Kickstarter Backer Q&A #2

I’ve decided to start posting many of our Kickstarter updates here to reach a wider audience and hopefully disperse some of the misunderstandings that seem to be making the rounds on various news sites.

1. I read in the news you’ll need additional funding beyond Kickstarter… Is this true?

It’s common practice to set Kickstarter funding goals at amounts less than what’s needed to completely realize every possible aspect of a game’s potential. Like other video game campaigns, we’ve stated that funding above and beyond the campaign goal will be used to create more content and support additional feature development. From a design perspective, if we ask for 900k but end up with 2 million USD, that would allow for expansion of the design goals and development scope. If we come in closer to 900k then we’ll develop and deliver a smaller game that fits within that budget. The design is expandable to allow for this sort of thing.

In terms of publishing deals and their ability to support continued development of our games – there are many territories in the world where we’re unable to self-publish. China is a good example. So we’d need to sign up a publishing agreement with a Chinese publisher and they’d support localization, marketing and publishing efforts in that closed market. Those kinds of deals sometime come with up-front license fees paid to the developer (that’s us) and we can use those fees to support overall improvements and ongoing development for the game. In markets where we’re able to self publish we will.

2. What is Plan B if the Kickstarter doesn’t make it?

Sometimes you have to kill your babies. For OZombie, it would mean the end of my efforts to design and develop it. I see Kickstarter as an excellent platform for testing the viability of a game concept and understanding the potential for customer demand. If the Kickstarter doesn’t make it that’s a pretty clear sign that there aren’t enough people interested in the concept to support developing, releasing and maintaining it. I want to build products that I’m excited about – and I’m very excited about OZombie – but also products that clearly excite our audience.

For our studio it means we’ll continue working on smaller, mobile/online titles like “Akaneiro: Demon Hunters” and “Hell Invaders” (this is the mobile/web title we recently signed with DeNA – not the final name of the game). I’m not as involved in the design and development of those titles, which means my day to day will focus on running the studio and our business. We can’t currently fund on our own the development of a larger single-player title like OZombie, so making that kind of game will have to wait for some future date.

3. When will we see gameplay videos? Every other Kickstarter has gameplay videos.

When we designed and planned the campaign we did so thinking a gameplay video wouldn’t be necessary. Successful campaigns from Double Fine and InXile (among others) have proven this point by pitching game concepts using only 2D artwork, basic design outlines and the track record of their development teams. And, I figured – incorrectly it seems – that saying “We’re going to make an Alice-type game set in the world of Oz” would be enough to fire people’s imaginations.

In response to feedback from backers on this topic we’ve decided to build a quick demo to show character interaction and art direction within a simple environment. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is just as likely to cause confusion and outright damage, as it is to allay people’s fears. This is one of the dangers in sharing early development efforts and “work in progress” – something we’ve seen happen repeatedly when sharing concept artwork and design exploration.

I’m hoping existing and potential backers will be able to view our efforts in context of the pressures and constraints that have shaped the final result, but you know what they say about hope.

4. How does Alice affect OZombies goals? What if you only raise $950k and part of that is “Alice” money?

That really depends on those backers who have put in money primarily to support the idea of purchasing the Alice film rights. They always have the option to remove their support – so it seems we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it. In that sense it’s the backers who control the campaign and decide its fate. That’s the wonderful thing about Kickstarter.

5. Why did you sell the Alice game and film rights to begin with?

The “Alice” property was never mine because I created it while being employed by Electronic Arts. Generally speaking, when you create or invent something while working for someone else (like a corporation) that creation is automatically their property. I even signed away my name in connection with Alice – meaning EA could make another Alice game and put my name on the box, even if I were uninvolved or dead.

The film rights were first optioned, then purchased outright, by a group of independent film producers in Hollywood. Again, this was a transaction that took place between EA and those producers – I had no involvement in it and didn’t benefit directly from that sale. Why EA would sell the film rights to one of their most popular original IPs is a question you’d have to ask them.

What’s happened recently is that those film producers offered me a chance to acquire the film rights before they put them on the open market and sell them to the highest bidder. This was a kindness on their part, recognition of the fact that a property’s creator should have greater involvement in the decision making process that leads to exploitation of the property. Our mutual expectation was that fans would recognize and agree with this fact. I guess the question is – who would you rather have controlling the film rights? The concept’s creator or some faceless corporation?

If I’m unable to raise the money needed to purchase these rights then they’ll end up in someone else’s hands – who knows, maybe EA will buy them back? I wouldn’t be surprised.

6. Why not run a separate Kickstarter for the Alice film rights?

The timing simply wouldn’t work. When I received notice about the film rights I was told that there was a limited window of opportunity. Beyond a certain date the rights would go to the open market. That date would be beyond the end of the OZombie campaign, but we didn’t finalize the deal to start working with these rights until after the OZombie campaign had already started.

This is one of the reasons I’ve built “The Box” into the OZombie campaign – it’s an interesting way to announce expansion of the campaign in the event one of these deals closed during the campaign. Since we’re still working on a couple of potential surprises we can still have an interesting reveal when the box is finally opened. I’m actively working to put in place some exciting partnerships around the Alice film rights. Just hoping I can get those deals done and make meaningful announcements before time runs out.

Song of the Mermaid

Song of the Mermaid

Song of the Mermaid – Production Still

Friend and sometimes collaborator Troy Morgan has been working on a cool movie project for some time now: Song of the Mermaid. You can check out some production stills and video from the project on his site. I’ve worked with Troy in the past – and hope I can do the same in the near future on TNBT.

Michael Crichton Died

From The LA Times: Author Michael Crichton has died at age 66 after “a private battle with cancer.” Crichton’s career was probably one of a kind: After training as a doctor at Harvard and working as a fellow at the Jonas Salk Institute, he became a bestselling author, then a successful screenwriter, award-winning movie director and TV producer. The movie “Jurassic Park,” based on his book and on which he shared screenwriting credit, is the No. 10 top grossing film of all time. I spent some time working with Crichton – enough to gain immense respect for his intellect, creativity, and the way he lived his life. If you’ve never known him beyond his books and films, I suggest you read his autobiography, Travels.

American McGee’s Alice – Film Interview

Alice's Wonderland Halloween

Tyler Lockett’s Alice Image

I first met Scott Faye while Alice was in development. He was on his way to a meeting at EA when he caught sight of Alice concept artwork. Scott instantly fell in love with the project and has since worked tirelessly to bring it to the big screen.

What follows is an email interview I conducted with Scott. I asked him many of the questions I receive here and in the forum. I hope Scott’s answers will provide temporary comfort to those of you who’ve waited patiently for Alice film news.

To start off with, would you please tell us who you are and what your affiliation with “Alice” is? What projects are you working on and/or what companies are you working with these days?

SF: My name is Scott Faye. I am a producer working in Los Angeles. One of the projects on which I am working at producing as a feature film is your compelling video game creation, American McGee’s Alice. In addition to Alice, I recently produced (along with Julie Yorn) the feature film adaptation of the video game Max Payne for 20th Century Fox. I’ve recently partnered with Scott Miller and Jim Perkins to form a new company called Depth Entertainment. Depth Entertainment will be responsible for adapting all video game projects from another joint venture company, Radar IP Group.

As I’m sure you know, the big question on everyone’s mind is, what is the current status of the “Alice” movie project? What are the realistic chances of seeing the “Alice” film go into real production? What challenges are you faced with in getting it made?

SF: The Alice project is presently in “turnaround” from Universal Studios. Jon and Erich Hoeber have written a very compelling feature film screenplay adaptation of the Alice game. Their screenplay will certainly serve as a jumping off point as we find a new studio home for the project. In terms of the realistic chances of seeing the Alice project being produced, all I can say is that I have invested (along with Julie Yorn and Karen Lauder, my producing partners on the project) a lot of time and effort in this project. We will get it made. I offer my eight year effort to get the best version of the Max Payne film produced as proof of my tenacity as a film producer. Every film produced is a challenge. The major film studios are producing fewer movies every year, so to have one of them be yours is a very special experience. On the positive side, the Alice in Wonderland mythology is wonderfully compelling, and is an indelible concept in the minds of studio executives and the movie going public.

Is Sarah Michelle Gellar still attached to this project? How did she get involved in the beginning?

SF: Sarah is not currently attached to the project. Her initial involvement was the result of a very talented and effective member of her management team who became aware of the project and pursued on Sarah’s behalf.

There are rumors of Marcus Nispel being committed as the director and Jean Marsh getting picked for the part of the Queen of Hearts. Is there anything to these whispers?

SF: Marcus was at one point attached to direct the Alice film. He is not involved with the project at this time. I’m looking forward to seeing his take on the retelling of Friday the 13th when it comes to theaters next year. I can’t say that I have ever been aware of Jean Marsh’s involvement with the project.

Who else has expressed interest in being a part of it? Who would you like to see involved in terms of production and casting?

SF: My Max Payne experience has taught me that speculating on cast or director is not a productive approach to getting a film made. My firm belief is that the best cast and crew will ultimately gravitate toward the project. Who do you see as the ideal actress to play Alice?

Where is the script these days? Tell us a little about who has been involved in the drafting and writing of it from the beginning to its present state. How do you feel about the script the way it currently stands?

SF: As I’ve referenced above, Jon and Erich Hoeber have written a very compelling feature film adaptation of the Alice game. The Hoebers have been working with me on the Alice project longer than anyone with the exception of my producing partner Karen Lauder. To be perfectly honest, the script still needs a little bit of work. The downtime since the Hoebers turned in their last draft has allowed me to establish a bit of creative objectivity. I suspect that the next draft of the screenplay will allow the project to take a substantial leap forward toward production.

What do you expect from the film thematically? Artistically?

SF: Hhmmmm… I think you did a fantastic job of propelling the Alice narrative and mythos forward in the game schema. We’ll definitely be playing with the theme of exploring the nature of emotional instability. The exploration of the experience of an individual whose day-to-day existence proves a challenge vis a vis an externally nurtured mental instability, and the absolute need on the part of this person to gain a foothold in a more universally shared reality in order to save herself will play a substantial thematic role in the film adaptation. Artistically, my hope is to nurture the appropriate balance of great storytelling and the use of Wonderland mythology in crafting the narrative.

The music was such a major part of the initial impact of the “Alice” video game. What thoughts do you have on the music and score? Would you like to have Chris Vrenna back as the audial element of this story? Who else might you also like to see involved in the musical side of the production?

SF: I have always considered a film’s music and score to be as important as a great acting performance with regard to a film’s success. And while this is the case with the Alice project, I feel that we’re still a bit too far away from having established other critical elements to begin the process of considering the musical approach the the film. I will be sure to let you know when we’ve reached this milestone.

How true to the original story line of the game will the movie be? Is this intended to be a retelling of that story line or a continuation of it?

SF: The film narrative will borrow heavily from the game story. My mantra has always been that “a film is a film and a game is a game.” As is the case with a great many video game adaptations, the Alice game narrative does not possess all the requisite elements to establish a straight linear approach. We’ve built upon many character and narrative elements you employed in the game, and have augmented or created additional elements which we felt were needed to execute a screenplay worthy of being produced.

How much feedback and input have you taken from the Alice fans?

SF: Until now, not much. I have a feeling this might change now that you’ve dragged me into the light…

Please tell us a bit about what inspired you about the original game to take on a project like this.

SF: To be honest, I wasn’t a huge Alice in Wonderland fan while growing up (although I did enjoy the Alice ride at Disneyland quite a bit). When I initially came across the artwork for the game while visiting EA, the revised approach to the mythology caught my attention. The project represented, and still does, the perfect marriage of art and commerce – and I mean this in the best way possible. I loved the grown up Alice in a horror story version of Wonderland, and knew instinctively that the project would have a commercial appeal easily discerned by the film studios because the character and mythology are so deeply ingrained into the collective psyche.

Any words to the fans who are eagerly awaiting movement on this project?

SF: Hang in there. We’re doing everything we can to get a version of the Alice movie produced that will be worthy of your passion for the game, and your movie going investment.

Thanks so much for your time Scott! I’m sure the fans will appreciate the insight you’ve given them into the process of adapting Alice to film. We wish you luck with Max Payne and look forward to seeing you tackle Alice soon.

And hey! While I’ve got your attention, I’d like to invite everyone to check out the latest twisted tales project: American McGee’s Grimm. Shameless plug, I know! Here are some interesting links:

GameInformer Preview
Ars Technica Preview
Destructoid Loves the Grimm Intro Song
Grimm Images on my Flickr Account
GameTap Grimm Site