Four years ago in 2015, the Kickstarter video game revival wave kicked off by Mighty No. 9 felt unstoppable.
Anything was possible!
All these luminaries of game design were finally unshackled from corporate suits,
and were gonna be making the games we'd been begging for!
It felt like the dawn of an amazing new era.
And four years later...
...let's just say the final results have been mixed.
And Kickstarter has since become infamous for disappointing its backers
and delivering underwhelming games.
Though they're not all stinkers.
But in terms of the revival wave of legacy games reimagined by legacy developers,
the story isn't over just yet.
I mean Mighty No. 9 is out, Red Ash is missing in action,
Yooka-Laylee is out with a sequel on the way,
Shenmue III's got its share of controversy,
and then there's Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night,
aka, Mighty No. Castlevania.
But is it, though?
Yes, the parallels between Keiji Inafune's Mighty No. 9 and Koji Igarashi's Bloodstained
are numerous and unavoidable.
However, when you dig deeper, you see that Bloodstained may have actually learned
just as much from Mighty No. 9's incredible successes as it did from its spectacular failures.
Welcome to Past Mortem, where we break down and explore the stories of video games,
and with its release upon us, it's time to dive into the Kickstarter campaign and development
of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and the man behind it all; Koji Igarashi.
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Koji Igarashi, aka IGA's legacy of Symphony of the Night and the Metroidvania
is very well known and not worth getting too deep into here,
but it's important to set up why the man at the center of this story
would gamble against guaranteed life employment at Konami with a revival Kickstarter.
So back in 2002, IGA became the Castlevania series producer with the release of Harmony of Dissonance.
His success, however, earned him a reputation within Konami
as "the guy who makes games under budget",
meaning his teams weren't ever given the money they needed,
especially for his 3D Castlevania games,
which were often criticized for copy-pasted scenery and lackluster assets.
Still, IGA successfully produced twelve Castlevania games,
until things came to a head in the PS3 and Xbox 360 era.
IGA's pitch for the next 3D Castlevania game was ultimately rejected,
and the project was given to a Western developer and Hideo Kojima.
After this game, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, came out in 2010,
IGA was effectively stripped of his Castlevania crown,
[glass shattering] IGA was effectively stripped of his Castlevania crown,
IGA was effectively stripped of his Castlevania crown,
so he decided to transfer to Konami's mobile department.
However, he struggled for years to make games,
with Konami repeatedly turning down his pitches before they entered development.
It was around this time when a man named Ben Judd came to him with a crazy proposition,
and IGA was ready to listen.
Who is Ben Judd?
You might remember him from his involvement in a little Kickstarter success story:
Mighty No. 9.
It's hard to separate what Keiji Inafune's spiritual successor to Mega Man
meant when it was first unveiled with what it means now.
When it launched in 2013, it hit the games industry, especially the Japanese side of it, like a dump truck.
A dump truck full of bricks.
It was a ton of bricks moving very fast, and it hit it very hard.
I wanna stress that when Mighty No. 9 came out, it was the savior of gaming.
It was a radiant beacon that meant we would never have to deal with petty publishers
and upper management ever again.
Plus, the fact that Mighty No. 9 was helmed by a Japanese developer
who took a dead franchise from a legacy publisher and raised several million dollars
was noticed by IGA.
So when Ben Judd started whispering dark words in his ear, how could IGA refuse?
And so, IGA went independent in 2014.
But actually, Kickstarter wasn't his first move.
He and Judd first tried pursuing more traditional development.
They shopped around IGA's dream console game, his triumphant Castlevania spiritual successor,
to almost every publisher out there, but he was not able to get funding.
I mean, this is the genre he helped create!
But according to IGA, Japanese publishers didn't want to touch it
because Castlevania is typically less successful in the PAL region,
triple-a Western publishers felt it was too Japanese,
and smaller publishers declined because they were afraid of Konami's wrath.
He ended up needing to get a day job,
which he got by being a founder of ArtPlay, a Chinese mobile studio.
But IGA still never gave up.
Eventually, he was able to secure around $4.5 million, or about 90% of funding, from a mysterious backer.
We wish we could tell you more about this part of the story,
but the identity of this mysterious backer has never been released,
at least at the timing of this video.
IGA finally had something to grease the wheels.
All that was left was preparation;
securing development with Inti Creates, a trailer from 2 Player Productions,
and merchandise with Fangamer, all with the help of Ben Judd.
You might recognize this as a familiar cast of characters.
Outside of the mysterious mega-backer,
this was the exact same starting lineup behind the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter.
By Spring 2015, everything was ready to go,
and honestly, the timing couldn't have been better.
2015 was not just a big year for crowdfunding revivals;
it was also a big year for Konami pulling a string of "Konamis".
In March, news leaked of Konami's abusive behavior towards Kojima Productions,
and literally a week before Bloodstained's unveiling, Konami scrubbed PT from PSN servers.
People were ready to stick it to the Big K, and the stage was set for the Kickstarter.
On May 11th, 2015, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was unveiled to the world.
The Kickstarter campaign promised to bring back that same great Metroidvania,
referred to as Igavania here, style fans knew from Symphony of the Night.
Side-scrolling, platforming, exploration, and a smattering of RPG elements, and hell, even crafting,
wrapped up inside a totally-not-Castlevania gothic aesthetic.
I mean sure, you've played other Metroidvanias since,
but Bloodstained promised to tickle your nostalgia-bone at the same time.
Plus, fans could be extra certain nothing could ever, and would ever, never ever ever go wrong,
since they already had other investors that believed in the project.
I mean this was like, probably like, y'know, some kinda, like, pre-order campaign?
I'm sure that's not gonna be a problem in the future.
And you probably know how this next part goes, don't you?
It was a massive success, blowing way past the initial goal of $500,000,
topping out at over $5.5 million, with 64,000 people backing the project.
Bloodstained was not only a Mighty No. 9-sized hit,
it surpassed it to become the highest funded video game Kickstarter ever,
at least until Shenmue III dethroned it a few months later.
Things were good for a while after the Bloodstained Kickstarter.
Development seemed to be humming along just fine, and by June 2016, the following year,
the Bloodstained team had an Inti Creates demo ready to showcase at E3.
However, while IGA was showing off his dream game,
the Kickstarter that made it all possible was imploding, epically.
While Mighty No. 9 was a bit mediocre and definitely not the second coming of the Blue Bomber,
the game itself was nothing compared to the PR disasters surrounding it.
Here's a greatest hits:
Announcer - ...and make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night!
Ben Judd - Even if it's not perfect... it's better than nothing.
Ben Judd - I T ' S B E T T E R T H A N N O T H I N G.
This made everyone involved in the project, even tangentially, toxic.
Suddenly, Bloodstained was in trouble.
In September 2016, IGA announced he would be delaying Bloodstained,
and parting ways with Inti Creates.
The stated reason was that Inti Creates:
"(did not) necessarily have the true understanding of how to procedurally use the best tools in Unreal",
meaning that Inti wasn't able to use procedural generation
to quickly make assets for the game in the timeframe needed.
But it's hard for me to believe that Mighty No. 9 didn't also have something to do with it.
Also, I want to point out that Inti makes some quality games,
though yes, their track record with 2.5D isn't exactly stellar.
I saw this as a good move at the time.
Bloodstained's lackluster scenery and assets were a source of contention for a lot of people,
Uh, speaking us just a fan, by the way, not an actual supporter.
It had some big shoes to fill, and things weren't looking so hot.
Okay, it's time for a new segment of the show.
Welcome to Derek's Spooky Speculation Corner!
Now considering that Symphony of the Night was a revelation because it was pixel art
at the time when 3D graphics were becoming the industry standard,
I always found it odd that Bloodstained embraced a conspicuous 2.5D artstyle.
It doesn't make sense.
Well, it didn't make sense unless Bloodstained was taking its cues from Mighty No. 9.
2.5D made sense for Mega Man in a way that it didn't for a Symphony of the Night revival.
There aren't a ton of pure action platformers anymore,
so there wasn't really a ton of precedent for what a Mega Man revival should look like.
And honestly, I think it worked out great for Mega Man 11.
But the Metroidvania genre is alive and well, especially in the indie space,
and the standard is hand drawn and sprite-based graphics.
Now that's not to say a standard can't be broken,
however, the goal of a spiritual successor project, like Bloodstained, isn't to reinvent the wheel;
it's to give legacy fans a version of the game they remember from their childhoods.
It's easier said than done.
According to the Kickstarter, IGA decided to go with 2.5D so that they could use the Unreal Engine,
which would help keep the budget down.
However, he would later admit that the 3D graphics were a huge challenge for the project,
so it would appear that the 2.5D added an extra challenge to the development,
especially in terms of pleasing fans, that haunted Bloodstained throughout,
and these challenges meant more time, more people, and more money was needed.
Anyway, that's enough speculation, let's get back on track.
In the following months, the Bloodstained team got some of that money
by bringing on 505 Games as a publisher.
This allowed them to bring on DICO and Monobit as developers.
So just to recap, we now have four studios working on Bloodstained with different responsibilities.
ArtPlay, the studio IGA works for, was responsible for game design, story, and overall game development;
DICO, who would create art assets, level design, and whatever else ArtPlay couldn't do;
Monobit, who would offer technical support and tools;
and then 505 Games publishing.
It was likely an expensive and time-consuming move, but it's probably what was necessary for the game.
Eventually, when the graphics still weren't up to snuff,
they would have to bring on a fourth developer, WayForward, to touch up assets and redo the lighting,
which means that at least five development teams have had their hands on this game.
Bloodstained would be in development for a year longer than Mighty No. 9,
but it would appear it was because they were bringing on more help to try and get things right.
[glass shattering] but it would appear it was because they were bringing on more help to try and get things right.
but it would appear it was because they were bringing on more help to try and get things right.
As you can see, all the fussing with the aesthetics of the game sucked up a lot of the resources,
which brings us to one of the hallmarks of any Kickstarter project:
And I don't think this is necessarily IGA or the Bloodstained team's fault,
but the reality of Kickstarter is that the name of the game was to create as much hype as possible,
which of course means one thing: Stretch goals!
However, there is an unfortunate reality to deal with here.
When you increase the scope of a project, it just makes it more difficult in so many unexpected ways.
So for fun, I'm gonna read all the stretch goals to give you an idea of how giant this entire project got:
It's a Kickstarter problem.
Kickstarter is a culture built on promises first, asking forgiveness later.
This is difficult to plan for in general,
but heap on the pressure of Mighty No. 9's abysmal failure,
and the fact that over-promising was one of its major undoings,
and a project like Bloodstained becomes less about releasing a game that hopefully spawns a franchise,
and more about releasing a game that just allows your career to continue existing.
The pressure must be intense,
especially when tens of thousands of people in charge of your future get to see every step.
And sure enough, many stretch goals were delayed.
At launch, Bloodstained bragged that it would have 13 free DLCs,
Which is actually just a nice way of saying that many of the stretch goals were not ready at launch.
But it does suggest that IGA and his teams were prioritizing the main game,
though as of the making of this video, we can only really speculate.
And that meant scaling down the project,
and the seven, holy crap, SEVEN different ports initially promised were cut down to four:
PC, Xbox, PS4, and Switch.
The first two cancellations;
changing the Wii U port to the Switch port and cancelling the Vita port, made sense.
Development had stretched out long enough that the Wii U and Vita weren't being supported anymore,
and most backers just wanted IGA and co. to make the highest-quality game possible.
Though it is disappointing that the Switch port would be 720 and 30fps docked, and would be slightly delayed,
and all this wasn't revealed until it was too late for backers to change their game platform.
Not to beat a dead game to death here,
but one of the reasons Mighty No. 9 failed so spectacularly
is that they waaay misunderestimated the cost of development,
and weren't able to finish all the ports.
I only wonder if what would have happened to Mighty No. 9
if they'd been able to focus on just like... one platform, or three platforms,
instead of the EIGHT that made it to stores,
and the TEN they tried to make!
Like, Doom has ten ports, and that was spread out over, like, a decade.
Like, The Evil Within has, I dunno, like seven ports?
But that had like, Bethesda money.
How did no one see this was a bad idea?
I'm yelling at Grace, she doesn't have the answers, I'm sorry.
However, the cancellation of the Mac and Linux ports
were a tougher pill to swallow for a couple of reasons.
One, they didn't have the same excuse of platforms no longer being supported by their companies,
and two, 505 Games would not be offering refunds.
According to them, Kickstarter's policy is that if there's any Kickstarter money left, it can be refunded,
but at this point, all of the money raised by the Kickstarter campaign was spent,
and any additional funding was from 505 Games.
It kind of reminds me of another no-refund-having publisher.
And this is the type of thing people were trying to AVOID by backing Kickstarters.
But what about the rest of the scope?
After all, we can't forget about the rest of those stretch goals!
In 2018, we got our first taste of Bloodstained with Curse of the Moon,
a vintagevania-style side game developed by none other than Inti Creates!
While they had no involvement with Ritual of the Night beyond the 2016 E3 demo,
they didn't completely leave the Bloodstained project.
And I told you, Inti makes quality!
They really know their way around 2D platformers, and this was the perfect way to use them.
I really enjoyed this game.
For me, this send-up of classic linear Castlevania was worth all the Kickstarter drama,
and all the worry that Bloodstained might go the way of Mighty No. 9.
I know some people might disagree, but these are facts.
...Uh, personal facts.
But as development was finally wrapping up and the game's release approached,
tension between what a Kickstarter means to its backers,
versus Bloodstained's hope for a public release started to grow.
And nothing underscores this tension better than the "Iga's Back Pack" DLC.
This was previously a backer-exclusive extra, but will be offered to the general public for $9.99.
This, combined with numerous delays and a lack of refunds,
rubbed a sizable number of people the wrong way.
How did this happen, though?
Well this had in some form been decided by a vote,
but it still felt like a betrayal to some backers who had pledged $60 and up way back in 2015.
And while some people are upset about this,
there's almost an equal group that supports the DLC being open to the public.
It's almost a perfect encapsulation of the problem with Kickstarter.
Bloodstained had been upfront that they had alternate funding,
and pitched a game as a sort of pre-order campaign,
and I'm sympathetic to the people who feel entitled to exactly what they were promised.
On the other hand, the Bloodstained Kickstarter was obviously just a pitch,
and it added an extraordinary amount of extra features to a work-in-progress.
Realities change, and it's difficult to fully predict the cost of development.
When you have over 64,000 backers, it's impossible to please everyone.
But this project just doesn't have the stink of mismanagement like Mighty No. 9 did.
A week before Bloodstained's release, IGA said in an interview to IGN that:
"he doesn't... consider himself an indie developer".
"My definition of an indie is a developer, or developers, who make the games that they want to make".
Instead, IGA describes himself as "always thinking about the customer, the player, and what they want to play."
This is one of Bloodstained's strengths, showed off best in the release date trailer
that took the criticisms of the game's graphics head-on and showed how they had listened to the fans.
But this is a far cry from the IGA we started out with, who wanted to make his dream game.
We end on the big pre-release trailer for Mighty No. 9.
This was the moment it all fell apart.
Any chance to save that game went right out the window like an anime fan on prom night.
Announcer - L I K E A N A N I M E F A N O N P R O M N I-
We've Illustrated that Bloodstained has not been without disappointment,
but a moment that could have sunk Bloodstained instead was a course-correcting moment,
getting out in front of the negative feedback and bouncing back strong.
Just imagine if Mighty No. 9 had had the money and goodwill to burn to delay itself another full year
to fix what the community and general public saw as a woefully undercooked game.
That doesn't guarantee that Bloodstained will be any less of a disappointment than Mighty No. 9,
but you'd hope a game with a little more money, a year longer development time,
and slightly better management would yield better results.
Kickstarter was never really a pre-order as much as a gamble,
and I think the general public is now fully aware of this gamble.
It stands to reason why the era of the mega-funded Kickstarter video game revivals ended years ago.
Thanks so much for watching!
I am Derek, and this is Stop Skeleton From Fighting.
If you want to hear more about Mighty No. 9, we got a bunch of videos about that.
If you want to hear more about Bloodstained, last year I played through the entire game of Curse of the Moon,
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New videos are always coming, so goodbye for now.
See you again soon.