The Cleaning Up Of ‘Trash’, Explained By Its Creative Director

The Cleaning Up Of ‘Trash’, Explained By Its Creative Director
Image: Trash / 15 Minutes Of Game.

The game is called Trash, yet it’s anything but trash.

Melbourne-based studio 15 Minutes Of Game is an indie game studio with a goal of making “unique and meaningful games that speak to their values”. Their debut release on Android, I Want To Go To Mars, is a sweet game for kids and parents to bring interactivity to the classic bedtime storybook, with fun game elements for kids and cheeky jokes for parents.

Now the studio is aiming bigger with their next release Trash, which is one of many fantastic Australian games to get backing from the Victorian government. To learn a little more about the game, I had a chat with the creative director of the project, Charlie Kenihan.

What is Trash all about?

So Trash is a multiplayer action-adventure puzzle game, basically. It’s set in a post-human world where human life has died away due to their choices and their impact on the environment. Basically, new life force has emerged called “Resin”, which inhabits different bits of trash and rubbish to create cool little creatures that take over the world essentially. So you play on the ruins of humanity on an island called E-Corp island, which was like an evil energy company. It’s multiplayer online co-op so you explore the world, you solve puzzles in procedurally generated challenge zones together, and you upgrade your character with little attachments that give you abilities. You’ll find plenty of bugs, you report the bugs to us, and then we fix the bugs. That’s pretty much what it is at the moment.

What inspired the conception of Trash?

Both myself and my business partner Nick are very environmentally focused. We actually came up with the idea for Trash after we both had experiences with younger family members talking about the environment, and they were really sort of devoid of hope and it was really difficult to hear. We were in a meeting after that and were just like, “Is there anything we can do?”, so we decided that our next game should be based on sustainable principles and make something that’s accessible for younger people to learn about sustainability in a friendly lens of a game that’s not thrown at your face. That was where the concept of the rubbish came from, and then the design of the game was figured out by what our skill sets are, what we’re interested in playing, and things like that.

The Cleaning Up Of ‘Trash’, Explained By Its Creative Director
Image: Trash / 15 Minutes Of Game.

Why is it important to you and 15 Minutes Of Game to make games with an overarching message behind them?

I think Nick and I are both pretty deep thinkers. When we play games, we thrive on ones that have a bit more depth to them. I think a lot of games at the moment, there’s a lot of rip-offs of each other and a lot of superficiality and stuff like that. Whereas as indie makers, we believe it’s important to put love and care into the product, you know, and instil something that’s sort of intangible in it. For us, it was just a no brainer to create games that can make a difference because as creators, we are always striving to make a difference on our players.

How’s the development of Trash been so far?

It’s been hectic. We started the pre-pre-pre-production in 2020, so as soon as the pandemic hit, pretty much. We moved online and started early prototyping, and then after doing that we started like recruiting more team members. In figuring out the scope of the game, we knew we would need more. So we worked on a prototype with a new set of team members in order to get funding from Film Victoria. That was successful, so we ended up getting funding which covered us for 2021 to make this public alpha. We’ve had all up about eight people work on and off on the public alpha, and we’ve had two team members that have been poached by other better-paying companies. We find them, help them become awesome, and then they take them, which is always how it works [laughs]. It’s fair enough. We’re sort of in that phase of using the public alpha to help secure the next round of funding to further the development of the game. So yeah, it’s been pretty hectic year. Nick and I are both pretty wrecked, so we’re looking forward to the summer, I think.

The Cleaning Up Of ‘Trash’, Explained By Its Creative Director
Image: Trash / 15 Minutes Of Game.

Fair enough! Have you stumbled into any challenges while developing the game?

Yeah. It’s our first experience making multiplayer, so I think that was the biggest component. We estimated that a multiplayer system would take two to three times longer than a single player system would, and it ended up taking four to five times longer! That really annihilated the scheduling, as you can imagine. It was a real challenge that we actually had a bunch of earlier deadlines that we had to push back and it stretched the team pretty thin. There was an amazing lesson to learn, because you don’t really know until you get your hands into it. With the art department everything was pretty chill, but especially with the developers, they were improving so much every day that they code that they were having to rewrite because they were just writing it so much better later on, which is awesome. The improvement was massive, but it’s also like they were having to redo bits as well, which was also adding the schedule. That was probably the biggest hurdle, apart from just being an indie developer and working in the pandemic. Y’know, the normal hurdles.

Of course, I’ve heard that a lot [laughs]. How has the development of Trash been different to the development of I Want To Go To Mars? Did you guys learn anything from your debut that you brought along to make your sophomore?

I think the beauty of Mars was that it was the first project that Nick and I had worked on together. That’s when it started off as just a casual summer student project. Then Nick and I realised that we really had something there and that we worked really well together. Our skill sets really complimented each other and we’re both just workaholic maniacs. So we were like, “Actually, this works. Let’s see what we can do with this”. I think the releasing of that was just really liberating for us. In terms of the skillset, it’s a very different game to what Trash is so there wasn’t a lot of transferable skill sets. Trash was a completely different animal but it gave us the confidence to be know that we could do it. I think that helped us get funding and it helped us with publishers now because we appear more confident than we are. That was the best part about Mars but yeah, Trash is a very different animal.

The Cleaning Up Of ‘Trash’, Explained By Its Creative Director
Image: Trash / 15 Minutes Of Game.

Oh yeah, they’re definitely very different games. Both gorgeous, but very different. The alpha build is now available on Steam as you know, because you were there.

I put it there, yeah [laughs].

You did that! [laugh] So what kind of response have you gotten so far?

It’s been really good. In the first couple of days, we had about 3,000 people downloading it and playing it, which is awesome. We’ve got about 5,000 wishlists at the moment on Steam so yeah, it’s going really good. Especially the amount of coverage we’re able to generate ourselves, we’re maximising everywhere we can. The project timeline is planned for a 2023 release. We’re actually really well poised for a strong release provided we get incremental funding like we are planning. I think releasing an alpha to us is like… We wanna release a product so we can get product testing and figure out what the best parts of the game are, what the boring parts of the game are, and what we need in it.

Overwhelmingly, all the feedback was really detailed polish feedback, which is what you expect from a vertical slice. It was great because people were playing it and being like, “I’m expecting more out of this alpha”. In our heads, we were like, “Well I mean, it’s alpha, it’s supposed to be a bit rough”, but people were really wanting that extra layer of quality. I think it really speaks to how the game feels, so that’s been really great. After we release a couple more patches in the new year. I think it’ll be in a really good state. It just needs just needs like a bit of tweaking here and there to add the proper playability. Once those patches are in, we’ll be super happy.

The demo for Trash is now available on Steam, with a patch due mid-January that will include bug fixes and additional sound effects and story elements. The full game is planned for release on July 4, 2023.

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