By now those of you who’d been keeping tabs on Mobot Studios’ platformer, Knite & The Ghost Lights have already read the bad news. Nearly 4 years after successfully raising $43,768 on Kickstarter, Mobot Studios has officially shut down.
Mobot Founder, James Fletcher has promised to release a scaled-down, mobile version, prioritizing gameplay over story and cut scenes. He hopes to make enough money with this smaller release to issue refunds to dissatisfied backers. It’s a particularly somber ending to a project and studio which once held incredible promise.
Mobot Studios made its debut back in 2012 with the launch of the critically acclaimed Paper Monsters. Developed for Crescent Moon Games, Paper Monsters pushed mobile gaming boundaries. It was a full 3D modeled adventure platformer, which at the time many people didn’t think could work well on handheld devices. Emboldened by their success, Mobot set out to create their next innovative project.
Knite & The Ghost Lights was not an ordinary side-scrolling adventure title. All of the characters and sets used in the game were hand-crafted while cut scenes utilized stop-motion animation. The result was a game that looked unique and utterly gorgeous. It quickly garnered attention to its Kickstarter campaign.
When the campaign ended (easily above it’s goal), Mobot set out to wrap-up work on a WiiU release of Paper Monsters and begin official pre-production on Knite. Prior to launching the campaign the team had put in about 3 or 4 months of work, but they still needed to write and plan the rest of the game. The goal was to have Knite completed by April of 2014, but the devs acknowledged that they didn’t want to rush production just to meet this deadline.
“A good game is not about rushing. If the smallest thing adds a month, then it adds a month. This doesn’t mean we will delay it until 2015 or anything crazy. We’re not that fussy but we do want to do it right and I know you guys want a quality game.” (Oct. 2013 Update)
On the surface the project seemed to be progressing nicely. The team continued to deliver monthly Kickstarter updates with no red flags that would have clued backers into any problems behind the scenes. Even when (a month before the game was due to be completed) they announced a delay, nobody appeared to be overly concerned. Seemingly, not even the developers.
Apart from “a few hangups” and “a legal snag” development seemed to be progressing as normal. Backers were even promised a free mini-game the team was releasing to drum up more interest in Knite & The Ghost Lights. If the free game took a little bit longer to send out then Mobot had estimated, well nobody seemed to notice.
Trouble Beneath The Surface
This began to change around July of 2014. Mobot released a backer exclusive update where they detailed some of the legal issues the team had suddenly found themselves trudging through. With some of their staff suddenly stuck in Russia, the team quickly revised their timeline in expectation of a 2015 release.
“Thanks to everyone for your continued support! A major publisher would have probably dropped us at the first sign of trouble.” (Oct. 2014 Update)
This was their first major setback and lead to a “virtual restart” of the project to recover assets they could no longer access. Trying to bring their artists back to the US also managed to run-up quite a few legal expenses. The project was in trouble, but it would still be awhile before anyone realized the extent of it.
In June of 2015, Mobot posted a new update, this time written by Lead Artist, Lex Plotnifkoff. The project’s lead programmer, James Fletcher had left the project. Fletcher would eventually return (six months later). He had left to work on commercial projects until he could afford to return to Knite full-time. This was perhaps the first real sign backers were given that things were not as they should have been with the project.
“As you know there was a number of obstacles and setbacks on our way. Perhaps much more then we would like to get. We’ve lost a lot of time and money. And our lead programmer as well. I must admit that we’ve lost more than we were ready for, but we (are) still eager to make this game and it has to be epic!” (Jun. 2015 Update)
The difficulty in coordinating two separate teams working on opposite sides of the globe continued to slow production. Finally in August of 2015, Mobot announced that it was turning over development of Knite & The Ghost Lights to Team Mistland.
While the two studios would still coordinate, the change added a programmer to the team working out of Russia. This way they could experiment and correct issues as they arose instead of waiting for contact from Mobot. As Plotnifkoff explained, “it’s insanely hard when artists and programmers can only communicate through Skype a couple hours a day, because their time zones are 12 hours apart.”
The change did appear to help, as Team Mistland was finally able to deliver the official trailer backers had been waiting on. In fact things seemed to be slowly getting back on track. James Fletcher returned as lead programmer on the project and hoped to release the game in 2016. In the meantime, the team once again began to take on smaller projects to generate income during Knite’s prolonged development. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be enough to keep things moving forward.
In August of 2016, Fletcher returned to let backers know that he was the last man standing on the project. “We’ve been trying to balance bringing in some cash flow from other projects and work on Knite at the same time,” Fletcher explained. “I know the obvious question is, why not just only work on Knite and finish it so you can get paid that way? The short answer is there is just too much to do to have people work for free until completion. We need cash flow. There’s thousands of hours done, but still a lot left.”
Fletcher remained adamant that he would keep the project alive. Backer feedback was mixed, but most appreciated his candor. The rest were ready to start putting nails in the project’s coffin. After continuing to struggle to get the company back on its feet, Fletcher eventually admitted that it might be too late for his studio.
“Unfortunately things haven’t turned around and it’s not looking good for Mobot. It’s sort of a sinking ship and it’s currently costing more money to operate than it makes. It might be time to focus on a fresh start rather than putting so much effort into Mobot as a whole.” (Jan 2017 Update)
Everything finally came to a head in the recent February 14th update. Here Fletcher officially disclosed that Mobot Studios was no more. Even with the promise of Knite & The Ghost Lights being released in a smaller, mobile format later, backers are still disappointed by the news. Particularly since there won’t be any money to issue refunds until, or it, the mobile version generates profit.
It’s a disappointing end to what was, by all accounts, a truly impressive and innovative game. The stop-motion animation and physical sets were absolutely stunning to behold. Looking back over everything you can see it all start to unravel. In hindsight, I’m amazed Fletcher was able to keep everything going for so long.
Regrets, I’ve Had A Few
It’s easy to come in at the end and find faults with a developer or their project. Certainly, Mobot and Team Mistland made some missteps, but they tried so hard to do something really unique and amazing. They may not have ultimately succeeded, but they should be commended for their efforts.
Hopefully, Fletcher will land on his feet. We could use more developers willing to push past expectations and bring light to new ideas.