Over the weekend, the Kickstarter for Barkley 2, the sequel to the 2008 cult classic RPG spoof Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, got its first backer update in nearly two years. It’s not good news. According to the update, Barkley 2 has lost nearly its entire development team, and forum posts from former devs suggest the game has completely imploded.
While its official title is The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 - Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie - Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, it’s better known as Barkley 2—which is what we’ll call it from now on. Set in a ridiculous imagined future that somehow serves as an unofficial sequel to the 1993 basketball game Barkley Shut Up and Jam and Space Jam, the movie, Barkley 2 was Kickstarted way back during the initial Kickstarter games boom in 2012, raising $120,355. Things went well for a few years despite the delays, with a playable demo showing up at PAX Prime in 2015. In two years, news would soon dry up. The project went dark after an October 2017 update, its last until Sunday’s.
“I should have been much more transparent with how the game was going and the trials we were encountering keeping the work going. I am sorry,” wrote Liam ‘bhroom” Raum, Barkley 2's producer. In the update, which doubles as a mea culpa, Raum says the two years of radio silence is his fault, attributing the rocky development to his inexperience in game development and a desire to only share substantial updates.
As of today, it seems that Raum is the only remaining member of the original Barkley 2 team. “As the game continued to age, people left the project for lots of reasons, mostly due to taking jobs or losing interest,” he wrote.
That lost interest, however, also seems to come from infighting between the members of developer Tales of Game’s [sic] as development wore on well past Barkley 2's estimated release window of “late 2013.” . In the comments to Sunday’s update, Raum notes that the public dissatisfaction of programmer Jesse “GZ Storm” Ceranowicz, who worked on both Barkley games and stated on Twitter that he quit Barkley 2 “months ago because of horrible management.”
On the Something Awful forums, where Ceranowicz posts under the name “Hiratio,” he elaborated and answered questions about the state of the project, saying that Barkley 1 creators Eric “chef boyardee” Shumaker and Brian Raum departed the project in early 2016 and have largely gone off the grid to pursue other projects and start a family, respectively. (Shumaker recently wrote for Askiisoft’s Katana Zero.)
Shortly thereafter, other members of the Barkley 2 team jumped in to share more details of its slow-motion collapse and offer insight into its current state. Francis Coulombe, a pixel artist who worked on Barkley 2 for much of its early years, said that the game is still being actively worked on, though not by him, and acknowledged the level of bad blood between the members of the latter-day Barkley 2 team.
“I know Hiratio is being honest about the concerns he’s raising, but I don’t believe our producer is acting in bad faith,” Coulombe wrote. “I know there is a significant issue of distrust here, but I don’t feel like I can weigh in on it, I wasn’t there.” According to Coulombe, as Barkley 2's money began to run out, he began to work on the game part-time, before being put on hold at the start of 2019, when Ceranowicz left the project.
(Kotaku reached out to Ceranowicz, Coulombe, and Raum, but none replied in time for publication.)
According to his Kickstarter update, Raum intends to finish Barkley 2, despite his inexperience and only having one part-time coder working on the game with him at this time. He ends the update saying that he intends to post another update in three days responding to backers’ questions.
It’s an inauspicious end to a collaboration between uncommonly talented and very funny indie developers. Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden was a weird passion project made in their free time, and it was exciting to think about what they could do with some actual funding. One of the most enduring jokes in the first Barkley game comes from a confusing Wikipedia line wondering whether or not the film Space Jam was canon to Michale Jordan’s life, or the Looney Tunes’. It’s also the ethos of Shut Up and Jam Barkley: Gaiden in a single line—every silly joke and offhand idea became a joke of some sort, and therefore canon. Because of this, Barkley had a life outside of itself, like a weird bit of late-2000s performance art. So it is with Barkley 2. Unfortunately, there’s not much to laugh at this time.