As Wildman nears the end of its Kickstarter campaign, Andrew Whipple III takes a look at the bold title and wonders if Chris Taylor’s hybrid gameplay and all-or-nothing attitude could be the jumpstart our industry needs.
Chris Taylor is about as iconic, prestigious and respected a figure the world of video games could ask for. Being the creative mind behind classics like Total Annihilation and the original Dungeon Siege, Taylor is as imaginative as he is a risk-taker. Channeling the energy that’s helped craft his wildly successful career, Taylor is turning to the crowd-funding mecca Kickstarter to assist in his latest work: Wildman. Representing high-profile, unconventional hybrid games everywhere, Taylor and his studio Gas Powered Games have found themselves in a unique and meaningful situation.
With Wildman, Gas Powered is going for the true genre-bender: considering the studio has been responsible for critical darlings in the RTS, RPG and MOBA fields, Taylor had the crazy idea to put all three in a delicious gaming gumbo. Cast as a pre-historic brute, players will embark on an adventure through the ages. The titular Wildman levels up as he hacks and slashes enemies on his quest, and Action RPG fans can revel in the loot and customizability they’ve come to love about the genre. As he makes his way through the caves, forests and deserts of an infant Earth, the Wildman will come across other enterprising individuals, who may even be a bit farther up the evolutionary ladder than he is. In a half-RTS-half-MOBA format, the player can then command armies, outfitted with whatever technology he may have discovered (sticks, clubs, swords, etc.) to become top dog again.
It’s not every day that you see established and notable developers shaking up the industry with fresh, unconventional ideas for new games. Perhaps it’s too much of a risk for some to take or, perhaps, there’s no reason beyond working with what sells. Regardless of your standpoint on where the medium is going, Taylor and Gas Powered Games have clearly cast out the notion that playing development safe is a one way street. Wildman is their showcase, their trump card and hopefully, it’s their ticket to future success; Taylor is betting on it.
It’s no secret that Gas Powered Games is struggling in its current state – layoffs have hit Taylor’s team hard. In an emotional video update, Taylor comes forward, telling the world what his options are, and even going to the extent of asking the fans to decide what he should do. Intrepid as this is, Taylor and company are still moving forward with development, rolling out updates and showcasing what Wildman is possible of delivering. It’s clear Gas Powered Games is all in on this one.
I know what you’re thinking, “Why such a risky genre for a studio who needs this game to do well to survive?” Anybody else in this situation would resort to a very familiar, widely accepted game design philosophy to draw the crowd in, make an easy buck and shuffle on from there. Why would Taylor throw something so heinously outlandish to the thirsty horde? Why play with something that isn’t guaranteed and isn’t being actively sought after? Ostensibly, it seems like insanity, but there’s one very simple reason that makes sense of it all – it’s Chris Taylor.
Even when the doors to the very studio he opened threaten to shut forever, this man strives to take video games to a new level, to attempt something seminal instead of settling with its derivative counterpart. In that way, you have to admire the audacity of Taylor. There have been a few games that attempted what Wildman is doing, but all have come up short. Spellforce was mediocre, as was Tim Schafer’s Brütal Legend. Future Cop: L.A.P.D. did some things right back in 1998, but it too had its fair share of issues. Still, Taylor would be the type to bet everything on an Action RPG/RTS (or “Evolutionary Action RPG,” as the team calls it), because he believes that his studio can get it right. I have to say, I believe him too.
The natural thing to do in this situation is to go back and dredge up mistakes in Taylor’s history, using them as fuel for why he’ll screw Wildman up. If you have a history with video games and you’ve followed the industry for any amount of time, then you already are aware that no résumé is perfect – Taylor is no exception. The difference is that people like Taylor press on, learning from those mistakes and taking feedback from the fans to come back strong on his next attempt. Unconventional as this title may be, not everyone can craft a workable, enjoyable experience in that specific style, but Taylor can.
It’s ridiculous to think Wildman is the last option for Gas Powered Games to continue functioning, but sometimes risks, like this one, are a necessity; if not for the longevity of the studio then for gaming as a whole. Original ideas are what help keep our industry afloat, not sitting back and resting on tried-and-true formulas annually. No one’s saying that Wildman will do for the industry what Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did back in 2007, but it’s a worthy start.
Being a Kickstarter special, Taylor and Gas Powered Games have the ability to create a game with the complete influence of its fan-base. Whether you’re a fan or not, Taylor and company are a fine example of what we need to see more of in our competitive medium. Chances, like the one Taylor is taking right now, aren’t always something most people are willing to take, but if we should all be just as bold, we would see a lot more people trying new things. I think Taylor has at least earned that much.
When Andrew Whipple III isn’t writing or arguing about why Final Fantasy VI is the greatest game of all-time, he’s a dedicated New York Giants fan who loves to socialize and die in Gradius.