FRex

Tokyo Dark, great Kickstarter, underwhelming and bare game

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So, after 2 year in development Tokyo Dark finally came out.

I was one of the backers back in 2015 and compared to how well they presented themselves, all the promised features, etc. the game is very very lackluster.

The game is a year late which is in itself okay but coupled with all the other things it looks really bad.

No Mac version yet, no way to buy a DRM free version so far, no translation tool for fans, no controller support, some bugs and annoyances, lack of polish, features like voice acting or anime FMV are nominally present but there is nearly none of that in game and it makes no impact.

The promised missing features are schedules to come sometime soon but considering the game is a year late, had Square Enix support and had superb Kickstarter campaign and very strong and professional media presence and collected so much money I'd expect it to be in pristine condition at launch.

 

Here is a video/slideshow I made on the topic (spoiler free) where I go in depth into all the issues and discrepancies I noticed:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCXwgPJGLIE

 

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All of the things mentioned in the video looks like the team making promises that at the time they didn't even know how to do and now with the game released they still don't know how to do these things.

Like you said the delay is expected, it's the whole reason most developers don't even announce when they start a game.

The rest is them failing to deliver a product that they claimed they would. Contact them, remind them what you payed for and ask if they will add it, if they say they can't or won't ask for a refund.

 

I don't know the terms of the Kickstarter contract. Under a normal contract both parties must provide what they agreed or make a counter offer. If they fail to provide you with what they said they would, you could take legal action against them but all you would get is your money back. It's easier to ask them for the money back if your not happy with the game.

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This isn't that unusual with crowd funding platforms. A quick glance at my kickstarter page suggests that just under half of the projects I have backed have actually shipped a product to date, most of those shipped between 1-4 years late, and several of those have never achieved their design vision.

I'm afraid that's sort of what crowd funding is - a way to monetarily support projects you are interested in. If you treat it as a way of buying things... you are far better off waiting to see if the product ships, and then buying it at retail.

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Yes, I have no intention of getting a refund or anything else that'd be hostile to them. I'm done with the game by now and don't care about the plot and if I did I'd watch it on YouTube since replaying on NG+ is tedious due to bad saving system and bad skip system, as I said there too. My attitude to early access, crowdfunding, etc. is also "if you want a game, buy it, don't crowdfund".

I just wanted to share my thoughts on this because I was so badly flabbergasted on the contrast between the well ran and seemingly high profile campaign: tons of media presence (see video), mentions by important people (like the Square Enix president in a Japanese E3 interview mentioning that Square Enix Collective is working on it, "people behind Life is Strange" saying it's good, etc.), encouraging updates that said what they did, shown screenshots with controller support and other stuff, voice samples, parts of anime sequences, etc.

I mention around 19 minutes in that I sent an email 4 days ago asking why some stuff is missing or half-done, how will updates be done, why was there a choice when the page said '&' and I got no reply at all.

10 euros is barely anything anyway and I exercised the usual "assume you are burning that money" attitude you should have for Kickstarter, I'm not even regretful, some (sadly few and far between) things in the game are nice, I just kept going "huh?" on the issues because they seem so simple. The experience and perspective I gained in witnessing such a contrasting campaign is more valuable anyway.

It just seems like a few non-technical people making a game and kinda falling over their own feet when doing it..? And the game isn't technically advanced either and it lacks polish and usability.

They also "delivered" the promised features, at least nominally:

VA - yes, but it's a few lines and gasps for a total of 80 seconds.

Anime cutscenes - yes, but it's maybe 3-5 minutes of anime is in the game total.

Translation tool, controller, Mac version - they promised it'd come soon (controller support was in the game but was taken out because it's buggy.. despite them working on it for seemingly weeks..?), as I mentioned, and the only one I wanted personally was controller support.

Instant switching of languages, choice between Steam or DRM-free instead of getting both - no idea, they didn't answer, seemingly no one cares?

 

In a funny twist of fate I actually got a legal DRM free copy of the game and never agreed to any EULA, rules of service, etc., something money can't buy, since it's only sold on Steam with some 3rd party SE EULA applied.

On Steam the game also has mostly positive reviews praising the plot, the writing, the impact your decisions have, etc. which also puzzles me, I feel like the odd one out here.

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4 hours ago, swiftcoder said:

I'm afraid that's sort of what crowd funding is - a way to monetarily support projects you are interested in. If you treat it as a way of buying things... you are far better off waiting to see if the product ships, and then buying it at retail.

It's really spreading everywhere lately.  It seems like half the non-AAA games on Steam these days are in Early-Access...

It's not necessarily a bad thing; as long as you realize that you're buying what the game is RIGHT NOW, and the potential of what it might be later is just icing on the cake.  For instance, and this is many moons ago now, I bought into Mount & Blade back in maybe 2005 or 2006, way before it finally was finished - but even in that very raw and somewhat buggy state, it was a really fun medieval combat simulator.

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The problem is that 'half of non-AAA' doesn't get the kind of media presence they did, this is no ordinary Kickstarter by some hapless bedroom programmers.

I recommend watching entire video to see the extent of discrepancies, problems, etc. but you can go to 20:15 mark in my video and look at all the screens I took from their monthly updates of all the events, interviews and mentions over the two years, they number in double digits.

What kind of a game gets that kind of publicity during development: taking the game to booths on several events in Japan, Europe and USA, a mention in Famitsu magazine by president of Square Enix, Square Enix doing QA for you (and letting so much crap through..), being praised by "some of the people behind" Life is Strange, being nominated for 'indies on the rise' award in DeGenki magazine by the maker of Killer7, being nominated for 'magical presence award', being awarded a 'vermilion gate award' at Bitsummit Japan 2016?

The more I think about it the more I am of opinion that they are really good at presenting this stuff to other developers and business people (hence - Square Enix, the awards, the interviews, etc.) but they bit more than they could chew (all the bugs and usability and performance problems) or just didn't really care (the amount of anime and VA) anymore past filling the checkboxes.

Edited by FRex

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11 hours ago, FRex said:

I was so badly flabbergasted on the contrast between the well ran and seemingly high profile campaign: tons of media presence (see video),

Oh I know why this happened, it's the art that is to blame.

A game is not a loading bar, so something I see with a lot of these Kickstarter games is the art moving faster than the game. This is normal for games where the game is made using the art; instead of where the art is made for the game. Investors and journalist fall for this all the time. The problem is that it looks like the developers them self are fooled by this.

With kickstarter this leads to the small investors pressuring the developers because it looks like the developers are almost done, when in fact the game isn't even half way done. It is fully possible for a hundred level game to have 50 levels done and only be at 20% of development and it's possible for it to only have one level and be 80% done.

 

It comes down to inexperience, I bet this team's next game will go much better. Except now they lost most of the trust they had. 

6 hours ago, FRex said:

a mention in Famitsu magazine by president of Square Enix, Square Enix doing QA for you (and letting so much crap through..)

A game that has better marketing than development. I wonder who did there marketing for them.

Edited by Scouting Ninja

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I know I'll not buy or support anything Cherrimochi does or anything Square Enix Collective is involved in after this debacle and I'd advise everyone to do the same and just stick to Zero Escape, Lone Survivor, other old games, free room escape Flash games, etc. if you want puzzles, mystery and horror.

If game writing or art or puzzles were good (and plentiful: not 1 puzzle, 1 minute of voice acting, 3 minutes of anime) I could forgive a lot of technicalities like I do with the entire Zero Escape series but they are lacking in very many ways too, in addition to all the technical problems. The fact a game that is technically VN went through weeks of testing, programming, polishing and what not (according to what they say) and then you can break in on day 1 by clicking through dialogues too fast is off the scale incompetence and that's just the beginning.

I can hardly buy the pressured by publisher excuse when they went to events willy nilly over two years, had way more money than they asked for initially and took twice as much time as they planned on making this AND had extra funds out of the money they got thanks to Square Enix taking over few of the things (see below).

Squre Enix (Collective) did the marketing/PR for them and got them into all these events and interviews by giving them places at their boots and so on of course and it says so in the emails (which they say, allowed them to put the PR, QA and marketing funds back into development.. that went well), but I'd assume that you can't just go, overhype your game to Squre Enix of all people and have them help you and wedge you into top industry events across 3 continents. I thought Square Enix has business acumen to be able to separate hype from genuine brilliance but evidently not.

You can see the credits mentioning all the external help here (that's not my video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9y-or8axcw&t=41m15s

This is more similar to No Man's Sky debacle where it was Sony propping up Sean Murry and ending up with a foot in their mouth when it turned out he overhyped the game.

I wonder if I should just write to Square Enix (or Collective, as little faith I have in them) directly just for the hell of it and to cause Cherrimochi some headaches at this point for being dishonest and to b*tch for a Steam key, just to post my long negative review on Steam. Especially since they ignored my email with questions about updates for DRM free users, lack of Steam key despite what was written and missing features that they didn't put on their post-launch road map.

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3 hours ago, FRex said:

Squre Enix (Collective) did the marketing/PR for them

That explains a lot. AAA games over market them self, a small game like this didn't have a chance. I think the real take away here should be never to trust AAA marketing.

 

3 hours ago, FRex said:

If game writing or art or puzzles were good (and plentiful: not 1 puzzle, 1 minute of voice acting, 3 minutes of anime)

Yea I played it. Not the worst $18 game I have ever played. It does feel more like watching a story than playing a game. I would give it 6/10. The one thing that really annoys  me about the game is it feels like the developers are ignoring well established rules for dialogue games.

If I take in account how much money the game had I would say that it isn't anything near what I would expect from them. With that much money they could easily have produced a much better game. I understand why a investor would feel cheated.

For me buying the game after release it isn't a bad indie game. Knowing how much money they made I would like to see there accounting books to know where all that money went. I feel like this could have been done much better for cheaper.

 

Some of the reviews this game gets bothers me. It's getting a much higher score than it should.

3 hours ago, FRex said:

I know I'll not buy or support anything Cherrimochi does

Don't give up on them. Everyone needs to make a few mistakes before they can be good. I would just recommend buying there games after release and not funding them with Kickstarter, they have enough money to make a new game without crowd funding.

Edited by Scouting Ninja

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It honestly explains nothing to me. I assume not everyone can just walk into Square Enix and get free marketing, get published by them on Steam, get spots in their booths on events and their free QA (that seems to have done no good). This stuff isn't free.

And it was Cherrymochi saying stuff about VA, how much it adds, etc. and then we get 80 seconds total of it. Or the deal with Anime. Or the missing features and overall being late, and this despite Squre Enix funding PR and QA thus enabling even more money to go into the game itself. They were clear that the game is their own IP, not anything owned by Square Enix.

I'd love to see the books too because just how much can 5 minutes of anime or 80 second of VA from a small time actress cost in total? I almost feel as if I took part in a "fund my life" campaign that enabled them to have fun, meet legendary Japanese game makers, go to gaming events, etc. for two years and they just happened to also develop a game in the meantime and give it to their "backers".

And yes, the reviews on Steam are weird to me too, they are mostly extremely positive and oversell the game. I don't want to say they are fake but did really no one try running the game on a weak GPU, click too fast, try NG+ and see the broken skip, want controller support, etc. I love Zero Escape series but I'd not praise it nowhere as highly as people on Steam praise Tokyo Dark because it still has some problems with plot and tech.

The fact that my email asking why I was forced to choose DRM vs. Steam, why my name was forced to be ASCII erroneously by one of the devs telling me they can be ASCII only, will there be updates and how for DRM free users, etc. is ignored is also a big negative.

The genre is admittedly very niche but things like Dangan Ronpa, Zero Escape series, Nowhere Safe Flash series, free Flash room escape games, etc. still exist.

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On 9/24/2017 at 9:57 AM, FRex said:

I know I'll not buy or support anything Cherrimochi does or anything Square Enix Collective is involved in after this debacle and I'd advise everyone to do the same

Well, you have to also draw a line between their failures to deliver what they wanted to deliver and what they worked hard to try to deliver, and intentional deception and fraud.

I doubt they were defrauding or lying to anyway - most likely they got carried away by their passion and vision and bit off more than they could chew.

For me personally, the proper response would be to wait until games are farther along before "buying" them, unless I want to treat it as a "donation" to help a game I hope will eventually be good.

Take Minecraft for example - I played one of the very very early versions of it way before it became popular. It sucked, so I didn't buy it. A year later, it didn't suck, so I bought three copies - one for me and one for two younger siblings so we could play on a shared server.

On the other hand, I also have "funded" projects that I doubt will ever be good - but I funded them not with any expectation that they'll be amazing.

I wouldn't boycott a developer for failing to live up to your expectations - for failing to be as skilled as they had hoped/thought they were. I'd support them in their failure to encourage them to not bite off so much next time, and to encourage them to continue to try to improve, so maybe some time years down the road, they'll have improved enough to make a game you are happy to support - after it has progressed enough for you to be happy with it as-is.

Unless they defrauded people intentionally, this is one of those situations where you say, "to err is human; to forgive: divine", and also to adopt for yourself the "once burned twice shy" lesson learnt that all Crowd Funding is really donations towards hope, not purchases of promises. I think the biggest frustration is your hopes and expectations being crudely shattered - but if you remind yourself it wasn't intentionally done, and that they failed themselves (and likely know it) as much as they failed you, it helps to get over the loss of what could've been an awesome project.

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Yes, I treat Kickstarter money as burned and it's not really about money but about principle, if my problem was money I could earn it few times over in the time I spent talking and writing about this but that's not the point. From Square Enix and their associates you'd expect a certain kind of quality (all DLC, season pass, etc. debacles aside). Similarly the 42 euros I spent on Zero Escape 2 is burned too, since game is very old and I knew the plot, but I did it out of principle because it's a niche genre (Room Escape + VN) I want to see more on PC. For Tokyo Dark I'd gladly pay 11 euros again to never see games of that quality again, someone will buy that and think that's how VNs are, broken, low quality, power hungry (and frankly - short, boring, generic and with glaring plot holes), especially thanks to all the award and interviews that make this seem like top of genre.

I don't think this is an intentional scam but more of a "we overpromised, had fun, kinda failed to deliver, let's keep bulshitting that we did well" but it's still astounding how badly they failed, how late it is, 80 seconds of voice acting, no controller, few bugs on day 1 with game being stuck, performance is really bad (Minecraft on my integrated GPU is playable, this isn't), no translations, no Mac version, etc. It's like there was not a single pragmatic and skilled developer or producer on the team, just 3 designers/artists/writers (and the quality of that is not that high either). The game is dancing on the line between playable and unplayable. It's just annoying to use, bad UX all around, especially in New Game+ where the skip and save features are also very nearly broken, other than that there is no inventory, no conversation log, no quest line to know where to go if you come back after a few days, etc.

I'm not sure how to classify these ("meant well but failed" vs. "lied") because on one hand someone might say 80 seconds of voice is good enough, controller support will come soon, translation tool will come soon, Mac version will come soon, etc. but on the other hand they spent 2 years on this, 2 months on getting the voice acting, the 'translation tool' would just be a fancy GUI around an XML editor, Mac version should be a no brainer for an HTML5 game, they had controller support, claimed to test and refine it for a long time and then threw it out just before release, etc. And even then, it's not like they had little money, they could have gotten help (or just learn Construct 2 and some programming well enough over the 2 years they had).

I think many people on this forum would code a more robust 'engine' than they have here in under a week. I know I could using C++, Lua and SFML. The 'engine' is literally a bunch of shaders, displaying pngs, playing ogg and webm at right times and some scripting and mouse interaction. I believe there is no 3D, just parallax scrolling at most. All the character movement, except for one ending sequence, is done in 1 dimension too. In a VN or Room Escape or Puzzle Game the purpose of the engine is to let the puzzles, design and writing flow to you smoothly (compared to like Minecraft or Don't Starve where the game/engine is there to facilitate emergent gameplay or Crisis where it's supposed to shine with new graphical features which are both much harder to do), their engine fails to do that despite months of work and Square Enix's QA.

I also dislike their reaction or lack of it, acting as if it's normal that game came out in such a state, and promises that were outright lies like getting two copies of the game (Steam and DRM free) or the instant language switching that they claimed they have in the game already. I may never be a pro but all things related to game making interest me still. I watched ex-LGS interviews about System Shock 2, Thief, Ultima Underworld and the Thief 2 Shadows of Metal Age mod project leaders memoirs, and they were both very interesting.

Edited by FRex

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