What in the world happened to TUG?
TUG, better known as The Untitled Game, burst onto the scene in May of 2013 with a Kickstarter, which didn’t elicit the same groans and annoyance back then as it does now. It raised almost $300,000 to complement its existing investor funding by promising a creative sandbox built by academics. Alpha launched as promised in July of 2013; the planned 2015 launch didn’t seem an impossibility. In fact, when it hit Steam in 2014, it seemed like it might be a true success story for the genre.
But then the game ran into some weird issues. Yogventures!, the Yogscast-inspired Kickstarter game, was canceled, and its developers transferred code and assets to Nerd Kingdom, offering up copies of TUG (and later, Landmark) as consolation prizes. A key TUG investor then effectively backed out, leading to mass layoffs for the team and the search for new investors, which it ultimately found. Multiplayer finally arrived in early 2015, and a number of patches followed that year, but the game lingered in what was effectively a survival sandbox mode (now referred to as 1.0) far from what was originally promised.
Then, in early 2016, Nerd Kingdom startled everyone with the announcement that the game had secured an additional $8.5 million in investment funding, allowing the studio to expand the team, switch business models to free-to-play, change graphics libraries, and essentially close down open development for most of last year while the team rethought how the game should work.
After a year of quiet, the devs emerged again last month to say that progress on the game continues and that the studio is working toward a “minimally viable product,” which sounds strange for a game that had already been sold on Steam.
This past weekend, the studio told Kickstarter backers — I count myself among them — that “gameplay prototyping” has begun, that QA sessions and videos are on the way, and that a recent investor presentation was “fantastic.”
“Everyone is pleased, and excited about our progress. It’s always been a chore, to focus on the idea that we ARE making a game, but not understanding how important all of the technology and tools are, in being sure we can make it, and the community everything it has the potential to be. The investors, and many new opportunities, are seeing what is now being accomplished and it’s very exciting.”
The few backers responding haven’t seemed particularly pleased, however, wondering why there’s been so little concrete information presented on version 2.0 after over a year of do-over and an additional $8.5M investment.
“[T]his seems more like a intellectual pow wow [than] game development.”
“I can’t believe you are still making posts about how happy and excited you all are about where the project is when in reality four years work the net result is a design document and a few assets. This was meant to be an 18 month social sciences project wrapped up in a game.”
“So there is only a design document so far? What the have you people been doing?”
Steam reviewers have likewise expressed resentment that the game’s release date has now been extended by two years, with more to go. Meanwhile, the 1.0 version is no longer buyable on Steam, though existing owners can still access it.
In wrapping up the Kickstarter missive, Nerd Kingdom thanked players for their patience and vowed “some general milestones and feature lists for [the] first public release of TUGv2,” ending with a graphic of what it called its procedural maze prototype.