November 12, 2013 12:15 PM | Lena LeRay
TinkerHouse Games is looking to break down the walls between genres with Dwarven Delve by combining dungeon crawling action with the ability to manipulate the flow of the dungeon via mechanics similar to puzzle games in the vein of Pipe Dream. By rotating the hexagonal rooms and changing the available paths through the dungeon, the player will be able to funnel monsters towards the party, funnel monsters towards each other so they fight each other, funnel monsters into traps, and open up routes for the party to get around traps and straight into treasure rooms.
It's a neat concept that allows for a variety of play styles, and TinkerHouse Games has turned to Kickstarter to fund the game. This isn't their first attempt to fund the game through Kickstarter, though. After voluntarily canceling their first attempt, they've revamped their pitch for clarity and to ask for half as much money. You don't see many people cancel their Kickstarter project halfway through and announce that they'll be back later, but that's exactly what they did.
Since the relaunch of the Kickstarter, Lunar Giant, the developer of Delve Deeper, has published a blog post regarding questions they've been getting as a result of the similarity of the two games' names and how the games look in screenshots. In that blog post, Lunar Games says, "[W]e are aware of this confusion, and from our conversations with them, it seems unlikely that Tinkerhouse will move to rectify it by changing its game's name as we've requested."
Read on to see what Mark Jessup of TinkerHouse games has to say about why and how they went about canceling and relaunching their Kickstarter project for a genre-mixing game, as well as his thoughts on the Dwarven Delve/Delve Deeper branding issue.
How did you come up with the concept for Dwarven Delve? What inspired you to combine what is usually a puzzle game mechanic with dungeon crawling?
It's a mashup of two kinds of games I've always loved; the classic action dungeon crawler and various pipe puzzle games. One morning in that sweet twilight between sleeping and unfortunately-not-sleeping, those concepts blended together and danced a merry jig.
The real eureka moment came, though, when I thought about how some of the dungeon would be connected to the party and another part wouldn't. That dynamic--whether a monster or terrain feature was in the "active" dungeon with the dwarves or not, was a very interesting mechanic with a lot of ways we could have fun with it down the line.
My partner, Lane, had a physical prototype ready to play in two days, and a digital one in two weeks. We were men on a mission.
Do you think the uniqueness of the game's concept was a contributing factor in the performance of your first Kickstarter attempt?
It definitely made it incumbent upon us to show more of the game rather than just talk about it. Everyone understands what they're getting when they back "a loving homage to a 16-bit JRPG."
But with Dwarven Delve, right out the gate we're saying it's an "action puzzle crawl." "A what?" "An action dungeon crawl with a twist." Say again?
So we have a playable demo now. You don't even need to take our word for it, you can just play it for yourself!
The Lunar Giant blog post about brand confusion over Dwarven Delve and Delve Deeper has recently come to my attention. Having played the Dwarven Delve demo, it's easy to see that the two games' mechanics and gameplay are very different, but synopses and screenshot comparisons makes them seem very, very similar. Even setting the issue of relations with your fellow game developers aside, aren't you worried about the impact of this brand confusion on your sales and marketing?
We were shown Delve Deeper after we went public with our game. In fact, one of the designers contacted us himself and offered us some Steam codes to play it...and we loved it. It's a lot of fun. But as you say, it's really not our game, anymore than Pole Position is similar to Formula De.
Granted, there are definitely cosmetic similarities. Both feature dwarves delving and from static screenshots, they appear similar. We get that. And we both share the word "Delve" in our name.
But we don't feel like anyone can own the concept of dwarves delving, or being in tunnel complexes. There have been several games before both of ours with that same theme. And the word "delve" itself is ubiquitous with dungeoneering games of all stripes.
Do our games really appear anymore similar than screenshots from different platformers, endless runners, tower defense games, Minecraft clones, first-person shooters, racing games, RTS's, fantasy MMO's...pretty much any other genre you can name. And those games don't just look similar, they actually play similarly.
From a marketing perspective, frankly we've invested a lot of time and money into the branding on Dwarven Delve and feel it would be a real hit for us to walk away from the name we've promoted during our first Kickstarter and at PAX. All of our press and promotion to date has been associated with the name Dwarven Delve. With respect to Lunar Giant, Delve Deeper came out 3 years ago and has a nice following, but this doesn't seem like a big controversy. Until their blog post, as I said, the only place this came up was in the odd comment on our Steam page. If that kills our chances on Steam, I guess there's nothing we can do about that.
As to the developer relations, I thought we were very cordial with Lunar Giant when they contacted us. We complimented them on a game well done and offered to cross promote it with our game. We're confident we can both coexist in the market and everyone can still win. In the same way that every other similarly named or themed title does in every other corner and genre of the saturated games market these days.
To summarize, we feel our games are very different from each other and will sit in entirely different genres. We're happy to help Delve Deeper and cross promote with it, but we cannot change our name without incurring a serious loss of momentum to our branding. And at this point, that would probably be disastrous for us.
What factors went into your decision to cancel and revamp your Kickstarter project?
We saw that people were interested in the concept and we had a good base of support. But the truth was, we didn't have a critical mass and it was very unlikely something would change.
What we did have was PAX PRIME coming up. We were going to be in the Indie Megabooth and we were almost done with a great demo. If we kept focusing on the Kickstarter, our PAX demo would suffer. The more we thought about, the more we realized it made more sense to focus on our future and build on our progress rather than double-down on an ill-fated prospect.
What did we take away? Maybe once, you could go on Kickstarter with an interesting concept and get funded. But nowadays--in games at least--you absolutely have to have a working, playing demo that people can see in action.
And we get that. At the end of the day, people want to know their money is going to a shop that can deliver the goods. The best proof of that is simply to show the goods.
How did you decide what changes to make in your Kickstarter pitch?
First off, we listened to what people were telling us, both our backers and peers in the industry. To the point above, the thing that kept coming up was, "you need to show more gameplay, you gotta show people how to play your game."
So we streamlined our video to just gameplay, and we showed as much diversity as we could. We trimmed some of the setting entries from the page (you can still see them all at DwarvenDelve.com).
And , of course, we decided to ask for less money.
Speaking of which... the second attempt to Kickstart Dwarven Delve is far less ambitious than the first attempt, asking for only half the funds. What, if any, kinds of changes are you making to your production plan to make it work?
We challenged ourselves to make more with less. Not less gameplay, mind you, but rather create more with the art we could get in, and the environment assets we have to work with.
Instead of original music, we go the licensed route. Instead of having 4-5 unique environment sets we have 3 modular ones that we can combine in different ways. The end result to the player isn't less play time, or even less game mechanics. It's just less visual diversity.
How do you feel about the progress of the revamped Kickstarter so far? Are you more optimistic about its success?
Ah, optimism is a fickle fruit. Today, sweet. Tomorrow, a bitter aftertaste.
We're currently at just a little over 30% funded. As of this writing, we have 19 days to go. Statistics say we should make it, but see above. Optimism = fickle fruit.
We've lined up some great stretch goals, with people we think backers will want to see in the mix. We're fortunate enough to know some very talented people, and we've been lucky enough to line some of those up to participate in our Kick.
We'll have more news to share about that in the days ahead.
What will you do if you end up getting 200% funded and find yourself with the amount of money you were originally asking for?
We get to add a lot of visual diversity and more monster builds back into the mix! Don't let the minimalist commentary above fool you; we have serious ideas about what we would do with new environment effects, new traps, and new terrain features... All the stuff we dreamed of before, we could easily still include in the final shipping game if everything went well for us.
It looks like you started your Steam Greenlight campaign during or before the first Kickstarter project. How has the Kickstarter cancellation and restart affected your Greenlight status?
It didn't seem to effect it too heavily one way or the other. After our initial push, when we first appeared on Greenlight, we had a surge of activity and then it tapered off. It was good to see some interest carry over from one Kick to the next there, but overall it didn't seem to matter too much.
Do you have anything you want to add that I didn't ask about? Advice for other developers who might find themselves in the same position?
Yes! The most critical piece of advice above all else: Survive your mistakes. And build upon what you've learned.
There will always be experts out there trying to tell you there's a rock-solid road map to success--on Kickstarter or in the indie dev scene. But that isn't true. We've personally seen a hundred different ways to go and all manner of successes and failures come out of them. The best advice we can give you is simple. Figure out what works for you and what doesn't. Don't be afraid to try things and course correct if you need to, even drastically.
If you can live through a mistake, you will never make it again. As Nietzsche said by way of Conan the Barbarian, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Believe it.