Well, it’s here.
Over four years after the Kickstarter was launched on May 11, 2015, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has finally, *finally* launched.
I know it’ll sound a bit indulgent, but this represents something of an accomplishment for me as well. I’ve been working as a moderator for the Bloodstained community and discord even before they became official, ever since September 19, 2015. So for just under four years–3 years and 9 months, more or less–I’ve been spending hours of my own time fielding questions from users, mediating conflicts between them, keeping an eye on what people were talking about for my supervisors (Xombiemike, Purifyweirdsoul, and Angel-Corlux [the last of whom is from 505 Games, the publisher]), and often helping out community members on a personal level as well, whether just lending them a sympathetic ear if they needed to talk about their IRL lives or giving what advice I could if they needed help with things. I’m not conceited enough to say that I’m incredibly talented or that this was a massive undertaking, but it really did represent a significant expenditure of effort on my part, and if nothing else making sure the community was content allowed Angel and other staff of 505 Games to concentrate on working on the game instead of managing relations with the fans! And if you don’t believe me, my name shows up (as Gunlord500) along with those of my fellow moderators, in a ‘special thanks’ section of the game credits:
So at least I’m not the only one who thinks I’ve done something I ought to be proud of ;D
Given all this, you’d expect me to be absolutely elated by the fact that the game has actually managed to get released after all this time and all the work I’ve put into its community. And it’s doing much better than some other projects I can think of! Bloodstained has often been compared to Mighty Number 9–both games were crowdfunded “spiritual successors” to classic games (Mega Man and Castlevania for MN9 and Bloodstained, respectively) directed by famous developers who worked on those games (Keiji Inafune and Koji Igarashi). However, upon release, Mighty No. 9 was widely panned for being a mediocre, crappy game. Bloodstained, on the other hand, seems to be a critical success, –at the time of this writing, it has an 8.7 score on Metacritic, which is very good, and “very positive” reviews on Steam. So it would only be natural for me to feel really happy today, right? To feel a sense of accomplishment, vindicated in both the work I’d put into the project and my faith in it, to feel (sorta) as if I were a hero who’d finally completed a long journey after triumphing over so many obstacles and struggles?
Well…not quite. Let me explain.
I’d thought about writing this entry for a few years, after I’d already spent some time as a moderator. At first, I thought I’d post a song from the 8-bit side game released earlier (Curse of the Moon) that perfectly captured how I thought I would feel. It’s from the end of the game, so watch out for spoilers, after your heroes have defeated the evil, saved the world, and watch the sun rise from a cliff as they bask in relief and enjoy their sense of accomplishment:
At the time, I hoped that was what I would feel. But as time passed, my association with Bloodstained started to feel less like a heroic journey and more like a slog.
As some of you have probably heard, the campaign was plagued by so many problems. So many! It didn’t seem so bad at first, when IGA replaced the guys originally working on Ritual of the Night (Inti Creates) and sent them to work on the side game, Curse of the Moon, because everyone knew they were much better with 2d games than 3d ones. They worked on Mighty No. 9 and messed it up, but the 8bit side game they made for that was great, and lo and behold, Curse of the Moon ended up great too! So everyone was feeling confident when the developers were changed for Bloodstained (first a little-known company called Dico, and then Wayforward, a VERY popular developer for classic games).
But then, even afterwards, many pieces of bad news started hitting us over and over. First, the publishing for Curse of the Moon was fumbled so some people in some regions never got the game. Then, the promised Vita port was canceled, but that was expected and at least they offered people refunds. But then the Mac and Linux ports were canceled, and they couldn’t offer refunds for those, which was infuriating. And another delay was announced; the game had initially been set for a 2017 release, they they pushed it back to 2018, and after promising no more delays, they pushed it even further back to 2019! I thought the mac/linux cancellation would be the last of the bad news, and after that everything would be smooth sailing, but hoo boy, I was wrong.
First, they made some DLC that was previously backer-exclusive available to all gamers for a price. I supported this decision, because ‘digital exclusive’ stuff usually pisses off a lot of people, but on the other hand, doing this angered a lot of the fans who backed at a 60 dollar level, as they felt their investment had been devalued. The team had to delay many stretch goals because they hadn’t been able to complete them, we’re still waiting for several promised modes, like roguelike and boss revenge modes. Then problems with the Switch port lead to it being slightly delayed, and released only on June 25th. The physical rewards for the backers were being shipped out much later, in august, which was another big inconvenience. And then the actual game launch, the day before yesterday, was plagued with problems. The publishers said the game would have to have a large day one patch, which unnerved some people, but then, a full week before the 18th, some retailers were selling leaked copies, which infuriated many backers (as streamers had beat the game even before any backer could get it due to the leaks). As the 18th neared, the publishers promised we would be able to pre-load the game digitally–that is to say, download the bulk of the game’s information to our PCs or PS4s or what not, but not play it until the 18th, so we wouldn’t have to waste time on the big day downloading it. But the pre-loading option fell through and we were lucky we could even play the game at all on the 18th! And to make matters worse, there were more delays for the PS4 version of the game, and the day one patch (for Steam/PC at least) added in a lot of bugs of its own, including one that prevented you from getting an item you needed to progress.
Setback after setback after setback, even at the very end. To say the campaign was a roller coaster would be a pretty apt way of putting it. This kickstarter update was awesome! Oh, wait, the game’s been delayed. Well, they put out a sweet trailer! Oh no, a version was canceled. At least the game’s coming out soon and it looks like they really improved the graphics! Aw, hell, one system got delayed at the last minute, no pre-loading, and there were a ton of bugs and glitches anyways.
So in the weeks leading up to release, and even earlier today, I was just feeling entirely exhausted, and all my hype for the game had disappeared. I no longer felt as if all my hard work as a mod had come to a fruition. I could no longer feel any satisfaction in a successful launch, or a sense of pride and accomplishment in keeping faith for so long. Every positive reaction to the game I saw just reminded me of all the stress I’d dealt with whenever we got a bit of bad news, as so often happened. As I told a friend of mine, I couldn’t feel like a hero enjoying the satisfaction of an arduous journey well-completed, the feeling captured by the ending theme of Curse of the Moon. By this point the only emotion I could feel for Bloodstained, and the campaign surrounding it was summed up in this classic image:
I suppose that may certainly make me seem quite a bit less heroic, though I hope it’s obvious my talk of heroism in relation to a Kickstarter campaign is more than slightly tongue in cheek :p I think it does illustrate an important point, though, even if the subject is frivolous rather than weighty: A journey that’s tough all the way throughout, but gradually grows brighter at the end, is easier to deal with than one that seems to go from progress to setback to progress to setback, even if it ends well. I think it’s the uncertainty of it all–if, following the course of the Bloodstained project, we’d received a constant flow of bad news during even the middle of the campaign, but nothing but good news in these last few months, a straight upward trajectory would have convinced us that we really did have nowhere to go but up, so completing the campaign (releasing the game) could elicit nothing in us but unreserved joy. However, when a campaign’s been just a roller coaster–good news, bad news, up, down, up, down–you can’t afford the luxury of “unreserved joy,” even when it seems everything’s over and you’ve won. After all, if every triumph you’ve had so far was soon followed by a setback, maybe there’s some bad luck waiting for you not long after you think you’re finally safe.
And that’s how I felt on the 18th, and at the time of this writing, the 20th as well, two days after release. Not happy, not even hyped for the game–I wouldn’t be able to play it on the 18th, being out most of the day, and I still haven’t, right now, in fact–but just tired of it all. Despite all the glowing reviews it’s getting, I can’t bring myself to play it–my friend Dengojin took that screenshot of the credits, I sure haven’t gotten that far. Why? What’s the point? Given the problems the day-1 patch caused, and given the project’s track record, whatever progress I make in the game that isn’t riven with bugs and crashes as it is will probably be erased when the next patch (1.03) deletes save files or messes up progression or causes some other problem. And I already saw pretty much the entire game thanks to streamers playing it before the release date. So there’s no point even starting up the game, at least from my perspective.
Now, as another friend of mine in Discord brought up, you would probably say that I’m being too harsh on the product, especially as someone who’s going into computer science. After all, *every* sort of software usually releases with a lot of bugs and issues, and there’s no thing as an entirely perfect, bug-free bit of software, because programming is just so complex that such a thing is impossible. However, let me show you another way of thinking about it:
I can be tolerant of bugs and issues with a game and understanding of the plights of a computer programmer (for a game or anything else) if I can afford to be as a consumer. For instance, there were some other games with much higher budgets that released with even bigger issues, like Fallout 76. The thing is, since they weren’t kickstarted and I wasn’t part of their communities, if I bought a game like that and it was super buggy, I could just return it and get a refund, no skin off my back. So I can afford to be indulgent and understanding of all the problems the Fallout 76 devs weren’t able to solve. On the other hand, I can’t get a refund at all for the 500 dollars I put into Bloodstained. And even if I could, I couldn’t get a refund for all the time and work I put in to helping moderate the discord and forums–spending time in chat when I should have been working, skimping on sleep to handle issues, and so on. My reward for that was getting my name in the credits…and it’s unclear how many people will even see that if their game crashes or deletes all their progress, as seems to be par for the course for this project.
Or in other words, if it’s simply the nature of software development to be very hit-or-miss, and even the best programmers can’t hunt down all the bugs, you ought to be understanding of that, but in practical terms, it also means that if you’re not working directly on such a project, you really ought not to put anything into it you have no chance of getting back. And while you have at least a chance of getting back money you put into a project like that (thank God for Steam refunds), you can never refund time and effort you put into it, even as just a community moderator.
Ah, well…that’s kinda depressing, isn’t it? Especially when everyone else is havin’ a good time. Maybe I’ll feel less morose later, and give the game a shot. Or maybe I’ll just resign as a mod…people keep asking me questions on the Bloodstained discord and forums and I can’t answer them because I haven’t played and don’t plan on playing the game. I suppose I’ll see. If I find my passion for the game reignited within the next week or so, maybe I’ll stay on. But if not, the admins of the discord/forum will probably want to let me go anyways. So if you’re a fan of Bloodstained, or you think I’ve been a good mod, do pray that I convince myself to give it another try; in that case I’ll probably stick around, and be a good deal cheerier too.
One last note: Whatever the case may be, whether I come back to Bloodstained or not, one thing’s certain: I am absolutely not, under any circumstances, kickstarting anything ever again. The model is an absolute scam, even worse than what I criticized “nostalgiastarters” for in a previous entry. My only crowdfunded projects I’m waiting on right now are Blasphemous, Phoenix Point, Xenonauts, *maybe* Forsaken Castle (assuming that’s still going on), and the Girl Genius physical version of some of the online comics. After those are done, I am never, *ever* touching crowdfunding ever again, and I hope the entire paradigm is outlawed or at least shrivels up into nothing. But that’s a subject for another entry. See ya later, guys.