The Story Of Australian Game Development Is The Story Of Great Video Games

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.


    I had no idea just how strong the Australian indie scene was until I played some of these games at PAX. I thought it was a couple of good ideas that were struggling to get traction outside of a small group of people.

    Holy shit was I wrong.

    This isn't just a couple of good ideas, it's a wave of brilliance. More importantly, it's executed amazingly well.

    I am worried that many of these games aren't going to get the attention they deserve.

      OK, you've just convinced me to go to PAX next year.

      I am worried that many of these games aren't going to get the attention they deserve.

      This isn't an issue just facing Aussie devs, but every single indie dev out there who hasn't already made a mark on the scene. I've been looking more and more into what indie games are being developed at the moment, and it's staggering how many there are. It's like for every indie game you know about, there are about 30 others that you've never heard of, and you probably never will. It's a lot like trying to make it in a band in some respects - just making the game doesn't mean it will actually make it's way in front of people even if it's amazing, just because you have to fight so hard to get noticed.

      The good thing though is that I've found that games aren't locked into the same borders that bands are. People tend to lump bands together as US bands, UK bands or Australian bands, and it's difficult for them to get recognition outside of their own region, but the nature of games seems to be universal - international audiences are taking notice of Aussie devs, and are giving them as much respect as they do any other developer. It's fantastic to see that games really seem to speak for themselves.

    Are there any Australian AAA games coming out? Besides Borderlands the Pre-Sequel?

      After Borderlands the Pre-Sequel, should anybody even attempt to release a new Aussie AAA game?

        Why? Pre Sequel is great quality game.

          I know, that's what I was saying.

            XD I don't know your sentence sounds so negative. It sounds like "after what happened to pre-sequel (horrible horrible) why should anybody release a AAA game"

              It could be taken either way without the enthusiastic grin I'm sure accompanied it.

              Yay internet

              I meant, after the Pre-Sequel brilliance why should anyone even attempt to compete?


                  The American constitution gives everybody the right to hang a pair of bear arms in their house, what's so confusing about that?

                  Last edited 20/11/14 3:26 pm

    Wait up. IK+ Did I not read why that picture was there? Was that an Aussie game? If so, that game was responsible for some of my happiest C64 moments growing up...

      That's actually Way of the Exploding Fist. IK+ was not Australian, but it did rip off a quality Australian game!

    Why does nobody ever mention TY when talking about Australian game development?

    It was pretty successful, and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2 remains one of my all time favourite video games!

    I believe the development team behind L.A Noire has reformed or is in some way involved with a new open world title named Whore of the Orient. That's probably the biggest budget title that is currently in the works now, though I may be wrong.

      I may be wrong, but I think that project was indefinitely canned?

        Not officially, but I'm 90% sure that nothing is happening with it (a lot of dev problems there).

    Indie game development in australia is big, but how many developers are actually making money and able to support a family? I suspect not too many.
    Once the mobile game scene is saturated (if it isn't already) indie game developers are going to find it even more difficult.
    How many more Professor Robot Adventures in Castle Frankenstein do we want to play?

    Is Framed available yet? The idea behind that game is truly exciting.

    The scene is pretty exciting right now. The initial funding from Screen Aus is only now just showing the fruits. Sure it's $10M was cut but we still had $10M invested. That's $10M more than the year before.

    Beer + Pixels meet up in Sydney (which I dont attend very often) is bursting at the seams in Broadway every month. A mixture or students and pros.

    I think most gamers don't realise what games are actually Aussie as we don't fly the flag that much and tall poppy syndrome holds us back a little. You mentioned Framed, Crossy Road and Particulars this week. Throw in our (SMG Studio) game One More Line, Not Doppler's Earn to Die 2 and that's 5 quality games released this week (4 on the same day Nov 20) that all are completely different.

    Sure there's less AAA but I'm not sure that's everyone's end game.

    Also we should note there were some NZ companies (The awesome Swordly was NZ) at PAX Aus so we Aussies cant all the credit... well maybe we can :)

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