I don’t normally take the time to report on industry happenings, but this story wound up being too entertaining to pass up. We’ve all done some pretty stupid things to cover up our failures. However, it’s hard to imagine what developer Lord Kres thought was going to happen when he sold a comically incomplete game on Steam, and then tried to hide the fact by making the first level impossible to finish.
Journey of the Light, released on Steam on May 22, follows the odyssey of a ball of light on his way home. Advertised as “the hardest game on Steam”, it supposedly contains 8 impossibly difficult puzzle levels for the player to solve.
The reality: Journey of the Light contains only one level, and it cannot be beaten. Period. There’s no actual solution to it.
As you can imagine, gamers were starting to get suspicious that no one could seem to progress in the game after several months of playing it. Finally, on July 28 user dpuza released a detailed Imgur post showing his attempts to dig in to the game’s files and figure out just what the hell was going on. Among evidence that something was running afoul were:
- Achievements earned for beating later levels that only the developer himself had unlocked.
- Varying claims about the number of levels in the game. The advertising claimed 7 or 8, while there were 12 level files that could be found in the game’s Steam folder.
- A large number of game files with the same sizes and creation dates.
- Files for later levels containing text for “Chapter 1”, but no references to “Chapter 2”, “Chapter 3″…
- When forcing the game to load later level files, the game simply returned to Chapter 1.
If that wasn’t enough evidence, however, it was actually quite possible to simply decompile the source code of the game, thus laying bare the deception. The code for anything beyond the first level simply told the game to load Chapter 1 again.
Given the sheer buffoonery involved in covering up the whole charade, it’s actually hard to tell whether Lord Kres was deliberately trying to scam people, or simply trying to cover up his inability to deliver a complete product. I mean, did he really think people wouldn’t notice that it was literally impossible to beat the first level? What was he planning on telling folks when solution requests began piling up in forums and subreddits?
However, there are a few suspicious signs that Lord Kres was deliberately scamming people. At one point he claimed that players could solve the first level using clues found in the game’s Steam Trading Cards. These are programmed not to release until two hours into the game, after Steam’s refund policy had expired. This would make frustrated gamers ineligible for refunds on his product.
If that weren’t bad, Lord Kres apparently had the nerve to call out Steam on its recent refund policy, claiming that it was hurting indie games. He even posted a screenshot of his own sales, which plummet precipitously after the implementation of the policy.
Well Lord Kres, maybe folks wouldn’t want to return your games so much if they actually worked.
Within a day of the imgur post, Lord Kres responded to the allegations and played off the fiasco as a simple misunderstanding, stating in a July 29 Steam Community post that the missing content “is not how it is supposed to be.” He attributes the mistakes to bad code released during “the Bug Fix #1” made back on June 18, and that a solution would be forthcoming.
While it wouldn’t be wholly unprecedented for a developer to have released the wrong build to Steam, the fact that he refers to dpuza’s actions as having “tempered with game files” alludes to somewhat of surprise on his part that anyone would, shockingly, investigate his code when things went wrong.
He followed up this post with another Steam Community message on August 25 apologizing for the fiasco. It sounds like things aren’t going too well in the wake of the scandal, as he states: “I’m not going to defense[sic] myself, since that will not help. I made an mistake with builds, and [I] am truly sorry about that. Nothing more [I] can do about this.”
“I am not a scammer,” he adds, stating that he merely wanted to “create a new kind of gaming experience for all of you.”
As you can imagine, though, gamers weren’t buying his excuses anymore. The Internet hate mob had descended upon him. User kneel23 writes in the comments: “New kind of gaming experience. Yeah. Its called take the gamers money and give nothing in return. Wow what a great experience!!”
Another user, TITOMOSQUITO187, left the link to the store page of Unity asset set he used to build the game, commenting “Cost him $65 dudes! Hope he made that back at least!”
Anyway, a day later on August 6 Steam did the right thing by enabling refunds for all players and taking down the game from the Store. It’s not immediately apparent if the removal was ordered by Lord Kres or not. Although fixes for the content have been promised, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to buy the actual finished product in light of recent events.
If anything, I guess I have to thank Lord Kres for a cheap laugh at his expense. Journey of the Light might have simply been a mediocre indie game before, but now it might just go down in history as one of the most farcical attempts at a scam ever pulled.