Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Firmament Kickstarter time

Cyan has just posted the Kickstarter page for their next game.

You may recall, or not, that they announced Firmament a year ago. They built a five-minute teaser / tutorial chapter, which they showed off at GDC. (The teaser isn't publicly available, but you can read my impressions.)

Then the whole project went into stasis as they worked on the Myst 25th anniversary package. But that's shipped now, and it's time for the next thing.

So what can we say about this? The first obvious point is that they're starting basically from where they left off a year ago. The Kickstarter video contains no game footage that I didn't see last March, either in the teaser or their announcement video. On the other hand, the target date is July 2020, which is going to be fast work. But, on the third hand, they said that the teaser took just two months to build, and it seemed to include most of the required technical work.

The Kickstarter goal is $1.285 million. It's a straight-up plan: release Firmament for Windows and VR platforms (Oculus and Vive). There are no stretch goals, which admirably simplifies the question. (The page hints that with enough funding, they might add Mac support. But there's no promises and no dollar figure on that.)

$1.285M is only fractionally higher than Obduction's goal ($1.1M). And we recall that Obduction ran into funding hassles; it required more cash than its KS provided, and the company had trouble attracting publisher funding. So Firmament's budget is an interesting question. The KS page talks about Cyan's "smaller, experienced team"; it sounds like they're aiming to do this on a leaner basis than their previous games. Whether this translates to a smaller game world, or a sparser visual environment, remains to be seen.

Less visual detail is a good bet, though. We recall that Obduction was a troublesome VR port. The original game was gorgeous on flatscreen machines, but it bogged down badly on VR hardware (which requires higher resolution and framerate). Cyan wound up simplifying the environment noticeably for the VR versions.

By everything they've said, Firmament will be designed for VR and then ported to the flatscreen environment. That avoids the trouble Obduction ran into, and presumably it lowers their modelling budget as well.

I probably don't have to tell you that I'm excited about this. I'm excited about this!

I've said before than I'm not a VR fan. VR is fun and immersive, but no more so (for me!) than regular old first-person adventure games. But I am a fan of new models of game interaction. Touchscreen adventures like The Room are a huge kick for me. So I was tremendously interested by the hand-controller gestures in last year's Firmament demo. The teaser just let you raise your hand to summon the flying bit-bot, and then point at a socket to send it whizzing off to plug in. But the KS page talks this up:

The adjunct doesn’t speak, but it does understand you and your hand gestures. Through your interactions both you and your adjunct evolve a vocabulary of gestures you learn together. What starts as rudimentary communication evolves into a complex symphony of actions as you solve challenges together and begin to understand the epic nature of what lies ahead.

That's got my number.

Cyan now has a Discord forum for community communication. I've been hanging out in it for a few months now. As with any forum of a small company with a large fandom, you are primarily talking to other fans, but Cyan occasionally drops in a nugget. They started hinting at this KS a week ago, for example. So you might take a look.

(While I'm wittering on, remember that Zed is an upcoming adventure game published -- though not developed -- by Cyan. Due out "this spring", so real soon now.)