety of game, including an assortment of Atari 2600 revivals on Xbox Live Arcade.

What they want: For a minimum donation of $15, you can guarantee yourself a copy of the game, via Steam, when it’s done. Higher reward tiers include guaranteed beta access for backers, Kickstarter-exclusive in-game content, and a card game based on the series. At the highest $10,000 tier you get a free trip to Stainless’ offices in the UK where you’ll work with the design team on inserting yourself into the game as a rival racer.

Where they stand: Carmageddon: Reincarnation has 24 days of funding time remaining at the time of this writing. A total of 6,351 backers have stepped up, pledging $217,994 of the $400,000 goal.

SpaceVenture

What is it: SpaceVenture is an adventure game conceived by Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, the “Two Guys from Andromeda” creators of Sierra Entertainment’s classic Space Quest series.

Why you should care: If Space Quest needs no introduction for you, then you already know the biggest reason to give a crap about SpaceVenture. The tales that Murphy and Crowe crafted for Sierra’s Roger Wilco space janitor/hero were some of the most memorable from the early days of PC gaming. Beyond that, SpaceVenture also features an impressive voice cast that includes: Ellen McLain (GLaDOS from Portal), Rob Paulsen (Pinky from Pinky and the Brain), Gary Owens (the narrator in the fourth and sixth Space Quest games), Robert Clotworthy (Jim Raynor from the StarCraft series), and John Patrick Lowrie (Sniper from Team Fortress 2).

What they want: The minimum funding point of $15 will get you a copy of the PC game plus the ability to download SpaceVenture on Mac, Linux, iPad, or the Android tablet of your choice. The higher tiers includes rewards like a digital copy of the soundtrack, copies of concept art and design sketches, a Sierra-style boxed copy of the game, and a signed poster. The highest $10,000 tier is a two-punch of awesome, with the backer receiving a Crowe-sketched alien version of him/herself(which also appears in the game) and the chance to come up with one of the game’s death sequence.

Where they stand: SpaceVenture has 30 days of funding time remaining at the time of this writing. A total of 2,956 backers have stepped up, pledging $142,564 of the $500,000 goal.

Diamond Trust of London

What is it: Diamond Trust of London is a turn-based strategy game for Nintendo DS in which two players on separate DS units attempt to outwit one another as they compete to accumulate the most diamonds from their squad of agents in Angola. One of the key layers of the game involves bribing (or potentially bribing) your opponents agents, which always keeps both players guessing about how much the other knows.

Why you should care: Unlike most other Kickstarter projects, Diamond Trust of London is a completely finished product, and one that’s been fully approved by Nintendo and is ready for manufacturing. Jason Rohrer, the game’s creator, decided to turn to Kickstarter to help defray the high cost of ordering an initial batch of copies of the game. If that’s not enough of a reason, there’s also Rohrer himself, a well-known figure in the indie game development world who is responsible for games like Passage and Sleep is Death.

What they want: A minimum pledge of $35 will get you a boxed copy of the DS, while a step up to $55 will get you one of the 1,000 limited edition copies. It’s not clear what this LE version contains; all Rohrer has said is that each bonus is unique, and it’s a piece of real life history from the diamond trade in Angola. The $10,000 tier is pretty neat, with the backer receiving a mega version of the limited edition’s artifact collection, plus two additional copies of the LE release, all of it hand-delivered by Rohrer and Tom Bailey, the game’s soundtrack composer.

Where they stand: Diamond Trust of London has 13 days of funding time remaining at the time of this writing. A total of 751 backers have stepped up, pledging $49,868 of the $78,715 goal.

Battle Chess

What is it: Battle Chess is an effort to revive the 1988 PC game bearing the same name. It’s chess, only the pieces are all animated and you can watch them do actual battle with one another when a piece is taken.

Why you should care: The 2012 update of 1988′s Battle Chess is all about packing in new bells & whistles. There are more battle animations and camera angles to capture them from, new environments, and seven modes of play in all for the PC game. In addition to playing against the computer, you can also choose to take on another human in local or online multiplayer. The developer, Subdued Software, has no direct ties to the original game, but they’re all fans and they’ve got the official rights to the Battle Chess brand. Also, let’s not forget the main reason this is awesome: it’s freaking Battle Chess.

What they want: The minimum pledge of $15 gets you a copy of the PC game. The higher tiers offer what’s become a pretty standard set of rewards for this sort of project: a digital art book, a physical copy of the game, a T-shirt, and your name in the credits. The highest reward tier, $1,000, gets you an invite to the game’s launch party at Medieval Times in Buena Park, California, but you’ll have to cover your own travel arrangements.

Where they stand: Battle Chess has 19 days of funding time remaining at the time of this writing. A total of 371 backers have stepped up, pledging $12,030 of the $100,000 funding goal. Things are admittedly not looking good at this point, but a turnaround is always possible.

Skyjacker

What is it: Skyjacker is a space combat simulator set in an open galaxy. You play as a space-faring pirate, blasting anything that gets in your way in pursuit of better ship parts and valuable loot. If you’re familiar with games like Elite and Wing Commander: Privateer then you have a sense of what this is all about.

Why you should care: The gaming world needs more space combat sims. It’s really as simple as that. Skyjacker follows in the wake of Starlight Inception, another recent Kickstarter success story, though this one seems more geared toward appealing to fans of open-world play. The Digitilus team doesn’t have an established background with other noteworthy games in the genre, but Skyjacker is bursting with cool ideas in a genre that just doesn’t get much love in the current world of gaming.

What they want: A minimum pledge of $15 will guarantee you a PC or Mac version of the game when it is released. Higher reward tiers include rewards like an extra copy of the game, a digital version of the soundtrack, beta access, and bonus missions. A top-tier $10,000 pledge gets your mug into the game’s promo campaign as well as lunch with the dev team (provided you can get yourself to Los Angeles).

Where they stand: Skyjacker has 18 days of funding time remaining at the time of this writing. A total of 559 backers have stepped up, pledging $22,711 of the $200,000 funding goal. It’s going to be a long haul at this point to get the game made. Give the Kickstarter page a glance for a glimpse at what the finished product will look like.

Spate

What is it: Spate is a 2.5D platformer with a steampunk setting. Players take the role of Detective Bluth, who has been tasked with tracking down a businessman who went missing in the forbidden Xzone.

Why you should care: Spate‘s creator Eric Provan has a solid background in Hollywood as a character modeler and all-around artist. He worked on big-ticket projects like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the upcoming Spider-Man reboot, Green Lantern, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Spate looks predictably slick from an artistic standpoint.

What they want: A minimum pledge of $10 will get you a digital copy of the PC version of the game. Higher tier rewards include beta access, a digital copy of the soundtrack, a signed poster, a T-shirt, and your likeness in the game, in the form of a statue. The top-level $1,500 tier will also get your likeness into the game, but as the main villain.

Where they stand: Spate has 13 days of funding time remaining at the time of this writing. A total of 273 backers have stepped up, pledging $4,697 of the $12,000 funding goal.