“As soon as we saw it we loved it and we knew we wanted to get involved in any way that we could,” said Tim Schafer in a promotional video. Schafer just announced Double Fine Presents, a new publishing arm of his (once?) beloved indie studio, and its first game. “This is a developer and a game that we really love, and we think you will too.” That game is Last Life, its developer Sam Farmer, and that three year old video is the last time Schafer or Double Fine ever mentioned the game again.
On April 10th, 2014, Last Life’s Kickstarter campaign began. It’s creator, Sam Farmer was once a “Lead Game Designer for BBC Worldwide where he developed PC games based on several top BBC television series,” according to his bio page. As far as game design experience, this wasn’t his first bar mitzvah, having already created Yumby Words, Paper Cakes, and Spectre, the latter two winning awards at CDC’s Independent Games Festival in 2010. All of this made Farmer, and his company Rocket Science Amusements, comfortable asking for $75,000 for Last Life.
Last Life combines pulpy, noir fiction with a science fiction setting. Earth was destroyed years ago, and what remains of human life found its way to Mars. There, life is violent and rough – you should know most of all since you were killed there. Jack Parker is a private detective who was murdered in MarsTopia, a town on Mars, and is brought back to life via 3D printing to solve his own murder, but he only has four hours to do so before he dies again.
Joining Sam Farmer are The Tone Ranger, a composer providing the soundtrack, Ivan Louey as concept artist and character designer, Jerrilyn Farmer as writer, Adam Howard as a voice actor, and Jacob Pernell as SFX artist.
The Kickstarter campaign remains excellent. There’s plenty of text, screenshots, gifs, and videos detailing the game. Of the text, there’s an ample explanation of the plot and gameplay, all of which written exceptionally well for a Kickstarter. Who Sam Farmer and the rest of his team are is well explained, as is the reason for turning to crowdfunding and what the team plans to do with whatever money they raise. There were a good number of updates during the campaign as well (seven), which gave the impression that Farmer would be open with backers, and a good communicator.
But that has not been the case. There have been only 11 updates in the three years since the project was funded, and publisher Double Fine hasn’t mentioned the project since it’s Kickstarter campaign.
Simon & Garfunkel Would be Proud
This has proven a difficult nut to crack for us here at Cliqist. Normally in our Kickstarter MIA series we like to track down new information and talk to as many people involved in a project as we can. But in this instance, we frankly have nothing. We were unable to turn up anything new, and neither Double Fine nor Sam Farmer or anyone at Rocket Science Amusements were willing to speak with us.
What we do know is this: Last Life’s Kickstarter page hasn’t been updated since June 9, 2016, and that was only a job posting for new animators according to the title and comments. Before that, there was an update in December 2015 that was some kind of bizarre Christmas rhyme with no real information about the game. The last substantial update came in October 2015, which is one of several backer only updates. Farmer hasn’t posted a comment in the general comment thread since February 1, 2017, and hasn’t logged into his Kickstarter account since October 2016, though that obviously can’t be correct.
Kickstarter Developer Speak
That February comment is the last time he’s publicly spoken of the game.
“Hey everybody, I apologize for the lack of official communication in recent months,” he begins. “I have read all of your comments and understand your frustrations with this project and with us. Despite the long wait, we are still hard at work on the game and making progress everyday to ensure its as polished as it can be. We are committed to releasing Last Life when it’s ready and hope you will continue to support us in that goal.”
There’s not a lot going on there. It follows the to the letter a pre-baked formula for developers on Kickstarter who remain silent. There’s the rote apology, the assurance that the backers’ voices are being heard, and the acknowledgement of backer frustration. It then moves into more positive territory with reassurances that they’re working on the game – bonus points for leaving ‘tirelessly’ out, though ‘committed snuck in there – and closing with a defiant yet vague “we’ll release the game when it’s ready.”
Keep it 100-ish
It’s been five months since any official word on Last Life, and over a year since a real progress update. Sam Farmer’s silence isn’t too surprising in light of that, but publisher Double Fine’s absence is even more inexcusable.
Many crowdfunded developers like to work in silence. We’ve seen many over the years, including my beloved Lobodestroyo developers Left-Handed Games outright state they’d rather keep their cards to their chest. Kickstarter backers have gotten used to developers being 100% open and honest with backers, or at least close to 100 for years, so much so that they don’t take it well when a developer remains silent. It’s usually best when a developer posts updates frequently, they’re under no such obligation, but for the betterment of public relations they need to post at least one update every other much at least.
When a developer doesn’t post for months on end, or even years in some cases, then there’s a problem. A simple “don’t worry, we’re still working” doesn’t cut it at that point, especially one that’s five months old. Backers don’t care about Farmer’s February comment because it’s not good enough. As well as providing nothing of value, it also doesn’t show anything new. Whatever progress Farmer and Co. are making hasn’t been shown – shown, not told – since February 26, 2015, when an update contained one gif of a new area. That’s the problem, Farmer has broken the golden rule of writing, he’s telling everyone that everything is okay without actually showing that to be the case. It’s the classic comic of that dog in a hat sitting in a room engulfed in flames saying this is fine when it so clearly isn’t.
Double Fine Presents… Nothing
Double Fine Presents has otherwise done a fantastic job publishing and marketing indie games. Their work includes Mountain, Gang Beats, Escape Goat 2, and GNOG in the past, as well as the upcoming Knights and Bikes and Ooblets. For all of those games Double Fine was more than happy to talk about them, posting videos on their YouTube channel and handling the marketing.
Last Life is their black sheep. They haven’t mentioned it since Schafer’s initial video when the Kickstarter campaign began. There’s no trace of them ever having anything to do with the game, either on their website, YouTube channel, or forum. It’s impossible to say if they’re still publishing it, which could potentially prove to be the reason the game vanished, if that’s the case. But that’s just speculation. That’s all we can do since everybody involved in the project is so tight-lipped.
Once again, it’s the Kickstarter backers who are dealing with the brunt of Farmer and Double Fine’s silence. 4,822 backers donated $103,058 because they believed in Last Life, and that belief was rewarded with nothing. Yes, crowdfunding is always a risk and backers should always be aware of those risks, but the onus is on the developers as well, or it should be. If you screw up, you need to let your backers know, and not let them figured it out only after years of silence. If the project hasn’t failed and you’re still working, you need to keep them in the loop so they know they haven’t wasted their time and money.
You may not care about those nearly 5,000 people who gave you money, but they care about you, and you let them down, and continue to do so every day you keep them in the dark.