Mystery Flesh Pit National Park is a fiction project by Trevor Roberts, who having started on Reddit, has for the past few years has been posting stories and artwork to his website, fleshing out (sorry) the tale of a huge creature that is discovered underground in Texas and…turned into a tourist attraction.
It’s a very cool pitch, like some kind of Lovecraftian Jurassic Park, full of absurdity but also abject horror, and it has slowly been picking up enough fans that it has been covered on sites like USA Today. Given the success of the project, and the fact that Roberts has built more of a detailed diorama of a world than a linear story, a video game adaptation must have seemed to a lot of people like a really good idea.
So last week Roberts announced that, courtesy of Village Fox Media, a Mystery Flesh Pit video game would be going into development, and would be seeking its funding on Kickstarter. Billed as a “survival horror video game for PC,” it would centre around the efforts of a crew tasked with helping the Park recover from a disaster—remember, it’s inside a giant beast—that kills 750 people.
A week later, the Kickstarter—which was very light on demonstrations or detailed information on development—has been binned, with Roberts saying the decision was made after a combination of “fan feedback, a fumbled marketing push, internal disputes, and some deep introspection.” Specifically, it seems the process of handing off work on the game to other people…did not go well, with Roberts since writing (emphasis mine):
To those who were looking forward to a videogame, I apologize. Most people do not fully appreciate what a substantial undertaking it is to produce even a modest videogame. I have personally and carefully created each and every piece of the Mystery Flesh Pit project, but something as large as a videogame is wholly beyond my scope as an individual artist. When I am not the one directly responsible for overseeing its creation, I cannot ensure its quality. After this experience I can firmly state that there will be no endorsed videogame adaptions of the Mystery Flesh Pit as long as I am alive.
I sincerely hope that by cancelling this overly-ambitious Kickstarter campaign I have avoided what could have been a rushed and inferior gaming experience at best, and an unmitigated disaster at worst. It is also my hope that my decision to endorse this particular Kickstarter does not harm or hinder the superior work of other credible, talented creators that are and have been working hard behind-the-scenes to bring you a Mystery Flesh Pit Tabletop Gaming Experience late in 2023.
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“I have no hard feelings towards the developers,” Roberts tells me. “It was a mutual decision in the end to cancel it. I think they were a little bit too ambitious, and I had a moment of clarity where I saw the disaster this was going to become for all involved. I think I did the right thing.” However, he did roll back slightly on his previous statement. “For the record, I have always been and continue to be wholly supportive of fan games. My statement about there not being a Mystery Flesh Pit videogame ever was, admittedly, a little overzealous. Fan games are awesome. I just think there are already too many games/movies/series that are poorly planned cash grabs by burnt-out creators, and I’m not about that.”
It’s refreshing to see Roberts see the writing on the wall and pull the plug like this now, and not months or years down the line—having already taken the money—like so many other doomed campaigns have done on the platform.
The tabletop adaptation, which as Roberts says is still coming, should be out early next year.
UPDATE 11:50pm, November 29: Gavin Richardson from developers Village Fox tells Kotaku:
First, I just want to say: It’s really not all that dramatic.
Our team was super excited about working on this game. In fact it’s been, almost literally, the only thing I’ve cared about at all for the last few months.
We worked together on coming up with the story, created new lore, and were able to get Isaiah on board to help us expand the plot and dialogue. There was some debate on whether to launch in November, which is typically the time of year that works best for this sort of thing, or wait until March and risk interfering with the board game’s Kickstarter (which I want to make clear is not affiliated with our studio, I know nothing about the board game).
Here’s where I want to clarify a few things. Trevor says in his statement it was canceled due to “a combination of fan feedback, a fumbled marketing push, internal disputes, and some deep introspection.”
As for fan feedback, it was overwhelmingly positive. There’s always going to be a few nay-sayers, but I think in total we maybe had 1 or 2 people who had somewhat negative comments in his private Discord server. I think he’s probably more likely referring to the low amount that was raised in the first few days.
As for the fumbled marketing push, there was some confusion that I don’t think is appropriate for me to talk publicly about because I don’t want to appear to be putting the blame on anyone. I will take blame for not having enough of an audience with Village Fox to be able to push it further. We’ve never had much of a need for a big audience since most of our work is for external organizations. But you should never have to depend on someone else’s audience, I suppose. I definitely could have done a better job in ensuring that everyone was on the same page before we launched – but as far as I knew, we were, so it was a pretty major surprise to me when his tone shifted the day after the campaign launched.
As for the internal disputes, I’m not really sure what that’s about, everything seemed completely amicable up until he decided to pull the plug, and they still are. Honestly our team was super fun to work with for the brief time we were on the project. I’m not calling anyone out. I’m not saying anyone is a bad person. He made a decision that I disagree with, but ultimately, it’s his IP and we have to respect that. He’s an auteur and did not feel comfortable handing over control to anyone else. As an artist I get where he’s coming from.
As Trevor said in his statement, “a video game is a substantial undertaking and is wholly beyond [his] scope as an artist.” It is absolutely a huge undertaking, but that’s what teams are for. I know what my team is capable of, and I hate to see the project cut short.
Hearing him say that it would be “a rushed and inferior gaming experience at best” was a bit devastating, however, I understand the pressure he feels. As a creator, anything you put this much work into is hard to let go. I’m not sure what led him to this conclusion, but I do wish it had been addressed earlier.
It was not a mutual decision per se – I think it is more embarrassing to cancel a campaign than to leave it running for the full length, even if it doesn’t get funded. I think Trevor just got in a little bit of a pessimistic spiral and let it get the better of him. Again, no hate. It’s a lot of pressure to put something like this out there, and I was certainly feeling the pressure as well.
I do think it is for the best that we parted ways, but honestly, I’m just sad that no one got to see all the little secrets we had hidden. I was shocked that no one found the ARG element of the campaign, that was one of the most fun parts in my opinion.
But no worries. Life happens. Sometimes things don’t work out and that’s ok. We have learned lessons from this and we can instead put our work towards another project we started working on in 2020, a Southern Gothic Horror game where Ancient Egyptian gods rule over the Southeastern United States. Basically imagine if the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid was also an ancient temple, haha.
Lastly: I don’t think this statement was directed towards us, or at least I hope it wasn’t, but I have seen some commenters interpret Trevor’s statement about “poorly planned cash grabs by burnt-out creators” as being about my studio. As I said, I don’t think he intended to be directed at us because that statement is something we fully agree on, and one of the biggest reasons I was excited about this game. I am tired of seeing passionless games, movies, etc., in the marketplace. They’re just dried out husks run by people who just want to make money. If you’re working on something just to make money and get clicks, you’re missing the point of creating stuff. Make something meaningful that you care about. That’s way more important than money.