Carmageddon: Reincarnation, initially announced as a downloadable multiplatform game last year, now depends on Kickstarter for completion.
Patrick Buckland and Neil Barnden, CEO and Executive Director of Stainless Games, tell an all-too-common horror story from creatives stuck in a bad business deal. After doing work-for-hire projects with their new company in the mid '90s, they finally released a passion project, called Carmageddon, which featured goofy and gory, over-the-top vehicular carnage, and still claims a place in the heart of older PC gamers everywhere. In order to get published, they sold rights for the title to SCI, which co-published the game with Interplay.
The title was followed up with a sequel in 1998 (it was called Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now, back when games could be called things like that), but when the sequel didn't do as well, the worst happened: Buckland and Barnden lost their own creation. They've spent years since then trying to get the rights back.
"While the company was SCI," says Buckland today, "Carmageddon was one of their biggest brands, so there was no way on God's green earth they were going to part with that." SCI eventually bought Eidos, but even with brands like Tomb Raider and Hitman in that group, the company still saw no reason to give the rights back. "Why sell your IP? Why do it? Better to have it just sat in a cupboard," the company decided, according to Buckland.
And in that cupboard Carmageddon sat, until Square (which had by then combined with rival Enix) bought up Eidos in 2009. And "that's when the door finally opened," says Buckland. "We were in there like hawks buying the rights back."
That deal went through about a year ago, and Stainless began work on a return to the series, which they called Carmageddon Reincarnation. Finding funding for the title wasn't easy, however. While Stainless was spending the time while fighting for their rights working on popular licensed titles like Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Plainswalker and Risk: Factions, publishers told them if they wanted to get another Carmageddon game out, they'd have to give up the brand again. Obviously, that wasn't an option.
"'Yeah, we've got great memories of Carmageddon, we used to play that, what a great brand,'" they would say, according to Buckland. "And it didn't go any further than that."
"'We think it's fantastic you've got the rights back,'" Barnden adds, "'we can't wait to see the game ... and then we'll talk to you maybe about publishing it.'" So after finally getting their rights back after all those years, Stainless became stuck with a title that they couldn't afford to make on their own, but didn't want to share and lose it all again.
Enter Kickstarter. "We talked to Kickstarter at GDC" this year, says Buckland, "and they agreed that our project is exactly right for the service. Looking at the other really good submissions on there, they're people who are similar heritage to us, similar track records, big names, so we're very well suited to it." Stainless has today announced a Kickstarter project for Carmageddon Reincarnation, and they're asking supporters to donate $400,000 (or more) in return for the chance to help make the game.
Kickstarter is obviously the fad of the month for retro games at this point, and Stainless understands that they're leaping headfirst onto a bandwagon. But it's one they feel comfortable in - they're not a fly-by-night studio trying to raise a million dollars with just an idea. They've got a game already going, and are looking for money to finish it. With Kickstarter, "you've got to look at and investigate the reputation of the people actually running and putting the project up, as opposed to how cool the project itself sounds on paper," says Barnden.
Buckland admits that there are no guarantees on Kickstarter, and some potential backers may have been burned by other projects. "What is needed long-term is a safer crowd funding model. For instance, if you enter an auction on eBay, you're entering into a contract. You have to then pay, that person has to supply the product to you. There are legal complications in both directions. And I guess that will come eventually, on Kickstarter or whatever clone pops up." But for now, it's Kickstarter or bust for this title. "It was absolutely perfect for us, because it allows us to do what we want, which is get this game back out there, get the public involved."
As for the game itself, Stainless has years worth of ideas for a new Carmageddon, but is most excited about just getting the old title running on next generation hardware. "The idea is that with Carmageddon Reincarnation," says Barnden, "we are just going to be hi-rezzing the shit out of everything. Everything can be smoother, shinier, filled with far more detailed giblets than there ever was before."
"Now everything comes into it," adds Buckland. "Whatever you hit can break and smash and bounce down the road and take a pedestrian's head off. We can do the sort of crazy ragdolls flying through the air that's perfectly Carmageddon, but the hardware wasn't up to it. So in a way, the hardware has caught up with our ideas."
The team also wants to add new goals and content to the proceedings, but they won't stray from the open world mayhem that made the title so popular. "We are still absolutely determined that to play the way you want to play is a central tenet of Carmageddon," says Barnden. "It always has been and it always will be. So you'll have a variety of ways of achieving almost all goals."
Fans of Stainless who've never heard of Carmageddon don't have much to worry about either: The founders say that even if the Kickstarter project does well, the company plan is to keep working on the licensed titles it's become known for. A new version of Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Plainswalkers is coming out for 2013 (and arriving on iOS, which Stainless also says is a possibility, along with consoles, for Reincarnation, depending on where funding goes), and Stainless says it's open to doing other "high-value, high quality" titles for other clients.
"We had our company summit only this Monday with all our staff," he says, "and the sort of speech I gave for everyone there, was that what our company planned to do was to split between our own IP with Carmageddon, and continue to do high-value, very high quality other titles for blue chip clients, like Hasbro."
Buckland's learned his lesson, then, from the early days. As he warns about what other companies are doing wrong today, the advice sounds like it could have gone to the two British gents behind an early Stainless Games as well: "They go and get one hit, which does well. They plow all of their profits into the next thing, and that doesn't do well, and then the company goes bust. And that's just stupid to do that. So we want to keep a good mixture of quality products like Magic, and Carmageddon. That's a great mix."