Bringing back a classic with Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

Old school platforming game returns with the help of Kickstarter.

Twenty-five years ago, a Super Mario Bros. clone named The Great Giana Sisters was released. Nintendo, however, made sure the game vanished from the shelves as quickly as it appeared. Black Forest Games, a developer based in Offenburg in Germany, is intent on breathing new life into Giana’s legacy using Kickstarter.

We talked to Black Forest Games creative director, Jean-Marc Haessig, and managing director, Adrian Goersch, about their experiences with the property.

How did Black Forest Games get involved with Project Giana?

Black Forest Games creative director Jean-Marc Haessig (JMH): The Great Giana Sisters IP belonged to Spellbound, the company of the Giana creator Armin Gessert. The last title of the franchise released by Spellbound has been Giana Sisters DS in 2009. After Spellbound had been forced to close down in early 2012, the management and the team decided to continue as Black Forest Games, and took over all the Spellbound assets, including IPs and the already existing Giana prototype.

A Giana game came out on Nintendo DS in 2009, so why a new one?

JMH: After we finished the DS version, we have always thought of ways to modernise the Giana Sisters brand. In the end, I had the idea to focus on the change from cute to punk girl. In the original Giana Sisters game, that morph was only possible by capturing a power-up. For the new game, I wanted it to be an integral part of the gameplay and to expand the change to everything, character as well as environment, enemies and audio. Once we had the first prototype, we realised how much fun it was and what possibilities would arise from this feature. So we went on with it.

Why go to Kickstarter to fund the project?

Black Forest Games managing director, Adrian Goersch (AG): Giana has been a self-funded project and we ran out of money for keeping developers on the game. So we were left with the choice to either shelve the project until we were able to put enough money aside to finish the game, or to look for a publisher who was willing to fund and publish the game. Tim Schafer’s tremendous success on Kickstarter opened up a third alternative for us.

Where was the attraction of crowd funding?

AG: Probably every single studio in the industry started to think about crowd funding after Schafer collected millions of dollars. Still, we had some intense internal discussions and also checked platforms like Indiegogo or Ukulele. Finally, we came to the conclusion to give Kickstarter a try. In the meantime, lots of game projects had started there and there was the danger to be just another project among many others. On the other hand, the community on Kickstarter is a very special one and can make all the difference.

What was the overall experience with Kickstarter?

AG: We learned that you have to put some real effort in such a project and that there are certain things that still can go wrong. Kickstarter isn’t about presenting your project and wait for the money to pour in. If you do not open up to the community, if you don’t communicate with them constantly and listen to them, your funding campaign will fail. During the campaign, you are on edge constantly, thinking about how to activate the community, how to bring in new supporters, how to approach the press, how to deal with feedback, with no feedback at all and how to avoid harassing all these people. There were even several days during that time when we severely doubted that we’d succeed.

How did you get publicity?

AG: It came as a surprise to us that the press isn’t interested in a “we’re doing a Kickstarter campaign” press release anymore. In hindsight it makes sense, as there are several hundred projects launched on Kickstarter, with several new ones every week. So looking back, we see why “just another Kickstarter” is not a story worth telling. On the other hand, there should have been lots of press about “finally a Kickstarter game project has actually been released,” though there was no interest in that message either. What we did learn was that Kickstarter is an opportunity to raise money and to get in touch with real fans, but you have to plan it thoroughly, execute it well and the work does not end with the day your campaign ends.

What enabled the Kickstarter to reach its goal?

AG: There were several reasons. One is that Giana is one of the few classic games from Germany that still has a huge fan base. Mostly in Germany, of course, but we were surprised to learn how many people knew the game in the rest of the world. Another point, as mentioned before, is the hard work we put into this and the passion that drove our team. We did our best to be honest and transparent to our backers on Kickstarter, and to be as outspoken and communicative as possible.

What role did sample content play in the fundraising?

AG: The game itself and the material we already had seemed to have appealed to a lot of people out there. What we were able to show was not a theoretical idea, but a full-fledged game that only needed some polishing and more content to be released. And with the demo, we proved that it was fun to play. I think that convinced the fans in the end.

Were you surprised $186,158 was enetually pledged?

AG: Surprised may not be the right expression. We were just totally happy and excited, especially after a period during the campaign when it didn’t look like we would achieve our goal at all. To then achieve our goal and surpass it was quite an exhilarating experience, but even more impressive was the positive feedback we received for our work. Fans from all over the world expressed their support for the game and assured our approach was the right one.

How far along was development when Kickstarter ended?

JMH: We had been working on Giana for almost a year before we turned to Kickstarter. The engine and graphics sets were there, only the levels were missing as well as some polishing and testing. That’s why we asked for a considerably low amount of money in comparison to what we would have needed to fund the game from the ground up.

When will the game come to Steam, GOG and Gamersgate?

AG: The game has been released on all three platforms as of October 23, but we are in talks with other distribution services and will subsequently release it on more platforms.

Any plans for PlayStation Network or Xbox Live ports?

JMH: Indeed we do. Right now we plans to release the game on both platforms in early 2013. We have also been certified as a WiiU developer by Nintendo, so a release on WiiU is a real possibility now.

Why have two soundtracks?

JMH: When it was decided that this twist would be the main gameplay feature, we expanded the concept to the whole game. Not only should Giana change, but also her dream world and, of course, the music. Machinae Supremacy released their interpretation of the Giana theme song back in 2002. Together with their unique metal style, they were the ideal candidates to provide the dark music score for the punk Giana. And boy, are we happy they agreed. [Laughs]

For more information about Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, visit the official web site.

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