I can't remember Morgan Jaffit's exact words, but I'm sure he won't mind me paraphrasing. He said something along the lines of "I'm really fucking excited about Australian games development right now". He might dispute the swear word but I'm almost certain he used it.
He said those words at PAX Australia. We were just about to take part in a panel focusing on the future of game development in Australia. We both agreed that the future felt bright.
And Morgan probably knows better than anyone; having lived through the car crash that was the Australian industry crash, having played a big part in its revival as a founder of Defiant Games (responsible for Ski Safari, currently working on the successfully Kickstarted Hand Of Fate). Both he and I had very similar feelings whilst wandering through the massive indie section at PAX Australia. That feeling was "goddamn there are a lot of incredible games being developed in Australia right now".
Again I can't remember the precise wording, but I opened up the panel and said something along the lines of: "when I started at Kotaku Australia the narrative surrounding local development was grim. It was about redundancies, it was about studios closing, it was about the overseas exodus of Australian talent. In the following years we started telling stories about the recovery of the industry, about the small scale stories of local indies done good."
"What," I asked the panel, "is the story the Australian games industry is telling now?"
The answer was near unanimous: Australia is a country that is now producing some extremely good video games. That is the story. That is, in short, what's happening right now.
And that wasn't always the case. Sure, Australia has produced its fair share of great games — its Shadowruns, its Way of the Exploding Fists. It was responsible for The Hobbit, a super decent Transformers tie-in — Australia has made good video games, but local studios were, for the most part, guns-for-hire. That was the business model. No shame in it, it just wasn't always conducive to great video games.
But the environment that currently exists is conducive to the creation of good video games.
Earlier at PAX Australia I spoke to Chris Charla, Global lead of [email protected] This is the man responsible for taking indie games out of the bedroom and onto Xbox LIVE. In his words the Australian games industry was "surprisingly mature". A strange thing to say, but what he meant is that the Australian industry is ahead of the curve in ways you might not expect. It has a great depth of talent, a great mix of experience and youth, a great community. It has all these things and it is extremely forward facing in a way that most development communities are not.
And it's forward facing now because it had to be. There was no other choice. As a result of the afore-mentioned industry crash, Australian game developers were forced to race down the path they're currently heading down. Developers were forced to innovate, they were forced to think small and big all at the same time and they were forced to play to their collective strengths. Perhaps more importantly they were forced to huddle together under the same lone campfire and share advice and expertise with one another. The end result is a uniquely supportive community that has grown and evolved together. Crucially, they are also making great games together.
I wrote that my favourite game at PAX Australia was Expand, a brilliantly innovative "circular labyrinth" puzzler, but it could just as easily have been Framed — which is now available on iOS and features one of the most interesting high concepts I've ever seen. It could have been Screencheat. It could have been Assault Android Cactus, it could have been Wave Wave, it could have been the afore-mentioned Hand of Fate, it could have been Armello, it could have been Black Annex, it could have been Metrocide, it could have been any number of games — sincerely. Australia is currently riding a wave of tremendous video games and long may it continue.
This week Framed came out — I already mentioned that — but for the last couple of days I haven't been able to stop playing Crossy Road, another Australian game released today on iOS. Particulars was also officially released on Steam today after spending a fair amount of time in early access — there's another top quality game. That's three great video games in one single week. A fairly good innings by any measure.
No-one, least of all me, is saying things are perfect. The Australian industry is still $10 million lighter as a result of the federal budget, Indie development is still a high-risk endeavour, and as an industry it still needs to better serve the hordes of graduates streaming from colleges across the country. But the narrative has shifted. It has shifted dramatically and the stories we now tell are positive ones. We used to talk about the collapse of an industry. Then we spoke in guarded terms about its recovery. Now we're talking about the great video games being created in this country and that is a good thing.