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How Kickstarter is giving retro gaming a future

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. Dipping back into the past for retro thrills will always be popular with both gamers and developers. Devs get to re-package old titles with a lick of paint and a helping of rose-tinted glass to make a quick(ish) buck--something that often helps them finance bigger projects. We get to relive cherished childhood memories. Win, win. Or is it? While massive titles like Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, which admittedly was given a bit more than a lick of paint, can expect to sell in huge numbers because of its enormous fan base, what happens to smaller games that--while not originally selling mega-copies--do still have a decent fan following?

If, like me, your early days of gaming were spent on one of the less desirable gaming formats, it may be slightly disheartening to see yet another NES game being tarted up for a HD remake while favoured Amiga classics (like Zool--seriously, someone needs to remake Zool) remain criminally overlooked. Thankfully, we live in a time where people-power is a real thing and, if just enough fans want something badly enough, someone out there will make it happen. The ability to download games has meant that home brew coders and micro studios can produce and distribute products without having to worry about publishers. Couple this with the number of platforms available for digital distribution and you’ve got a pixelated landslide of retro games and re-makes heading your way.

Fan favourite, and possibly the most important title for the point and click genre, 1987’s Manic Mansion is receiving a revamp by a fan collective called Edison Interactive. The game, re-named Night of the Meteor to avoid the Lucas lawyers, not only revives the classic adventure with a visual style reminiscent of Manic Mansion’s follow up title--Day of the Tentacle--but is also decked out with new puzzles, new music and more dialogue.

When Night of the Meteor is released (it’s been in development for years now and is currently looking for animators) it will be nothing short of miraculous, but re-framing games is not the only way the programming community is reviving once loved titles. When coders were invited to 'demake' classic games as part of a competition set by the homebrew community at TIGSource.com, VipEüt--a vector graphic version of the PlayStation’s landmark racing game WipeOut--was the stand out result.

The impressive wireframe title, reminiscent of very early Vetrex graphics (remember that?) is, as its creator states "a game from a past that never happened". With a little digging, it becomes clear that the demake community is a busy bunch, with projects ranging from a NES version of Left 4 Dead and a Chinese-made 8-bit Final Fantasy VII (because Square is too good at twiddling its collective thumbs). Unfortunately, as with a lot of things these days, the suits of the gaming industry have a habit of throwing their weight about, especially where copyright is concerned, and so a more legally sound way of producing retro titles had to be found. Enter Kickstarter (or crowd-funding).

Not only can developers use a franchise’s fandom to help fund re-makes, Kickstarter also brings a more formal structure to the coding process, allowing software designers the chance to buy old franchises outright. Sadly, many of the remake games (including some of the examples used above) have exceptionally long development cycles, due to a lack of investor pressure, with some fizzling out altogether. Kickstarter’s funding platform, and penalties for non-completion, should mean the return of your favourite, childhood videogame will--if funded and barring any development catastrophe--appear in the not too distant future. This makes Kickstarter a natural new home for retro games.

Just recently Conatus Creative, an independent Canadian games studio, managed to secure funding for a remake of NES favourite, and grandfather to the scrolling beat ‘em up genre, River City Ransom--demolishing its target by almost $40,000. Stainless Games managed to secure an enormous $625,143, more than $200,000 over its target, to remake the notorious road kill simulator Carmageddon. Guess people still want to run over old grannies in the name of entertainment. Even retro merchandise is proving successful, with Darren Wall finding funding for a biography about the games and exploits of the charming, and hugely inspirational, games company Sensible Software.

Game development is, as I’m sure a number of people will attest to, a complex mistress. Projects that seem sound at inception can often fall through. One of the more high profile failures was the Oliver Twins' attempt to bring the Spectrum favourite Dizzy back to life with Dizzy Returns. Unfortunately the campaign came undone, falling well short of its £350,000 target. Equally disappointing was the cancellation of the 'much loved' James Pond revamp, which was recently pulled mid-campaign due to lack of interest.

Projects come and go, but the appeal of retro gaming will only grow stronger as the years pass and the gaming audience grows and spreads. It seems a new retro project appears on Kickstarter every week with industry stalwarts (Kenji Inafune’s Mighty No 9 just kept smashing though those stretch goals) using the platform to launch new projects based on retro titles. Even the more obscure games are beginning to see the light of day. Rantmedia, a Cardiff based developer, is planning on bringing a raft of titles from the ColecoVision (ask your Dad) to new audiences.

Not everything that appears on Kickstarter is guaranteed to a) be made, b) be any good, but the number of retro projects that have been successful is very telling. If the future of retro gaming is in the hands of Kickstarter--and it certainly seems to be at the moment--then it won’t be long before your favourite childhood memory gets dusted off, trotted out and (with a bit of luck) turned into something worth playing. Again.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

8 comments

  • alllifeinfate - November 3, 2013 2 p.m.

    I really want a new version of the old TMNT with the 'Megaman 9 treatment'...using the retro look with new mechanics and levels. That would be awesome! :D
  • smashpro1 - October 16, 2013 10:29 a.m.

    River City Ransom: Underground is a sequel, not a remake.
  • duffer00 - October 14, 2013 7:53 p.m.

    I have yet to Kickstart a game at all. I did contribute to the Anamanguchi one a while back because I love those guys and any way I can help them out I will but not any games. I'm just always so unsure about it. I feel like not a single game to come out of Kickstarter has yet to live up to the expectaions they set and it makes me cautious. I don't want to waste my money on a product that isn't what I paid for so I will just wait until these games come out and see if they are any good. I am very interested in Mighty No. 9 and Shovel Knight but I did not fund either for this reason.
  • BladedFalcon - October 14, 2013 8:01 a.m.

    Oh, NOW you guys talk about River City Ransom Underground... The game could have used being written about in this site during the kickstarter campaign, so maybe a little more infulx would have helped smash trough more console goals... Anyway, very nice article, and personally, I'm all for this, as someone that funded both RVR: Underground, Mighty No. 9 and Shovel Knight. (Which while a new IP a lot of it's charm is based on retro nostalgia) I feel that a lot of retro design is rather timeless, and can be enjoyed no matter how much time it passes, so these games and projects definitely deserve to exist in my opinion. I regards to Dizzy though... I know I'm gonna step on some toes here, but how is exactly surprising that it failed? As far as I'm aware of, that franchise was only popular on the UK, and even though the UK editors of this site also seem to adore the series, I've yet to read a single, solid reason why it would stand out above say, the super Mario games or other platformers. Not suggesting they are bad games, necessarily... but it seems to me that they never did anything particularly unique or special. Which is probably why it failed to secure funding.
  • garnsr - October 14, 2013 10:16 a.m.

    I tend to agree, the games that are beloved by the Brits don't seem to have enough to make them stand out from the Japanese games of the same eras that have more clout and get remakes. However, I'm not really enjoying platformers that much any more, and that's most of what we get from this tide of retro games and indies. I'd love to have the point and click games that I never got to play, though, since I've always been a console gamer.
  • Jennero_Rossi - October 14, 2013 6:07 a.m.

    This is one of the reasons why I like coming to GamesRadar. I too grew up in the 8 and 16 bit era and the fact they keep popping up is great. Now, if SEGA would just kick start Shenmue 3 already.
  • Shnubby - October 14, 2013 9:41 a.m.

    Damn right! We've been waiting for a conclusion to Shenmue for way too long!

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