Indivisible and the crowdfunding conundrum Jose San Mateo November 10, 2015 Opinion Indivisible struck my sense of nostalgia so deeply that it’s impossible to be objective about it. The game isn’t anywhere near being done. In fact, there’s a good chance it won’t ever be be completed, but this small prototype was enough to crave 100 more hours of a completed game. Every one of us has a title that’s beyond reproach of any critic or fan. The one that is good no matter how many people played it or heard about it at all. Mine is Valkyrie Profile, a rather obscure, Japanese Role Playing Game that came out when the tail end of the Playstation era. For a console that was home to some genre classics like Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden and Final Fantasy Tactics among others Valkyrie Profile belongs in that pantheon. Without question, Indivisible is the spiritual successor to Valkyrie Profile and the prospect of seeing a game in that mold get made is the most exciting piece of of gaming news I’ve heard in awhile. My enthusiasm for this game is tempered by the rather tepid response to an IndieGogo campaign run by the game’s developers Lab Zero. The game is halfway funded with less than a week left due to a confluence of factors that design director Mike Zaimont details and addresses thoroughly in a YouTube video. It’s a worthwhile conversation to hear in full, but in a nutshell the fact that Lab Zero has an agreement with a publisher may have muddied perception of this campaign. As it’s detailed on the Indiegogo page, Lab Zero convinced publisher 505 Games to throw in the $2 million of the $3.5 million needed to make the game in addition to covering the costs of localization, testing, marketing and everything else. That is a sweetheart deal factoring in the number of staff necessary to make a game of the scope that Indivisible purports to be. There is a catch though. Securing that deal requires Lab Zero to raise the necessary $1.5 million to make that work, which makes crowdfunding a necessity to get this game made. Lab Zero has been open about why they need to raise the money and disclosed as many details as they can of their deal with 505, but the word publisher in a crowdfunding campaign is perhaps the worst red flag to have right now. A trend of highly publicized crowdfunding campaigns being used to strictly gauge interest from fans has really muddied the waters. Shenmue 3, Bloodstained and Red Ash to name a few did not need crowdfunding campaigns to get made. In fact, they turned out to be luxuries on the part of their creators because there really wasn’t a whole lot of doubt that they would find a way to get their games made. Red Ash actually had to suspend their campaign after it was announced they’d found a publisher. No surprise that some backers grew wise to the tactic and started to pull out. Comcept, the developers behind Red Ash and the wildly popular Kickstarter game Mighty No. 9, could afford that failure because the campaign served it’s purpose as a publicity stunt whether it was intentional or not. That is justifiably gross when you think about it. The folks behind those games have every right to use crowdfunding in that way, but it ruins opportunities for folks that need that money to get their games made. There are plenty of developers that have no other viable alternative to crowdfunding in order to make their game and utilizing crowdfounding as a means of testing out a community’s willingness to fork over cash to get their dream game made really poisons things for others. This isn’t an indictment or Kickstarter or Indiegogo. It’s not worth it for those platforms to legislate the intent of any crowdfunding campaign, (I wouldn’t want them too anyway) but more commentary on the fickle nature of what gets funded or not. Indivisible seems to be as sure a bet as any game to get released if the developers are given the chance. Lab Zero are the folks behind Skullgirls, a slick indie fighting game that’s remained popular on the pro fighting game circuit, and consists of a resilient bunch of game developers. They released Skullgirls under Reverge Labs, saw one of their co-publishers Autumn Games go under and then get laid off before releasing some promised DLC to their fans. They reformed as Lab Zero and launched a successful Indiegogo campaign to ultimately finish what they started. The game has since been released on Playstation 4 as Skullgirls Encore. There’s a large body of evidence to show that Lab Zero will deliver on Indivisible if given the chance. The Indivisible prototype is lovingly crafted and just as well thought out as Skullgirls is. In the same way Skullgirls is an homage to classic fighting games, Indivisible nails what made its source material great. Valkyrie Profile was a keen mix of platform-jumping dungeon crawling and turn based combat. Traversing dungeons were similar to Castlevania or Metriod games featuring long sprawling levels filled with interesting quirks and wrinkles. One level featured a timer that would boot you out if you didn’t finish it within the time limit and another was a massive tower filled with elevators, teleporters and some of the deadliest creatures in the game. The prototype level in Indivisible captures much of that as the main character Ajna chases an unusual looking creature into some ancient ruins. The ruins look worn with overgrowth covering the ancient rocks drawing shades of an ancient Mayan civilization. The ruins are filled with multiple levels that Ajna skips through with a series of wall jumps or falls into when the floor collapses as she walks over them. Acquiring an axe later in the prototype impacts traversal as it becomes possible to go even higher in the level or chop down overgrowth that blocks the way. A quick look at the game menu suggests many more items in the main game, which means the potential for more complex dungeons. Where Indivisible bears the strongest resemblance to Valkyrie Profile is in its battle system. Initiating encounters in both games is exactly the same where attacking enemies in the dungeon offers an attack advantage. Battle is quasi turn based where every character has a timer bar that fills up in real time and determines when they are able to attack. Each character is also tied to a face button on the controller and can attack once the button is pressed. Indivisible adds a wrinkle by affording some variation in attacks by pressing up or down when pressing the button. There is an element of fighting games in this system where the skill is in timing the attacks of multiple characters to juggle and maximize damage. Where Indivisible differs and ultimately improves on this system is the addition of blocking and the Idhhi bar. The Idhhi bar is essentially a super bar from a fighting game that can be used to initiate super attacks. Each character’s super attack is different with some serving as combo starters or combo enders at different segments of a team attack. This makes for some satisfying team combos when executed properly. The game also allows individual characters or the entire team to block in order to mitigate damage from enemy attacks. This of course drains the Idhhi bar to soak up the damage. This style of combat I’ve always found to be engrossing and nuanced because it rewards familiarity with characters and how they work together. It is so much more active than traditional menu-based combat that most JRPG’s tend to adopt. Valkyrie Profile was also known for its large roster of characters and Indivisible promises just that as well. The completed game should feature a large and diverse cast of more than 25 playable characters that can join Ajna as party members. Some of them will include cameos borrowed from other Indie titles. The list of cameos includes Annie from Skullgirls, Calibretto from Battle Chasers, The Drifter from Hyper Light Drifter, Juan from Guacamelee, Lea from Curses N’ Chaos, Shovel Knight from Shovel Knight and Zackasaurus from Super Time Force Ultra. It’s clear that I want Indivisible to be made and hope that this prototype is just the beginning of a game and not a snippet of unrealized potential. It’s just the pessimist in me sees the realities of making a game and the climate of pushing a game through a crowd funding and feel like my one of my biggest gaming wishes will remain a pipe dream.