The Best Five Years of my Life

Back in 2011, in desperate need of a hobby other than watching dash-cam footage of Russian car crashes, friends and family said I should start a blog. I had narrowed it down to two concepts: one was writing about lesser seen movies. The other was doing gaming, which not to sound sappy, but video games have been the love of my life. I wasn’t sure which to do. Then, one day, while going through my Xbox 360 collection, I spotted a game called Breath of Death VII that I had purchased a while back. “Oh yea, I totally forgot, there’s homemade games on Xbox 360.” Curious, I tried to find out what were the better games on the market of these so-called Xbox Live Indie Games. What I found were sites where the concept of critical analysis was unknown. It reminded me of the episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes a food critic. Everything was eleven thumbs-up! And if the game was no good? Well then, it got the lowest score ever: seven thumbs-up. They weren’t exactly useful reviews for people who wanted quality for their dollars. Then a lightbulb went off. After grabbing a couple 4,000 Microsoft Point cards (remember Microsoft Points?) and buying far too many XBLIGs, I launched Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011. Honestly, I never expected to stick with it, nor did I expect anyone to read it.

Being wrong never felt so good.

I love indie gaming. I love seeing dreams realized. I love seeing hard work pay off. While I’m noted for being harsher than the average critic, the truth is I’m so very in love with the entire community. There is nobody out there who wants to love your games as much as I do. I feel like someone who had court-side seats for an expansion team, and gets to see everyone grow up close. When I started IGC, indies were on the fringe of gaming. Today, indie games are highlighted by the console manufacturers during E3. They’re an essential part of modern gaming economics. We live in an era where Microsoft paid half the cost to acquire an indie property that Disney paid to acquire Star Wars. What a privilege to see. It’s a Golden Age for indies.

I won’t like all of your games, but I’ll never stop marveling at the potential you all show. Sometimes I even get jealous. I don’t consider myself a particularly creative person. I wish I could do what you guys and gals do. I have to settle for the occasional reader thanking me for exposing them to hidden indie gems that flew under their radar. There’s a rush that comes when that happens that words fail to describe. It’s an incredible feeling. One that seems to happen more often, as the community realizes the extent of its talent. Remember, you are limited only by your own drive and determination. If you’re receptive towards feedback and strive to outdo yourself, the sky is the limit for you. You could be the next studio targeted for a billion-dollar acquisition. That’s the indie ceiling. It’s so high you need a telescope to see it.

Five years later, and you, the indie community, still have the capability of leaving me in awe. That’s why, even five years later, I still get excited every time I boot up a new game. Win or lose, it’s rare that a game doesn’t leave me optimistic for the future of our community. When people thank me for what I’ve done at Indie Gamer Chick, I feel like I don’t deserve it. Without a thriving community of talented dreamers, I wouldn’t be anything. All I am is a messenger for what you accomplish. Whether you want to hug me or shoot me (or both), my message has been the same for five years now: gaming’s future is so bright that it’s almost blinding. I didn’t do that. You did. So now, as a I celebrate five years of my silly little indie review blog, I want to thank the entire indie gaming community. For the amazing games you’ve created. For those yet to come. My life is so much better for having found you, and for that, you have all my love and gratitude. No take backs.

-Catherine Vice
June 30, 2016

The Most Costly Games of All-Time

As a follow-up to my feature on gaming’s ten biggest mistakes, here are the seven single most costly games in history. I’m doing this list a little different, since it’s impossible to quantify the potential damage a game by itself can cause. Thus, I’ll be listing these in the order they were released.

I should note that this isn’t a list of the most expensive games of all time. You can go to Wikipedia for that. These are seven games that came at a different kind of price. They might have bankrupted a studio, or tainted a developer’s image, or made the industry as a whole look bad. As always, I debated the picks with my friends and asked for their suggestions. A couple of these were mentioned in the previous feature. I’m not double-dipping to be lazy. But in a list about games that came with a heavy cost, I can’t ignore them just because I already talked about them. However, I’ll try to include new material and anecdotes. I aim to please.

Gran Trak 10

Developed by Atari in 1974
Platform: Arcades

The Game: First, there was Pong. Then, there was a lot more Pong. And then even more Pong. Everybody else was doing Pong too. When Atari tried something different (like a maze game where players groped a pair of pink rubber titties to control the action) it flopped and they went back to Pong. There was Doubles Pong, Pin-Pong, Quadrapong, Pong in a Barrel, Puppy Pong, Doctor Pong, and Do Wah Pongy Diddly Pong Diddly Pong. Okay, I made the last one up, but I bet if they would have done it if they thought of it. Obviously something had to give. So Atari owner Nolan Bushnell hired a consulting firm in Grass Valley, CA to come up with new ideas. After smoking a metric fuck ton of weed (they don’t call it Grass Valley for nothing) someone came up with the bright idea of making a driving game. And behold, there was Gran Trak 10. I’ve never played it, but I’m sure it was revolutionary for its time. It must have been popular. It was Atari’s best-selling game of the year.

It looks, um.. old.

It looks, um.. old.

What Happened: The Grass Valley team Nolan hired were very good at doing computer specs and programming. Industrial engineering, on the other hand, was not exactly their forte. The blueprints they sent for the cabinet were simply not commercially viable. The machine wouldn’t have been capable of withstanding the type of abuse arcade cabinets get. Thus, Atari’s lead engineer Al Alcorn had to redesign the entire thing with more expensive components, some of which had to be built from scratch, which well exceeded Atari’s modest operating budget. And Atari wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine when it came to assembly. They would place an empty cabinet in the middle of the facility and, one by one, people would come in with their components and affix them to the machine. They were starting to get better by time they were working on Gran Trak 10, but the process was still slow. Atari’s assembly workers were poorly trained, usually hired from an unemployment office with little to no vetting, and often were junkies or bikers that did drugs at work and stole equipment they could fleece to support their habits. Thus, a lot of the completed machines didn’t pass inspection and poor Alcorn had to fix them himself before sending them out.

An over-budget game designed by an outside consultant (later purchased by Bushnell, but not by this point) which had to be redesigned, that was manufactured at a slow rate. What else could go wrong?

An accounting error led to Atari selling the game at a loss. It cost $1,095 per unit to make Gran Trak 10. Atari sold it to operators for $995. Yep, I bet that stung. And again, it was their best-selling game of the year. Needless to say, Atari had a lot of communication problems by this point. On the bright side, Gran Trak 10 was a much-needed wake-up call for the company. They paid closer attention to their books, reorganized their assembly process, and stuck to their budgets much better.

For what it's worth, my father swears this was the coolest thing he had ever saw in his life up to that point. Mind you, at the time this came out, he had just arrived in Cuba, where the electricity would often go out for days at a time and where he lived in a building that had one toilet for all 100 people that lived in it. He wasn't exactly hard to impress at this point. The first time he saw a washing machine, he felt to his knees and cried. I'm not even kidding.

For what it’s worth, my father swears this was the coolest thing he had ever saw in his life up to that point. Mind you, at the time this came out, he had just arrived from Cuba, where the electricity would often go out for days at a time and where he lived in a building that had one toilet for all 100 people who lived in it. He wasn’t exactly hard to impress at this point. The first time he saw a hotdog stand, he fell to his knees and cried. I’m not even kidding.

The Cost: We’re going to enter the Marty McFly Zone a bit here. If Atari doesn’t sell Gran Trak 10 at a loss, it doesn’t sell as well as it did, but it probably still becomes their best seller of the year, and maybe their most profitable game ever. Atari accumulates a larger war chest with the profits. When they start the process of manufacturing Home Pong in 1975, they might not need to seek a venture capitalist to acquire the funding needed to build their inventory. Or, at the very least, they would have gotten much better terms that left them with more negotiable equity. Thus, when the time comes to do the more expensive Video Computer System (aka the Atari 2600), they would be able to do a round of venture capital instead of selling the company to Warner Bros. Nolan Bushnell would have never been fired from Atari and the video game world would be totally different today.

I guess an argument could be made that it wouldn’t necessarily be better today, at least for us. Bushnell never intended the Atari 2600 to last more than a couple of years. In fact, one of the disagreements that led to his dismissal from Atari was he thought they should discontinue the 2600 and begin working on a new console. This was almost immediately after it launched. And licensing Space Invaders from Taito, which is what ultimately blew up Atari, wasn’t his idea. It was Warner’s CEO Manny Gerard who thought it up after Nolan was gone. At the time Bushnell got beached, the 2600 was a flop and Warner had actually hired Ray Kassar (who became Atari’s CEO after Nolan was gone) as a consultant under the assumption that he would advise them to dump the company, not run it. I’m sure someone, somewhere would have eventually come up with the idea of licensing third-party arcade hits for home consoles, but still, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?


Developed by Atari in 1982
Platform: Atari 2600

The Game: Only the most successful arcade game of all-time, at least until its sequel hit. And one that Atari had secured the rights to for pennies on the dollar. In 1978, Atari was having a tiff with Namco, who had manufactured Atari coin-ops for distribution in Japan without paying royalties. Namco’s position was essentially “the check is in the mail.” Atari sent an executive named Joe Robbins to negotiate a settlement with them, with strict orders from Atari lead attorney Skip Paul to not sign anything. Not only did Robbins not listen, but he agreed to pay Namco a million dollars, renew their distributor agreement with Atari (Namco had no hits by this point and made most of their money from Atari-produced games), and wave a right-of-termination clause, meaning Atari couldn’t opt out of his crummy deal. In exchange, Atari received a small royalty from Namco’s arcades (really small, as in less than a single percentage point) and the exclusive home rights to all of Namco’s arcade games for a ten-year period.

Robbins was almost fired. But, in a story reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk, one of the magic beans Robbins brought back from Japan was the rights to Pac-Man, for a royalty so small it might as well have been non-existent.

What Happened: Unfortunately, Atari didn’t pass its incredible savings onto the development or manufacturing of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. Because of the complexity of the game, engineers told Atari CEO Ray Kassar that the game couldn’t be done properly on a 4KB ROM cartridge. They said without 8KB, too many concessions would have to be made, rending it unrecognizable from its arcade heritage. By this point, Atari was the most profitable company in the entire world. Kassar was obsessed with setting records for net profits in a single year, and wanted to maximize Pac-Man’s potential, so they saved a few bucks per unit by going with 4KB instead of the 8KB everyone insisted it would take. People pointed out that Atari could afford to spend a little more, since they were paying Namco around one-tenth the royalty they paid Taito for Space Invaders. But Kassar had spoken, and after seeing the prototype programmer Tod Frye had come up with, he decided it was Pac-Manish enough and ordered it into manufacturing, with an initial order for an insane twelve-million units.

I love the cover art for this. It looks like Pac-Man eating a piece of taffy while being attacked by popsicles with eyeballs.

I love the cover art for this. It looks like Pac-Man is eating a communion wafer while being attacked by popsicles with eyeballs.

Unlike the other games I plan to feature in this article, I’m certain that Pac-Man for the 2600 turned a profit for Atari. Seven million units of Pac-Man 2600 were sold, a record at the time. I guarantee you it’s the most profitable licensed game ever made, even when stacked against the hottest movie or sports properties. I’m also sure Namco, who made almost nothing on the deal, spent at least one afternoon looking for a nice ledge to jump off of. The raw materials Atari used were relatively cheap, and even with five million units of dead inventory, Atari didn’t exactly take a bath in the crush they were left with.

The Cost: It was the game that cooled Atari’s jets and shook consumer confidence. It was the first time that consumers went back to stores demanding refunds because the game was so different from the arcade counterpart. Only ten million people actively used Atari 2600s at the time it was released, with the assumption being that people would buy the console just to play it, like they had for Space Invaders and Asteroids before it. I asked a friend of mine who is the main buyer for a big box chain in the San Francisco Bay Area if it was remotely reasonable to expect the type of penetration Kassar expected from Pac-Man 2600. He’s been in retail for thirty years, and he said, for a product that had already been on retail shelves for five years, it would be unfathomable. That no rational person would ever expect that, even if you had the single hottest product on the market and the single most desirable accessory for it. Kassar’s manufacturing of twelve-million units, and as reminder, he expected to call for an additional eight-million over the following twelve months, was basically him betting on a penetration rate that anyone else would deem to be impossible. His superiors at Warner should have fired him for the recklessness he showed. It’s only because of luck with timing (the cost of goods for manufacturing Atari carts had dropped significantly over the previous fiscal quarter) and licensing (thank you Mr. Robbins) that Atari’s dead inventory didn’t cripple them on the spot.

I can't even watch a video of Pac-Man 2600 (or most Atari 2600 titles for that matter) because of my epilepsy. Oh, you mean I'll never be able to play it myself? Oh um, what a shame or something.

I can’t even watch a video of Pac-Man 2600 (or most Atari 2600 titles for that matter) because of my epilepsy. Oh, you mean I’ll never be able to play it myself? Oh um, what a shame or something.

A quirky side note which you can add to the cost of Pac-Man: in a roundabout sort of way, it’s the reason Atari chose not to license Donkey Kong from Nintendo. Atari paid Taito about $1.50 per unit for Space Invaders. This became the standard price Atari paid for other licensed properties, such as Berzerk or Defender. Because of the deal Joe Robbins got from Namco, the royalty for Pac-Man was a piddly 15 cents per unit. When Nintendo was shopping around Donkey Kong, the second most popular arcade game (behind Pac-Man) at the time, they wanted $2 per unit. Ray Kassar balked, saying they were paying a fraction of that for a more popular game. Coleco, needing a killer app, gladly took Nintendo’s offer (and also gave them an addition $1.50 per unit for a table-top version). When Warner Bros. CEO Manny Gerard found out they didn’t get Donkey Kong, he blew a gasket on Kassar. Without it, they would have used Mouse Trap as its pack-in title, and the Colecovision would never have caught on. Atari would have had a closer relationship with Nintendo and an even better shot at securing the worldwide rights to the Famicom, and history would have played out totally different.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Developed by Atari in 1982
Platform: Atari 2600

The Game: This is the last entry that was also talked about at length from the previous list, I swear. We all know the story. It’s one of the worst video games ever made.

What Happened: Like I wrote about last time, it was Warner’s top executives (Manny Gerard and CEO Steve Ross) who struck the deal that landed Atari the E.T. license. The deal was more about securing Spielberg to direct movies for Warner, with the E.T. game being little more than a dangled carrot. Which is not to say Spielberg was only looking for a paycheck. He enjoyed gaming (and would later help design Boom Blox, one of the Nintendo Wii’s unsung gems) and looked forward to working with Howard Scott Warshaw, the man who had made Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600. Warshaw, who took the assignment on short notice, had only a few days to come up with a concept to pitch to Spielberg, and came up with a relatively ambitious adventure/collect-a-thon idea. When he showed it to Spielberg, the director didn’t like it. He thought it should be something similar to Pac-Man. Howard was like “meh, it’s been done.” Later, he admitted that in retrospect, it might not have been a bad idea. Anyway, I’ve never played it, but I hear it wasn’t the most well-received game.

It looks more like

It looks more like dinosaur with its head turned to the left.

The Cost: $25,000,000 up front to Steven Spielberg, plus a royalty for him and for Universal Studios (the guys who actually made the movie), all of which negated the game’s earnings from the 1,500,000 units it did sell. Contrary to popular belief, the 2.5 million units of dead inventory wasn’t that costly, since Atari carts were relatively cheap to manufacture, and the costs of making them had dropped in 1982. But you’ve all heard those numbers before. So I’ll give you another number to chew on: zero.

That’s the number of games for Atari platforms (besides pack-ins) released after E.T. that sold one million units. Not one. Nor did any sell 500,000 units, and no games for the 5200, 7800, Lynx, or Jaguar sold 250,000 units. Of course, the crash helped with that, and all of Atari’s horrible policies under Warner and later Jack Tramiel afterwards. So while E.T. (and Pac-Man 2600, for that matter) doesn’t shoulder all the blame, you have to admit, it’s kind of telling that the last game for an Atari platform that anyone could describe as a “best seller” was this, possibly the worst game ever made.

Tetris (Tengen Version)

Developed by Atari Games in 1989
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System

The Game: It’s Tetris. I seriously doubt anyone here needs an explanation on it. However, I will note that most people consider Tengen’s version (developed by Ed Logg of Asteroids, Centipede, and Gauntlet fame) to be superior to Nintendo’s port for the NES.

What Happened: You practically need a flow chart to explain how Nintendo ended up with the exclusive rights to Tetris. It starts in 1986 when Robert Stein, president of a UK-based software company called Andromeda, contacted the Moscow Academy of Science, where Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov. Stein wanted to negotiate with the creator directly, thinking he had the rights to sell his software. However, in the USSR, you didn’t own anything you created, which meant that Pajitnov neither owned Tetris nor could negotiate the rights to it. Stein didn’t know that, secured the rights to Tetris (or claimed he did), and started licensing it before signing any official deal. Then, the people who he was merely licensing the game to started selling the Tetris license themselves. Spectrum Holobyte sold the rights to a man named Henk Rogers, who was a freelance game designer that sometimes acted as a liaison for Nintendo. Meanwhile, a company called Mirrorsoft, sold their rights to Atari Games, which was the former coin-op division of Atari before the company was divided in two and the home division was sold to the Tramiels. Are you confused yet? Just wait.

Henk Rogers, believing he only owned the console rights in Japan, realized nobody apparently had the rights for handheld devices, and Nintendo wanted Tetris to be the showcase game for their new Game Boy system. Rather than deal with any of the other people who claimed to own the rights to Tetris, Henk, with Nintendo’s authorization, was sent to Moscow to secure the handheld rights directly from the Soviets. When he got there, they surprised him by offering the worldwide video game rights to Tetris, which he had been under the impression had already been sold and were owned by Atari. Rogers, realizing he was in over his head, called Nintendo of America heads Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln, who secured the international home video game rights to Tetris on March 22, 1988.

I'm pretty sure this was the only time the Russians caused an international incident.

I’m pretty sure this was the only time the Russians caused an international incident.

Nine days later, Nintendo, aware that Atari Games (who published unlicensed games for the NES under the name Tengen) was making their own version of Tetris for the NES, sent them a notice that Nintendo had exclusive rights to Tetris. Atari Games rejected this, having already bought what they believed was the home rights to the game, and filed for a copyright on their product weeks later. Nintendo and Atari Games had been going at each-others throats over Atari Games releasing unlicensed games for the NES. The two companies ended up in court, where it was revealed that Atari Games was able to access the security code Nintendo used to lockout unauthorized third parties by forging documents and presenting them to the US patent office. Had Atari Games not done that, it’s likely they would have won their lawsuit and set a new precedent for third parties in gaming (which would later come to pass when a company named Accolade sued Sega and won on an appeal). While they were in the middle of this, the Tetris case came up. Nintendo, with direct authorization from the USSR, had such an airtight claim to the rights that Judge Fern Smith cancelled the trial and declared Nintendo the sole owner of the rights to Tetris.

The Cost: Over 250,000 units of Tengen Tetris were recalled and destroyed, making the surviving copies a treasured rarity for NES collectors. The Tetris fiasco also shook the confidence of stores, most of which dropped Tengen products from their shelves. Initially, they had the support of retailers during their ongoing trial with Nintendo. Instead, Tetris set off a domino effect, at a time when parent company Warner was being merged with Time Inc. Warner slashed Atari’s budget, it took several years for the lawsuit (which was won by Nintendo) to resolve, and in the meantime, Tengen was practically persona non grata in the industry. Eventually, the bottom fell out and they were sold to Midway for a piddly $10,000,000 (they were generating a multiple of that during their heyday as an NES publisher). Tetris isn’t single-handedly responsible for all of that, but it unquestionably got the ball rolling.

Night Trap

Developed by Digital Pictures in 1992
Platform: Sega CD

The Game: Do you want me to describe the actual game or the game the United States Congress seemed to think Night Trap was? In real life, it’s a horrible full-motion-video title where you have to activate boobytraps to capture novice vampires (wearing ski masks for some reason) to save girls at a slumber party, or something like that.

If you’re the United States Congress, it’s a game where you murder girls. SHUT UP IT TOTALLY IS! No, Mr. Zito, we don’t wish to hear from you. We saw the footage. We know what we’re talking about you shameless smut peddler, you.

Kill it! Kill it with Fire!

Kill it! Kill it with Fire!

What Happened: Seriously, watch footage of someone playing Night Trap. This shit is positively tame. Your average Disney cartoon has more violence. Yet, Night Trap somehow became the prime exhibit in congressional hearings on video game violence in 1993. When you read the transcripts of the hearings, it’s pretty clear nobody (especially Joseph Lieberman, the pseudo liberal from Connecticut who initiated the whole thing) had ever played Night Trap, or seen footage of it outside of one very specific game-over clip where the vampires use a gizmo to suck the blood out of a girl wearing a (quite frankly, very modest) teddy. During the hearings, it was made out like you were the one controlling the vampires and the object was to murder the girls. Whenever anyone from Digital Pictures or Sega tried to explain that wasn’t what the game was about, they were told to sit down and shut up. Things went really downhill when a precursor to Anita Sarkeesian named Marilyn Droz took the stand. Someone was finally able to point out that the scene everyone kept referencing was actually a game over scene. She responded that was actually worse, because if you lose and someone dies, it is bad for self-esteem. And now I have a concussion from banging my head on my desk, repeatedly.

The whole thing was basically a witch-hunt against Sega, who also had an uncensored version of Mortal Kombat (next on this list). Nintendo had made ties with a senator named Slade Gordon, who acted as a liaison for the company to purchase the Seattle Mariners to prevent them from relocating to Miami. When Lieberman discovered Mortal Kombat, Gordon told him that Nintendo were the good guys, the company that kept tight regulations on their games, and that it was Sega who was tarnishing the industry’s image. Mind you, Sega was the first company to actively put ratings on their titles. During the testimony, Nintendo had an air of innocence (and arrogance) about them, with Howard Lincoln in particular going off on Sega, claiming that they were lying about having an older audience than Nintendo. This whole clusterfuck eventually led to the creation of the ESRB.

What a douche.

What a douche.

The Cost: I’m not going to go off on the ESRB, even if they are shady as all fuck. No, I’m going to focus on real costs against Sega. The notoriety of Night Trap helped it sell significantly more copies than it likely would have if everyone just ignored it for being a piece of shit of a game. But, because Sega came across so bad during the congressional hearings, a lot of stores dropped the new and fledgling Sega CD, which Night Trap was exclusively on. Sega, who had been planning to slash the price of it, was now stuck with millions of units of inventory and a smaller network of retailers to distribute them to. Thus they had to delay their price drop, which they had planned to center around the release of the hotly anticipated Sonic CD. Ultimately, the add-on’s dead inventory was too much to overcome and it was phased out, having lost millions for the company.

And then the Japanese offices got pissed off over Sega of America causing them so much trouble with these wacky FMV games that they were never big fans of. Sega’s Japanese leaders demanded that their American branch significantly tone down their marketing and attempt to appeal to a younger audience, with less focus on violence. You can see the ramifications in the Sega Saturn, which lacked many of the more mature Genesis properties like Streets of Rage. Even the Sega Scream was ordered to be removed from advertising. This kinder, gentler Sega (which granted, still was about to base its next system’s launch around a fighting game) lost its older demographic to the PlayStation. They also had almost no chance to claim the younger demographic away from Nintendo. So, in a way, you can lay claim that Sega’s downward spiral actually began with these hearings. And, if Night Trap had never existed, there’s a good chance it never would have come to that.

 Mortal Kombat

Developed by Acclaim in 1993
Platform: SNES

The Game: For some reason, in order to conquer our dimension, an evil wizard needs to win ten consecutive MMA tournaments that are held “once a generation.” Our world has lost nine straight. If we lose this one, they get to take over the world. Thankfully it’s a fighting tournament and not a baseball game featuring the Chicago Cubs, or we’d be fucked. I guess in this scenario, the role of Johnny Cage is played by Steve Bartman. I know people are gaga over Mortal Kombat’s storyline, but it’s raving batshit. Anyway, the game was slightly before my time, but I think it’s hugely overrated, at least compared to the more elegant and refined Street Fighter II. Really, the over-the-top violence is the only thing the original Mortal Kombat had going for it. If not for that, I don’t think it would have lived to get a sequel. Though the series did later become pretty cool. Sickening x-ray moves that realistically would be way worse than half the fatalities not withstanding.

What Happened: Well, you can sort of blame all the bullshit Sega went through with Night Trap on Mortal Kombat, since it’s the game that started the whole thing. But actually, the fiasco I had in mind is about the home port of Mortal Kombat for the Super Nintendo. The one that replaced the blood with sweat and pussified the finishing moves. To say this decision by Nintendo didn’t go over well is an understatement. Nintendo got thousands of complaint letters, many of them from parents who were offended that Nintendo would dare censor their children’s games.

Dear Nintendo,

Don’t tell me what my kids can and cannot see. I’m the parent. I’m doing the raising. Now go make the game my child played in the arcade while I was getting my hair done exactly as it was in the arcade so that he can sit in front of the television for hours at a time and leave me alone while I gossip on the phone and ignore him.
-Mother of the Year 1993

What a douche.

Lieberman’s favorite game.

Despite the fact that the Genesis version played slower, lacked enough buttons, and sounded like crap, it outsold the SNES version by a 3 to 1 margin. Which sort of proves my point about how the only real appeal in the original MK was the gore. People flocked in droves to a mediocre port of an already mediocre game because they could see a little splash of blood and someone get their heart ripped out.

The Cost: Nintendo still kind of feels the effects to this day. This is where the “Nintendo is for children” label primarily comes from. The decision to sanitize Mortal Kombat revitalized the stagnate Sega Genesis, which lost ground to the Super Nintendo following the release of Street Fighter II. With new relevance, the Genesis clung to life for longer than it was supposed to. Sega had slashed the operating budget of the Mega Drive internationally, a decision Sega of America head Tom Kalinke had fought against for the US side of things. Mega Drive hadn’t caught on, especially in Japan, and Sega expected 3DO to take a big piece of their pie, based on how the mainstream media was going throwing roses at the new console. Of course, it never happened, but it could have.

I mean, really, look at it. Johnny Cage's fatality on the SNES version looks like a clipping glitch. Hell, maybe it was and they just ran with it.

I mean, really, look at it. Johnny Cage’s fatality on the SNES version looks like a clipping glitch. Hell, maybe it was and they just ran with it.

Thanks in part to the spike of hardware sales Sega received from Mortal Kombat, Sega avoided having to phase out the Genesis, like they were preparing to do. In essence, censoring Mortal Kombat cost Nintendo maybe a year of having no real opposition in mass advertising. In retail, having no competition is typically a good thing. And yeah, Sega did get unexpectedly hot around this period. The best-selling third-party game that ever existed on a Sega platform, Disney’s Aladdin, released just two months after Mortal Kombat did, and would go on to sell over four-million units worldwide. But, and I think this is important, nobody bought a Sega Genesis (or a Mega Drive) just to play Aladdin. People did that for gory Mortal Kombat, and they only did it because Nintendo had a weak stomach.

As a funny side note, Nintendo almost didn’t learn their lesson. With Mortal Kombat II for the SNES, Nintendo originally ordered it censored on there too. Acclaim left all the fatalities in, but the screen would turn black and white when the actual death happened. Oh, and all the blood was turned green this time. At the last minute, Nintendo changed their minds and allowed an uncensored version, with red blood, to launch in North America. It outsold the Genesis version roughly 3 to 1 in the United States. The censored version was released in Japan. I guess the country that brought us Battle Royale thought video game characters decapitating each other was too much. ‘


Developed by Sega in 2000
Platform: Dreamcast

The Game: Please for God’s sake don’t burn down my house. Shenmue hit when I was eleven years old. The hype on it was unreal. A teaser trailer (in the days before YouTube) was included on a demo disc in the Official Dreamcast Magazine. It looked so awesome. I didn’t emote a ton as a child, a product of having autism, but I distinctly remember getting goosebumps for it. My parents, out of sheer spite for me, made me wait for “Santa Claus” to bring it on Christmas morning. That morning, I opened the first over-sized CD case-shaped present I could find, told my parents the rest of the gifts could wait, and popped that sucker into my Dreamcast.

Three hours later, I had a hunch that I must have been a naughty little girl the previous year, because Shenmue was the ultimate lump of coal. And I’m not really talking about the slow, boring gameplay. This was a game that was supposed to take place in a real world, where every decision you made and every person you interacted with would effect the gameplay. With so much emphasis on this, why did Sega so completely half-ass the stuff that matters for immersion? The voice acting is on par with House of the Dead, which shouldn’t have surprised me since that was Sega too. Devoid of emotion, and for a story that is driven completely by the emotional state of the hero, that really took me out of it right from the get-go. The dialog is also embarrassing. I’m told the writing in the Japanese version was more realistic and something got lost in translation when it came to the states. Maybe it did, but I can’t excuse it just because a version I didn’t have access to sucked less.

Fans complained that the story never completed, and keep begging for Sega to finish the story. Here’s the deal, guys. The first game sold alright. Not spectacular or anything, but decent enough. But the sequel did horrible, both in the United States and in other markets, where people had simply moved past the Dreamcast.

And then there are those who would sell their first born for this set.

And then there are those who would sell their first born for this set.

But, and here’s a thought: maybe most people didn’t like Shenmue. Yes, it has very vocal fans, but it also left a trail of people who thought it was overly long, badly written, and boring. Here’s another thought: instead of doing a sequel, this is one of the few games I would be in favor of remaking. But, I would want it remade using modern sandbox game mechanics and functionality. Give the guys at Rockstar the same story with the engine they used for GTA V and I promise you a superior game. Hell, maybe even one with an actual ending.

What Happened: Shenmue began development way back when Sega was still trying desperately to find a killer app for Saturn. At first, it was going to be a traditional RPG using the some of the main characters from Virtua Fighter. But then Yu Suzuki got sick of being handcuffed by limited mythology he made for that, so he altered the characters and came up with an original story. Development started in 1996 and dragged, mostly because of the notoriously difficult to work with Saturn. When Sega finalized the specs for the Dreamcast in early 1998, it took Suzuki about two seconds to say “yep, fuck this” and scrap the code, starting fresh. Suzuki’s new vision was basically a sandbox style game before that was really a thing. But this necessitated new technologies to be created, and those were expensive. Shenmue would be an episodic game, with the first game containing the first of sixteen chapters. The second game would have chapters 3 – 5 (chapter 2 being exclusively released as a comic book, because that would be the dumbest idea ever and thus right up Sega’s alley), and future installments would eventually lead to between four to six releases, depending on what day of the week Suzuki is telling the story. Games one and two would not be enough to get a return on the project. The theory was, game three would be the breakeven and start to turn a profit, with all the games afterwards being all profit. After it was apparent there was no chance of the game ever making its money back, Sega decided that Shenmue III should run chapters 6 through16, so the fans could have closure. Then it was cancelled, and people are still complaining about it. Every time E3 rolled around, people expected them to announce it. Shit like this makes me better understand how some people are convinced Elvis is still alive. Then it really was announced in 2015, as a Kickstarter. Maybe there’s still hope for The King yet.

The Cost: Look, I’m not going to blame Shenmue on the collapse of the Sega Dreamcast or anything like that. This is one of the rare games on this list where the cost is merely cold hard cash. Shenmue’s budget ballooned to around $70,000,000, making it the most expensive game ever made at that point. Shenmue and Shenmue II (the only titles in the series that were completed for Dreamcast) could have sold at a one-to-one ratio for every Dreamcast owner in the world and it still wouldn’t have been profitable. To really give you perspective, chew on this: if Sega had never made Shenmue and instead on November 8, 2000 gave every single Dreamcast owner in the United States $25, that would have cost them less money.

I don’t blame Suzuki for this. His superiors, on the other hand, should never have allowed this to happen. Among other issues, the business model they had planned for Shenmue didn’t take into account Moore’s Law. The cutting edge technology behind Shenmue would have been obsolete before the series was even turning a profit. It would have cost even more money to keep it up with the times, meaning it would have taken longer for the series to turn a profit. And that’s just from the graphics side of things. Less than one year after Shenmue launched in North America, Grand Theft Auto III hit on the PlayStation 2. Shenmue promoted itself as a game where you were basically free to do anything you wanted. Hell, the engine was called “FREE” (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment). But GTA III, although not as pretty, offered way more freedom than Shenmue could have ever hoped for. And, from a story delivery perspective, it had sharper writing and professional voice actors that sounded like they actually gave a shit. It moved the standards of what gamers expected well past what Sega was capable of delivering during this time.

Hopefully they follow-up the Shenmue revival with a return to Virtua Fighter Kids. That had limitless potential, damnit!

Hopefully they follow-up the Shenmue revival with a return to Virtua Fighter Kids. That had limitless potential, damnit!

I’m not trying to turn this into an anti-Sega piece. The Dreamcast might be my favorite console of all time. It was the first console I ever got on launch day. I loved that Sega had at least one major first-party game every month for it. I loved the demo disc that came with every issue of the official DC magazine. It was the first time I paid attention to release dates and development schedules and learned about specific studios. Although PlayStation One is where I discovered gaming and the Nintendo 64 is where I fell in love with it, the Dreamcast is what made me the gamer I am today. But, by time Shenmue came out, the salad days of the system were over. Sega’s CEO Isao Okawa was dying, many top designers were looking to leave the company, and the PlayStation 2 had just arrived. Less than two months after Shenmue released, Sega announced the Dreamcast was discontinued and they would become a third-party. Naturally, their first step was to give the North American rights for Shenmue II to Microsoft. I’m sure they were compensated for it, but there’s no way Xbox had the potential to move as many units of Shenmue II as the PlayStation 2 had. The demographics for Shenmue II and PS2 clearly were more compatible. Some people have speculated that it was an I.O.U. from Sega to Microsoft, since they still owed debt to them because of the Windows CE operating system the Dreamcast had. Either way, the franchise died, and it only took over 70,000 people paying over six-and-a-half million dollars to bring it back.

In Memory of Rose Collins

It was great sadness that I learned my friend Rose Collins passed away earlier today. I met Rose through a mutual friend, indie developer David Walton. She’s the type of friend I liked to have: wise, no-bullshit, easy to converse, eager to share thoughts and ideas. I always found her to be incredibly insightful. She loved gaming, and would always send notes when I cracked her up with one of my lame jokes in my reviews. Or when she disagreed with one, which was often. She always had time for her friends, and always seemed to look on the bright side of bad situations.

Rose, I can’t believe you’re gone. I’ll always treasure your sage advice, and our friendship will always have a special place in my heart.

If anyone out there is ever feeling like they have no hope, please, reach out to someone. Anyone. Please, don’t hurt yourself. If you’re at your darkest point, there is help available 24/7, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)-273-8255, or their website, which has a chat option.

-Catherine, or “Young’un” as Rose would call me.

Interview with Ryan & Amy Green and the Development Team of That Dragon, Cancer

Nearly everybody who has played That Dragon, Cancer has walked away impressed by what it accomplishes. Personally, I consider it a milestone in gaming as a medium for telling real life stories. For that reason, I wanted to talk to the family featured in the game, the Greens, and the development team behind it.

Indie Gamer Chick: The emotions are what stick with people playing That Dragon, Cancer. The sincerity of them. Did you find it difficult to articulate those in game form?

Ryan Green: Not really for my own writing in the game. I usually started from a place of exploring how it felt to be in a place like the hospital, or in the moment of hearing hard news over and over again.  Some people have called it “confessional poetry.” And that seems to be an appropriate categorization.  Much of what I wrote during Joel’s illness was either poetry or art that I would post on Joel’s blog.  I think starting from that place is very disarming for people and they’re willing to sit with me in the midst of those thoughts because they can relate to the things we don’t always say out loud.

Amy Green: The emotions were easy, because we lived them, and we had nothing to hide.  However, there were lots of times I wanted to add dark humor to the game, because that’s a part of living with terminal illness too, but Ryan always said no.  He was probably right.  You never question that someone should be heartbreakingly sad about their child, or desperately hopeful, but some people might have struggled with the idea that we made jokes too, because it was our regular day-to-day life and humor is important. You can’t live through three years of a terminal illness and never joke about it.

Woo hoo! Amy said "dark humor!" That means I can use jokes I cut from my review in the name of good taste. Like this one: "You have to intentionally lose this fight featuring a family friend of the Greens' who died from cancer, as he fights a literal dragon. I mean, if you have to INTENTIONALLY lose to cancer, shouldn't this have included power-ups like packs of cigarettes, sunbeds, unguarded X-Ray machines salvaged from hospitals, and now even bacon according to the World Health Organization."

Woo hoo! Amy said “dark humor!” That means I can use jokes I cut from my review in the name of good taste. Like this one: “You have to intentionally lose this fight featuring a family friend of the Greens’ who died from cancer, as he fights a literal dragon. I mean, if you have to INTENTIONALLY lose to cancer, shouldn’t this have included power-ups like packs of cigarettes, sunbeds, X-ray machines salvaged from unguarded abandoned hospitals, and now even bacon according to the World Health Organization.

IGC: That Dragon, Cancer is one of the most emotionally exhausting games ever made. I can’t imagine how taxing it must have been on the team that made it, having to work with it every day. Was there any time where you guys couldn’t take it anymore and needed time to just breathe?

Ryan Cousins (3D Artist): Breaks were always welcomed and needed from time to time. It was most taxing when I first joined the project, and when Joel passed away. But over time you could focus on the love and the repeated scenes no longer impacted me with the same intensity in which they originally had.

Josh Larson (Artist/Programmer): I spent a lot of time polishing and bug-fixing the first iteration of Dehydration, so I spent a lot of time trapped in that room of anguish. I recently realized that I have subconsciously avoided working much on the second iteration of it. Otherwise, there was a period when personal life was stressful and this felt like the hardest project I’ve ever worked on.

But, strangely, there were other times when the project felt easy to work on. I think that speaks to how great our team is, along with how wonderful of a family the Green family is. In addition, I’ve spent a long time in small group Bible studies at church, and I now realize how well that has prepared me for emotional difficulty and has taught me compassion and empathy.

Brock Henderson (Designer): There were quite a few days during development that I shed tears. Some days it was reading a backer’s submission, or hearing a voice over clip, or testing a scene over and over again. Often times during the day I would pray while working, which helped me continue on. At night, I would make sure to make it to the gym each day. Strenuous exercise really helps me reset emotionally and mentally.

IGC: Even though the visuals can be surreal, the game captures emotions so authentic that many people are unable to finish That Dragon, Cancer. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. How hard was it to work those real emotions in?

Cousins: Adding emotions to a scene is always difficult. We spent a lot of time translating emotions into color and light. Iterating on the lighting and animation for every scene. Talking with Ryan Green about key moments and asking him to play them back for me or act them out. Many times we looked through home video for moments I could reference and put into the game. Transcoding Joel into the game was always hard and it couldn’t have been done by one person. Each of the team members helped breathe life into him via sound, animation, coding, and writing.

Josh:  I’ve found the hard part is not working the emotions in, but rather not getting in the way. The emotional part felt easy because of the vulnerability and honesty of Ryan and Amy, along with their skill as writers and voice actors. At times it was very hard not to ruin the moment with half-finished game logic due to the difficulties of finding a good design, or with some ridiculous bug that shattered one’s suspension of disbelief. Every video game I’ve worked on has essentially been a house of cards. To me, this house is more sacred when it stands, but that also makes it more disappointing when it falls.

IGC: Was there any aspect of your experience that you chose not to include because you felt you couldn’t properly translate it to a game?

Ryan G: There were things that we wanted to do that we just couldn’t get right.  The Joel with the service dog scene was one that we iterated on three or four times.  We had Joel playing fetch with the dog, we had the dog doing tricks.  But in the end the core was how much Joel loved dogs, and finding a simple implementation that highlighted that fact, in the end seemed like the right move.

IGC: There are many notable movies that focus on cancer and loss. My Life, My Sister’s Keeper, etc. Do you feel that games are a better medium for expressing personal experiences than the passive experience of a movie?

Ryan G: Yes.  I think we’ve only been able to hint at what is possible with expressing personal experience in video games.  I for one am really intrigued by the new possibilities in VR.  Not just in presence and connection between the player and the NPC, but also in terms of expression.  We may still be a long way off from natural language processing, but I think body language, and gaze, and player emotion will all serve to draw the player into a conversation as a friend more than just a disembodied observer.

Mike Perrotto (Project Manager): I would agree with Ryan.  I’ve been a gamer since my first Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987 and I’ve always related more with video games than any other form of entertainment.  I think for many people like me, in the video game industry or not, it’s an exceptional medium to share personal experiences.  Honestly, I think the first time a story made me cry, it was told in a video game.

IGC: Without exaggeration, the most common response I’ve seen to That Dragon, Cancer is “I don’t think I can play it.” Especially from parents. People are buying the game because they want to support you but don’t want to actually play it. Were you expecting that?

Ryan G: Yes.  It has always been hard to ask someone to come for a few moments and sit with our grief.  However we haven’t met anyone yet, that regretted playing the game, once they took the step.  And so for that we’re very grateful, because our hope is that players feel as though something was added to their life, not just that we dragged them through mud.

Amy:  I think a lot of people would be surprised if they gave the game a try, because it is captivating and whimsical. It hits many different emotional tones, it’s not just a vault of sadness.

IGC: No, seriously, how do Ryan and Amy get on that porch swing in the game?


Ryan G: I may be large, but I am like a cat. You should see me parkour.

Josh: Speaking of, Ryan Cousins, our animator and lighting designer, is an actual certified ninja warrior and parkour-er!

Ryan G: He taught me everything I know. In fact I think he would take full credit for my parkour skills.

Cousins: Ahhh Yes G’s parkour skills.. It was like putting a cat into a bath to get him on that swing, but we got there.

IGC: Your family did the voice acting for the game, and I felt did very well. Was there ever a point where you said “this is going to be too emotionally draining, maybe we should pass it off to voice actors?”

Ryan G: Never. It was always very important to me that Amy, Joel, and the boys voices were in the game.  I did have a brief moment of doubt with Isaac and a line we had him read.  It was “well that Dragon is going to kill Joel, Joel is going to lose. Because Joel is just a baby and babies can’t kill dragons.”  Even though the scene is scripted, that is actually something Isaac said to Amy when he was younger.  Children have a way of cutting through euphemism with frank revelation.  The reality is Joel was not able to kill that dragon. And babies can’t kill dragons. Others have to kill dragons for them.  For us, we couldn’t and wouldn’t shield our sons from Joel’s death.  It was something we believed was important to face and have frank discussions about (even if we dressed it in stories of knights and fire-breathing dragons).

IGC: Speaking of which, even though I (unknowingly, and regretfully) poo-pooed on their artwork, I thought your children were pretty dang good in doing their voice work. Do you think that’s something they might want to do more of in the future?

Ryan G:  The boys have always been amazingly expressive in their reading, and are fine little actors.  We would love to give them the chance to work on other games.  They are budding game developers themselves, learning Scratch, and most recently Caleb and Isaac have been creating character concepts in Blender.  I love the fact that they want to do what we do and as kids in gaming culture, they’re growing up with an identity as a creator.  I think that’s really special about the games industry and we want to encourage that.

Amy:  After reading your questions, I asked them if they would want to do more voice acting for video games and they both heartily said yes, and then asked if they would get money for it. Unfortunately, the next day they asked me, “So, wait, do we get to do more voice acting?  Did someone ask us too?” and I realized I was like that terrible Hollywood agent that never tries to get anyone work but just talks a lot about what might be possible.  Maybe I’ll write fake scripts and let them record them and tell them it is for a video game, and pay them whatever quarters I can find in our sofa.  If they ever ask if they can play all the video games they acted in, I’ll have to tell them, “Oh sorry babies,  all of those video games were scrapped, but it probably wasn’t because of your acting.”

IGC: The religious aspects of the game are drawing a lot of criticism, unfairly so in my opinion. I didn’t feel I was being preached to. Was it hard to find that balance between explaining how your faith factored into your life without sounding like religious agenda?

Ryan G: We’ve actually been surprised that there wasn’t more criticism. On the whole we find any criticism to be very mild and we’re encouraged by that.  We welcome criticism that engages us in productive conversation.  The games industry is not really known for honest portrayals of personal faith.  Often we get the fringe and cult-like behavior of the faithful, or the type of religion that leaves a wake of destruction behind it, or portrayals of institutional abuse, greed and power.

So just to have our faith be respected by our peers and validated as appropriate to share in the context of our story, even if they disagree with the entire premise, and encouraged to share the core of what makes us who we are, and causes us to believe and act the way we do, is a real blessing.

True story: the day before I played this That Dragon, Cancer, I watched the awful (but entertaining) Face/Off with Nick Cage and John Travolta. As I entered this church, the only reason I was able to keep myself from crying was a lingering hope that an epic Mexican standoff would breakout in this scene. With doves. Can't forget the doves.

True story: the day before I played That Dragon, Cancer, I watched the awful (but entertaining) Face/Off with Nick Cage and John Travolta. As I entered this church, the only reason I was able to keep myself from crying was a lingering hope that an epic Mexican standoff would breakout in this scene. With doves. Can’t forget the doves.

Amy:  We couldn’t take our faith out of the game, because it was the most vivid part of that season when Joel was ill.  However, we weren’t making a game for Christians, so we wanted to be sure someone could value the game without sharing our beliefs.  We tried to make most of the strong faith elements of the game something you could skip over if you wanted to, or really dive deeply into if you were curious. We hope people see that faith is not some easy crutch that you fall back to by default, it is challenging. It is a wrestle, but it added so much beauty to our life.  Even hope was beautiful even though there were times that the weight of hope felt crushingly heavy.

IGC: Joel was a beautiful child. What’s something about him that wasn’t in the game that you would want the world to know about him?

Ryan G: Joel loved babies.  He would squeal in delight if he could tackle and cuddle Elijah when Elijah was first born.  We have many videos of Joel crawling into Elijah’s car seat with Elijah in it, or fully subsuming Elijah’s head in a warm wet embrace.

Josh: He loved to play peek-a-boo on Google Hangouts.

Amy:  Joel loved mischief.  He loved to sit at the top of the stairs where there was a small bookcase.  Almost on a daily basis, he pulled every single book off that shelf and threw it down the stairs.  Laughing hysterically as they thumped all the way down. He also loved to find the eggs in the refrigerator and throw them all over the floor in the kitchen, eventually we had to put a child lock on the fridge…oh wait, I guess that did make the game last-minute, but a lot of people don’t find that part.  If you’ve never tried to clean a dozen eggs off of a kitchen floor, let me tell you, cancel your plans for Saturday night, because it is a hoot.

IGC: Did more gameplay elements, be it mini-games or more point and clickery, get cut from the final game?

Ryan G: Oh yes, and I am not kidding, at one point we had a claw grab mini-game and a shooting gallery and possibly a boardwalk carnival game.  We explored many, many things.

Cousins: After Joel passed away we needed to think of the game in a new light. We re-evaluated where we were with the game and decided to strip it down to its core element. Loving Joel. This was a harsh cut but necessary in order to finish the game. Half of the scenes were cut, and many were retailored to fit our vision of how we want to memorialize and love Joel.

IGC: Why do I suddenly crave pancakes?

Cousins: I’ll just leave this here..

IGC: Well, that’s going to be stuck in my head for about a week. Thank you so much.

Amy:  How was that video 10 hours long?  Please never show that to my children.  I can not add “making bacon pancakes” to the never-ending playlist of inane YouTube songs my children have chosen to soundtrack my life with.

Ryan G: So say we all?

Mike: Because Manju.

Heaven is an endless supply of pancakes. Hell is too, but there, they're supplied by IHOP.

Heaven is an endless supply of pancakes. Hell is too, but there, they’re supplied by IHOP.

IGC: The scene with Joel hugging the dog caused 10% of all players to slip into a coma via over-warmed hearts. What do you have to say to the families of your victims?

Jon Hillman (Composer): We iterated on the dog interactions more than almost anything in the game. Joel loved dogs immensely, so we really wanted to get this right. What made it into the game includes the audio from home videos of Joel playing with dogs, and some simple loving animated gestures. If we had taken the animations any further, that 10% figure would have been more like 99% – so we’re glad we showed some restraint there.

Cousins: There was a lot more to this scene that ultimately got cut. About roughly 6,000 frames of animation never got used. Just think of how much more you could have loved that dog!

IGC: Oh trust me, if I had loved that dog any more, we’d be legally married in 27 states.

Josh: Amy’s idea to use the stethoscope to explore memories of Joel with the dog saved that moment from getting cut. Thank you Amy!

IGC: One of the more overwhelming parts of That Dragon was the scene with all the cards, especially when you enter the hallway and see how many there are. Those, along with the pictures on the wall and the bottles not written by Amy Green were supplied by the game’s backers on Kickstarter. You guys actually had to input those into the game. What was your reaction when you saw just how many there were, and how many lives you stood to touch?

Cousins: It was one of the most powerful scenes for me. We would get submissions for the art and cards throughout the year. Some of the submissions were incredibly powerful and moved us deeply. But we never felt the real weight of them until we added them all together and got them into the game. I remember taking a short trip and then coming back to see all of the cards implemented. It was a heavy emotional hit and made me realize the true weight of the scene. Many of the scenes we work on a little bit at a time and slowly build it up over the course of months. Incrementally building it like this lessens the emotional impact, but when you take a step away from a scene and come back to it, you can truly appreciate it.

Hillman: Once all the cards were in, I sat down at the piano to figure out how to support that moment musically. Several hours into playing various things, I was flailing, feeling like I would ruin this sacred space in the game, and starting to think silence might be the best option. I stopped, played the scene again, and read each of the 153 cards very intentionally. Then I went back to the piano and recorded what’s in the scene in one take – it might not ever feel perfect to me, but I’m honored to get the chance to help all these people memorialize their loved ones in such a beautiful way.

Brock: The backer submissions really hit me even before they were even in the game. While compiling and organizing the artwork and messages for production, I experienced each submission for the first time. When you think about the loss each person has experienced and the pain and longing those families are still feeling, it becomes too much to process.

Be honest, who else besides me caught themselves saying "Who's a good boy?" during this scene?

Be honest, who else besides me caught themselves saying “Who’s a good boy?” during this scene?

IGC: I have to ask this because I’m getting asked this a ton: any plans for a console release, or a physical copy for PCs?

By the way, if you do go the physical media route, you can do us Californians a solid and include some kind of jar with it. The collected tears could end our drought conditions here.

Ryan G: but then what about all of that salt?

Amy:  Well the jar is free, but the desalination kit is only included in the upgraded bonus edition of the game. If you kill all your house plants by watering them with your tears that is on you. Honestly, we would love to expand the reach of the game onto other platforms, but we will have to wait and see if we can afford to invest more time.

IGC: (Cathy’s eyes go shifty while she silently hugs her “Tear Desalination Machine” patent) Soon my pet. Oh, ahem.. You guys did a really remarkable job of putting a difficult story to a visual form. What’s next for your studio? Something cheerful maybe? With, like, puppies and caramel corn?

Cousins: An FPS for sure..

Hillman: Perhaps, our best idea so far is centered around cupcakes, so yeah

Ryan G: Yessss Cupcake Carnage.. (IGC note: Simpsons did it first)

Mike: And icing! Lots of icing!

Amy: You guys, she would hate that idea. (It involves more drawing from our kids.)

IGC: I’ll never live that down.

headerThat Dragon, Cancer is available now on Steam.

Check out Cathy’s review here.

The Greens support the Morgan Adams Foundation. Visit their website and if you like what you see, how about giving them a couple of bucks?

If you took a drink for every use of the word “iterate” or a variation of it over the course of this interview, you would be dead by now.

Indie Gamer Chick Statement on the end of Xbox Live Indie Games

Today, developers of Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIGs) were informed that Microsoft is in the process of winding down the service. The ability to publish new XBLIGs will end a year from today, September 9, 2016. Roughly a year after that, in September 2017, the XBLIG marketplace will shut-down. We all knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I started Indie Gamer Chick in July, 2011 as an XBLIG review site. It wasn’t long after that the XBLIG developer community discovered me and embraced my reviews. It’s because of them that Indie Gamer Chick is around today, and for that I owe them a gratitude that words never seem strong enough to convey. Although I’m sure some developers weren’t happy to have their game run through my wringer, I hope they all know that negative reviews never came with malice or the intent of hurt feelings. Judging by the response you as a community had to IGC, I think most of you understand that. Some of you went on to become my friends, but know this: I do love you all. Thank you so much for making this whole experience rewarding for me. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me.

For those of you who have an Xbox 360 but have never dipped your toes into the XBLIG scene, you have two years to enjoy what XBLIG has to offer. It has many wonderful games that cost as little as a dollar. Check my review index. It’s mostly made up of XBLIGs. And for those devs who has developed exclusively for XBLIG, please begin porting your work to other platforms. Even if you’re not proud of your work or satisfied with it. Those games represent our collective legacy as a community. Many of you are moving onto to great things. Future generations should get to see where you came from. That’s the lasting legacy of XBLIG: amateur developers who aspired to do great things. Although not everyone who made games for XBLIG got to taste success, I firmly believe that a community as close as ours shares in each-others success. Because of what began on XBLIG, indie gaming today shines a little brighter. And, because of what began on XBLIG, our future as gamers has never been brighter.

XBLIG developers and fans: please share your memories or gratitude for XBLIG in the comments.

Year Three Ends and Year Four Begins

For those of you that can’t stand my yearly mushy ritual, sorry. But I’m allowed to be a little sentimental once a year, ain’t I?

Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of Indie Gamer Chick. While this wasn’t my most prolific year, I feel I’ve done some of my best work over the last twelve months. Even if that’s not true of me, it’s certainly true of the indie development community. The Golden Age of Indie Games is here, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.

I haven’t exactly had the most consistent health this year, but things are looking up in a big way, so I’m playing more and more games again. A bigger problem with getting consistent reviews posted is I’m older and busy a lot more than when I started IGC. Frankly, I was 21 when this site opened. I turned 22 a few days later, but still, I was just a kid when I got into this. One that didn’t have a ton of friends and had no presence in the indie community. These days, my free time might go towards chatting with a group of developers over the direction of the indie scene, or advising a newcomer to the scene on how to best pitch their Kickstarter. Last year, I went four months between reviews in large part because I was operating a program I started on Twitter called #GamesMatter. I was really happy with how that went. I was able to help a lot of developers learn how to market their games on social media,and more importantly, believe in their ability to market themselves. To those developers who thanked me for my help, you did the tough part, making great games. Thank you. #GamesMatter lives on today under the capable hands of my friend Nelson, as I deeply missed focusing on writing and being a game critic. Thankfully, Nelson has an unmatched desire to help indies, and so I know #GamesMatter is safe in his hands. And, on a personal note, as much as I enjoyed working with indies, meeting Nelson was the best part of doing #GamesMatter. I love you Nelson, and thank you for keeping my project alive.

By the way, you can follow #GamesMatter on Twitter and bookmark the blog started for it.

I can’t possibly thank all my friends anymore. I have too many. But, of course, I have to thank Brian. Brian, I’ve got Indie Gamer Chick in large part because you never failed to laugh at my lame jokes. And you pushed me to stay with it, until IGC was a part of my life. You’re my best friend, and I love you with all my heart.

Holy crap, four years! Not bad for someone who has, quote, “the attention span of a traffic light” (thanks Dad). But it’s not that surprising. I’ve loved games my whole life, and I’m a person who loves working with entrepreneurs. Indies are the entrepreneurs of gaming, and thus the indie scene allows my passions in life to converge. It’s why what was supposed to be a silly little blog done for the sake of having a hobby has become the thing I’m most proud of. While not every review gets to be positive, and I’m sure some of my reviews can be demoralizing for some developers, I would never want to discourage anyone from reaching for your gaming dreams. You all have limitless potential, and even when I don’t like your products, I admire your efforts. It sounds sappy, but it’s true. You’re all so inspirational to me. That’s why I aspire to do better for you. And that’s why you all have my eternal love and respect. It’s all yours. For keeps.

-Catherine, aka Indie Gamer Chick
June 30, 2015.

Shenmue III’s Pitch Just Plain Sucks

Put down your pitchforks and torches, Shenmue fans. I already defended the existence of Shenmue’s campaign and your participation in it. Check my previous blog post, or click this link. Although you’ll be angry that I didn’t like the original Shenmue, because it totally matters how others feel about stuff you love. Especially if there’s a voice in your head telling you that the thing you love isn’t really as good as you say it is but you can’t just make it shut up unless you convince everyone in the world to love the thing you love as much as you think you do or convince yourself and others that their opinion on the thing you love doesn’t matter. Deep breaths, please. I’m on your side. Kinda.

Anyway, Shenmue III’s pitch sucks. Or maybe it doesn’t, because maybe it’s not a pitch at all. As some of my readers joked, they didn’t even really need to make a pitch. They just needed to post a donation box and say “we’re making Shenmue III. Give us money.” Which is pretty much what they did. And yes, that was all they needed to do. Maybe this wasn’t a campaign so much as it was a telethon. But as someone who has spent the last few years encouraging indie developers to work harder on their Kickstarters so that their campaigns don’t come across as greedy cash grabs, I sort of have to point out the lack of effort displayed. Their pitch is weak, vague, lacks transparency, and has some truly obnoxious stretch goals. When indie developers present me with campaigns this bad, it usually results in me sending back dozens of pages of notes asking for changes, with swear words and insults scribbled between the margins.

Fun fact: Shenmue is the Japanese term for "Money Pit"

Fun fact: Shenmue is the Japanese term for “Money Pit”

Shenmue III’s campaign has no budget breakdown. When people ask for my advice on a campaign, this is the first thing I require. I want every cent accounted for. And it’s not just because those backing the game have a right to know (although they totally do have a right to know). It’s because it prepares those getting the money to be accountable for that money. The thing about money is, it doesn’t discriminate who gets to wield it. Once money is in your possession, you can spend it anyway you see fit. Sure, there might be consequences later down the road if you don’t use it the way you’re supposed to, but the money itself doesn’t stop you from doing so. A budget breakdown also doesn’t stop you, but having one shows a certain awareness of expectations. The more specific that breakdown is, the bigger a sign it is that consideration and maturity are possessed by the people asking for the money. It’s one of many things a campaign can do to show your money is safe with it.

Not only does Shenmue III skip this most important of steps, but they’re being cagey about who their partners are on this project, and what they are contributing. Sony we know about, though that wasn’t clear at the time the campaign launched. It’s probably not a stretch to think Sega is involved somewhere, even if they’re just collecting a royalty on the IP. Yu Suzuki isn’t answering, only saying that his studio has backers. Okay, who? How much? You’re asking strangers (and fans are still strangers) for money. They worked very hard for that money. They’re putting that money on the line for a game series with a pretty sordid history. Don’t they have a right to know where their money is going?

"So my agent says 'Kingdom Hearts? Pssh, do you want to be doing Mickey Mouse projects or do you want to be in a big-budget blockbuster?' And to think, I could have been Sora!"

“So my agent says ‘Kingdom Hearts? Pssh, do you want to be doing Mickey Mouse projects or do you want to be in a big-budget blockbuster?’ And to think, I could have been Sora!”

I don’t really understand the caginess. There’s not a single fan that backed Shenmue III who would walk away just because Sony is involved. If anything, the truly diehard among them are probably ready to jump on Team PlayStation 4, if they weren’t on board already. As for other backers, I’m sure it’s probably boring things like banks, venture capitalists, or displaced gaming executives. You know, the types of institutions any large-scale gaming start-up gets their capital from. But, why not say it? Why leave an air of suspicion, especially when you don’t stand to alienate a single, solitary potential backer?

I’ll make a single concession to this issue: Japanese business culture is vastly different from Western business culture. Cards are often played closer to the chest. Awareness of strategic partnerships sometimes never makes the financial pages. Laws about disclosures or accounting practices differ in ways each-other’s cultures don’t understand. It’s often even a little socially taboo to talk about things like bank loans. Fine. All of that is fine. As long as you don’t ask Westerners for crowd funding. You did, so none of those cultural differences matter.

Frankly, discussing other issues I have with the campaign is a bit overkill. They missed the single most important step. I would never endorse an indie campaign that didn’t include a budget breakdown. Shenmue III isn’t an indie, and I’m sure they know what they’re doing and have reasonable certainty the project will be completed on budget (whatever that is) and on time (December 2017, assuming there is no delays, which games of this scope typically do have). And no, my dislike for Shenmue as a game isn’t why this pitch irks me.

"HA! Too bad Ryo, old chap. I get to be in a long-delayed third installment WITHOUT begging people off the street! LOSER! HA!"

“Too bad Ryo, old chap. I get to be in a long-delayed third installment WITHOUT begging people off the street! LOSER! HA!”

It’s because these industry veterans should be role models for indies. I knew this day was coming. The day where a major gaming property would be revived from the ashes by crowd funding. Imagine my disappointment when the game I genuinely thought should break this new ground phoned in their pitch. Shenmue III’s campaign is shamefully lazy, lacking thoughtfulness and/or the feel of a genuine need for money. As I pointed out in my previous editorial, Shenmue III clearly couldn’t exist outside of Kickstarter. So why does the language of those in charge of it make it seem like they’ve got significant backing already? Maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re going to raise additional capital through traditional channels, based on the success of this campaign. We don’t know. And we should.

Above all, I hope that Shenmue III’s glorified cash grab of a campaign doesn’t inspire a new wave of indie developers to just expect gamers to throw money at them. The salad days of indies getting away with campaigns like Shenmue III’s ended about a year and a half ago. As a community, we’ve grown up. Who knows? Maybe the mainstream gaming scene wasn’t paying as close of attention to what indies accomplished with crowd funding as I suspected. Maybe AAAs will go through the same trials and tribulations with crowd funding as you guys did over the last three years. Maybe it’ll take the AAA crowd funding scene just as long to adapt and expect better of their campaigns as the indie scene did. Shenmue III certainly won’t be the last AAA to have a Kickstarter campaign. Maybe that’s why, deep down, I’m happy the Shenmue III campaign exists. Because now, for the first time ever, I can genuinely say that my beloved indie scene is ahead of the curve as an industry.

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