For every game that begins with the words Super Mario or Call of Duty, there is a game that launches a new IP, a studio, or even a career. But for people like 23-year-old designer Ricardo Valenzuela, it’s a challenge that breeds innovation and excitement:
I always wanted to do games, but living in Ecuador where there's no game industry meant I had to move. I started the process to move to Canada, but since I had to wait several years for it, I thought it would be good to start a portfolio. So I immersed myself in forums and started reading books and other stuff on how to break into the game industry and such.
It was by answering one of those posts that led to a pro bono position at Stillalive Studios, which led to a game designer position for Son of Nor, the upcoming independent third-person action adventure title for PC and Mac.
“When I came in the game was completely different,” said Valenzuela of the Kickstarter project. “There was spell-stealing, two-handed spellcasting, and lots of other stuff that sounds fun and all, but in practice was not all that great. The gameplay was slow, kind of boring, and it took a lot of time to cast one spell, for example. So I made some changes.”
With a little help, of course. “I'm not saying I'm the only reason for the changes,” he adds. “This is team work and we all affect each other.”
Son of Nor revolves around the last remaining humans, bordering on eradication on the game’s planet after The Great War, in which most humans were eliminated by the lizard-like Sarahul Empire. Now hiding out on “The Edge,” the Empire has found the human refuge and has started to advance upon it. As a human mage, known as a Son of Nor, a deity to humanity, it is up to the player to defend the last of the humans from total extinction.
The game, which resembles a Prince of Persia-like desert landscape, utilizes the natural world as part of the magic-casting system, which Valenzuela, who doubles as one of the writers, sees as one of the unique aspects of the game:
Our magic system is based on the catchphrase ‘The world is your weapon.' You can move the sand, pick up and throw almost everything—including tearing out pieces of mountains—and absorbing certain elements from the environment to later release them as spells or to use those elements to enhance the objects you have picked up with telekinesis.
Players can also combine elements to create, destroy, or solve puzzles. Rocks combined with fire can become fireballs; fireballs thrown at sand can become glass. (continued on next page…)
But the issue in the indie game scene is always money, and as many others do, Stillalive Studios turned to Kickstarter:
We always thought that would be the natural route to take. It seemed like it worked for other indie developers and it would be better than trying too hard to get a publisher which probably would shun us since Stillalive was new and didn’t have previous games.
Crowdsourcing has been the savior of numerous artistic projects, but as Valenzuela points out, the new concept adds a level of pressure to projects, both good and bad, as early artistic projects don’t nearly get as much attention. “We are now even more responsible and obliged to deliver a good, fun, and enjoyable game. But this pressure also makes us work better, I think.”
Though their Kickstarter campaign came down to the wire, many people stepped up to help the campaign, including notable Internet personalities such as Prescription Pixel. “One guy even made a video with the sole purpose to guide people to our campaign. We really felt loved.”
I think that places like Kickstarter are great opportunities. But I think that known names are taking advantage of their fame and abusing its purpose. Many indie developers fail because the people have to budget out where to spend their 15 dollars… do they spend it in the new Zach Braff movie, or the indie guy making the game in his garage?
I think even publishers will now also take advantage of this. The famous guys use the excuse that ‘we want complete creative control’ as a reason to do a Kickstarter. But I see it as ‘I want to have a safe production with no loss and be able to regain what I spent before going into reviews and stuff.’ Also, publishers could use Kickstarter as a first firewall to test the acceptance of game, so less risk for them.
It’s a risk that Stillalive Studios hopes to deliver through Steam, as they have launched a Greenlight campaign to land Son of Nor in the Steam Store. “Being Greenlit would be great for us since we would have a greater reach which in return would allow us to have funds for making more games,” which, Valenzuela adds, Stillalive is in the early stages of. “We have already a concept for our next one. and I think it's amazing! It has to do with mages also, but a completely different thing based on the real world, somewhat along the lines of Assassin’s Creed.”
Though the team is excited about the next game, Valenzuela is still working on how to develop Son of Nor’s telekinesis for his own daily life. “It would be great help when I’m lying in my bed and the remote control is far away."
Gamers who want to see Son of Nor in the Steam Store can vote yes for Stillalive Studios’ Greenlight campaign.