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.