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Made In Australia

Made In Australia: Catchweight Studio

We speak to Melbourne-based Catchweight Studio about their foundations

In July last year I was perusing Kickstarter like I sometimes do and I stumbled across Conscript, a survival horror game set during World War I inspired by the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. From that descriptor alone I was interested, but after checking out the game’s Kickstarter campaign I discovered the developer, Catchweight Studio, was based in Melbourne, Australia.

Fast-forward nine months and I am sitting down with the man behind Catchweight Studio and Conscript, Jordan Mochi, a 23-year-old born and bred Melburnian with an Arts/History degree.

Like most game designers, Mochi grew up playing video games, enjoying the many iconic adventures that Nintendo had to offer. It was this enjoyment that instilled a dream to one day become a developer, although it felt more like a pipedream than something achievable.

“Deep down I knew it was what I wanted to do when I was older, but for some reason I never really realised it was a possibility until second-year Uni,” says Mochi.

After finishing school Mochi jumped straight into an Arts degree at the University of Melbourne without thinking about the repercussions – such as the debt.

“I should have taken a gap year after high school because I could have sat down and thought about what I really wanted to do.”

The man behind Catchweight Studio – Jordan Mochi

It was at Uni in 2017 that Mochi decided to take the plunge and start developing his own game. Even with an Arts and History degree, Mochi knew his calling lay elsewhere.

“When you’re at uni you have extra time, and when you have an Arts degree like I did you should be figuring out what you want to do with your life because an Arts degree isn’t necessarily going to lead straight into a job.

“As a kid I always wanted to get into the games industry but I don’t think I really understood there was a path there in Australia, especially when I was younger. I don’t think the scene was that big here, it didn’t feel like something you could aim for.”

After downloading Logic and Game Maker (which he still uses to this day), Mochi started teaching himself how to code and started practising drawing art for game design and went from there. Whenever he had spare time he was either learning something new, practising, planning or writing. After a while, Mochi started to get an idea of what kind of game he wanted to create, which was to link his history degree with game design. That idea ended up leading to Conscript.

One of Mochi’s favourite memories growing up was playing Mario 64 with his cousin and trying to beat the Big Penguin Race level. He recalls getting the whole family involved in beating the level, with his mum and grandmother even giving it a crack, which is why Nintendo games are so special to him.

Nowadays, Mochi rarely finds time to play games. Although he says he probably played enough video games as a kid “to know what good game design is.”

Like a lot of the older generation who didn’t grow up around video games, Mochi’s parents don’t see his vision when it comes to his career aspirations. Despite that, they are supportive and can see that he is happy doing what he is doing, which Mochi says is “what every parent wants.”

Conscript in action

When Conscript was in the planning phase, Mochi was toying with the idea of setting the game in different timelines. He refers to it as the Mario 64 of horror, and it would have seen the player go into different worlds and experience different wars. Mochi admits that on paper the idea sounds good, however the idea lacked direction and was too ambitious for a one-man team.

While Mochi may have a university degree, he has no formal game development education. He did take a Logic course before deciding game development was where his future lay, but he admits that he borderline failed, something that convinced him he would never be able to code. Like most self-taught creatives, YouTube has been an incredibly helpful resource – Mochi jokes that he went to “YouTube University” because everything he’s needed to learn has been available there.

“When you first try and learn something, especially game development and code, there’s that six-month to a year period where you’re dependent on YouTube or tutorials. The goal is then to ween yourself off them and instead of thinking, oh I need to implement this, let’s go look at a video, you just have to start to think I’ll just try and do it myself. That’s when the real learning begins.”

Mochi admits that he probably wouldn’t be where he is if it wasn’t for YouTube, and although there was a lot of wasted time, he says that if he was ever to make a second game it would take him half the time.

“In that first year period you’re making so many mistakes and you’re doing things really poorly, but that’s part of the process.”

When it comes to Mochi’s interest in history, he says that he enjoys researching different wars, with World War 1 in particular being a passion of his. He’s not sure how or why he started, but he’s glad that he can use what he learnt from uni and apply it to Conscript’s game development.

As a kid I always wanted to get into the games industry but I don’t think I really understood there was a path there in Australia, especially when I was younger

For a lot of people 2020 was a tough year, whether it was financial or employment struggles, health issues or simply not being able to see loved ones and friends. For Mochi as a solo developer, 2020 presented him with a chance to make a dent in the game’s development and to make a fist at being a game developer full time. The first step was registering the business and getting it all setup. The second step was the Kickstarter, where Mochi was chasing A$30,000 to fund the rest of the development, and not only did he reach his goal, but he secured a total of A$39,659 in funding.

In Conscript’s early days, Mochi, like most students, was working while studying and working on the game in whatever spare time he had. It was a slow process and made the game’s development a challenge. However, the success of the Kickstarter allowed Mochi to focus on developing the game full time, with the funds raised essentially becoming his salary. He says that as a result of the pandemic, he’s been able to stretch the money out further than he would have otherwise.

The Kickstarter was an interesting experience for Mochi, as most campaigns usually obtain the majority of their funding in the first and last couple of days. Conscript on the other hand had a steady stream of pledges. Mochi puts it down to having a good demo available for people to try before they buy, as well as having a solid community on Discord.

Asking people for funding when you’re a first-time dev can be a tough sell. This is why Mochi wanted to make sure that the demo was the best representation of Conscript that it could be.

“It’s not like I had any industry experience or any projects before this, this was my first thing ever, so I felt like there was a lot more pressure on me to prove to people that I’m not fucking around,” explains Mochi.

Mochi says the Kickstarter has been the highlight of his career thus far. With many projects failing to hit their funding goal, Conscript’s success gave him reassurance that what he was making had a crowd and wasn’t a waste of his time and money.

Conscript concept art

However, he does acknowledge that doing a Kickstarter – a successful one – does come with extra commitments such as updates for the backers, but he’d much rather have the extra work than not have been successful.

“Everything is time-consuming. Even just making a GIF to put on the update is time-consuming or recording that little slice of gameplay – it’s all time. Obviously it would be better spent on the game, but I’ve made a really conscious effort – if you look at the Kickstarter I’ve been doing monthly updates, I just want them to know that I’m not going to be a guy who just bolts with the $40k.”

Even little updates are worth sharing with the backers of a project explains Mochi, something that some developers may not realise.

“I think a lot of devs think that if it’s not this brand-new thing that will blow everyone’s mind then it’s not worth showing, but everything is worth showing because everything takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.”

Mochi, who recently delayed the launch of Conscript from Q2 2021 to 2022, says that he could have hit the May release date if he wanted to, but it would have come at a cost to both the game and his health and wellbeing, with Mochi revealing he works 12-hour days most days.

“This is my life – this is me, and if I was to push it out before I knew it was ready I would hate myself.”

With recent high-profile releases coming under fire for launching in a buggy or broken state, people have been understanding of the decision to delay Conscript, especially given that Mochi is a one-man team.

The Catchweight Studio setup

Creating a game as a solo developer is hard enough when focusing just on game development, but the reality is that being a solo game dev means that you have to be all over all aspects of running a studio and developing a game.

“If I want to be successful in this industry or my career, there’s a lot more to it than just making the game,” says Mochi.

“There’s always more to it than what the actual job is. Even in terms of marketing or getting Twitter posts ready or whatever it is, it’s all just part of it, and you either get used to it or you don’t, and you’ll suffer if you don’t.”

If there’s one thing that Mochi wishes he had access to it would be a mentor of sorts – someone to bounce ideas off or to give a little bit of direction when needed. In saying that, Mochi does value the input of the game’s community members, having used them to help shape Conscript’s Kickstarter demo.

So far Mochi has kept a low profile but says that he wants to get more active in the local scene and that he needs to put himself out there more, revealing that he kept his game dev career mostly a secret until after the Kickstarter.

When it comes to putting yourself out there, there’s no better way to get your game out there than attending game conventions. In terms of showing off Conscript at conventions, he says that he would be keen to look into the options to bring Conscript to PAX Aus 2021 to expose it to more players.

Currently Conscript has only been confirmed for a PC release, but Mochi reveals that he would love to bring it to consoles and has held talks with publishers about the possibility of making it happen in the future. However, Mochi knows his limitations as a one-man team and says that he doesn’t want to bite off more than he can chew, and that linking up with a publisher will improve the game’s chances of hitting other platforms.

“If I team up with a publisher, which I would say at this point is likely, then there is the chance that they would handle that and it would take a lot off my plate.”

Of all console platforms, the Nintendo is the one that Mochi believes would suit Conscript the best.

“Not just because of my own bias, but that’s the best place financially to launch something like this,” says Mochi. Although he does admit that seeing his game on a Nintendo platform would be amazing.

I think a lot of devs think that if it’s not this brand-new thing that will blow everyone’s mind then it’s not worth showing, but everything is worth showing because everything takes a lot of time and a lot of effort

Now that Mochi has been a game developer for a couple of years, how has he found the experience?

“Overall, it’s been a lot more work than I could have ever imagined,” says the Catchweight Studio founder.

Despite the heavy workload, Mochi says that his motivation has remained fairly consistent throughout the game’s development but is growing in recent times, and he believes that Kickstarter has played a big part in that.

“I’ll wake up and all I want to do is work on the game,” he says.

“I don’t know what it is, the past few months have been really awesome for me. I feel like I am always full of ideas and I feel like I have something special.

“For a while I was like a lot of devs, I kind of hated my project for a long time. I was so self-critical of it and I hated it. That’s what most creative people go through I think.”

Although the game’s development still has at least a year to go, seeing the game come together has made Mochi excited to get the final product in the hands of players and backers.

“For the first time I can see the finish line,” says Mochi.

“Whereas for a lot of developers the finish line is invisible, you can’t see it. Just seeing that finish line has motivated me to make this the best I can possibly make it.”

A young Jordan Mochi with his Nintendo haul from Santa

When he’s not developing Conscript, Mochi is a trained MMA fighter and practices one of the many types of martial arts he has learned over the years. He says that keeping fit is important, as your physical health can impact your motivation and mental health.

Even though Mochi’s game development journey is only just beginning, it’s easy to see why he believed he was born to make games. He’s got the drive, the passion and the creative nous to make a name for himself in the industry. Not only am I excited to play the finished version of Conscript, but I’m also excited to see what comes next for the talented developer.

Written By

Despite a childhood playing survival horrors, point and clicks and beat ’em ups, these days Zach tries to convince people that Homefront: The Revolution is a good game while pining for a sequel to The Order: 1886 and a live-action Treasure Planet film. Carlton, Burnley FC & SJ Sharks fan. Get around him on Twitter @tightinthejorts

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