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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Aussie game developers on why Australia is such a great place to work


Australia Day takes place in the middle of our summer because everyone loves to head on down the beach and play some cricket or beach volleyball, have a BBQ and a few beers, and then party on into the night.

I mean, sure, Australia has issues in the game development space. There are no AAA-sized game studios left, for example, and a very small development industry that encourages young people to travel overseas to find work in game development, taking their skills with them. But at the same time, the industry has a hugely talented and committed group of people that make up the local industry. As a journalist, one of the things that has always struck me about the industry is just how friendly and helpful the people that work within it are to one another. The whole concept of "mateship" that Australia is famous for is very much on display in the local development scene, and it's something to be quite proud of.

In the spirit of Australia Day, I asked a handful of local game developers what it was about the Australian games scene that they loved so much. The answers were perhaps not surprising, but it was certainly heartening to see there are so many developers committed to making the local industry as great as it can be.

Paul Turbett (Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy)

What is it you love about working in game development in Australia?

It's made up of lots of great people, who are friendly, talented and helpful. Whenever I get to a gathering of developers, such as an industry conference like GCAP, I'm always amazed at how approachable everyone is, regardless of whether they are the owner of a large studio, or a single-person developer.

The weather is generally pretty good too, at least here in Perth!


What are some of the highlights you are looking forward to from the industry in the next year?

Last year was a good one for new releases. I'm really looking forward to seeing what new games are released or announced this year. I'm hoping the industry continues to grow.

I'm also interested to see what comes of the Senate inquiry that Senator Ludlam is chairing.

Do you think there are any distinctive qualities that make an Australian game "Australian?" I mean, we all know what Japanese games look and feel like. Do you see the global gaming community getting to a point where they can look at a game and instantly know it's from Australia?

The common theme of many Australian games to me is that they are often unique and fairly original, which means they don't really have an identifiable distinctive quality or "Australian-ness". We don't produce many AAA-clones that are 5 per cent better than the current king of the genre. If you look at any selection of games that have come out over the last few years - say, Crossy Road, Satellite Reign, Hand of Fate, Ninja Pizza Girl, Armello, Framed, Landsliders - they are all different, interesting and original.

What's on the horizon for your studio this year?

Nothing is set in stone yet. Maybe more Star Hammer, maybe something else!


Nicole Stark (Ninja Pizza Girl)

What is it you love about working in game development in Australia?

I love Australia and I love game development and I will fight tooth and nail to keep both those things in my life. I love a sunburnt country. I sit here at my computer and my lungs are full of fresh air and the smell of sand and salt and eucalypt. That’s the core of everything I do – sand, salt and gum trees. I’m not sure that I would make anything positive without that at the heart of it. Sure there are problems with this country, (hashtag auspol) and there are definitely problems with game development (hashtag gamedev and um, the other one), but the best of both those things is just too good. I can’t give up either of them.


What are some of the highlights you are looking forward to from the industry in the next year?

I’m really looking forward to this year. There’s so many studios that killed it last year, and I’m dying to see what they do next. For the first time in a long time the future looks, not just bright, but full of lovely suprises.

Do you think there are any distinctive qualities that make an Australian game "Australian?" I mean, we all know what Japanese games look and feel like. Do you see the global gaming community getting to a point where they can look at a game and instantly know it's from Australia?

I hope not! I’d like to see Australian games be as different from each other as Australians are. Apparently we have one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world. (That’s what the Aussie Government webpage says anyway.) Aussie game devs must have a lot of different stuff to bring to table when it comes to creating stories and worlds. That should keep things interesting. It's great to know what you’re getting when you load up a Japanese game, but I’d like to not know what an Australian game is. Lets keep doing things our our way, collectively but separately.

What's on the horizon for your studio this year?

After spending three years on Ninja Pizza Girl, we’re so excited about doing something different that we couldn’t commit to doing just one thing. We’ve got three projects about to kick off, once we finally get NPG launched on all the platforms (seriously, all of them). We’re going to fool around with scope and style and levels of involvement and just generally shake things up. We’re going to hold on to trying to tell good stories, developing from the heart and being too sarcastic. We feel like those things are working for us.


Tom Crago (Deus Ex: Human Revolution - The Director's Cut)

What is it you love about working in game development in Australia?

The best part is that we get to live in Australia! We’ve also been making games here for a long time and have a strong, established and collegial development community. My studio has been in business for twenty-two years, and there are a handful of others that are nearly as old. I feel like our tertiary institutions and training institutes are world class, too, which ensures that graduates come into the industry with the right skills.


What are some of the highlights you are looking forward to from the industry in the next year?

From our perspective the highlight will be the launch of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD on Wii U. We also have some new stuff coming on mobile. In terms of the rest of the industry down here, you can guarantee there will be surprises. Every year some small studio produces a huge hit and I have no doubt that will happen again in 2016. Beyond that, I’m always eager to play new titles from the likes of Halfbrick, Wicked Witch and Defiant.

Do you think there are any distinctive qualities that make an Australian game "Australian?" I mean, we all know what Japanese games look and feel like. Do you see the global gaming community getting to a point where they can look at a game and instantly know it's from Australia?

We’re renowned for our adaptability and our diversity. Over the years, as an industry, we’ve done a bit of everything and that’s perhaps what defines us. We’re also in an interesting position in that our historical sensibility tends towards the British, while our popular culture sensibility is decidedly more American. Add to that the fact that geographically we are a part of Asia, and you’re left with a rather unique mix. I’m generalising of course, but we gain an interesting edge through our ability to straddle those seemingly disparate divides. It’s certainly something we try to leverage, and something that’s valued by our publishing partners.

What's on the horizon for your studio this year?

I have kind of answered this above, and can’t say much more unfortunately!


Trent Krusters (Armello)

What is it you love about working in game development in Australia?

This is my home. I mean, the government support is on the up and up, but there's also world class talent here (always has been!) and the weather is great, the cities are fantastic, the community is only getting stronger and stronger. There's not much to dislike.


What are some of the highlights you are looking forward to from the industry in the next year?

More funding. That'd be nice! MIGW is always fantastic, but Freeplay's Parallels is my fav (a lil bias perhaps). If you really wanna see the earth-shattering talent and how far we're pushing forward the medium here in Australia, that's the one night of the year where you can be seriously inspired.

Do you think there are any distinctive qualities that make an Australian game "Australian?" I mean, we all know what Japanese games look and feel like. Do you see the global gaming community getting to a point where they can look at a game and instantly know it's from Australia?

I think that we're still finding our voice and collective artistic identity, and we can have conversations on what that is right now, but in my opinion, but an explicit voice won't fully arrive or form for another decade or so, when the indie scene has fully matured the creation of original content is standard.

What's on the horizon for your studio this year?

A whole lot more Armello and exciting new things across a wide range of areas. It's gonna be a big one for League of Geeks!


Morgan Jaffit (Hand of Fate)

What is it you love about working in game development in Australia?

That's easy! The community, which stretches widely across all aspects of local development. From the developers, to the event organisers, to the indies, to the big studio developers - everybody is working together to help us all do our best possible work. It's pretty amazing.


What are some of the highlights you are looking forward to from the industry in the next year?

I'm really keen to see what comes out of the Hipster Whale / Mighty Games / Pretty Great consortium. They managed to launch a bunch of great games last year, and I'm sure they'll do more of the same in 2016.

Do you think there are any distinctive qualities that make an Australian game "Australian?" I mean, we all know what Japanese games look and feel like. Do you see the global gaming community getting to a point where they can look at a game and instantly know it's from Australia?

Tough question, and I think the answer as of today is "No, there's not," but there is something forming on the horizon. A combination of gameplay focus and elegance combined with a distinct sense of humour and creative passion. In five years time, we'll look back at this era and be able to categorise it better with the advantage of hindsight, I think.

What's on the horizon for your studio this year?

We're dabbling in VR (we have a VR Tower Defence game, Atop the Wizards Tower, that's out for Gear VR and will come to Oculus) and we hope to show some more of the fruits of that experimentation this year. The big news is Hand of Fate 2, however. We'll be showing a lot of the things that make that special over the course of 2016.

- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
Aussie game developers on why Australia is such a great place to work
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