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Braving the funding labyrinth: Why Nigoro wants fans, not investors, to fund La-Mulana 2

Posted on February 10, 2014 AT 09:00am

Talking to Playism’s Josh Weatherford about the recent launch of the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter, the new game from a small Japanese development team called Nigoro that Playism is publishing, the first thing I had to ask was: Why Kickstarter?

The answer turned out to be a simple one. While there were initially thoughts about going the direct funding route, the team at Nigoro worried about how that might affect the game. Having had some bad experiences with funding in the past, they knew that if they dealt with angel investors or monetary partners in the development of La-Mulana 2, ideas and plans could be compromised. It’s not hard to imagine the requests that might be made: make it easier, make it harder, give players a male lead protagonist instead of one that’s female.

So, what about Nigoro funding the product directly themselves? They felt like they wouldn’t be able to do it properly, Weatherford said. Steam sales have been good, but that period of around four years where they were trying to get the original La-Mulana onto the Wii didn’t make things easy for the developer. Recent Steam sales have been strong, and have helped make up for those lean years, but it would be tough for Nigoro to fund the project on their own to the extent they want.

If the trio at Nigoro were willing to wait for another year or so, it might have been possible for them to fund the game on their own. But according to Weatherford, they really wanted to work on something sooner, and there had originally been thought of going with a different project. A while back, Nigoro teased a smaller-scale, shoot ‘em up project, one which very well could have been their next game instead of La-Mulana 2.

Then came a meeting with members of Discord Games at GDC. They were the makers of Chasm, a 2D action-RPG platformer that had been inspired in part by the original La-Mulana. While talking, they convinced the Nigoro team that Kickstarter was the way to go. A lot of other developers had been going that route—and the fans really wanted a new La-Mulana, not something else.

Fans wanted a way to be able to play La-Mulana with amnesia basically, Weatherford said with a laugh. That meant a new game. Besides, the idea of doing a La-Mulana 2 wasn’t a new concept—the idea had been floating around since the days of the original game.

At this point, I couldn’t help but bring up the shadow hanging over so many games that hit Kickstarter: The worry over an ability to deliver on promise. Even after breaking its funding goal by over $2.5 million, Broken Age still found itself split in half when Double Fine announced they would run out of funds if they tried to release the entire intended experience as one chunk.

When I asked Weatherford if La-Mulana 2 can really be finished and released as intended if it hits its asking price of $200,000, he assures me the team “definitely” can. They’ve run the numbers and estimates, and are trying to be careful to avoid the feature creep that can bring down projects like Broken Age. In fact, Nigoro has taken some flack online for how conservative the stretch goals are for the Kickstarter. They’re expensive, but realistic, Weatherford explained. Nigoro could have easily gone much crazier with the potential added content, but instead they wanted to focus on putting their effort into inclusions that would directly benefit the core game—such as journals from main heroine Lumisa’s father, Lemeza (star of the original La-Mulana).

In fact, that dedication to the core gameplay of La-Mulana 2 explains two of the most talked about stretch goals: porting the game to home consoles and handhelds and the inclusion of mod tools.

Both, of course, are things that fans and backers want to see, so having them sit at such high monetary levels—$1.15 million for handheld ports, $1.65 million for next-gen ports, $2.35 million for last-gen ports, and $2.7 million for the mod tools—seems unreasonable. But if you understand Nigoro’s thinking on pricing, it really isn’t that absurd . Ports are simply something that the team cannot do—or, perhaps more correctly, know they don’t want to attempt on their own, after the struggle to get La-Mulana on the Wii. Getting the custom engine that La-Mulana 2 (and its predecessor) runs off of won’t be an easy task, so the stretch goal amount simply comes down to what the cost would be to have an outside team make it happen.

For the mod tools, the engine that Nigoro plans to use to build the game is something that works fine for them, but that would be a nightmare for those not long familiar with it. In order to get it to a point that it would be friendly enough for players to utilize, it would need both a lot of reworking and a totally revised user interface (something that, unfortunately, is not a strong suit of the team). Were the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter able to reach $2.7 million, Josh says that Nigoro will probably build the mod tools first, and then use those tools themselves to build the finished game.

(Shortly after this piece was written, I was informed that Playism and NIGORO had decided to rework La-Mulana 2‘s stretch goals due to feedback they’d received from the community—so I held off on publishing until that had been clarified. As of now, Father’s Diary dropped from $300,000 to $230,000; the Monster Guide from $400,000 to $260,000; the Evil Stages were dropped a number of rungs from $800,000 to $300,000; Character Stories were reduced from $700,000 to $350,000; and Mac and Linux ports saw a drop from $500,000 to $400,000. The other stretch goals have had their positions tweaked a bit, but now also come with as-yet-undetermined price tags. According to Nayan Ramachandran from Playism, this is because the company has received “a variety of offers from interested parties”, and Playism/NIGORO are currently negotiating with them to come up with reworked estimates.)

When our conversation turned back to the idea of porting the game to other platforms for a moment, there’s a footnote that Weatherford wanted to make sure I’m clear on: La-Mulana 2 is, first and foremost, a PC game. Before anything else, the game being pitched via the Kickstarter is the PC version. Because of this, Nigoro’s primary goal is to make the PC version the best it can be with whatever money is raised. If nothing else, then that one version of the game will be as good as possible, without money having been diverted to other activities, such as porting. Once all of the elements go into the game that the team wants in, then talk of bringing it to other platforms can happen.

As someone who’s far more a console gamer, it’s a statement I may not want to hear—but it’s one that I both totally agree with and support. Plus, there’s nothing saying that another publisher won’t come along and show interest in La-Mulana 2, offering up help for Nigoro to get one (or more) console ports underway.

I posed one last question to Weatherford: What could go wrong? If there’s going to be a failing point in the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter, what would it be?

Weatherford thinks for a moment before answering. No need to put it through Greenlight on Steam—that’s already cleared. The game’s director, Takumi Naramura, is somebody who tries hard to please everyone, so he may be too willing to listen to every opinion from those supporting the Kickstarter. If funding is slow, the game may not hit $500,000, meaning no Mac or Linux versions.

Outside of that, the man sitting across the table from me is brimming with confidence, both in the game that his company is helping to bring to market, and in the team that’s helping to give it life. Back at last year’s Tokyo Game Show when I spoke to Naramura while playing the promo build of La-Mulana 2, he too was filled with confidence. While the road of an indie developer isn’t easy, the three men who call themselves NIGORO are determined to keep their dream alive—all thanks to a website and its power to bring fans and developers together.

If you’re like to learn more about La-Mulana 2 or support its development, check out its Kickstarter page via the link below.

Source: La-Mulana 2 Official Kickstarter Page

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got started via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as can realistically be crammed in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk Eric on Twitter: @Eric_EGM. Meet the rest of the crew.

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