Earth is overpopulated and to combat the scarcity of space and supplies, the world's government has collected "the undesirables" and flung them into orbit. Slackers, procrastinators, insomniacs and anyone else with a trace of quirkiness is huddled into poorly made spaceships and forcefully pushed into the final frontier.
Described as a "quirky space colonization sim" for PC, The UnEarth Initiative comes from the mind of four-person development studio Inkling Games. Composed primarily of former Insomniac employees – having worked on such franchises as Spyro and Ratchet & Clank – the game tells its dark story with bursts of humor and adorable characters.
Once your ship of earth's least appreciated is fired into the atmosphere a form appears telling the story of your colony. Filling out the form dictates the game's difficulty, world size, starting supplies and the reason for your crash. "It's a little like a mad libs form you're filling out," studio co-founder Lesley Mathieson tells me. Your ship, for example, could be filled with a healthy supply of your crew's "least favorite foods," scattered across your new planet after a collision with a pack of "joyriding aliens."
Behind its cute, animated style, The UnEarth Initiative has a dark tilt. "Congratulations on your crash," text announces, as a smoldering wreckage of doom is presented dead center on the screen.
Part The Sims and Minecraft, The UnEarth Initiative offers players the opportunity to create a new civilization while dealing with alien aggressors (pictured, below right) and a population of perhaps-not-so productive individuals. There's structure creation, crafting and even a small robot players can plug real world programming language into in order to complete tasks, such as giving it the AI to automatically maintain farmland. Each survivor has a unique personality and traits that aid or hamper your progression. That compulsive liar, for example? He'd be a great politician! The crew member with obsessive compulsive disorder would be one heck of a worker bee. As your civilization grows, your population expands. Survivors have children, creating a new breed of undesired trait weirdos for you to add to civilization.
The UnEarth Initiative encompasses some big ideas, from a small team used to the absurdity of Ratchet's arsenal and Spryo's wacky villains.
"We wanted to set up a smaller company focused on interesting games, away from the traditional publishing models," Mathieson explains. The team decided to bring its idea to Kickstarter, but has struggled. Less than 24 hours remains in the Kickstarter Campaign for The UnEarth Initiative, which has collected only 10% of its $200,000 goal.
"I think crowdfunders are more wary than they used to be. Now that they've funded a bunch of stuff and its been long enough to see if that stuff is successful or not, people are much more careful with their money," Mathieson about the campaign's struggles.
Inkling's other co-founder, Peter Hastings, says the undercutting of campaign goals have also created an atmosphere that makes it difficult for team's looking for larger amounts of money. "I think, by now, a lot of people either because they were intentionally so or because they were niave have put a lot of Kickstarters out there with ridiculously low budgets versus what we know would actually cost to make a game. And a lot of the people who are not in the games industry that follow Kickstarter have come to accept that [those goals] are the cost of making a game."
"It's no longer quite as easy to come along and say, 'I want to make a game at this realistic budget' because people say, 'Well, that's way more than what other Kickstarters ask for!'"
Double Fine, arguably the developer that thrust crowdfunding into industry-wide interest, originally sought $400,000 for their adventure title. Even after surpassing $3.3 million in its campaign, the game that would become Broken Age, was released as a Steam Early Access title, to collect additional development funding.
With funding, the small team expects to complete The UnEarth Initiative by March 2015. If its unable to reach its goal, a few short hours from now, the team intends to continue to work on the project, but at a slower pace. Mathieson says the team doesn't want to spend more than a year and a half on the project, when the Kickstarter campaign could help complete the game within its 12 month roadmap. Without funding, "some of the areas that required contractors will be more difficult, but we are finding solutions," Mathieson tells me. For additional exposure, the game has been placed on Steam Greenlight, currently sitting at 85% of the way to the top 100% required.
"As part of a thank you to those who backed us, we intend to give them a code or other access to a bonus in the game once it releases," Mathieson says, regardless of whether or not the game meets its funding goal.
The UnEarth Initiative puts a creative bend on the colonization genre, adding personality to individual units that could have serious ramifications on how worlds are created. Whether or not the team behind it will have an opportunity to complete its vision remains to be seen.