A new Fear Effect game is set to take to Kickstarter - with Square Enix's blessing.
But this new Fear Effect won't be a big budget affair - as Fear Effect on PSone was. Instead, it'll be an indie game from a little-known studio that's using crowdfunding to raise development cash.
French studio Sushee worked with Square Enix's The Collective two years ago on adventure game Goetia. After the publisher signalled it was open to pitches for new games set in its back catalogue of dormant franchises, it worked on a Fear Effect prototype heavily influenced by Shadowrun Returns. Square Enix liked the pitch and gave the thumbs up to a Kickstarter for Fear Effect Sedna, which is set to launch Tuesday, 12th April.
Sushee founder Benjamin Anseaume told Eurogamer Fear Effect fans should expect a very different game than the Kronos-developed, Eidos-published originals that appeared on the PSone.
"Fear Effect was back in the 90s and 2000s a triple-A game. Our Fear Effect is an indie game," he said.
"So players have to expect major changes both in terms of the gameplay and the visuals. We are a small team of 10 people. We are not Kronos. We are an indie team. We want to make something that respects the series, but it's not going to be Fear Effect 3. It's going to be a new Fear Effect with new gameplay."
Sushee was inspired by Harebrained Schemes' superb turn-based tactical role-playing game Shadowrun Returns when designing the gameplay for the new Fear Effect. An isometric camera perspective will let the player control up to five characters at the same time, with a focus on strategy when it comes to the combat. The idea is the characters work together, combining their attacks and defensive actions for maximum effect.
As for the story, Sushee's Fear Effect is not a reboot. Rather, it is a sequel to the unreleased third game in the series. The story for Fear Effect Inferno was pretty much complete before the game was cancelled in 2003, and Square Enix granted Sushee access to it as well as an old prototype.
Fear Effect's four main characters: Hana, Rain Qin, Royce Glas and Jacob "Deke" DeCourt, will all appear in the new Fear Effect, alongside new characters Sushee has developed. The story takes place four years after Fear Effect Inferno, which would have seen Hana return from hell after dying. At the end of the unreleased Inferno, Hana is free from her Triad overlords. So in this new Fear Effect, she works as a mercenary.
Sushee is working with Fear Effect director John Zuur Platten on aspects of the story and characters, particularly Hana.
"That's important for us," Anseaume said. "We want to respect the story and the characters. It was difficult for us to create something based on something we didn't create ourselves. So we realised we needed help from the former team."
Fear Effect 2 launched on PSone in 2001 fuelled by a marketing campaign that sexualised the relationship between characters Hana and Rain. While these characters will reprise their roles in the new Fear Effect, Sushee said it would avoid trading off of their relationship.
"We want to do things smart," Anseaume said. "We don't want to show sexuality for nothing. We want to work on the relationship between the characters. Maybe back in the 90s it was a selling element. We want to make it part of the story and not just a selling element. John is important for that. He's the writer of the best part of Fear Effect, the first episode where Hana was strong, and not as sexualised as she was in the second game.
"Especially for the second game, Eidos' marketing used sexual pictures that were not in the game. You will have Hana and Rain as strong characters but not sexualised as they were in the second game."
Now, you might wonder why a massive video game publisher such as Square Enix, which makes millions out of triple-A games such as Final Fantasy, Hitman and Deus Ex, is using Kickstarter to fund a new indie Fear effect game, rather than paying for the development of a big budget sequel itself.
Here's how The Collective works: Square Enix helps drive awareness of the developer's crowdfunding campaign, and, if it succeeds, Square Enix asks for five per cent of the net funds raised after Kickstarter's fees are deducted. Square Enix says this is to help cover its costs and keep this "initial feedback phase" free.
Then, Square Enix will take 10 per cent of revenue, net of taxes and digital platform fees, after the game goes on sale.
Square Enix's Phil Elliott, who spearheaded The Collective initiative, explained the situation from the publisher's perspective to Eurogamer. This explanation is published in full, below.
A new Fear Effect game...!
As you may be aware, last year we opened up some of our older Western IP for indie developers to pitch on. It's been a long process, but we're finally able to reveal that we've granted permission to one developer - France-based Sushee - to go ahead and develop their concept for a new Fear Effect game.
There will be more details on Fear Effect Sedna coming next week, which is when the team will be launching a Kickstarter to raise the funds needed for development… so keep an eye out for that. But if the name Sushee is familiar, that may be because it's the same team that created Goetia - which is the first game we're publishing through Collective.
Anyway, excited as we are, we also wanted to make a few clarifications in advance about the campaign launch - because we want to avoid any misunderstanding of what this is about.
Primarily, this isn't about Square Enix going to Kickstarter to raise funds in order to develop a game. We know that's not what gamers and backers want or expect from global publishers, so we want to be clear.
This isn't about Square Enix raising funds for itself.
One obvious question then is: Why doesn't Square Enix just fund the game? Well, frankly, we don't have any plans to make a new Fear Effect game ourselves - and this process isn't about trying to get other devs to reignite our old franchises on the sly.
What we're trying to do is to open the door and make available for developers to use and build upon some of our dormant franchises - because we know how hard it is to launch original ideas these days.
Doing it this way, it's really very similar to licensing the IP out.
This means that, while of course we retain the ownership to the Fear Effect IP, the developer will then get to have creative control over the project. Since it's up to the developer to raise funds, while Square Enix will publish the game for them, the developer will retain the majority of net revenue upon release.
So we hope it's an opportunity for teams to make a name for themselves - and who knows where that could lead for them? Hopefully they can earn enough from sales to fund their next project entirely. But we can categorically state that we won't be handling the funds raised on Kickstarter, and while we will help raise awareness (as with other crowdfunding campaigns that we support) those funds will be held and managed entirely by the developer.
Of course, we still have a vested interest in the final quality of the game, so as with any other project published by Collective, our producer will work with Sushee and help with anything as appropriate. It's fair to say that, as the IP owner, we'll have approval rights on what's released, but the pitch has already outlined the game pretty extensively, so we're not expecting any surprises there.
Ultimately this is, as with most things to do with Collective, experimental. We'll be watching the reaction closely to see what people think, and we're sensitive to making sure we're not stepping over any lines with respect to what is and isn't acceptable for crowdfunding. We look forward to seeing how it goes - and understanding whether or not this is something we should do more of in the future.
If the Kickstarter, which targets €100,000, is successful, Sushee hopes the new Fear Effect will launch on PC mid 2017. Console versions are a stretch goal. A teaser trailer is below.