Blue Tongue: So Long And Thanks For The Memories

It's February 22 2011, at Blue Tongue. I've just arrived in Melbourne, to attend the De Blob 2 launch party. I have an interview with the Game Director, Nick Hagger who is, typically, in the midst of juggling a mega schedule; gone from a desk I suspect he rarely has time to sit at.

I lower myself onto Hagger's chair to wait, and swivel around for the view. Blue Tongue is in full swing.

It feels like the last day of School - people bustle, shout across the room at one another. The walls are adorned with sketches I'm not supposed to look at, computer screens tabbed out with designs for video games I'm not supposed to be aware of. Despite the fact that tonight is the launch party for De Blob 2, and each and every person in this studio has the right to be loafing around watching youtube all day, everyone is ridiculously busy. In the best possible way. In the most fulfilling way. In the way people always are when they are passionate about their work.

Eventually Nick Hagger arrives, at 100 mph. He has just returned from a planning meeting for Blue Tongue's next project; a game Haggar probably isn't supposed to talk to me about, but he just can't help himself. It's a big project, an ambitious project, his excitement is contagious and palpable. He has huge plans for Blue Tongue and for a second you almost believe he could manifest AAA titles from the palm of his hands, from sheer willpower. He is savvy and charismatic. His studio is motivated, packed with some of the most talented folks in the games industry.

I distinctly remember being caught up in the fervour of it all. I remember thinking to myself, this is not the picture of a studio in decline.

Numerous studios seem to have come and gone in the past couple of years, and with each closure springs the opportunity to write about the obvious - what's going wrong with the industry, are we in a transition phase, what was happening behind the scenes. No doubt, at some point in the future, I will also make an attempt to write that piece - but now? It doesn't really feel like the right time.

Because, as corny as it sounds, Blue Tongue was more than just another studio, it was a totem - an example to the world that, yes, top quality, innovative video games could be developed in this country. That major console releases could be designed and built in Australia. So often the video games industry can appear so far from reach, to the extent that it feels otherworldly, as though you could never be involved - you might as well want to be a rock star, or a a Hollywood superstar. That's what it means to live in a country so far from the major hubs of game development - but Blue Tongue was like a touching point. Blue Tongue made it feel like working in the games industry was an achievable goal, like it was something that anyone could do, if you put your mind to it.

And let's never forget, Blue Tongue made incredible games. The original De Blob was arguably the best 3rd party release on the Nintendo Wii - a game transformed by Blue Tongue into something unique and tactile. A ponderous purple cow in a sea of murky browns. Its sequel, De Blob 2, was a game that I, personally, fell in love with instantly. You got the impression that De Blob was a game that sprang from a different place, a different time where reward wasn't coldly drawn from the dull dirge of gamification, instead deliriously delivered through explosions of colour, sound and glorious feedback. De Blob was just fun like that.

But that's what gets lost in corporate talk of "strategic realignment" and "right-sizing" - the fun of video games and the incredible skill set of Blue Tongue as a development studio, the incredible work that these talented people, as individuals and as a team, put together. In the hope that we don't forget what Blue Tongue achieved, I'd like to say a personal thank you to everyone at the studio, for all the hard work they put into their games, for their willingness to take risks and create new experiences.

To everyone at the studio who lost their jobs in this closure - good luck in the future, even though I'm fairly sure you won't need it. Blue Tongue - I loved your work. Thanks for the memories, the colours, the music - and the character who spoke garbled Spanish.

I loved that little guy.


Comments

    Very well written farewell Mark. It's sad that a studio with such talented people is closing. I hope the employees move onto bigger and better things and it's just a small hiccup in their lives.

    So long and thanks for all the fish

      So sad that it should come to this.

        We tried to warn you all but oh dear!

          You may not share our intellect... which might explain your disrespect

            For all the natural wonders that grow around you

              So long, so long and thanks for all the fiiish.

    Anyone with a last name as awesome as Haggar is destined to succeed at life.

    I hope all the people working there are able to find other work in the industry without having to leave Australia. They were about the last local developer I'd have expected to go under, especially so quickly.

    I know I said something to this effect in the press release thread, but I really hope that everyone from Blue Tongue is able to continue to develop games, to continue loving games, and be able to chase after their goals. I'd love to see you guys reform and self-publish on Steam or something like that and become a major Australian success story not once, but twice.

    Best of luck in the future, guys.

    I can honestly say I bought both games at release and at full price. I supported them because they were games I loved. To find that the industry as a whole (or possibly hole) is unable to sustain such a wonderful wonderful development house regardless of where they're from is a terrible sign of the times.

    Beautifully said, Mark! I'm sure gonna miss the place. Blue Tongue was definitely more than just a studio - it was like a home full of family to me.

    I fired them off an e-mail as soon as I heard about it yesterday - I'd always intended to do so back when I was actually playing de Blob 2, but never got around to it. I completed both of those games 100%, they're among my most favourite titles of this generation. So sad to hear they got the plug pulled on them.

    Unfortunately the current game development scene appears to only be able to support either a small developer making iOS/Android games and small steam/indie games or large studios making or breaking it on blockbusters. It's not economically viable for these mid-size developers anymore. Development costs make it too hard to make blockbusters and everyone is now on the lookout for the next 'indie' hit, not a well crafted game by a talented bunch of developers.

    All the best to them.

    First off, this is probably the best written farewell i've ever had the (unfortunate) pleasure to read. I too was at that de Blob 2 launch party in Melbourne, and got to meet and chat with some of the cool people at Blue Tongue who made that awesome Aussie game that i just got hooked on. Now i feel guilty for getting the review copies and not purchasing their awesome titles in support...

    To all at Blue Tongue, i wish you the best of luck in your upcoming ventures.
    *Raises glass in a toast*

    Such a shame that they've shut down. Hopefully out of this, some smaller indie studios can come out of this and become the next halfbrick.

    Amen :( always sad to see another local dev go.

    Great piece Mark, loved it.

    Does this surprise me? No. Games publishers and big game studios are bastards and will always be bastards.

    This is the very reason we are seeing a huge increase in the indie game scene and small development studios releasing games via digital distribution methods (Facebook, AppStore etc). That and developers working for themselves don't get paid in peanuts. AAA studios - may you rest in peace.

      The more I think about bluetongues demise the angrier I get. Your comments offer me some hope though - perhaps I'll stick to indie games from now on and save my soul in the process.

    This is a very heartfelt piece.

    It's extremely unfortunate that such an innovative company was sacrificed at the altar of "right-sizing".

    BlueTongue would still be going strong if it weren't for THQ. So if we need to blame anyone, blame them. I think it's sad that they've done this. BlueTongue could've achieved great things if THQ would give them the chance.

    Good to see that great talent doesn't go unnoticed. Blue Tongue is was one of my favourite developers and their dedication towards their games and fans rivals that of AAA developers.

    Good luck to them and their families.

    This makes me mad. I'm sure they were a profitable stuido, yet their o/s owners shut them down all the same. Really takes the heart out of our industry, and makes me look at all games from the major publishers in a new and unpleasant way.

      I'm usually the first one on the 'corporations are evil' bandwagon, but I don't think it's the case in this instance. Bluetongue clearly weren't profitable, otherwise they wouldn't have been closed down. It's sad that lots of people lost their jobs but this studio was underperforming for a long time. deBlob was an interesting game, and it reviewed well, but it wasn't very fun which is why no one bought it. The sequel didn't address any of the problems of the first game which is why it didn't sell either. The sales figures for number 2 were in the low thousands *worldwide*. They botched it. deBlob2 was their opportunity to show they could make a commercial success of a quirky idea and they failed.

      I work in a games store and I have literally NEVER SOLD a copy of deBlob2. How many people here actually bought the game? If you don't support the local industry through sales, then don't be surprised that studios closed down.

        Oh OK. I guess because I bought them I thought everyone else did too. I do believe what you are saying though as I certainly don't work in the industry. I guess I feel a little better about ti all now, that being the case. Still sad to see them go.

    A damn depressing thing. I worked for BT back in the day, and it really was a fine place. The people were talented and enthusiastic, the ideas were always bouncing off the walls. And with BT's demise as well as Studio Oz and Team Bondi, the future of the Aussie games industry looks bleak. Worse still, given that the Aussie government just doesn't support the industry, its comeback looks ever out of reach. I hope companies like Iron Monkey and Firemint can keep up the good fight and show what Aus is made of.

    And as for people who say this isn't THQ's fault, you are provably wrong. It wasn't about BT's profitability, given the go-ahead to create new I.P., they've shown their skills. The problem was thus. Back when BT and Studio Oz etc were made, the AUS dollar was a lot less. As a result, it was FAR cheaper to get games made over in Aus, even as an American publisher. But as the US dollar has gone into decline and the Aus dollar has risen in value, the currencies reached parity. Suddenly, it wasn't cheap to use Aus anymore. Suddenly, you were spending the same to make a game in Aus, and there was a hellish time difference getting in the way of constant contact. That is what killed it, and that is why THQ downsized (and it is downsizing, rightsizing isn't a f**king thing).

    So, in the words of another wise commentator on this story, "They used us while we were cheap".

      BT have NEVER created a new IP. DeBlob was given to them by THQ to develop after actually being created at the Utrecht Design School ( http://tiny.cc/avr68 ). Not sure what you are referring to as them 'showing their skills'. The only other stuff that has come out of the studio is licensed IP (most of it utter shite - Barnyard and SuperHero Squad for example).

      I'm not disagreeing that the Aussie dollar was the nail in the coffin, but the fact that the last 3 BT games BOMBED is a bigger factor IMHO. SuperHero Squad was a fucking mess, and no one bought deBlob 1 or 2.

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