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Living in Pitfall!'s shadow Exclusive
Living in  Pitfall! 's shadow
September 6, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

September 6, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Production, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Game designer and former Activision co-founder David Crane has shipped more video games than just about anybody: Over 100 since his first game in 1977, by his count.

And yet, there's only one title that he's generally remembered for: Pitfall!, the jungle-themed Atari 2600 adventure that defined what we now call the platform genre.

Ever since its release in 1982 (and its subsequent sequel in 1984), fans have been approaching Crane asking for a new Pitfall!, even after he left Activision -- and therefore, any ties to the franchise -- in 1985.

Even through hits like Ghostbusters, A Boy and His Blob, and David Crane's Amazing Tennis -- not to mention his output from over a decade at Skyworks, another company he co-founded -- Crane has been living under the shadow of Pitfall!. He compares it to being a child actor, forever associated with a role he played over thirty years ago.

"I suppose that's not a bad problem to have," Crane tells us over the phone. "It's not a dark shadow."

"But I'm not just a classic gaming guy. This is what I do for a living!"

Convinced that the world wanted him to "go back to the jungle" and make another game like Pitfall!, Crane put together a small, independent team, drafted up a partial design for a new 2D platformer that brings to mind the old days but utilizes modern day technology (it's being made in Unity), and launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $900,000.

It's not going well. With only 8 days to go, the game has drawn just over $21,000 in funding, and has caused quite a stir among critics.

"Everyone turned against me as soon as they saw [the price]," Crane says.

A young Jack Black (yes, that's really him) stars in a 1983 commercial for David Crane's original Pitfall!.

Commenters complained that Crane's asking fee is too high for a game that hasn't even been properly prototyped yet -- something Crane is quick to point out is intentional, as he's hoping to get his backers involved directly in the design process.

"They look at my project and say, you're asking way too much money. And I say, do you have any idea how much it takes to make a game?" he asks.

Crane's vision is for backers fund what he specifies as "professional" development -- a high quality game by a seasoned designer with an established fanbase, something a little more high shelf than the lower-cost indie games he'd been seeing.

"I had people telling me that I was ruining Kickstarter for indie developers by asking for that amount of money," he says.

"I've proven that I can make games that are very marketable. So I choose to do larger, professional development projects rather than little tiny things just to get myself published."

An early look at what Crane has in mind for his "Jungle Adventure."

Crane blames the lack of enthusiasm for his campaign on what he sees as a lack of vision among his critics, saying that while there are a lot of different views as to what the strengths of the platform are, it seems limiting when it comes to higher budget productions.

"It's just amazing how there is no vision of what Kickstarter is supposed to be," he says. "People won't let go of what they think it is."

It's not looking likely that David Crane's Jungle Adventure will hit its goal, but Crane's not throwing in the towel just yet. Follow its progress here.

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Sean Hogan
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It sounds like he's complaining about people not seeing Kickstarter the same way he does...he's got a lot of experience, but I can't imagine involving backers in the design process heavily could ever be a good idea. It's just one large bet, and with nothing concrete, of course there will be few interested.

Michael Pianta
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But on the other hand that's exactly what Double Fine Adventure. With that game they didn't even nail down a theme or anything.

Joe Morton
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Re: "Double Fine Adventure" - some companies have fanboy groups they can motivate to do just about everything. Not all companies have that luxury.

Ian Fisch
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His was one of the worst kickstarters I've ever seen. No prototype, no clear vision, not even clear what genre the game was supposed to be in. "Jungle adventure" is not a game genre.

Mike Lopez
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I suspect that many people like me got baited into buying the recent crappy Activision Pitfall mobile game that has very little to do with the original 2600 game and is more of a Temple Run ripoff so now their nostalgia is tainted.

Paul Lazenby
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Really? What was wrong with a Pitfall on iOS? I loved it, and so did most of my friends.
I'm not a big fan of a lot of stuff activision does, but that is one game they definitely got right.

zed zeek
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wow, not to knock him (as 100 is very impressive) but this guys worked on 2 of my 3 worse liked games of all time.
pitfall & ghostbusters
The only one missing is 'beachhead'

Jeremy Reaban
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That's amazing, I absolutely loved all those three games. Especially Ghostbusters.

And Beachhead was amazing. Not as good as Raid Over Moscow, but a lot of fun.

Steven Christian
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I could never do the jumping marshmellow man in Ghostbusters.
I can't believe you mentioned Raid Over Moscow.

Now that brings back memories that I forgot I had!!

Wow nostalgia. I loved ROM, Black Hawk and Super Zaxxon on c64 :D

zed zeek
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sorry by 'worse liked' I meant least liked.
But thinking about it beachhead (raid over moscow was slightly better) & ghostbusters, they had something in common which perhaps accounts for it.
they were a collection of small mini-games, none of them were good, i.e. they emphasized quantity over quality & esp back in those days with extremely limited memory(*) the last thing you want to do is split that limited amount up between multiple games

(*)prolly enuf to hold a single texture of 256x256 nowadays!

Maria Jayne
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I'm struggling to see why it would cost $900,000 for a 2d platformer, I'm sure he could find a way to spend that much but that isn't the issue.

As for "do you have any idea how much it takes to make a game?" personally no, but I've played games made with less then 10% of that budget and there is an endless list on kickstarter of games asking for less and already looking quite good so there seems to be a divide between that question and the logic on how those games were produced.

Jeremy Reaban
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I think that's it - he asked for just too much money.

Giana Sisters is a example of a very snazzy update on an old classic (or beloved title) and I think they only asked for $150,000, and they had part of the game done.

And they've only gotten $186,000

Emppu Nurminen
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@ Jeremy what? I mean...ONLY 186 cakes? Come on, Kickstarter suppose to be a platform to kickstart ideas, not to cash in money from projects "Well done!".
This is what is wrong with the whole expectations about Kickstarter. Common man has no damn idea what producing anything specific costs, yet if you are more likely to nail down how much you need to get something done, yes, people are far more eager to give money. Many art projects have been funded many times over their asking prices, when they have explained simply, where all the costs gonna go. Hint: It's not going to go the paycheck of creators, it goes downright to the project necessities like renting studios, printing out books, having materials what ever they want to create.
Asking money to do your job is silly, not because working hours costs ridiculously lot, but it's not something backers feel that they can affect in the end product. Of course you need programmers, artists, game designers, but if the backers can't see THAT specific team members known to them (like in Double Fine), they don't give a damn how much or how little they are being paid.

Ian Fisch
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I don't think he was asking for too much money. It's that there were no details on the game other than it's a sequel to pitfall.

Newsflash: there have been FOUR sequels to pitfall since it came out (look it up) and they've all been TERRIBLE.

Kyle Redd
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I guess I can understand the nostalgia factor for the original Pitfall. Honestly though, nostalgia is the *only* thing that would attract me to a follow-up game.

The Pitfall brand doesn't have any other intrinsic benefits with which to appeal to those that have played it. It's just a very basic platformer with no story, no memorable characters, and a generic setting. Absolutely everything that was good about the game in 1982 has been eclipsed many times over by better games in the years since.

Alan Youngblood
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Kickstarter is not intended to be used for big budget anything. The idea is that if you have an asking price that would lure in VCs and traditional investors, you've graduated from the league that needs Kickstarter. It is not a typical funding solution. It is people with dreams that lack the capital and notoriety to get a publisher/investor being funded by people who buy into that dream. I'm not saying you can't dream if you are a David Crane, I'm saying that Kickstarter backers see him as having the ability to walk up to a publisher/investor and say I need this money, and they will do it. Tim Schafer is a notable exception, but his success is justified by his "indie cred." By that I mean that he got creatively shafted by publishers like Activision and people on kickstarter know that.

While Crane is not "ruining kickstarter" he seems to "not get it." Kickstarter is about making the financials work for people in a broken capitalist marketplace so that creatives may make their dreams come true that would not have otherwise (which are almost always motivated by a desire to help others in some way). Also, one does not simply ask for an entire AAA budget on kickstarter. Schafer didn't. He got it, but he didn't ask for it. That's part of the game. Since kickstarter is all-or-nothing funding where you basically have to give it all and ask for nothing. I worked with a team that had a successful kickstarter (albeit after I moved on to another job by the time it finished). The team was living on peanuts and promises from a budget standpoint and we only wanted to ask for $6K - not even payroll for the time it would take to complete the project. The team got more, but it wasn't because any of us asked for more. I would agree with Crane that people don't understand what creative work is worth anymore, but that extends to us creatives as well. It's a turbulent economic time. Bad stuff is happening to everyone. One cannot be rich, experienced, or famous enough to be safe. The solution is working together with others to understand a better way for all.

Simon Strange
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There is a big difference between getting money from VCs and getting money from fans - the fan money is used like a pre-order of the game, while VC money costs you 2 or 3x the amount they invest.

My current project is looking at exactly this choice - either

1 - we raise $300,000 via Kickstarter, release the game for $5, and keep 100% of the profits (to funnel into our next game)


2 - we get a loan for $500,000 from a publisher, sell the game for $40, and keep 30% of the profits AFTER the first 42,000 copies have sold.

Getting the money from the fans means less $$ needed overall, cheaper retail price, and creative independence. It makes me incredibly sad to see that folks aren't embracing this version of Kickstarter - making it a real alternative to publishers.

Thom Q
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I don't think that the kickstarters failure is due to "critic's lack of vision" (what a shitty thing to say).

A: 900.000$ for a remake of a 30 year old game? For 50.000 more, a whole console is developed (ouya!)

B: The Video's aren't very engaging, bordering on sad. The "living jungle" video is really scraping the bottom of the barrel..

C: Ghostbusters? Who in their right mind will advocate they worked on Ghostbusters after it's been ripped apart by the AVGN?

Ryan Creighton
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AVGN's review is ignorant. He doesn't acknowledge that Ghostbusters on the NES was a port of the C64 game. He criticizes things like the synthesized voice off the top sounding so bad. On the C64, it was amazing, because you'd never heard that from a game.

He asks "when and where is there a store that sells ghostbusting supplies?" Clearly, he doesn't get the whole point of the game - that you're not the original 4 ghostbusters. You're someone who has purchased a Ghostbusters FRANCHISE, and you're buying equipment from the original guys whose business took off.

He doesn't get it. Ghostbusters was an absolutely fantastic game, and while i was a Pitfall fan back in the day, Ghostbusters remains one of my favourite games of all time.

Dedan Anderson
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ok let me get this right, i pay you and then i give you my design ideas??? perhaps i should do art too... strange logic there...

Ian Fisch
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"It's up to the fans to design the game.....because I haven't made a videogame since 1985."

-David Crane

Abraham Tatester
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Along time ago I was told that if I can't say something nice about something, I shouldn't say anything at all (unless that something is EA or Bobby Kotick). So I will refrain from saying anything about that jungle video.

That ad for the original Pitfall, on the other hand, is awesome!

Christopher Engler
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Maybe this is Crane's way of finally closing the door on sequel chatter. It might be easier to say no one wanted the new game than explain to everyone why he doesn't believe enough in the project to get VC's (or his own) money involved. Maybe he wouldn't mind making the game, but he refuses to make it for less than "x" because he feels his team's time is worth more. Maybe there's a copyright issue that inflates the cost. I don't know. I wouldn't mind a new Pitfall (Limbo-esque maybe?), but I won't be heartbroken if this game doesn't get made. The genre is so derivative (Indiana Jones/Alan Quartamain) that I think we already have equally satisfying jungle adventures in Uncharted and Tomb Raider.

Eric Feliu
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If Dave Crane says he needs 900K that's what he needs. I can't believe people are questioning a developer of his caliber.

Aaron Fowler
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Why should people not question it? Are you being sarcastic?

Robert Swift
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Kickstarter is for realizing potential. The video shows 0 potential. Therefore 0 money.

I also think the video completely misses the mood for a remake. It's way too serious. I can only imagine something lighthearted. Show a friendly, colorful pitfall prototype for the mobile market with a wink to the original + ask for $100.000 at the most and you 'might' get somewhere.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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"Do you have any idea how much it takes to make a game?"

I do, actually, the initial cost to buy in is somewhere around 0 dollars if you own a computer. Since you're using Unity, you can add the license cost to your Kickstarter but last I checked it wasn't anywhere close to your asking price. You're looking for a company sized salary to fund your team of "professionals" and you aren't going to get it.

"I've proven that I can make games that are very marketable. So I choose to do larger, professional development projects rather than little tiny things just to get myself published."

Maybe you have proven you can make "marketable" games for a company like Activision but in case you didn't notice, Kickstarter isn't a company and your long resume doesn't count for shit.

If you're wondering how to successfully do a remake of Pitfall on the cheap I suggest learning about Derek Yu and Spelunky. It's one of those "tiny things" you aren't interested in.

Mitchell Fujino
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7 games projects so far have exceeded $900k in funding, and of those, only 3 were video games.
To put that in perspective, there have been 2930 games projects launched on Kickstarter.

Becoming a member of that lucky 0.2% is an extraordinary expectation, and thus requires an extraordinary pitch. This project simply doesn't have that.

Note that I'm not saying the project is bad, simply that the pitch doesn't show $900k of value. Given that Spelunky cost a fraction of that with a fraction of the team, our expectations of a Pitfall-type game are vastly out of tune of what David Crane is pricing here, and the pitch doesn't convince us otherwise.
As an example of a modern take on an old favourite, check out Volgarr the Viking with a target of $18k.

Less relevant, but that jungle video is also making me think you're valuing realistic graphics over gameplay, which is the exact opposite of what I want from a Kickstarter game. Retro graphics would have actually made me *more* likely to donate.

(TL;DR: The pitfall sequel in my head takes 3 developers 6 months, for a cost of less than $90k. Your pitch needs to change this mental model in my head to open my wallet.)

Ron Dippold
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One external problem I see from forum comments is that a lot of people seem to think he's still at Activision and that this is Activision doing a Kickstarter, which is understandably rage inducing.

But that aside, after the Double Fine/Wasteland 2/Shadowrun successes we're seeing a lot of old industry guys deciding to do their own projects. And while they have great credentials, they genuinely do not seem to understand Kickstarter. I've been funding projects for two years now, I don't think the model has changed substantially, just the amount of interest. But the #1 rule is always that you have to get people fired up and emotionally invested in what you're doing, so much that they want to throw money at you.

I believe David when he says the real budget is $900K for how he wants to make the game - he should know. I believe he can deliver the game - he's got a record there like nobody else. But the Kickstarter page didn't sell me at all that I'd want to play that game for that funding level. You're buying the names David Crane and Pitfall, which, to be blunt, do not have the golden glow of Tim S or Wasteland unless you're old enough to have been gaming in the 80s. And even if you were, Pitfall IP has been pretty well tarnished since then.

Michael Guenter
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I don't know why so many others weren't interested, but for me, it was two things.

Only a few concept art pictures, and no proposed gameplay video/demo, was offered in the Kickstarter. Combined with the price, it just felt like David was saying, "Pay me first and then I will start thinking about making this game." I don't think an exciting game can come from that lack of passion. If that was a misunderstanding of his intent and passion, that is unfortunate.

Second, and more importantly, if I were the one to have asked him to make another Pitfall! game, it would have been to make it in the image of the first two games (two of my favorite games of all time - especially the sequel, Lost Caverns). So, watching the jungle demo that has just recently been added as an update has me even less interested than before. I don't want a "realistic" (educational software like) Pitfall 2D scroller.

I want that little pixelated man running around overcoming pixel enemies grabbing pixel gold.

OT, the change in game mechanics from the Pitfall! to Pitfall: The Lost Caverns, (i.e., that Harry would not die, but be transported (at a proportionate cost of gold) to the last "save" point was brilliant. It eliminated the frustration of easy and ruthless death, but maintained the appeal (i.e., replayability) of 100% completion and a perfect score by not requiring "healing" from careless adventuring.

Donald B.
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I looked at his kickstarter page before I read this article. There are multiple reasons that I was not interested in his Kickstarter campaign. There are multiple reasons his Kickstarter failed. Miserably. It failed miserably. And, I don't even think Crane took the time to figure out why (judging from this article).

Let's start with the first noticeable thing on the page: the video. I swear, most of the beginning of the video was telling me who this David Crane guy is and what he's done. Many Kickstarter projects tell you who's working on them and if those people are of note. What's the difference? Look at successful kickstarted projects' video pitches, and you will see that they usually save that information for somewhere near the end - if at all. They try to pitch you the PROJECT first. I don't give a crap who David Crane is. He hasn't done anything for me lately. Why would you attempt to market this project to me like this? Addtionally, the only materials they've shown me that relate to the project are a couple of mediocre drawings. They want to make a game, but all they have is a couple of drawings and NOT EVEN A HINT OF HOW IT WOULD PLAY? Fellas, fellas, this isn't kindergarten, okay. The nice men can't transform your juice-stained doodles into a decent game experience if you haven't even thought about the game part.

Looking at the video alone, it seemed that the drawings are the ONLY work, aside from the video, they'd actually done for the project. I hope they paid the artist up front - 'cause he ain't seeing a dime otherwise. That's just my first impression of the video.

Then, we get into the body of the page... AGAIN WITH THIS CRANE GUY? Why do they keep trying to sell this man to me!? It's not until 3 paragraphs into the third section that we learn that this is supposed to be a side-scroller! FINALLY! A small snippet that tells us that there's actually supposed to be some kind of gameplay for this game.

Reading further, it seems like most of these bullet points are cookie-cutter at best. "Sound Decisions"? Really? The stuff described in that section is the STUFF THAT SOUND IS SUPPOSED TO DO IN A PROJECT ANYWAY!

... Then, a couple of paragraphs down from that, we learn the nitty-gritty. The game is being pitched to us because they don't respect us as much as "MegaPublisher X" - or even MegaPublishers Y or Z. Why don't they respect us as much as the "MegaPublishers?" Because they obviously wouldn't show up at a publisher's door with this crap asking for any amount of money. Even worse, they want YOU, er, US to come up with the game's mechanics for them. What? Would you show up to a pitch meeting with a publisher and ask them for game mechanics for the game that you want to make for them? If you answered "no," congratulations! You HAVE MORE COMMON SENSE THAN THE GUYS WHO PITCHED DAVID CRANE'S JUNGLE ADVENTURE!

It's not until almost the very end that we discover *GASP* that people other than this Crane guy are working on the project... And that they generally have better, more relevant and more recent credentials than Crane. Why are none of these men's accomplishments mentioned in the video?

None of the aforementioned made me want to contribute to this Kickstarter. So, I checked the updates page! Oh crap! They've got something on screen? Word? Lemme check it out.

... Foliage. And a bird. That's pretty much all I saw for two minutes. Foliage. And a bird. There may have been a pitfall or something in there. I dunno. Everything was green.

Then I looked at the asking price. Then, I busted up laughing. When my laughter subsided, and I wiped away the tears, I quietly realized that it couldn't help but fail.

Let's be real. This game wouldn't have gotten funded for even one-tenth of its asking price. Tossing some old guy in front of a camera and telling me that he'll spin straw into gold - eh, not exactly a good-faith maneuver. It seems like a hustle. A poor hustle. An abysmally poor hustle.

What have we learned today? There may be some people who could make such a hustle work, but they aren't the people who pitched David Crane's Jungle Adventure.

Luke S
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In other news, the CHEETAHMEN II remake got funded. And Greg Pabich is just a "GAME ENTREPRENEUR".

Man knows how to make a pitch video, that's for sure.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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All I've heard of this guy (and I must admit, he has never shown up on my radar of "influential game designers") suggests that he's completely oblivious to the entire indie scene, hasn't designed anything worthwhile in decades, and is merely coasting as "The Creator of Pitfall".

DoubleFine has a rabid fanbase that will throw money at anything Tim Schafer does. There's also tons of stats to back up that projects that reach their funding goals -quickly- generally get attention that causes people to donate well over the required amount. These are the exceptions.

He should've asked for 50k for this game, and he might have wound up with 100k+. Instead, he's asking for a ludicrous amount, and getting nothing.

Michael Joseph
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I think a new Pitfall could work. If I were to make one, I'd probably lean towards a 3d sidescroller with depth (as in limited third dimension movement) like Bounty Arms

3d sidescrollers are not original anymore but for Pitfall, the originality could come from being non violent and relying on players' movement control skills. One of the coolest things about Pitfall was that it was one of those early games that people would attempt speed runs on. Might be a good idea to try and foster that aspect.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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Eh, it's a pretty dry well at this point. Look at Temple Run-while not quite what you're suggesting, it's still much in the same vein.

John Gordon
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While the original game was officially called "Pitfall", it's unofficial name was "Look at me! I'm Indiana Jones!"

But the last Indiana Jones movie sucked, so he Crane can blame them for the kickstarter not taking off. ;)

Daniel Martinez
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A quick online poll of the gaming community would have probably yielded some realistic results on whether there was ever any substantial demand for a new Pitfall game to begin with.

Steve Fulton
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I think that a retro evolved Pitfall! done for 1/10 the price and packaged like an old 2600 game (as one of the tiers) might have had a better chance of getting funded.

Bobby Farmer
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Does anyone else think this might be a really ‘clever’ marketing trick?

Nobody could do anything this poor (that update video would have been failed as a first year uni AfterFx project) even if they were asking for $1,000 let alone $900,000.

Either David Crane is wildly out of touch with the real world… or this is intentionally awful, and as soon as this campaign fails, he launches the proper one – “Tada!! Fooled you!!”, and we get something that looks amazing, with innovative gameplay… and a target of $200,000.

Then all of the ‘bad’ publicity gets loads more eyeballs on this than it’d have had before?

Far fetched I know, but surely no more far fetched than something this bad coming from anyone who’s ever been involved in any kind of commercial game development?