Jack Houston and the Necronauts is a traditional point & click adventure game being made with stop-motion animation using physical models and made sets, like in the old days of movie making !
About this project
Jack Houston and the Necronauts is a pulp sci-fi inspired adventure game where you portray Captain Jack Houston on his deadliest mission: to man the first rocket to explore a savage, alien world!
Think “The Dig”, if Ben from Full Throttle gut-punched Boston Low and commanded the mission in his place. The interface will be a fairly streamlined verb coin point & click system. The setting should be familiar to anyone who’s seen Tom Corbett: Space Cadet or Perry Rhodan: bubble helmets, rockets ‘n ray guns galore.
In the year 1999, a retired Jack Houston is recruited by the Venture Aeronautics and Space Transportation (VAST) corporation for one last mission: to man the first rocket to Venus. The rocket is designed to penetrate the hazy atmosphere and land on the surface, where some believe Jack may find the first signs of life in our solar system. En route, something goes terribly wrong and Jack’s rocket crash lands in an alien ocean, where he rests in cryogenic sleep for 1,000 years. The world he wakes up to is one of savage beast men who worship a devil god with the power to control the dead. These strange entities are able to inhabit the remains of any creature after death, fortifying and building upon their skeletal structures until they are virtually indestructible war machines. With the tribal inhabitants of the entire planet under their crushing heel, the undead Venusian warlords threaten to pulverize Jack like an ant. But our clever test pilot will uncover a shocking revelation about the origin of these “Necronauts,” a connection between the creatures and himself that could be their undoing… and his.
This isn’t the mission Jack signed up for, and even if he finds a way off the planet, the Earth he knew is gone. What Jack will find, however, is a whole new universe where space travel is common place and aliens are everywhere. A galaxy of adventure he could never have dreamed is waiting for him, if only he can survive the perils of this vicious planet!
Jack’s adventure takes place not far from home, on our neighboring planet of Venus. But this isn’t the lifeless planet we know today, this Venus is a sweltering vine jungle teaming with strange beasts of horn, tooth and claw. This is the world of adventure imagined and glorified in sci-fi magazines and novels of the 40’s and 50’s, by science fiction authors and artists whose legacies include John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, Perry Rhodan and many more. In this future world, humans have conquered space and found a new frontier beyond our imagination.
In film production, it’s always the same deal. We pitch a project to investors, raise money, make the movie, and then cross our fingers that we will a) get a great domestic distribution deal, b) have lots of luck at the international markets selling foreign rights, and c) become profitable enough to repay all our investors and make enough for ourselves to launch another picture.
That way of working is frankly crazy. With Kickstarter, you as the fans and players can make a project like this a reality by backing it ahead of time and, as long as we do our job, there’s no taking chances on market fluctuations, agent fees, greedy distributors, tea leaves, fortune cookies or the ramblings of the Voodoo Lady at the International House of Mojo. We get to create the best game possible and put it right into the hands of the very fans who backed us. No middle men what so ever.
Within three weeks of the project being funded, we will go into production full time and begin filling YOU in with regular updates and behind-the-scenes videos keeping you involved in the project every step of the way. You’ll have exclusive access to the dev team through the private backers’ forum, and high level backers will even have certain perks including quarterly producer reports and the opportunity to vote on critical in-game content.
Platforms and Localization
At the base goal, we will be using Adventure Game Studio as the base engine, which supports PC and has limited support for Linux. If we continue that path, we will do all we can to support Linux at launch, within the capabilities of that engine, and begin work on a Mac port after launch.
However, we are also formulating a stretch goal that will allow us to develop the game using a different engine that will fully support PC, Mac and Linux at first launch, then iPad and Android tablets soon after. We are committed to seeing Jack on multiple platforms no matter what, but exceeding our funding goals will allow us to do so immediately at launch.
At the base goal, the game will be released with English voice over and on-screen text. We are currently formulating a small, attainable stretch goal that will allow us to translate the game text into many other languages at launch. Again, we are committed to supporting as many languages as possible. If we do not attain this goal, other languages will follow sometime after launch.
Questions & Answers
Q: You have mentioned pulp sci-fi writter Edgar Rice Burroughs. In his Barsoom series he approached the themes of race and religion among others. Are there any specific moral themes you’ll be considering in this game?
A: Thank you for that great question, and you are not the first to ask so I’m glad to give a public response to this concern. It’s true that many of the pulp adventure writers, Edgar Rice Burroughs included, often wrote and created their worlds and characters with racially charged overtones. As a lover of pure adventure stories, I’ve always taken these pulp stories with a grain of salt. When it comes to adapting these kinds of stories for the 21st century, I look to others who have tread this path before me. I think Weta has always tried to walk this line carefully in creating the races of Middle Earth especially, trying to steer clear of influences ripped directly from actual Earth cultures so as not to create a shallow parody of anyone’s cultural traditions, designs or ancestors and offend people in the process. I think this is a challenge anyone faces who attempts to create worlds and cultures from whole cloth. It’s important to always design these cultures deeply, and let their culture rise from the design, rather than leaning on ready-made earthly cultural influences. In a similar way, I believe in being careful not to fall into similar traps when writing female characters, but I also believe that writing characters to simply pander to a perfect ideal of political correctness can come off as heavy handed. The solution, again, is to let depth and background define the role and personality of characters, male and female, human or otherwise. Every character must be true to their nature as defined by their background, and every character’s actions must in turn serve the story. That’s the nature of drama.
Q: Pulp fiction/magazines is sometimes remembered by their exploitative stories or the overly dramatic art cover. Is this “cheesy” aspect something you’ll be trying to capture in the game?
A: My take on pulp sci-fi is dark, gritty and unflinching. Zero cheese.
Q: The game will feature a powerful god: someone who can raise the dead. Death in itself is an heavy subject. What role will it play in the game? And will any extra genres come along with it? Should we expect horror? Dark humor? Shocking violence? What mood/atmosphere do you intend to bring into this game?
A: Expect the same level of subtle but dark humor you saw in Full Throttle, expect the same level of violence you saw in the Dig (anybody remember what happened to Brink’s hand?)
Q: Your own background as well as the video show a strong influence from cinema. Will the game be more of a “cinematic experience”? And how will you prevent the “game” from becoming a “movie”?
A: I have worked in games, and I have produced and directed films. A game is not a movie, not in the least. In fact, what excites me about games is the way they can be better than movies. Sure, I can watch Luke Skywalker rescue the princess and blow up the death star, but I don’t feel like I was a part of it. I didn’t make any decisions, I just sat and watched. I don’t feel like I did those things, or even helped. But I guarantee you, if it weren’t for me, Roger Wilco would be somewhere in the back of ScumSoft encased in green jello. Seriously, ask him.
Q: Will the game play in a linear fashion or will there be situations of conflict that will require the player to choose sides and create his own story? Put into other words, will there be branching gameplay and multiple endings?
A: There will be branching gameplay with multiple characters. This will be done similarly to the way Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the later Tarzan novels, where one character would come to a cliffhanger at the end of one chapter, then we would rewind a bit and another character would interact with the same events from a new perspective, and new elements of the story would surface, changing the meaning of what transpired in the previous chapter. It was a common technique in pulp fiction, and was even used in the actual film “Pulp Fiction” to delicious effect!
Q: Adventure games come in different flavors as far as interface is concerned. The first adventure games made use of text parsers. In Monkey Island 2 we had a 9-verb box. In Monkey Island 3 a more simplified verb coin. Recent games only have a single action. While there may be advantages and drawbacks to each one, it is true that the former ones provided more opportunities for interaction. Is this an important factor to you? What type of gameplay interface do you have in mind?
A: I’ve been enjoying watching Tim Schafer work through these very issues in the Double Fine Adventure documentary series. I think one “interact” action is a bit too simple. I always enjoyed the Full Throttle verb coin, and will be looking at that primarily for inspiration.
Q: If I understood correctly, you’ll be filming and animating real life miniatures (like Wallace and Gromit movies). That seems to be a fairly expensive and lengthy process. I’m not aware of any game that attempted such thing.
Isn’t this too risky? Why not go for 2D and set the art direction accordingly? (for example: Machinarium discarded the cartoony look and kind of reminds the use of real life miniatures).
A: The most direct answer I can give you is: because I’ve already seen that. I want to break new ground visually and, while stop motion certainly isn’t a new concept in game graphics, I do think it has been an underutilized technique. I also think it’s perfect for the adventure game genre. I also just love stop motion monster movies.
Q: Will the game have voice overs? Yet another expensive element.
A: I’ve recorded ADR (Additional Dialog Recording) to replace an average of 60% or more dialog in every film I’ve made, so I’m certainly comfortable with recording dialog and directing actors. Directing and recording great vocal performances is an area I feel has always been a bit neglected in the games industry as a whole. I’m really looking forward to bringing subtly powerful performances to Jack Houston.
Q: I saw a lot of awesome concept images there and that makes me wonder on how far game production is. Has the game design bible been written yet? Or the game story script? Maybe you could share the first chapter or an in-game encounter as an update?
A: The game has been outlined and certain areas have been fleshed out extensively, while others are looser in concept. However, I have been making notes for a lot of new story elements that I think will really take this game to the next level and I can’t wait to wrap up the campaign successfully so I can spend a couple of weeks just completely overhauling and updating the design doc to bring it up to date. The backers will all get to peek in on this process on the private forums and literally watch as the game is created.
Q: You mentioned The Dig. In it you explore an alien world that was inhabited by a now lost civilization. The Venus of Jack Houston and the Necronauts looks like a very hostile and tribal world, although it is also the home of an intelligent alien civilization. (at least that is what I assume from looking at some of the artwork)
What else can you tell about this world? What factions or races inhabit it? What characters will you interact with?
A: Venus is the home of several races. Among them are a primitive race of slow moving, four-armed elephant-like creatures called the Junga, a race of cat-like predatory hunter beast with elongated necks and four gazelle-like horns, and the god-like beings who are best comparable to the snake cult in Conan, with a bit of the palace of Jabba The Hutt. A few misc. alien races also pop up here and there, and even a few humans.
Q: What game engine will you be using? AGS?
A: We are currently using AGS, but we will soon be posting a stretch goal that will allow us to develop on a cross-platform engine to be determined.