Timelines on the occasion of our Kickstarter anniversary

Oh, why hello there. Did you know that we kicked off the Revive Retronauts Kickstarter campaign a year ago today, based on what Bob tells me? It certainly doesn’t seem that long ago. But that’s because I’m old, and for old people, life is an ever-accelerating freight train hurtling toward death.

Though Vol. III of Retronauts didn’t begin in earnest until July 1, we wanted to pause a moment today to take stock of where this whole mad campaign has been. On the whole, I feel pretty good about how things have gone – the most important element of all this, the podcast itself, hasn’t missed a beat. Episode 18 Pocket goes up tomorrow, which is the… 39th episode overall, I think? Despite all the upheavals and changes we’ve had to deal with over the past year (including Ray finding a cool job and my being exiled to the East Coast), we’ve still managed to deliver a show every week since July 1. And we even produced a bonus episode for the holidays. The “third season” of Retronauts is on track to wrap up July 14, but we’ve actually decided to extend it slightly and produce a 27th episode and 27th Pocket episode so you get an even mix of the three different hosts filling your earholes. That means Vol. III now comes to an end on July 28th.

And then what? Well, we’ve decided we would in fact like to keep things going beyond that. Alas, that means we’ll need to drum up additional funding; between equipment needs, travel, studio rentals, and of course taxes, the coffers will be running low by the time we wrap the show. We haven’t pocketed the cash for ourselves; to be totally transparent, we agreed to set aside a very small amount for ourselves per episode, but I’m the only one who’s actually taken his stipend from the bank… and I used that money to pay for an extended Tokyo stay after TGS so I could record Dan Feit’s backer-requested episode. There’s been no looting, profiteering, or diving in the money bin like it’s a swimming pool. Basically, every cent we earned has been used for Retronauts. Thankfully, the original Kickstarter paid for all the equipment we need, so going forward any funds we source will essentially cover intangible expenses (rentals, event travel, web hosting, software licensing, etc.).

But! Before we consider how to extend the life of the show (which won’t necessarily happen with another Kickstarter campaign – we have a few possibilities on the table), we still have some other things we need to sort out first. The podcast has remained on track, and we’ve sent out T-shirts and stickers and such. However, there are still some unfulfilled matters to take care of, and we would like to present you with our hard deadlines for completion. These are promises to you.

  • DVDs and books: These will be completed and ready for production by July 1
  • Art rewards: These will be completed and ready for shipment by June 1
  • Charity livestreams: We’re a little vague on these still as we need to sort out the logistics, but sometime in early May and early July are our targets
  • Article rewards: These will be written and publishers by May 1
  • Two extra episodes: These will go up July 21 and July 28
  • Video commitments: These will be fulfilled by August 1
  • Final live panel: We’ve committed to an event, but Ray will announce that in due time. It’s 100% set, though!
  • Next wave of funding: Whatever form it takes, we’ll announce it no later than June 30
I hope that helps clear up any concerns! We’re 100% committed to living up to our word. Unforeseen real-life complications have slowed us down, it’s true, but at the end of this campaign, we will have done everything we said we would. Just… maybe a bit later than we had planned in some cases. And we understand those delays are frustrating, and that it’s easy to assume the worst about Kickstarter projects. We’re not sure yet how we’re going to fund future episodes, but if we decide to go the crowd-funded route, we won’t be holding out our hats until we’ve lived up to our existing commitments.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments. And thanks for your support! Speaking for myself, it’s been an interesting and often difficult year, and your feedback has helped me keep going when things get rough. So thanks again.

Let us cling together as we discuss Yasumi Matsuno in Episode 16

Retronauts backer Hugh Franck requested we record an episode focused on director Yasumi Matsuno. Coincidentally, this episode (which we scheduled ages ago) turned out to be quite timely, as Matsuno’s Kickstarter project — Unsung Story — just ended successfully a few days ago. And I couldn’t help but think of Final Fantasy XII (codirected by Matsuno) as I recently reviewed Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, which presents a much smaller and frankly less compelling take on FFXII‘s open-world concept. And so, here we go, fresh from our brains to your ears:

Retronauts 16 cover

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This episode turned out to be a less-than-daunting task, as all three of us are pretty keen on at least some of Matsuno’s games — as is guest host Kat Bailey. In fact, the real challenge here was keeping the discussion short enough that our guest didn’t have to bail on us midway through to make a prior engagement.

We cover Matsuno’s career from his days at Quest (and in fact discuss the origins of Quest) through Unsung Story. But since he’s had a pretty small output, it’s easy to enumerate the games at hand: Conquest of the Crystal Palace, Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy XII, MadWorld, and Crimson Shroud. See? That wasn’t so hard. Musical selections come from Final Fantasy Tactics by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, though I believe I only spliced in Sakimoto compositions (sorry, Mr. Iwata. Please understand).

As a small caveat about this episode’s recording process: Not only was this episode unfortunately hosted by me, this is also the first episode I’ve hosted remotely. The rest of the crew was back in San Francisco in the studio while I recorded from home on the East Coast. Despite this, I think it all turned out more or less seamless thanks to my snipping out all the awkward pauses and stumbling cross-talk. Thankfully, remote hosting won’t happen too often. When we ran our Kickstarter campaign, we couldn’t have predicted the need to fly me cross-country every few weeks, so it wasn’t budgeted… but we’re contemplating workarounds. In the meantime, please nerd out on this discussion, because good lord is it nerdy.

Retronauts Vol. III Episode 10 Is 100% Duty-free

Retronauts 10 cover

Hey kids, it’s your ol’ pal Jeremy, back for more Retronauts fun. Today’s episode was actually recorded a couple of months ago. Remember when all the Laser Time folks showed up on an episode and I didn’t? That’s because I was in Japan, making this show happen. There’s a very good reason for the exotic locale: One of our Kickstarter backers who supported the show at the “co-host an episode” level, Dan Feit, lives in Japan. He pitched in assuming he’d never actually be able to make good on his pledge, but since I was over in Japan for Tokyo Game Show, we figured “Well, what the heck?”

Huge thanks to our friends at 8-4 Ltd. (hosts of the 8-4 Play podcast!) for lending us space, equipment, and opinions to make this happen.

So what did we discuss while we were in Japan? Well, Japan. Specifically, I put the question to everyone: What was the golden age of Japanese games? Each contributor had a different response, and the result was a pretty interesting (if overly nostalgic) conversation. Responses range from the mid ’80s to the late ’90s; sadly, no one wanted to go to bat for the past couple of console generations.

Taking part in this merry discussion was… a whole lot of people, actually. Obviously you have myself and Dan, as well as Mark MacDonald and John Ricciardi of 8-4. Also present was long-time contributor Kat Bailey as well as long-time Friend of Retronauts and all-around fashion plate Kyle McLain. And, finally, quite by surprise, former Retronauts regular Shane Bettenhausen happened to be in the office when we were recording and jumped in to share his opinions after a lengthy exile from podcasting.

Unfortunately I have to apologize up front for the uneven sound quality. We had seven people sharing three microphones, and the guy who usually does the 8-4 Play sound setup wasn’t there to get things working for us. Kat and I were also running late due to crowded trains, so we had to cut our session short. I’ve done what I can to balance out the audio, but there’s no avoiding the fact that some of the sound was clipped because I hadn’t set up the unfamiliar sound board correctly. And need I mention the crosstalk that inevitably happens with more than four people on the mike (especially when certain among us are so garrulous)? So, apologies again. Hopefully you’ll find the content of this episode sufficient to compensate for the imperfect sound quality.

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Retronauts Pocket Episode 7 May or May Not Have Died for Your Sins

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Sorry, everyone — this is a sort of hit-and-run posting, as I’m currently in the final stages of packing up my life into shipping containers to relocate to the east coast. But I still managed to find time to assemble Retronauts Pocket Episode 7, which serves as an answer to Kickstarter backer Daniel Worthington’s request to talk about Illusion of Gaia. Since one Super NES action-RPG isn’t quite enough to fill an entire episode, we delve into the overall catalog of Gaia‘s developer, Quintet. Sadly, the ambition I mentioned here (to track down and talk to some Quintet folks at TGS) didn’t pan out, though I did hear an explanation of why the studio is so elusive. However, that’s someone else’s story to tell, so I won’t talk about it here. Suffice to say… getting an inside track on Quintet is going to be tough.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy this discussion. I can’t actually tell if this episode is any good or not, but that’s probably just because my entire brain is in “oh god the shippers are coming in 12 hours” panic mode. So… if I’ve led a terrible discussion, I apologize. Especially to you, Daniel Worthington. If you hate this show you paid for, I’ll make it up to you somehow. I do feel good about the episode cover art, though, so at least that’s something…?

Description: By request of backer Daniel Worthington, Bob, Ray, and Jeremy delve into the history of 16-bit RPG masters Quintet… or at least as much history as we can dig up. Those guys were pretty mysterious.

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Musical inclusions this episode:

  • 7:22 – Actraiser “Fillmore”
  • 18:01 – SoulBlazer “Dr. Leo’s Paintings”
  • 26:23 – Illusion of Gaia “Sky Gardens”
  • 37:51 – Terranigma “Zue”
  • 47:11 – Actraiser Symphonic Suite “Bloodpool/Cassandora”

Rock Out to Retronauts Episode 7

Retronauts 7 cover

People still talk about how much they liked the game music history episode of Retronauts we did many many years ago under the 1UP aegis and have asked many times for us to do another… and, as it happens, James Eldred of Lost Turntable put some Kickstarter backer money on the table to co-host an episode of the show. Since James specializes in music preservation with a strong interest in video games (check out some of the cool rarities on his site), it seemed natural for us to revisit the game music topic. This episode is much lengthier than the old one, exploring the evolution of music in games… and I made a conspicuous effort to avoid covering too much of the same ground as in the old show.

Retronauts backer James Eldred of LostTurntable.com joins Jeremy, Bob, and Ray to talk about the highs and lows of the history of video game music in this nearly two-hour ramblefest.

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This episode’s musical inclusions:

  • 0:05 – Retronauts Vol. III Main Theme
  • 15:01 – Snafu (MIDI arrangement)
  • 17:34 – Rally-X
  • 21:04 – Gentle Giant “Time to Kill”
  • 20:18 – Silver Surfer “Level 1″
  • 31:52 – Bionic Commando “Tune 5″ (C64 version)
  • 37:54 – Psycho Solder “Main Theme” (cassette version)
  • 45:12 – Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance “Successor of Fate”
  • 50:27 – Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin “Invitation of a Crazed Moon”
  • 54:27 – Techno Cop “Title Theme”
  • 1:14:48 – Symphony of the Night “Unused Track”
  • 1:16:28 – Vib-ribbon “Universal Dance”
  • 1:20:45 – Spyro the Dragon “Alpine Ridge”
  • 1:34:26 – Tempest 2000 “Constructive Demolition”
  • 1:38:23 – Streets of Rage 2 “Back to the Industry”
  • 1:40:27 – Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time “Chrono Trigger”
  • 1:42:24 – Sexy Parodius “Pastoral March”
  • 1:44:53 – Evergrace “Castle of Regression”
  • 1:47:45 – Chase H.Q. “Main Theme Flexidisc Remix”
  • 1:51:20 – Castlevania: Dracula Perfect Battle Selection “Beginning”

You’ll have to excuse the sound quality of the Snafu sound embed — I wasn’t able to get original game audio, so I had to convert a MIDI recreation, which doesn’t sound authentic. The Athena song isn’t the one ripped from the game but rather the version that appeared on a cassette tape pack-in with the Japanese Famicom release of the game. And as for Gentle Giant… well, that prog rock episode happened for a reason, you know?

Retronauts Pocket Episode 4

Retronauts Pocket 4 cover

Hey folks, here’s today’s episode. Pardon this post’s brevity, but real life calls and I’m en route to do important day-job things in a few minutes.

Episode 4 of Retronauts Pocket brings to bear the long-awaited Kickstarter backer requests. In this case, a fine fellow by the name of Dave Epp has asked us to speak about Ultima IV. Conveniently, while neither guest Scott Sharkey nor I have played the game in a dog’s age, we’re both well aware of its innovations and importance — as are fellow co-hosts Bob Mackey and Ray Barnholt. So kick back for 45 minutes and listen to us speak about this seminal RPG and how it’s influenced so many games since its debut.

By the way, there’s no music in this episode. People sometimes complain about the use of music to break up different portions of the conversation, so I thought I’d try an episode without. Spoilers: I kind of hate it and won’t be doing it again. Sorry, haters!

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Next week: More talk of old video games! More special guests! But fortunately you won’t have to listen to me as lead host. See, there is a merciful and just god after all.

Thanks again to Dave Epp and all our Kickstarter backers!

Where do we go now?

At this point, I can’t imagine our Kickstarter won’t reach its next stretch goal of $52,000. We still have nearly a third of the Kickstarter campaign to go, and we’re less than $4,000 away. That tier, as mentioned, will pay airfare and accommodations for the three of us to attend three different conventions or shows somewhere in the U.S. and — convention organizers willing — present a live panel to you. Provided you are at the show. And, if not, we’ll have to record and publish them in our new, forthcoming podcast RSS feed instead.

With the 52K mark so close at hand, we need to start thinking about our convention plans for the year. Retronauts has been a presence at PAX and PAX East for an alarming number of years now, and it would make sense for us to maintain that tradition… but is that too easy an answer? We know classic gaming conventions happen all around the country, and even events like New York Comic-Con may not be specifically tied to games but certainly have video game connections. I think we’re all quite open to new ideas and opportunities.

So, we put the question to you, readers and followers: Which three conventions would you like to see us attend in 2013/14? Which cities should we drop classic gaming knowledge bombs on? We make no promises — and who knows, maybe we won’t quite make it to 52K after all, so it could end up being moot — but we have our fingers crossed and our minds open.

Kickstarter, transparency, and accountability

The Retronauts Kickstarter is closing in on 250% funded in two days’ time, and as with any successful Kickstarter venture (or, really, anything involving money, ever) some people have questions about legitimacy and greed. Fair enough! For all the great stuff Kickstarter has brought us, we’ve also seen plenty of projects that collapsed under their own weight or whose creators seemingly took the money and ran. We talked long and hard before launching this to avoid either of those happening.

For one thing, we always had modest ends in mind, which is why we launched with a relatively small goal and didn’t offer any reward tiers above $300. Although we talked about some pie-in-the-sky ideas at the beginning, we ultimately decided we should take a manageable approach and simply try to get a biweekly podcast funded. The pie stuff is pretty far out there in the unlikely $60K+ territory. For our basic ambition — making a podcast — Bob sat down and calculated the real costs of buying some semi-pro-grade equipment, renting a nice quiet studio, and paying for webhosting and Libsyn bandwidth for the show. Then we took that number and doubled it, not for the sake of pocketing it, but because we’ve spoken to people who have been caught off-guard by their own Kickstarter successes when they learned the hard way that tax filings on “online donation” earnings that exceed a certain amount is something like 45%.

The one non-material/service expense we factored into the initial goal is the cost of launching a company (LLC or corporation) in California. That way the money we raise this month goes directly to an outside entity’s business account rather than into our pockets, which protects us (from massive personal tax debt) and you (from getting screwed over).

Each and every one of our stretch goals has been established with the same frame of mind. The first stretch goal (which we hit last night; thank you!) won’t actually soak up the full amount of the additional cash we’ve earned to reach that point, since the initial goal took care of a good many of our initial sunk costs. But it has allowed us to expand the number of rewards available and to make sure that our friends at Fangamer, who offered to handle reward disbursement for us, will see a fair return on their efforts.

The 30K tier’s earnings will help us hire a musician to compose a new theme (since the old one, like all previous Retronauts content, doesn’t belong to us). The 36K tier requires us to acquire some video recording, editing, and broadcasting gear. The 42K tier involves a service that will cost us very little to produce, so we’re using the earnings from that tier as donations for charity. The next tier will be just enough to handle travel and hotels for the three of us to attend three live events. And so on, and so forth. At every turn, we’ve endeavored to pour these earnings directly into the podcast and surrounding concerns.

Of course, we realize that some people simply won’t be satisfied with any explanation and see only the worst in every project like this, and there’s nothing we can do about that. I’ve seen a few indignant huffs about our greed for wanting good recording equipment and locations, because lots of people put together podcasts with their built-in computer mikes in their living rooms. That’s true. But we’d like to maintain the level of polish that made the past seven years’ worth of Retronauts so good. Actually, since we won’t have to worry about other people screwing up our equipment or rely on phone lines with call-waiting we can’t figure out how to deactivate, the sound quality should actually be better than it’s been since we lost the services of podcast grandmaster Andrew Pfister with the Hearst layoffs in 2009.

This is all kind of in the weeds and it’s probably stuff most people don’t care about, but we want to be up front with it. Feel free to hit us with any additional questions about this stuff.

Whoa

So, we’re funded, and then some. Guess we’re on the hook for podcasts through tax day 2014, huh?

Our Kickstarter King, Bob, will be rolling out stretch goals throughout the weekend. Alternative podcasts, videos, live events… honestly, I can’t remember what all we had planned. I’m sure it’ll be neat-o, though. Keen, even.