Mark of the Old Ones- A Metroidvania Passion Project

The Metroidvania genre is pretty popular on the indie scene. The combination of platforming, adventure and power ups keep the game style fresh with everyone’s take.

That’s Mark of the Old Ones. A Metroidvania adventure with it’s own twist. Taking inspiration from the folklore of HP Lovecraft (famous for writing Call of Cthulu), the storytelling from Legend of Zelda and of course gameplay from Metroid, the developers at Hit The Sticks set out to blend something familiar, with something fresh. This includes rethinking how power ups are used, to how players traverse the map. But there was a lot of learning that went with the creation of the title.

Hit The Sticks made one game before working on Mark of the Old Ones—Just Tactics. It’s a multiplayer only turn based strategy game-like Civilization. While the game was technically sound, it had a step learning curve and no real way to get around it.
The fan feedback from this game was something Jordan Brock, President of Hit The Sticks, took with him in the development of Mark of the Old Ones. “This game, within five seconds, you’re [going to] know everything you have to do at that point,” says Brock. “[But] you’re not going to have it mastered in five seconds.”

This is a pet project for Brock. His team would take the game out to events in the Philadelphia area to get some feedback. . Unlike Just Tactics, Mark of the Old Ones was tailored based off fan reactions. For Brock, that was an important step in the process. When making a game, it’s very easy to master every subtle nuance. Some details, like difficulty, could go unnoticed to a developer who has spent the last three months working on the title.

Despite his talents though, he had to reach out for help. But people don’t work for free. That’s why last year, he took to Kickstarter to get some fan support. It didn’t really gain the traction he expected. The goal for the game was to raise $225,000. That didn’t happen. Instead, the community mustered up $28,242 dollars for the cause. Part of that is because the rough showing wasn’t polished. The physics were there, but the art wasn’t. This didn’t put the team down. They got the word out, and found 250 people who wanted to support the game. “It was encouraging that people were like ‘yes, I will give you money for this game that is basically an idea’,” says Brock. “But at the same time we were like ‘we’ve got to make some changes’.”

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Original gameplay screen from the first Kickstarter.
Original gameplay screen from the first Kickstarter.

Despite the missed projection, the idea was still there. To Brock, the support was enough to encourage him to continue. Instead, he learned what it takes to get people genuinely excited for a project. He found some funding from investors, and cut costs by dropping a character. Originally, the protagonist was a human (Thomas), who crashed his plane and discovers an underground world. He bonds with a parasite-like creature that would help him move kind of like the Spiderman villain Doctor Octopus. The parasite’s tendrils would stick to almost anything and Thomas would swing to get around. They decided to drop the human character, and focus on the parasite (Mogal) instead. The story had to be reworked, and Mogal’s motivation is different than Thomas, but it cut costs and saved time.

With this refined idea, he took to Kickstarter again. The development cycle is going smoothly, and with fan support instead of corporate backing, the idea can stay the same. “Having a community support the game sounds more appealing,” says Brock, “they’re going to give us feedback.”

Screenshot from the new Kickstarter.
Screenshot from the new Kickstarter.

The community has done that. Since returning to Kickstarter, Mark of the Old Ones is featured in the “Popular” section of the website. Brock gives a lot of credit to the fans that supported the game initially. Despite this, there’s only 18 days left for the Kickstarter, and they’ve raised $9,632 of their $46, 000 goal. The team is working to get more content out, and do more media rounds. If there isn’t excitement after that, Brock says he’ll be a little worried. But even if the Kickstarter fails, it won’t stop him. “We’re going to get the game done one way or another… if the Kickstarter doesn’t work… I will eat dirt or sleep in my car or something,” he laughs.
It’s something that means a lot to Brock. Obviously some income would be nice, but he wants the game to get out there. He’s worked through a Kickstarter, found investors and started another one just so he can pay his team to finish the game. Through the ups, downs, and learning curves it’s mostly a fan funded passion project—And that’s how Brock would prefer it.