Know the name Tom Hall? You might not.
Know the name Commander Keen? That one, you probably do. You probably played a ton of games in that franchise in the 80s and 90s on your PC.
Tom Hall helped pioneer platform PC games and now he’s back on Kickstarter like so many other important game designers from the 80s and 90s. His pitch, however, is not only for a platform game, but for a game creator that can help you make games.
The Kickstarter for Worlds of Wander (plus a game made on it called Secret Spaceship Club) is currently below $100,000 of a goal of $400,000 with less than three weeks to go. To help get the word out, I recently spoke with Hall about the Kickstarter, his background and more. Here’s what we discussed:
So for those who haven't heard of the Worlds of Wander / Secret Spaceship Club Kickstarter, how would you describe the project?
Worlds of Wander is a suuuuper simple and fun platform game creation tool that comes with a fully-completed game, Secret Spaceship Club, so you can play the game, then go in the editor and tweak it a little, see how things work. As you get confident in that Simple Mode, you can switch to Advanced Mode and really make it your own. It does all the grunge work for you, so you just do the fun parts!
The game, Secret Spaceship Club, is a spiritual successor to Commander Keen, a fun series of platform games we made at id.
Talk about how some of your earlier games, like Commander Keen, are influencing Secret Spaceship Club.
Well, Keen was basically me as a kid, minus the 314 IQ and traveling the galaxy. But it was my Walter Mitty dreaming of great adventures, sort of Warner Brothers cartoons mixed with Star Wars and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I loved those games, and Keen as a character. Just pure fun.
Speaking of—why not Kickstart a reboot of Commander Keen? (I loved that franchise back in the day.)
I've approached id back in the day, and Romero and Brenda have pinged Zenimax about licensing or selling the IP, but got stonewalled with almost a form business letter. Which hurts, since he's basically me as a kid.
I would have LOVED to do Keen.
But I've waited long enough—I want to get back to those kinds of fun, quirky sci-fi games again, and after seeing the awesome Keen fan games, I want to enable everyone to participate in the experience of this universe and game creation, even if they just tweak a level a little.
How important was it to release a game, Secret Spaceship Club, alongside the game creation tool you're creating through Worlds of Wander?
Critical. I think people need to start with a finished product, and in Simple Mode, so making a whole game isn't so daunting. Play it, then see how it works, twiddle it a little. There's a lot to making a game, but if you can start with one that works, it's easier to mess with it and see how it works, and go deeper when you're ready.
There's a ton of game creators out there already—what makes yours stand out and what do you think will draw gamers in?
It's so easy to use. The other game creators are awesome, but I see those through the eyes of people that don't make games—they seem daunting. Too much people don't know how to do from the get-go. Here they can visually tweak things, and have all the grunge work done for them.
They can just have fun creating. And it will be as fun to edit as it is to play! Just a joy to interact with. It's cross-platform, and you can continue editing or playing on whatever platform you're on.
I really want it so amazingly easy to use and running on whatever device you are near – so if you get an idea, boom – implement it.
Also focus. This does ONE kind of game well. Once we have it rocking, perhaps we can tackle other types of games.
Do you plan to continue releasing more games using Worlds of Wander after it and Secret Spaceship Club come out?
When we get funded, definitely want to. And hopefully grow to other formats with the same easy-to-use style.
Talk about how game creation actually works in Worlds of Wander? Can a novice use it? And alternatively, will someone who is experienced think it's too easy and not powerful enough? How do you balance pleasing both ends of the spectrum?
There is a Simple Mode, so you can just mess around with levels, easily draw in stuff that it edges and decorates for you. And you start with a fully-fleshed out game. Plus we'll have isolated examples of how to do each type of thing in the game, so it will be very clear how they work.
Then in Advanced Mode, we expose the inner workings, allow people to change scripts, level goals, how things behave.
By having two modes, it allows people to make things at the level they are comfortable with.
Have you already heard from fans or friends about the kind of games they're looking to create with Worlds of Wander?
Yeah, it's been great! Lots of really neat ideas! One backer wants to do an idea with multiple characters, a la The Cave or Lost Vikings. Really cool!
I get a press release about Kickstarter game projects almost every day—what are some tricks you're using to help stand out amongst the crowd? And what advice would you give to others, that perhaps don't have your name recognition, that are struggling?
You have to have an idea that is so compelling, so needed, that you are already sold before you read the page or see the video.
iPod Nano in a watchband--sold!
All the fan-games and love for Keen over the years made me want to enable people with a simple, powerful tool and a new game with that same feeling. It matters to me, and I hope it matters to others. So think about what needs to exist, or a game idea that doesn't exist yet. Then craft your pitch. If you can't sell the idea to yourself as novel and necessary, you need to rethink it!