Doug TenNapel- on Armikrog’s Kickstarter Luck
June 27, 2013
One of the most common questions I get is “How do you come up with your ideas?” They are no doubt talking about my bigger successes like Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood, Nickelodeon’s Catscratch or any one of my 13 graphic novels. But while a broad variety of my work is out there, people don’t see my ideas that don’t make it to the public. I’ve created HUNDREDS of ideas and only a handful of them have made it to where the public can see them. That’s right, for every Earthworm Jim you’ve seen there are twenty Earthworm Jims you haven’t.
The truth is that ideas are easy to come up with, but execution of any idea is near impossible. Earthworm Jim had so much working against it that it boggles my mind how it ever got made. My job at Shiny was offered to two other people who turned it down and if either of them went for it I wouldn’t have been hired and wouldn’t have created Earthworm Jim. When young designers ask how to make it in the gaming industry it’s hard to tell them, “Be incredibly lucky, and hope that two other people better qualified to do your job turn it down.”
Getting the opportunity to make Earthworm Jim was a complete freak accident of coincidences and lucky breaks. Not just for me, but Shiny just-so-happened to have an open invitation to create a unique title by our investor Playmates Toys. The Neverhood was created solely because Dreamworks was aggressively trying to start their gaming division and gave me an open invitation to create something unique and interesting. I didn’t go to business school, I was a fine art major and Dreamworks funded my company. No other company in the world would have greenlit The Neverhood, a clay animated puppet animation adventure game.
But opportunity is a fickle lover and my game projects could get no heat for fifteen years. People ask why I left games and I say, “I didn’t leave games. Games left me.” I’ve pitched plenty of games, at least as viable as Earthworm Jim and Neverhood and I got the sound of chirping crickets. Rejected by disinterested publishers, I always assumed that the gaming medium would be dead forever to my work. Then came Kickstarter. Then came Tim Schafer’s appeal directly to players for funding, circumventing the usual publisher route. After his DoubleFine game got over 3 million dollars in funding, Brian Fargo blew the door wide open with the crowd-funding of his games Wasteland 2 (edit) and Torment.
My old pals Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield were running their animation studio Pencil Test on fumes. We were trying to find a project that would be appropriate to Kickstart and we were spinning our wheels trying to make a 2D animated movie make sense. Finally, Mike said, “Why don’t we just make another puppet animated point and click adventure game?” Within a few hours, Armikrog was born. There was no way I could have predicted that Kickstarter would exist one day, or that if we proposed a game that it would get successfully funded. Once again, if a young designer asks how to make an Armikrog, I would say, “Wait for fifteen years after you’ve become a gaming has-been and hope for some new invention known as crowd-funding to come along and rescue your idea.” Just five days before our campaign funded, many were still betting against our success. Even Mike, Ed and I had regular Skype sessions where we went over the principles of crowd funding to try to look for any positive hope, a fool’s hope, to see the thing through.
Now that Armikrog is funded, people will play the game, and like so many of my other projects it will seem like they couldn’t do anything but exist. But now you know the truth. My punctuated string of successes are an unforeseeable stroke of luck, coincidence, and perhaps even miracle, one after another.
There are better creators than me working in game companies right now and they can’t get a break. There are amazing artists, designers and idea men who have the world’s best ideas that can’t reach that unachievable goal of execution. Your lack of opportunity is not necessarily because of your idea. It could be because of the normal problem of how difficult it is to have any idea executed.
It’s my great hope that the successful funding of Armikrog will only make more ideas by more people become a reality. But it’s not a given that you can follow the exact trajectory of Armikrog, it may not be Kickstarter that makes your idea become real but there are more options than ever available to my fellow artists. There’s always hope… a fool’s hope.
Ed Schofield, Brian Belfield, Doug TenNapel and Mark Lorenzen work on The Neverhood (Photo by Joe Sanabria, circa 1996).