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Emerald: Kickstarter gem hits target but shoots for the stars

Monday, 14th October 2013 20:20 GMT By Brenna Hillier

With just over two days on the clock, sci-fi adventure Emerald is a bona fide Kickstarter success – but with plenty of promise still to unlock. We chat with creator Nick Yonge about hiring cryptographers, responsible crowdfunding, and why Sony is a safer bet for indies than Nintendo.

Emerald – Krang Games

A sci-fi, story-driven adventure about repairing a space ship and exploring memories.

Under his company name Krang Games, Yonge has published a couple of games on Kongregate. One of the most interesting is Prior, an unusual adventure which Yonge says only two players have ever really figured out.

Yonge also made a game called Nyan Cat Fly which I may or may not have spent an hour playing hen I was supposed to be preparing for this interview. There are no secrets in Nyan Cat Fly, even if you look quite hard. I asked.

Emerald’s Kickstarter is extremely well-designed; his reward tiers are carefully considered and

The wreckage of a spaceship, floating in the void, and a single astronaut who navigates the zero-G environment, repairing what he can and piecing together the well-scattered pieces of a deeper mystery. That’s Emerald, a game which was birthed unexpectedly from the primeval soup of Global Game Jam 2013 in January and now looks set to evolve into something pretty magical.

When I spoke to him last night, it was the tail end of creator Nick Yonge’s birthday, and he wass feeling “wonderful”. It’s not just because the cheerful Canadian was celebrating his natal anniversary; his story-driven sci-fi adventure has stormed past its modest Kickstarter target of $5,800, granting him the financial aid required to power through the home stretch rather than fitting development in around contract work.

“I wasn’t expecting it in quite the tempo that it happened. My original plan called for me to have maybe $5,600 now,” Yonge told me, happily. “It’s definitely charged ahead a bit faster than I expected it to. Which is awesome.”

Not that he didn’t plan for this contingency; over-funding can break a Kickstarter project rather than make it when stretch goals are added in haphazardly. Yonge launched his Kickstarter with a swathe of stretch goals all the way up to $25,000 – a goal he still considers far out of reach – but mainly to prove that “if this does blow up or something, there is a plan to handle that”.

“Most of those stretch goals are stuff that aren’t exactly necessary for the game, they would just give me the opportunity to flesh out the universe and a bit more of the story. They’re not mandatory,” he said.

But many of them are extremely interesting. In with the usual extra platforms and bonuses for backers are some interesting little tidbits that hint at the long months of conceptualising that have gone into Emerald. Extra endings – dynamic endings – extra story and gameplay sequences – and most intriguingly, at $10,500 “hire a cryptography consultant”. Yonge doesn’t expect to meet this goal, but it sounds awesome; he’d visit nearby law enforcement and academic institutions in search of online security experts and code breakers.

“I’d actually get them involved, and learn how they deal with cryptography, and use that to put real cryptography into Emerald. Which would be just all kinds of bad-ass,” he said.

If you’re the sort of player who enjoyed the secret language of Fez more than its notional core gameplay, this will be right up your alley, but it’s likely to put at least some of Emerald’s content beyond the reach of mere mortal players – something of a creative risk.

“I don’t expect most players to uncover 100% of everything in the game. There’s a lot of additional content – the $25 backer level is called Log.txt, and that involved getting a whole bunch of digital content from the Emerald universe. A lot of the content in there is going to be encrypted – not all of it; some will just be straight-up neat junk to look at. But when it comes to the backstory and the universe of Emerald, a lot of it is sort of secret and mysterious, and not on the surface. For players that do have the aptitude and the spare time to do so, they can try diving in and decrypting and seeing just how much the universe has been fleshed out,” Yonge said.

It sounds like there is a heck of a lot behind Emerald, which makes its origin story pretty sweet. Yonge’s company Krang Games (described as mainly ‘Yonge sitting around in his underwear programming’) sponsored the Global Game Jam this year, and he attended the first day just to shake hands and put names to faces. He didn’t intend to participate; he “had no fucking idea” he’d be hit by inspiration, but the sheer energy of so many creative types milling about just kicked Yonge’s brain into “time to create shit mode”.

After a sleepless night spent feverishly scribbling notes and calling in friends to assist, he returned to the jam and pounded out a prototype. In the ten months since, he’s been fleshing it out, resulting in the wealth of secret backstory hinted at above, but the core concept and narrative were upon Yonge in that first flash.

“The story is based on actual events that happened to me, and were bugging my mind a lot in recent months leading up to the Game Jam, and in a way it’s almost like a cathartic venting thing to create Emerald, because it’s just me taking those experiences and being like, I’m done with this junk, I’m gonna turn it into a video game,” he said.

Unless Canada is much cooler than even I imagine Yonge has never been stranded in space, so it’s clear whatever events he was referring to are of a more personal nature – although he gently dodges when I ask about it.

“They’re all there in Emerald. You’ll have to sit down and try to figure it out,” he said, something he’s quite used to his players doing.

“My first game that I released, Prior, it wasn’t based on personal experience or anything but it was this weird-ass, cryptic story that was told all disjointedly through notes that the player finds. It was just awesome watching people on forums try to figure out what was going on. Two people actually figured out the sequence of events,” he added.

Personally, this would inspire me to want to make games that are even harder to puzzle through. “There’s a reason why I’m so stoked about the idea of talking to an actual cryptographer,” Yonge said, apparently agreeing.

At present, Emerald is destined for launch on Linux, Mac and PC, but stretch goals include Vita, PlayStation 3 and Wii U ports. Again, Yonge isn’t sure the campaign will make it that far, but he’s made initial contact with both Sony and Nintendo. As a result, he’s pushed the possibility of a Wii U port much further down the scale than either Sony platform.

“Sony, I’ve spoken to a bit, and they’re very accommodating when it comes to independent developers, and very willing to take their time and effort and help an indie developer get a game onto their platform – which is awesome and amazing,” he said.

“I haven’t talked to Nintendo as much but from what I understand of them, they’re more than happy to hook an independent developer up with the tools and documentation and stuff, but they’re less available when it comes to actual personal helping and assistance and stuff.

“So, I was led to infer that it would just be a bigger pain in the ass to port to Wii U, especially with certification and that sort of thing, Hence why it’s a bit more expensive.”

At time of writing Emerald is in the final days of its Kickstarter campaign with just over 60 hours remaining. It has passed its goal but has some interesting rewards and stretch goals available.

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