Made In Australia: Ghost Pattern

For a lot of game development studios, the modus operandi is to have a traditional model of hierarchy; a chain of command that is generally dictated by how much power and responsibility you have, as well as how much money you make. While it’s not as prevalent among indie studios, there’s still often a sense of overarching power that can strangle a developer’s creative freedom. One team that is doing away with the traditional structure is Melbourne-based studio Ghost Pattern, which operates more like a vehicle for creatives, each of whom has left their imprint on the studio and its continuous evolution.

Rather than one or two people micro-managing the studio’s project, the team at Ghost Pattern empower one another, entrusting each other to make the right call when it’s required. As a result it’s created a sense of openness and honesty within the studio, with the team often coming together to discuss ideas and feedback without any fear of ridicule.

While the studio is still technically a company, the members of Ghost Pattern are working towards becoming a co-operative – an organisational structure that sees everyone on a level playing field when it comes to legal rights and decision making.

Maize Wallin, Ghost Pattern’s audio architect, explains that, in a co-operative structure, a studio acts “under a constitution crafted by the workers, and hold the values of international co-ops; solidarity, equity, equality, democracy, self-responsibility, and self-help.”

Ghost Pattern on assignment in Inverloch in 2016. The team has since expanded to include Kalonica Quigley and Aspen Forster

The co-op dynamic is fuelled by a collective respect for one another’s profession and craft. It’s for that reason that whoever the overseeing person is on a certain area of the game, whether it be art, production or sound design, they will have the final say on matters relating to that area. But that doesn’t mean that other ideas are not encouraged.

“A common misconception about a co-op structure is that a member’s experience is not properly valued, as everyone gets an equal say,” says Wallin. “But we respect each other enough to know that we are all well-rounded game creators, with opinions that do matter. Everyone gets a voice and is valued. Ideas are not often dismissed, but always discussed.”

Marigold ‘Goldie’ Bartlett, the studio’s lead artist and a self-confessed sensitive soul, reveals that having her ideas heard and discussed and not scoffed at means that she still feels valued as a creator and a member of the team, despite having less experience than some of the other developers.

“If an idea of mine gets knocked back I am not offended because I know we will either spend time together looking at it and thinking about it before it’s dismissed (or adapted), or there will be a really obvious reason it doesn’t work. But I am never made to feel silly for bringing up an idea.”

Goldie likens the setup to that of a band, “where you know each other’s strengths and foibles and work with or around them to move forward.” She continues by stating that the members are “lucky” to work in a structure where they are all on equal footing, which allows all members – including part-time and guest devs – to join in on conversations regarding vision and design choices. However, she concedes that discussions around business decisions are usually reserved for the team’s core group.

The origins of Ghost Pattern date back to 2016, when Jason Bakker and Russell Dilley decided it was time to leave their jobs at League of Geeks and Wicked Witch Software and start something new, and that something new was Wayward Strand­ – the project that has evolved alongside the studio.

“We had worked together for years and knew we had a lot of shared interests and desires in game development, and felt it was time to try to make our own thing,” says Bakker.

Bakker, who grew up in Albury-Wodonga before moving to Melbourne when he was 11, graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Multimedia Systems (Games) in 2006 and was lucky enough get his first game dev job at Wicked Witch Software thanks to a Film Victoria internship grant. At Wicked Witch, Bakker worked as a programmer and designer on AFL and NRL games, as well as serving as lead programmer and designer on the brand-new IP Catapult King. He credits those first seven years of his career for teaching him a lot of what he knows today. After Wicked Witch he joined League of Geeks, working on their Armello project that they were launching on Kickstarter, as well as the game’s Early Access release on Steam and PS4. Bakker has also contributed to a number of smaller projects, including Shadow Field, an unreleased XCOM-style game for iPhone and a group of interactive albums with Ben Weatherall known as the FUTUREVOX series.

Much like Bakker, Dilley hails from outside of Melbourne, growing up in Kangaroo Ground, a rural-esque town about an hour outside the city in Melbourne’s east that he claims “had the best of both worlds.” Dilley’s first industry job was at Wicked Witch Software, where he had completed some work placement previously as part of his university course. He would impress during his short stint there, helping him land a gig after graduating. Dilley would spend the next eight years at Wicked Witch as a programmer and designer working on sports titles and other IPs for major consoles and handheld devices, as well as a PC and mobile.

But we respect each other enough to know that we are all well-rounded game creators, with opinions that do matter

– Maize Wallin (Sound Design, Music, Ghost Pattern)

So what does the name Ghost Pattern mean? If anything. Dilley reveals that the name came to him one evening while watching an old episode of Angel whose plot featured a ghost.

“The name had a nice ring to it, loosely bringing together ideas of history, legacy and iteration, so I mentioned it to Jason the next day.”

“Once I heard it I really liked it, and found a lot of meaning in it that I still really enjoy,” continues Bakker.

“For example, it’s a way to describe the process of making a game. Our team has, by now, spent years working together on making this game – this artifact – for people to experience. Each player will have their own unique, personal experience and relationship with this artifact, and that creates a kind of ghostly connection between us and the work that we’re doing now, and them at the time that they play it.”

Despite a strong foundation of industry experience, both Bakker and Dilley knew early doors that Ghost Pattern’s core team needed to expand beyond the two of them, and it wasn’t long after that Maize Wallin (audio), Goldie Bartlett (art) and Georgia Symons all joined the studio – helping shape both Ghost Pattern and Wayward Strand for the better.

Not only is the team made up from an eclectic source of experience – both Bakker and Dilley have over 13 years of experience in game development, while Wallin and Goldie have seven years experience, but the foundations of the team are also built on rich and varied personalities and backgrounds, which contributes to the team’s dynamic. You could almost call the studio a ragtag of creatives, just without the negative connotations.

Wayward Strand on display at PAX Australia 2019 as part of the indie showcase

Wallin is full of praise for Bakker and Dilley, who admit that despite their veteran status there’s still a lot to learn from the industry and other forms of creativity and collaboration.

“Their experience is wonderful,” says Wallin. “All the things they’ve learnt in their careers so far has led to them being level headed, while the rest of us are nervous, used to learning new things and adapting to change, as well as being reassured that “yes, we ALL are just making up this gamedev thing as we go.”

So what about the rest the of the Ghost Pattern team? How did the diverse members land on video games as a career?

Goldie has been using her talents as an artist for many years, with cartooning and drawing her preferred creative outlet. She lists a bunch of sources of inspiration for her work including Howard Arkley, Herge and Chris Ware, however it was growing up in Port Melbourne in a big house that her great, great grandparents built, that exposed her to a lot of ‘old Melbourne’, and as a young teenager she would often explore the Melbourne CBD finding inspiration amongst the hustle and bustle of the city.

“Most of my art was always about Melbourne and personal histories, using architecture and the design of the city as a backdrop for most of my thinking. Melbourne’s changed a LOT in 17 years but is the best city in the world, so, I’m pretty lucky to have it.”

But a career in video games wasn’t on the cards until it was, with Goldie admitting that she signed up to study game design because there were no media courses offered by RMIT at the time after deciding she wanted to hone her digital art skills.

“It turned out that games were not only really interesting as a medium for art, but at Uni I also got right into looking at the culture of games. This was in 2012-15 so right when GooberGate was happening, so we were forging new pathways for developers and players to create and enjoy games in a better, nicer online world.”

While at uni Goldie would pay rent by taking jobs designing album art and other promotional artwork for friend’s bands. She also recounts working at a family-owned general store in East Melbourne where she was paid “$12 an hour to draw between customers.” It was during her studies that she started working as the Head of Visual Development for the Freeplay Independent Games Festival before joining the Ghost Pattern team not long after graduating. Since then she has been lucky enough to work on the Melbourne-made indie hit Florence and regularly collaborates with Christy Dena.

“I guess going to uni to study digital art via a game design degree was a pretty solid choice cause I’m still doing it,” laughs Goldie.

The art style of Wayward Strand is beautiful thanks to the talents of Goldie and the art team

Perhaps it’s music that binds the team together, with Wallin sharing that they were practically born with a guitar in their hands and would go on to study music through primary and high school, and then uni, where they studied interactive composition. Wallin grew up in Brunswick, a known haven for musicians, artists and hipsters these days, however Wallin reveals that when they were growing up it was also a refuge for single mums and immigrants, and although both they and their parents have moved from the area, Wallin believes that the evolution of the suburb connects them to Wayward Strand, “as you see places change around you, and their history and stories are lost.”

“Being brought up around artists, refugees, and students meant I was always taught that I had to have a lot of different jobs and interests, to keep myself fed and sheltered,” Wallin shares. “I was also taught that I had to put good into the world and help others, for the good of everyone.”

Artistically, Wallin started their journey in live art before moving to games – a move that made a lot of sense to the “starving artist.”

“Why book a tour truck to move all your huge sets around, when you could chuck it on a USB? In the games I work on I have a big focus on how the audience interacts with the music and sound, and how they are directed around the game. Players to me, are like unaware DJs.”

As a teenager, Wallin has always been a driven individual, getting a job in hospitality as soon as they legally could in Australia (14 years and 9 months old), and the skillset doesn’t end there, with data entry, travelling, teaching kids to cook and garden, and lecturing game audio and composition for four years across three different universities all forming part of Wallin’s career DNA.

Nowadays, Wallin relies primarily on freelance audio work to pay the bills. But when they’re not crafting soundscapes, Wallin focuses on union organising (Wallin is one of the lead organisers of Game Workers Unite in Melbourne), the non-binary community and some community radio.

Like all developers, video games played a huge part in the upbringing of the Ghost Pattern team and their gravitation towards video games as a career. For Bakker it was the fan-made multiplayer text adventure Discworld MUD that sowed the seeds of game design.

“It’s an incredible product of hundreds of peoples’ collaborative efforts over years – a living design way before ‘early access’ – and is deep and complex – very social – and had some super interesting multiplayer design that went far beyond what MMOs went on to popularise. I spent as much time as I could on there when I was, I think, as young as nine or ten, and have a lot of fond memories of those experiences.”

While developing Wayward Strand, Bakker has been delving into “books with ensembles of characters,” such as Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne-Porter for inspiration and different ways to make characters “bounce off each other.”

There are also significant cultural benefits to supporting the arts and in giving Australian creators (especially diverse creators) the opportunity to share their personal stories

– Russell Dilley (Programmer, Ghost Pattern)

Wallin jokes that they spent so much time modding The Sims 2 they could have made a career out of being a texture artist. However it was the soundtrack to Grim Fandango that initiated their interest in game audio. “Seeing all the cues ranging from a second or two, up to 90 seconds or higher – it began to unlock for me how it was that game audio worked. That, and how wonderful bass clarinets are.”

Dilley however, was raised by consoles, revealing that his cousin used to bring his Super Nintendo and later his PlayStation on holidays with extended family.

“I remember spending hours watching as he played Donkey Kong Country, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Vandal Hearts. I remember being captivated by the curious characters and vivid worlds. I rarely had a chance to play any of the games, but I was quite happy to watch the adventures play out.”

When it comes to individual inspiration, Dilley points out the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Mamoru Hosoda as big influences. “All three creators have beautiful control over the tone of their films, and I appreciate the juxtaposition of realism and the slightly magical to create a space to explore heartfelt stories of upheaval and growth.

Nintendo is a brand name that is synonymous with inspiring generations of developers and creatives, so it’s no surprise that Goldie refers to herself as a Nintendo baby. Although she admits that early on her taste in games was “pretty bad.”

“I had hand-me-down SNES and N64 from a cousin, and then was given a GameCube for my 14th birthday when times were better for my family. I loved Super Mario Sunshine, Starfox Adventures, the Banjo Kazooie games, DK64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day etc.

“My family would shop every weekend at the South Melbourne Market which back then had a dude selling bootlegged floppy discs so every now and then I’d come home with a new game, as a treat. Games like Hocus Pocus, Monster Bash…often just a few levels and very buggy.”

Not only has the studio’s heterogeneous makeup allowed for a more progressive culture, but with so many backgrounds and experiences to draw from, it’s resulted in a richer story in Wayward Strand.

“Every character and story within Wayward Strand has a link to a team member’s personal life, history, family or community,” states Bakker, who explains that having a diverse well of creativity to draw from has been a huge boon for the studio.

“I think the mix of experience levels, as well as mixing ‘professional’ game experience with experience in other mediums and creative forms, has allowed us to all find our way together as a new team.”

“It’s also meant we’ve been able to mix things up,” says Wallin. “No one is set in their ways. We mix things up from production practices to business practices. We’re a very flexible and dynamic team.”

Goldie echoes Wallin’s sentiment, stating that having varying levels of experience can only be a good thing.

“I’m learning every day from the fantastic devs around me, who are all supportive and great at teaching. Sometimes we get a junior art dev in or a recent graduate and I get reminded that I’ve got a lot of skills and experience of my own, too.

“It’s really important to have differing levels of experience in a studio, I think. It keeps ideas fresh and it’s also nice to think about what would have been awesome for me as a fresh graduate (and actually, I WAS a fresh graduate when I started at Ghost Pattern!). I suppose we recognise that each of us is interested in the same practice and can help each other grow and enjoy it.”

Another area that Ghost Pattern is passionate about is providing opportunities to members of the local community, whether they are industry veterans, fresh out of academia, students, or from outside the industry entirely. And it’s common for contributors to become repeat collaborators on Wayward Strand.

“We’re passionate about being involved in our local communities,” states Bakker, “both drawing from them when we need to find cool people to work with, but also hoping to act as a pathfinder for our communities, exploring different ways of how a team can come together to make a game.”

The core Ghost Pattern team in early 2019

“The amount of people in the credits of Wayward Strand is huge,” smiles Wallin, who reveals that the credits already contains close to 50 people. Working with an extensive amount of people helps influence the game for the better, as their stories, especially those from Victoria, make their way into the game.

According to Wallin, the team has consulted with various people regarding things such as “Bunurong stories, 70s medicine, representation of health, race, queerness, and all sorts of topics,” all of whom have added value to the game.

“It’s something that’s important to the game, being based in a real place, but also to us as creators and community leaders,” Wallin continues. “We believe that more perspectives and voices add more value to our game. We also want to share resources and experiences to as many people as we can.”

But not only has working with a myriad of people and cultures helped improve the game’s narrative, it’s also made the team better people says Wallin.

“Working on a game set in Australia has helped me to figure out what being Australian means to me. We’ve worked with so many Bunurong people in the making of Wayward Strand and researched so much history of Victoria. It’s made us all better Australians and people.”

It’s great to see an Australian-based studio be so connected to the local community. It’s not often you hear of studios going to such lengths to not only deliver an authentic game experience but to provide opportunities to people or groups that often get overlooked.

We’ve worked with so many Bunurong people in the making of Wayward Strand and researched so much history of Victoria. It’s made us all better Australians and people.

– Maize Wallin (Sound Design, Music, Ghost Pattern)

But while Ghost Pattern is certainly forging a structure that is for the benefit of its contributors, it’s one that has been shaped by past experiences – good and bad. Naturally it’s the bad experiences that Ghost Pattern wants to avoid repeating.

“We’ve all had experiences of being underpaid, of crunch, of harassment and mistreatment in the games industry,” shares Wallin. “All of this knowledge and these stories help to inform how we run Ghost Pattern, and how we act within the local and international community.”

These issues are just some of the reasons why Wallin is passionate about educating the community, believing that a large number of Australian studios, especially those based in Melbourne, aren’t properly equipped to handle the business side of the industry and can often get taken advantage of and fall into “capitalist traps.” Bakker states that for a studio owner it’s a bit of a balancing act, as there are very few models of how to be sustainable as a creative without the priority being to turn a profit.

“Part of our exploration as a team is to try to figure out how to create Wayward Strand in a way where we aren’t compromising on our vision, but we also aren’t all completely working for free, and then just hoping or banking on it being a massive financial hit.”

When it comes to crunch in particular – a practice rife throughout the industry – Bakker is candid about the studio’s approach. “We avoid it as much as we can and generally land on the side of getting people to do less time per week than full-time, and to only work when they’re feeling rested, healthy and comfortable.”

“We have taken some concrete actions to try to mitigate crunch, and to open the floor for everyone working on Wayward Strand to feel empowered to speak up and feel supported when they do,” adds Wallin.

“Our team members’ health comes first, and their families, then the project,” continues Bakker. “Once you’ve decided on that priority order, decision-making becomes a lot easier, and as I hope you can see with Wayward Strand, it doesn’t result in a lower-quality game.”

The Ghost Pattern team hard at work in the office
(including Maize’s little brother Frankie who spends part of his holidays with Maize and therefore keeps the team company in the office sometimes)

The team, which has previously worked out of a space in Burnley (also known as Richmond) and Richmond (also known as Burnley) in Melbourne before the current COVID-19 situation forced the team to work from home, are no strangers to working from the confines of their own houses when it’s for the benefit of the game’s progression.

“While we prefer the option of working together at a dedicated space when we can, there are times when we’ve had a space in the past it’s made sense, for example, Maize, our composer and sound designer, to work from home when composing music or doing lots of audio testing,” shares Bakker, who admits he’s spent an ample amount of workdays researching and writing at the State Library thanks to the tons of resources available.

Being forced to work from home hasn’t only impacted the game’s development progress, with the team having to focus on personal survival over the past couple months, but the game’s marketing and promotion have also taken a hit due to the cancellation of industry events. Goldie, Wallin and Kalonica Quigley (Wayward Strand’s animation director) were supposed to attend GDC, with Goldie and Quigley later heading to London where Goldie was scheduled to speak on a panel about narrative games at EGX Rezzed. Members of the team also had plans for EGX Leftfield and Now Play This, while Dilley had a trip to see family and friends in the UK cancelled also.

“It’s pretty sad and it was extremely stressful watching the news every minute to see whether or not to pull the plug on this plan or that,” admits Goldie. “It happened very quickly when it happened and is much, much bigger than me and my plans so of course I am at peace and OK with it in the end. Being safe at home and respectful of the conditions is just fine.”

Thankfully, the team has been able to showcase Wayward Strand as a part of this year’s LudoNarraCon, a digital event that showcases narrative-driven games. As part of the game’s involvement, the team had a demo available for players to download and play throughout the event. The game received positive feedback from players and viewers, including from our good friends at Explosion Network.

But like most Australian indie studios, the financial side of game development is something that can make or break a project’s progress. Thankfully, Ghost Pattern was able to secure funding from Film Victoria that allowed the team to come together.

Bakker explains that applying to Film Victoria was paramount in getting the studio off the ground and running, and since then Film Victoria has been an important benefactor for the studio at key moments.

“Each round of funding has allowed us to do a dedicated production cycle on the game, allowing us to prototype the experience, especially the visuals, sound and aesthetic, then later to reach specific milestones – things like a polished, playable demo to take to conferences, or to show to potential partners.”

Outside of Film Victoria, the studio has survived on personal savings, as well as investment from friends and family. Bakker says that the team has been “working towards securing funding that will allow the team to move into the final production cycle to complete Wayward Strand to the level that we’re happy with.”

While the studio is hoping to receive funding soon, the lack of a stable revenue source means that some of the team have had to find other contract and freelance work when Wayward Strand is not in full production.

“I’ve often done some part-time programming work back at the wonderful League of Geeks throughout development,” says Bakker, “as well as doing little bits of contract work here and there, and sometimes mentoring and co-teaching in the RMIT Bachelor of Design (Games) degree.”

Our team members’ health comes first, and their families, then the project

– Jason Bakker (Producer, Designer, Writer, Ghost Pattern)

Dilley, like Bakker, has lent his talents to several studios, including his former employer Wicked Witch where he assisted on Rugby Challenge. He’s also worked at League of Geeks on Armello and VRTOV on A Thin Black Line.

For better or worse, the reality of being an indie developer without stable funding in Australia means that the members of Ghost Pattern are often spreading themselves across many projects. Sure it means the team gain more experience, but it’s far from an ideal situation for Wayward Strand’s development, with Wallin labelling the Australian gaming industry as “unstable.”

“The reality of being in game audio in Australia does mean that I am constantly working on multiple projects,” Wallin continues.

“Many of my contracts are from overseas, which I love. The huge pro of the unstable nature of freelancing for me is that I travel a lot, and get to work on a lot of different teams, with different cultures, and different work styles. It’s something that I value a lot.”

So what of the Australian game industry? While industry veterans Bakker and Dilley are both thankful for the support given by the Victorian government and Film Victoria, they believe that there needs to be more support from a federal point of view.

“The Victorian government has played a crucial role in fostering a strong game development community in Melbourne,” states Dilley. “This has obvious benefits for the business of making games in Victoria, but there are also significant cultural benefits to supporting the arts and in giving Australian creators (especially diverse creators) the opportunity to share their personal stories.” As such, he’d love to see more funding opportunities available to Film Victoria, enabling them to “support more projects and to a greater extent.”

Ghost Pattern holding a team values meeting

“There really needs to be more support for creators that don’t fit into a particular commercial niche,” continues Bakker, who has garnered his opinion after numerous chats with people in the wider community.

“This support can allow someone to become financially independent through their work, but there needs to be more avenues for under-represented creators of non-commercial work to be able to have financial stability and security, in a longer-term way.”

It’s a common sentiment felt by members of the Australian games industry that the Federal Government simply doesn’t do enough to support the industry and the arts in general, which ultimately means that talent often has to look abroad for opportunities.

“It’d be wonderful to see any funding support from the Federal Government,” proclaims Dilley. “Their disinterest in the arts, inclusive of the video game industry, is disappointing. As was their recent decision to bundle the Office for the Arts in with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.”

Being in game development isn’t easy. It’s a stressful gig for those crafting the games and worlds we spend our time exploring, and it’s something that we as players often take for granted. However, while the day-to-day operation of developing a game can fluctuate wildly, there are still times that stand out from the nine-to-five grind that act as little payoffs, such as “a phone call or email with some good news in it” says Goldie, that reinforces to the team that they’re creating something special and something to be proud of.

For Wallin, who frequently shares their knowledge by speaking at conferences, it’s all about leaving an impact with the listeners.

“I speak at a lot of conferences, about topics that span workers’ rights, technical audio, VR development, small business and queer experiences. Every time someone comes to me and tells me “I saw you at x conference however long ago, and thank you”, is a career highlight. Representation of diverse voices is important, which is why we need to focus on retention of underrepresented developers, instead of constant churning and burn out of vulnerable people entering the hostile industry.”

Wayward Strand – Alpha 2018

Showcasing your game at any event is a huge achievement for any developer, indie or otherwise. One of Bakker’s most memorable highlights was demonstrating Need 4e+9 Speed with Kalonica at Freeplay’s Parallels event in 2019.

“It was a joyous night, showing our weird and beautiful collaboration, and speaking personally about it, alongside many other incredible creators doing the same for their projects.”

One of Dilley’s highlights was the 70s-inspired potluck dinner that Ghost Pattern shared in the early days of the team’s existence.

“It’s an especially dear memory to me, because I remember thinking how wonderful and inspiring it was to be listening to such creative and thoughtful people, gathered around the dinner table, enthusiastically discussing this beautiful little game we were just starting to work on together.”

While there are memorable moments for personal reasons, there are also moments that stand out due to sheer craziness. Goldie recounts the time she had six hours to get a business card into the hands of “someone very senior at a very big company” before they left the country.

“This story is a lot longer and better without NDAs involved, but following an entertaining train of events, I somehow managed to do it and things have been great and businessy with them since.”

Like everybody else, developers need time away to recharge and refresh, and outside of Ghost Pattern and Wayward Strand the team like to spend their time differently. Dilley reveals he loves going to live music gigs and the cinema, adding he’s been learning (and loving) ballroom dancing. Bakker admits he’s a bit of a politics junkie, getting engrossed in global events such as Brexit and the day-to-day shenanigans of the US under Donald Trump. When he’s not doing that he’s either playing tabletop games or researching political history.

Some of the 1970s-inspired food for the team’s themed potluck dinner

It’s no surprise that Goldie enjoys drawing for her own amusement, stating you can often find her in a café, day or night, drinking coffee and drawing. Otherwise video games and summer walks on the beach are good choices when she’s looking to blow off steam. Wallin also enjoys video games, films, live gigs and art, but they also enjoy cooking and gardening, revealing that their oven is more than a cooking device.

“Musicians unfortunately can’t listen to music while we work on…music. So my psychologist and I came up with this idea of working to smells. So, I like to put something on the stove or in the oven in the morning, and cook it until lunch. Allowing the smells help ground me, instead of what a lot of people would usually get from the rhythm of listening to music.”

With Ghost Pattern often bringing in fledgling developers, the team are more than happy to pass on some words of wisdom that help bourgeon their careers. Bakker explains that as a young developer it’s easy to get caught up in comparing your work to what’s out there in the world, which often leads to feeling discouraged.

“We live in a world where a lot of the labour, the experience, and the difficulty and failure behind the creation of our media is intentionally hidden,” says the Ghost Pattern co-founder and programmer.

“And like in most creative forms, you need to be gentle with yourself and proud of your accomplishments, ignoring how they might compare to other works. What I’ve found out over time is that this need doesn’t go away, no matter how experienced you get – you just learn that sometimes you need to let that critical inner voice be a bit quieter.”

I am not kidding you when I say you are practically guaranteed to make boring-arse games without diversity around you

– Marigold ‘Goldie’ Bartlett (Artist, Ghost Pattern)

Goldie and Wallin both emphasise the importance of having a strong and diverse community that you can call upon for support when times get tough.

“Community is a superpower,” says Wallin. “They’re a backup team. They’re how we learn, how we grow, who we fall back on, who we can be vulnerable with. ‘Industry’ is not the same as community. Community are the people who have your back.”

“Make sure it’s got the representation of genders and race and sexuality,” Goldie adds. “I am not kidding you when I say you are practically guaranteed to make boring-arse games without diversity around you. Lastly, just to remember to offer the same help you were offered, or wish you had been, to babydevs.”

Furthermore, Wallin insists that there are “limitless ways to do things,” and encourages developers, young and old, to try new things, because sometimes the answer you seek may require you to step outside the box.

Wayward Strand’s gameplay loop is all based around player choice and what could happen in another timeline. So if Ghost Pattern’s members were living in another timeline where they took different career paths what would they be?

“A park ranger, junior school art teacher, possibly a gallerist. Likely a furry artist let’s be honest,” laughs Goldie.

Wallin, on the other hand reveals they’ve often thought about changing careers to horticulture. “I’d like to garden and cook for people – I think that food brings people together.” Otherwise Wallin would be a union worker – one that cuts to the chase.

“I think I’d tell the bosses to bring a meal to the table and tell me about their heritage. Then I’d tell them that they shouldn’t be bosses, and their company should be a worker-owned co-op.”

Ghost Pattern having fun in the sun

But right now all hands are on an airship deck, focusing on finishing Wayward Strand, which is scheduled to land later in 2020 on PC and mobile platforms. The studio states that it won’t compromise its vision or its workers’ health to hasten the game’s completion. It’s easy to wax lyrical about how Ghost Pattern is changing the working conditions for the better, the reality is that operating as a co-operative doesn’t create some automatic utopia – it requires everyone to be on the same page, and in that regard it’s a testament to the attitude and leadership of those helming the wheel at Ghost Pattern that everyone at the studio is on board. If they continue on the course they’ve charted, Ghost Pattern may well end up pioneering a new age of inclusiveness for the benefit of the entire Australian games industry.

For more information on Wayward Strand check out our in-depth interview.

Co-Founder & Managing Editor of WellPlayed. Sometimes a musician, lover of bad video games and living proof that Australians drink Foster's. Coach of Supercoach powerhouse the BarnesStreet Bois. Carlton, Burnley FC & SJ Sharks fan Get around him on Twitter @tightinthejorts