Xsolla had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Golubeva from a Moscow-based studio Ice-Pick Lodge. A couple of days ago, the company has successfully raised funds on Kickstarter to create a remake of their most well-known game, “Pathologic”. This is a large-scale and complex project, with a budget that far exceeds 250 thousand dollars. Alexandra told of the technologies that have been used for the remake, and revealed some secrets of an effective crowdfunding campaign.
Tell us a bit about your studio, please. How did you manage to rub through a tough time after “The Void” was released?
I used to say that we are a small studio, but in fact — by the standards of independent development — we are large enough. We have nine people in the team these days. Most of them live in Moscow. Once a feather was put up over the door of our Moscow office, but some evil forces have taken it away. After “The Void” and before “Knock-Knock” we have released one more game — “Cargo!”. It’s a comedy. Perhaps the mere fact that the studio has decided to release a comedy is an eloquent enough demonstration of the fact that we had a tough time.
Tell us about your current Kickstarter campaign. Why did you decide to go back to crowdfunding again? Why didn’t you launch the “Pathologic” remake before? It seemed the audience was interested in the game all those years. Why now?
Why should we resort to other funding sources when we can refer to our audience directly? We like the simple and honest idea: you’re doing a game that will be played by real people; accordingly these people help you make a game. You don’t waste time on unnecessary steps. However, Kickstarter is not quite enough. It’s time to mention once again that we have other investments, too.
We didn’t start up the remake earlier because it’s a titanic work, and we didn’t feel confident enough. Stars are aligned so that now we have all the right people, all the necessary skills, and everything else we need to release “Pathologic” at its best.
However, the popularity of survival games is another noticeable factor. We’re always a little scared to do complex, hardcore environments, but at the same time we don’t want to do anything different — we are not the type to simplify our games to make them more accessible. Now it is obvious that people are not afraid of hardcore products and are ready to play challenging games where it’s tough to survive.
How does the new version differ from the original one?
In short, it’s not a brand new variant. Now we are doing the thing we’ve conceived from the start. The graphics, the translation, the balance — everything will be reworked to work as is should have worked from the start. The previous version has been made pretty hastily. We don’t have to write the script at the eleventh hour this time.
The budget of the game is 250 thousand dollars, right? Do you have at least an approximate estimate? Are you ready to show it to the community?
The budget is much bigger. We were honest — it says that we have other investments in the pitch. We raise funds to complement the amount of money we already have. That would allow us to bring all our ideas to life without any shortcuts.
Needless to say, we have an estimate! In general I can say that most of the money goes to programming and modeling. The town we are making is not very big but quite dense; is has lots of characters, interiors, objects, and all sorts of interesting things. And all that stuff has to move and live somehow.
What is the main difficulty in developing such a difficult game as “Pathologic”?
The hardest part is discouraging the team from giving ‘valuable’ advice to our visual designers and the art director (nobody teaches programmers how to do their job!). It seems to me the most difficult thing in such a large project is to prioritize. Each member of the team believes their task is the most difficult (so do I, for example, and I am a mere translator). And everyone undoubtedly does their job perfectly well, but it can be difficult to make the numerous fruits of our labor come together into a single living organism.
How did you prepare for the campaign? How long did it take? Was it expensive to produce your chilling promo video and prepare awards and descriptions?
Alas, we have been preparing a bit longer than was originally planned, but it allowed us to think the campaign through in detail. We’ve been considering the remake of “Pathologic” even before the “Knock-Knock” release! We did everything ourselves. A wonderful operator Scott MсLesly helped us with the videos. The pitch, the descriptions, the beautiful art — everything was done in our studio. We have many friends, of course, and some of them offered to help us — to proofread the text, for example.
How did you work with the community before the campaign went live?
We announced the Pathologic remake more than a year ago first. We turned to the community for help quite often: they helped us shoot videos, lended us props, and so on.
We haven’t announced the exact date of the campaign and haven’t prepared the community for it specifically, but it just so happened that shortly before our Kickstarter a bizarre young lady decided to start writing out e-mails. You can read about it here, for example.
What technologies are you going to use to improve the graphics?
We’re going to use Unity for the game. The engine was acquired long ago and we also have built connections with the developers. Our previous game was also was made with Unity. We are not going to use pre-made asset libraries. We have a whole studio of artists (in the broadest sense of the word)—better put them to good use!
You emphasize on the fact that you are going to localize the game yourself. Why not an agency?
With all due respect to translation agencies, I want to note that it can be difficult for them to fully immerse themselves into a project, to get into the insides of each setting they work with. The previous Pathologic translation by an agency was deplorable. It doesn’t mean that all agencies are bad, of course. Not at all, quite the contrary. But they just don’t suit Pathologic.
This is a game made by a studio with a writer for a CEO. There are no random words in Pathologic, it’s filled to the brim with puns, metaphors, and double meanings. It can only be properly translated in a close collaboration with the writer, you have to work each and every detail. Of course, it’s possible to find an outsourcer who is capable of a deep study, but it makes sense to hire them if we do.
We have great professionals who have translated “The Void” into German brilliantly. They are not a part of the Ice-Pick Lodge team officially and don’t even live in Moscow, but we consider them to be a part of our studio. They are involved into what we’re doing way deeper than as mere translators.
Are you going to accept donations from the fans after the campaign on Kickstarter is successfully over?
If they offer them to us. Some rewards will still be available. We also have our own small crowdfunding platforms called “Strings”. It is temporarily closed for now so that it doesn’t hinder the campaign, but after it is over we will launch it again.
How do you plan to work with the community? How regularly will you post updates?
We try to answer all questions and we don’t ‘hide’ from our fans. We publish updates about once every two days now; they’ll be slower after the campaign ends, of course, but they’re still be there. Alpha and beta access are among Kickstarter rewards already. Hopefully this degree of openness is good enough for us and for the community.
What was the reasoning behind pricing backer rewards?
We are very honest with the rewards — their price is based primarily on their first cost. The list is very diverse: soundtracks, artbooks, posters, jewelry, figurines, masks, and the Polyhedral Room. Moreover, everyone who has supported us will be given a small in-game reward.
Could you tell us a little about Pathologic the board game?
We were visited by a team of board game designers once. They told us Pathologic had inspired them to make an interesting project and asked if we wanted to help them with visuals and texts. We jumped at the opportunity, of course. Our collaboration works really well: they know how to do board game mechanics much better than us, and we are responsible for the artistic part, so the result will keep the style of the video game.
What channels are you going to use later to sell the game? Steam, GOG?
Fortunately, we live in the time when all the channels are available. We will sell Pathologic on Steam, GOG, maybe Desura or Humble Store. We will also try to design our own shop.