The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Kaiju Combat

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, former Godzilla dev Simon Strange is back to bring some mega-monster pain to Kickstarter with Kaiju Combat.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Kaiju Combat

What's your game called and what's it about?

The game is Kaiju Combat, an online multiplayer game with behemoths fighting in destructible city environments.

What inspired you to make Kaiju Combat?

Sunstone Games is almost entirely made up of ex-Pipeworks employees, who made the very popular Godzilla fighting games from 2002 - 2007. We get messages every few days asking about a sequel, so making a game like this has always been something we've considered. The rise of Kickstarter funding this year presented a real opportunity to get the game made on our own terms – that's been the missing piece before now.

What's the coolest aspect of Kaiju Combat?

We'll call it the "Multi-Release Vision." Instead of making one game, we're going to release many games with modular content. Each game is something you can buy and enjoy for (much) less than $50. But when you own two or more games, you can mix and match their content as you see fit.

You can set up a Batman vs. Darth Vader fight easily with your Lego bricks, even though those characters would never be sold together, and Kaiju Combat will provide monster fans with similar crossover opportunities.

It's the same concept as physical Lego bricks – you buy them in sets, but once you're home they all get mixed into one big box. But unlike console DLC there isn't a core product that you have to buy initially; every game is the core product. You can set up a Batman vs. Darth Vader fight easily with your Lego bricks, even though those characters would never be sold together, and Kaiju Combat will provide monster fans with similar crossover opportunities. This also means that you can fight online against players who use monsters you haven't purchased yourself.

Our second big hook is that we're all really invested in the fighting game community. We want Kaiju Combat to be something people play at tournaments and discuss at a high level. But since it's a fighting game with giant monsters the mechanics will be a bit different from human-scale fighters. Hitstun plays a much smaller role in the combat strategy, for example, and the destructible environments really change the role of long-range weapons during battle.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Kaiju Combat

Kaiju Combat has a ton of community support out of the gate – what's your secret and how important is this input for development?

We love making Kaiju games – but we wouldn't do it if there weren't a strong public interest in the product. Our design community is over 1,000 members strong and unlike other communities, we expect our fans to really step up to the plate in terms of discussion. Sunstone Games uses a "radical transparency" model, where we let our fans vote on the character roster, tell us how to spend our budget, help pick our audio style – every aspect of development is open to their input.

Participating in professional-grade development requires a lot of focus. You have to read the relevant discussion threads, review our online documentation, and learn the design lexicon. We're really fortunate to have so many fans willing to put in that effort to ensure that Kaiju Combat is the best game it can be.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Kaiju Combat

Were you hesitant to put monster design in the hands of the fans?

Not at all. When Matt Frank (celebrity Godzilla comic artist and our art director) goes to conventions, his fans are constantly telling him about their original monsters, and asking him to draw them. The only missing element was to make sure that the characters had a strong grounding in the combat mechanics, which is why our collaborators work with both Matt Frank and Simon Strange (the combat and controls designer) during the design process for their original characters.

You can check out all the monsters we've collaborated on already here. We're looking to add as many as 50 additional collaborations with this Kickstarter.

What will you do if Kaiju Combat isn't funded on Kickstarter?

We can't afford to keep working on a project this big without pay – so if our funding doesn't happen we'll have to mothball the project. I don't think we'd want to try crowd-funding again (it's exhausting!) but I also don't think we'd be willing to give up control of the project to an outside investor. The interest and the money to fund the project is out there – we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed that we'll be able to reach enough people before December 22.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Kaiju Combat

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

We're actually doing both – most of us do contract work with big studios to pay the bills. We would prefer to focus on our indie projects full-time, because it's a big thrill to risk your financial security on the quality of your product. It forces you to make certain that your game is something people really want, which focuses your development and helps fans at the same time. Big studios work for publishers, not fans, so there can be a serious disconnect there.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

We're absolutely part of the trend seeking an alternative to the business model of, "Spend $10 million on development, spend $15 million on advertising, retail game for $60, sell 1 million copies to break even." That model has been putting big studios and big dev teams out of business for a long time now – we need to find ways to target smaller audiences and charge less for our products.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch Kaiju Combat

Sell Kaiju Combat in one sentence:

Godzilla vs. Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man vs. Cthulhu vs. Ultraman.

What's next?

Well, we still need to raise some money in the next two weeks to pay for development! That's obviously step number one. After funding we need to work on our original character collaborations, and hold a final roster vote with all our backers – that's going to create some heated discussions, certainly. Then we'll work to get playable builds out to all our alpha testers in the next few months. Since we're building off an established engine we're going to have five - six months or more of playable, closed alpha builds while we work on balance and build the single-player story. We've also got a lot of licensing deals to finalize, so that our second release can focus on established characters. We'll include more originals as a third release later that year.

Kaiju Combat has 11 days left to raise $40,000 on Kickstarter. We'd rather not see just how angry these monsters can get, so maybe throw them a few bucks if you're into this kind of thing.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.