In this take on the old GameBoy platformer “Kale In Dinoland,” players have the option to either knockout their enemies, or “ride” them – jump on top of them and control their movements.
Kale In Dinoland is a port of a — wait, no it’s not!
Kale In Dinoland was a satirical retro game released under the Rotting Cartridge label in 2012, featuring wonderful music by Luming Hao (other people agree). Its marketing purported it to be a port of an old GameBoy game released by SkySoft in 1992. The project was a bit performance art, a bit game, and a lot of headaches.
Kale In Dinoland was released on the App Store and featured by Apple in its coveted New and Noteworthy Section, after a prolonged and arduous marketing campaign. It was reviewed by PocketGamer, SlideToPlay and appgefahren.de, among a slew of other app review sites, and featured on IGN, Indiegames.com, and Toucharcade. It currently holds a 4 1/2 star review score, mainly because I haven’t been able to maintain the game past the 4th generation of iPhone devices. Here’s a snapshot of the reviewer page (Oct 2014):
Motivation: I wanted to create a prequel to Glitchman, a larger project I had under wraps. In short, in the Glitchman universe, a character called the Mechanic is tasked with entering games — visualized as huge screens inside a painted world — to fix their glitches. Obviously I couldn’t use real games without appearing hokey or being sued, so Kale In Dinoland was to be the first game that the Mechanic encounters on his journey. It was also a heavily sarcastic game; eventually my belief that old games shouldn’t be ported shone through in the marketing and design.
Spoilers: Inside the game, you play as Kale, a caveman who throws coconuts, in a dug-up version of an old game which has been (against its own wishes) re-configured to function on a different device. At first, the world is all happiness and sunshine, but the cracks in the circuitry begin showing through (both figuratively and literally). In the fourth world, Kale’s girlfriend Terra — who we see kidnapped by the antagonist at the beginning of the game — appears in what was to be a taunt by Mr. Dino, Dinoland’s owner, except for the glitch which stops the game and causes the Mechanic’s creation. Terra mysteriously vanishes after the glitch is fixed (does she leave of her own accord, tired of being the damsel?); after this, Mr. Dino grows increasingly paranoid, warning you not to beat the game or else Dinoland will perish. He laments that kidnapping Terra was his job, that he had no choice. At the final confrontation, where Terra was supposed to re-appear, the bugs overwhelm the game and its screen creaks and literally tilts, dislodging the on-screen controls:
In the cynical words of Jeremy Fiume, a friend who play-tested the game,
Kale In Dinoland:
A postmodern look at the state of indie gaming.
The cracks in the foundation of the mansion and the glitches of the game speak to the end of the indie meta narrative by displaying it in its ultimate form. Dinoland’s general state of disrepair, left untouched, illustrates the deterioration and general blandness of the current indie game scene, a community rife with nostalgia for something that both no longer exists and is no longer a viable form of entertainment. In their search for a new and definable meta narrative the indie game community looks not forward but backwards, resulting in a market with a dearth of original thinking and game design.
Game Design: For this game, I had to go back and reverse the clock on game design, purposely subverting the trends of current generation games. For example, designing levels as self-contained puzzles was something old platformers rarely did, but is nowadays the norm. As a result of this, the game is more action oriented, with minimal saving, small levels and multiple routes, and there are no ‘level-by-level’ progress marks typical of mobile games today.
Something I learned: Marketing. How to leverage Twitter, organize an online beta test, launch a trailer and website, and engage with the press. Budget time for marketing — start early, and reach out to the community. Marketing takes an annoying amount of time.
Another thing I learned: Despite its mordant packaging, there were many serious and unexpected learning experiences we derived from Kale. I learned the foibles of transparency from an IGF controversy (original post here, post on Reddit here) and short–lived internet infamy (Jenn Frank later apologizes). Here’s the deal: In the name of transparency, we published an article documenting what we perceived, at the time, as unfair treatment by our IGF judges. Before posting the article, I consulted friends from the Mont Royal Game Society who encouraged me to post it. This article sparked a heated discussion among the independent games community and continues to be cited as an example of discontent by lesser-known IGF submitters. Although other independent developers had expressed similar doubts about the fairness of the IGF judging process, none of them had the hard evidence that TestFlight provided. From this experience, I learned what it felt like to be at the center of an internet firestorm — an experience I would hesitate to relive. (Being older, I would definitely have written that post differently — but I still would have written it.)
Less dramatic thing I learned: We grew to love the unexpected pleasantries of mobile gamers, who at that time were, in my opinion, debased by the independent community. The mobile community contrasted the typically harsh, self-titled “indie games scene,” which focused (and continues to focus) on berating hard-working developers like Phil Fish, Zoe Quinn, Jonathan Blow, and others. In particular, the TouchArcade community felt like a breath of fresh air, quite different from the superficial cesspool I had expected. I suppose this is a running theme in my travels as well — to be ignorant until proven guilty.