Memories of Kien's development by Fabio Belsanti (Lead Game Designer)

Publié par Incube8 Games le

Memories of Kien's development

Fabio Belsanti 

(CEO&Lead Game Designer - AgeOfGames (formerly PMStudios))

I remember one summer night in 2002 when I went down the street to get a cigar from the car. At that time I was able to finish even a box of smelly "half Tuscan" in one day if the excitement and stress of development were high enough (almost every day, therefore). I was smoking those cigars nervously, amidst improvised weightlifting and boxing sessions against imaginary enemies, in the entrance to that dark cave we called the office. This type of "training" (which today would make me tear every single muscle of the body and soul) were designed to manage the curses associated with every bug that the programmer periodically reported to the whole team. Looking back today it is incredible to believe that that small group of young, very young, crazy developer friends found it completely normal to create the first video game of their life in the midst of that (wonderful) kaos of screams, shadows, smoke, whiskey, rum, sweat, curses and senseless adrenaline rushes.

Kien's team was evidently brought together by Fate (and the great humor of the Gods). We had met by chance, all in their early twenties, at the beginning of the new millennium. Each of us had very different stories, studies, interests and knowledge behind them, but a single, titanic passion in common: games.

In 2000 I had recently graduated in History and I should have created a company connected to the University of Siena to carry out multimedia projects with a historical background. For a series of incredible events this did not happen and I decided to return to my hometown, Bari, where the aforementioned deities, laughing, made me meet Luciano Iurino, a volcanic self-taught graphic artist, Cristiano Convertino, a multi-functional computer joker, Giuseppe Campanella, a lawyer obsessed with videogames, and Giuseppe Grassi, brilliant illustrator, always and absolutely self-taught.

At this point, the stories are many, with a thousand branches, but we are here to recall, with lightness and brevity, the epic development of Kien, the game on which my friends and I were sure our whole life would depend.

How can I tell almost two years of hard work, nights, hopes, difficulties, twists, laughter and toasts for illusory victories?

Maybe it would take another two years, in which to immerse myself and relive those memories. But we don't have all this time, not here, not now, especially out of consideration for those who have decided to continue reading this confusing account of memories so far. The past is alive and moving in our consciousness, after all. Lights and shadows are transformed and confused based on what we have become in the fleeting present and what we will be in the inscrutable future …

Here, I am lost, as usual, in parentheses and ancillary considerations. But I will not delete this part, because it also testifies who I am, my "existentialist" and "philosophical" part, which was already strong and very present when I started writing my first Game Design Bible: the GD Bible for Kien!

I have to reconstruct the thread ... and now that I think about it I suppose this is a rather interesting and funny anecdote: towards the end of the first draft of the complete Game Design of Kien we obtained, first ever in Italy, the GBA development kit from Nintendo, and we also made a big press announcement to mark the event. Too bad that at the time we still hadn't even found ONE programmer to bring our game to life!

I'll be honest, Kien was not, in particular on an aesthetic level, a game in line with my tastes and my "nature". But the team and some "experts" from another Italian company of "veterans" pushed in the direction of the development of a classic action-platform videogame "Cartoon-Deformed" with only "Light-Rpg" elements, and I gave in to their firm beliefs based in theory on solid "market research". Do you know what happened to the company that gave us those advice at the beginning of our story? Failed in 2002!

Aesthetic and gameplay choices aside, the other great madness is that our company was born with an initial capital of 500 euros and the personal PCs of the partners. None of us came from rich entrepreneurial families and Southern Italy was certainly not (and still is not) Silicon Valley.

Before starting a "big project", thanks to a daring contact with the lawyer-gamer Giuseppe Campanella, we were able to create a multimedia project for the Abruzzo National Park. We then used ALL the money we made from that job to start Kien.

Although the team was initially incomplete, we immediately created the Game Design, the first game concepts and also the first levels of the "Material World", a character and some enemies with basic animations. Looking for and finding the programmer in the middle of development was an odyssey. It must be remembered that we are talking about an era when the internet was only at the beginning, in which remote working was almost impossible and attracting an international professional developer to Bari was a chimera (it would have been possible with a lot of money ... but our coffers were those of a group of first level adventurers). Incredible characters, bordering on the surreal, showed up in our office. I'm not saying a book, but several stories could be written about these aspiring "illusionists". To keep it safe, when we thought we had lost all hope, we found a solid web programmer who with great courage and humility told us: “I don't know if I can, but I'm ready to fight to the death to complete this project! ". And so it was! Davide Malerba, risking his life for the endless sleepless nights spent coding, boarded the ship of fools in 2001.

Finally, the team was complete. At that point, if we had been wise, we would have had to limit the extent of the game to be made. The game should have remained "light" in all its parts, but my "nature" had already made several compromises on aesthetics and general creative direction, including a certain simplification of the narrative structure with the elimination of dialogues. Wisdom was then set aside. If I could not make a complex game, both in terms of gameplay dynamics, and as a setting and narrative structure, I would still have inserted, to the best of our ability and technical resources, a complexity of symbolic meanings within my first videogame work.

Thus it was that Kien, despite a simple and friendly colorful cartoon-deformed appearance, was conceived following the intersection of multiple meanings of the eastern and western esoteric culture. Since the name of the project, which originally had to be KKIENN, to clearly remember the connection with the Ching and the Sefiroth, passing through the structure of the levels, as many as 23 separated by a dimensional gate between the "Material World" and the "Dark Universes ”, down to the powers, spells and quests of the main characters, was all created with the intent not only to entertain, but also to fascinate and convey ancient and mysterious meanings to players.

The productive effort, of material, physical, mental and emotional energies to give life to our first videogame dream was immense. For almost two years we have had no free hours or days. The morning at dawn when the fateful "Gold Master" version was reached, Davide Malerba and I were devastated to say the least, but with a smile on our face that nothing and no one could have erased. Around eight the others arrived too, the ones without tasks who had allowed themselves a few hours of sleep. We all went to the bar together and toasted with coffee and rum. We were happy and proud, we did not know how it would go afterwards, but one thing was certain, all that work had already been rewarded by that culminating moment that underlined the power and beauty of the work done together.

From the golden and visionary peaks of dreams, however, often reality plunges us into the mediocrity of the truths of the Earth (the material world).

Although we were able to create a solid Action-Platform with Action-Rpg elements, the reality of the Game Boy Advance market in those years turned out to be adverse to our project.

Between the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2004 we signed 3 publishing contracts for Kien. In all contracts, the overall product reviews and sales estimates were initially very good, but unfortunately the very high printing costs of GBA cartridges made these projections unreliable. The result was that we tore up all the contracts because every time we were told: “We have to wait for publication, maybe years. Kien is a great game, but for now on GBA only Nintendo games or strong IPs are safely sold. A new IP is too risky for now… ".

And after these "tragic" events, many stories still unfolded, including the dissolution of the team that developed the project, but even if Kien remained "unpublished" for over twenty years, I like to call it a "successful failure". From a strictly monetary point of view it was a catastrophe, of course, but from a practical point of view, from the point of view of the experience gained, Kien was a forge that provided a solid professional foundation to all those who helped to make it happen.

But let's go back to the beginning of these memories, in the summer of 2002 when I took to the street to get a cigar from the car. I didn't say it before, but that was a shit night, one of those in which I almost wanted to give up due to fatigue. Unlike other times I decided not to do my show of weights and curses in the office, I decided to stay a little alone to enjoy some intense puff of cigar in the silence of the sleeping city. Appeased the anxieties of the moment I still remember that I thought aloud: "What a fucking summer ... and yet who knows, maybe in the future this whole mess will be one of my best memories".

Now I don't know what will happen with this new ship of fools Canadians (Incube8!) who have decided to give a second life (a resurrection spell?) and publish Kien after over 20 years, but I know that I am really proud of everything that has been done so far for this wacky project and of to be able to do it in collaboration with at least one of the old members of the original team, my friend Luciano Iurino.

Let the Kien show finally begin!

← Article précédent Article suivant →