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Made In Australia

Made In Australia: Insert Disk 22

From Deutschland to Down Under

Some of Australia’s best entertainers have been imported (or claimed) from overseas, such as Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Isla Fisher, Guy Pearce and Keith Urban. However, despite the fact that Australia isn’t their birthplace, we’re still proud to call them Aussies. Much like the above A-listers, Melbourne-based Falko von Falkner’s talents lie in entertainment, albeit in game development, with the German-born Australian on the verge of releasing his debut game Born Punk. His journey from Deutschland to Down Under is one of, if not, the most unique of all game devs I have spoken with, and I am excited to share his journey with you.

Born in Ratzeburg, Germany, von Falkner moved to Vienna as a child before moving back to Germany as a teenager. After that, von Falkner moved between several European countries including England and the Netherlands before moving back to Berlin in 2003 where he lived until he moved to Australia in 2014. The move happened as a result of von Falkner’s wife being offered a job in Australia. Von Falkner says he was keen to get out of Germany, originally planning to immigrate to Ireland before choosing Australia, a country that he is now a citizen of.

Mr. Falko von Falkner

Before moving to out golden shores, von Falkner worked several different jobs, such as a translator, a data typist, and a business consultant. The one thing in common with these jobs is that he was self-employed.

“I was always drawn to the life of the self-employed, with less stability and less security but the freedom to do what I want,” von Falkner explains.

Although von Falkner’s game dev story is still in its infancy, the foundations were laid when he was just a child. While Frogger and Pitfall were his introduction to the medium, point-and-click games were an integral part of his formative video game playing years, with Leisure Suit Larry von Falkner’s first experience with the genre, a game that he said was an “interesting experience as a four-year old.” It must have done something right though, with von Falkner going on to foster a strong love for the genre thanks to titles such as the Monkey Island series and the Sierra games.

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Given his love for point-and-click and adventure games, it doesn’t come as a surprise that von Falkner’s debut game will add itself to the genre’s library. However, he admits that it wasn’t as straightforward as that and the decision to develop an adventure game also made sense because it would require less work and resources than some other genres. That isn’t to say that it’s an easy task though.

“Point-and-clicks have other challenges – the amount of text you write is much bigger than almost any other genre, perhaps RPGs have more or a similar amount of text,” says von Falkner.

“The amount of voice acting which is expected in this day and age is staggering. The amount of time I spent editing sound files and directing voice actors, stuff like that, it’s challenging and it’s not easy.”

So how did von Falkner turn his love for point-and-clicks into a career in game design?

Before starting Insert Disk 22, von Falkner was a content creator/streamer, however the journey starts back in Germany. Von Falkner was self-employed. However when he moved to Australia he was unsure about what to do with his life, explaining that he started streaming and making YouTube videos and it gained traction pretty quickly.

In 2016 he became a Twitch partner, but despite his success, von Falkner explains that the better his channel and content did, the harder it became, with burnout a real issue that a lot of streamers suffer from and deal with.

But where a lot of other developers have said their desire to develop games stemmed from a childhood love of video games, von Falkner’s reason for delving into game development is vastly different and rather noble in its own way.

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While he’s always loved video games, von Falkner says that he decided to try his hand at game development in 2018 after realising that all he was doing on his YouTube channel was criticising games.

“At one point I thought, ‘All I do is criticise other people’s work without adding anything to the industry’. As such the idea was born to contribute to the industry in some creative and productive way,” explains von Falkner.

Despite having no formal training or education, coding became a hobby of von Falkner’s when he was a teenager and something he continued doing in his early 20s, and that gave him some fundamental knowledge that helped immensely with game design. Von Falkner explains that the engine the studio is using for Born Punk, Visionaire Studio, is easy to learn and uses a language called LUA, which he says is “very forgiving.”

At one point I thought, ‘All I do is criticise other people’s work without adding anything to the industry’. As such the idea was born to contribute to the industry in some creative and productive way

Despite having no formal training or education, coding became a hobby of von Falkner’s when he was a teenager and something he continued doing in his early 20s, and that gave him some fundamental knowledge that helped immensely with game design. Von Falkner explains that the engine the studio is using for Born Punk, Visionaire Studio, is easy to learn and uses a language called LUA, which he says is “very forgiving.”

The reason von Falkner went with Visionaire Studio over other engines such as Adventure Game Studio was that coding in Visionaire is more efficient and because it gave him flexibility.

“I wanted to start right away – I didn’t want to spend a year having to learn the engine from the ground up,” says von Falkner.

“During development I was able to dabble and learn more about the engine as we went, and then the tasks I was able to complete became more complex and the code I wrote myself became more complex and more numerous. So I was able to grow with the engine rather than having to master the engine first and then start coding the game.”

Although Born Punk is von Falkner’s first commercial game, he reveals that as a 17-year-old he sold four copies of an office building simulator that he made.

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“German’s love that shit,” laughs von Falkner.

The game was inspired by von Falkner’s father who worked in IT in the 80s. He would come home and tell stories, which von Falkner says were just rumours and boring stuff. Unfortunately, the game has been lost to time, but von Falkner looks back fondly on the experience.

For the most part, the costs of Born Punk’s development have been covered by von Falkner’s own savings and grants from Film Victoria. However, von Falkner made the decision to run a Kickstarter for Born Punk in early 2019, chasing $14,000 in funding, which compared to a lot of video game projects on the platform is quite paltry.

“Kickstarter was never meant to completely fund the game. I think it would have been foolish to expect that kind of money,” says von Falkner.

“I thought it to be a good way to get the game into the public sphere, get the game some attention, plus get a part of the funding. I always expected to work part-time to finance the game, and basically have most of the funding come from myself.”

The campaign was a huge success and ended up pulling in over $48,000 in funding, which von Falkner said covered work on the game for the first year. Although the Born Punk campaign had stretch goals, the idea was that the funding was about allowing more time to spend working on the game as opposed to features. It’s something that von Falkner says wasn’t communicated very clearly and as a result there were criticisms and concerns from backers around how much things would cost to do.

One of the reasons von Falkner attributes to the campaign’s success is that he had a presence online thanks to his streaming and content creation. One piece of advice he would give is to build up your social media presence before starting your career in game dev fully, as it makes things like crowdfunding easier when you already have a following and allows it to get as much exposure as possible.

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Despite the Kickstarter’s success, von Falkner says he’d much rather bear the cost of development himself if he was to make another game, although he does admit that he would do it again if need be.

“That is not to say that I don’t like Kickstarter, but it would take further stress out if there was enough money available to develop everything on my own.”

It wasn’t until after the Kickstarter that von Falkner founded Insert Disk 22, which he says was more of a legal necessity than anything else. Initially he wanted to remain self-employed and work with contractors, but says it’s much safer to operate under a company. It’s something that he’s glad he did as it makes it feel like more of a team and a community.

While von Falkner is the only current employee of Insert Disk 22, he reveals that people from all over the world have contributed to Born Punk’s development. People from the Czech Republic, Spain, Estonia, and even Australia have lent their talents to the project and von Falkner says that he’s hoping at some point Insert Disk 22 will be able to afford employees.

Concept art for Born Punk

Fans of Monkey Island should know where the studio’s name originates from, but for those who haven’t played the iconic adventure series or have forgotten (in fairness the games are very old), the name comes from a puzzle in The Secret of Monkey Island where Guybrush Threepwood interacts with a tree stump and after a while the game asks players to insert disk 22, which does not exist. The joke was removed from later versions of the game after LucasArts received several calls asking about missing disks. Despite its removal, it’s an iconic part of the Monkey Island series and one that von Falkner deemed worthy enough to name his studio after.

“I thought what better way to indicate our company is making point-and-click adventures than by making a reference to one of the greats, and Monkey Island is my all-time favourite so it’s as clear as day.”

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Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge is von Falkner’s favourite point-and-click game, with the Insert Disk 22 founder stating that the game improved on the original in every way and that the humour is “unrivalled.” Other games such as King’s Quest and Indiana Jones are some older games that von Falkner remembers fondly, while Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure and Unavowed are two recent adventure games that have stood out.

It’s fitting that Monkey Island 2 is von Falkner’s choice of video game, with series creator Ron Gilbert and Lucasfilm Games announcing a sequel earlier this year in the form of Return to Monkey Island. The news was huge, not only for fans of the series who had mostly given up hope of ever seeing another entry, but also for indie devs who are working on their own adventure games, with the release likely to put a spotlight on the genre.

However, while von Falkner believes a new Monkey Island is a great thing, he doesn’t expect a seismic shift in popularity for adventure games.

“At this point the point-and-click adventure community is pretty much locked in. Of course there are new people coming into the genre every day, but I don’t think the point-and-click genre itself, no matter what we do, has the ability to make a boom impact on the rest of the gaming sphere.”

I thought what better way to indicate our company is making point-and-click adventures than by making a reference to one of the greats, and Monkey Island is my all-time favourite so it’s as clear as day

In saying that, von Falkner says that the lack of innovation in point-and-click games over the years has been a little disappointing.

“I don’t necessarily think that there needs to be innovation, but most of us aren’t trying too hard to bring innovation to the genre,” states von Falkner.

“I include myself in that as well. At the very beginning I had quite lofty goals for Born Punk and what innovation I would bring into it, and after experimenting with a couple of ideas it was pretty clear it was too much to tackle.”

He admits that the biggest challenge he’s faced as a studio owner over the past three years is managing finances. However, perhaps the most impactful challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic, during which von Falkner and his wife were evicted from their house, one of their pet cats passed away due to cancer, and people that von Falkner were working with on Born Punk had to cease working on the project. While some did return, von Falkner says that he hasn’t heard from many others since.

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If there’s one thing that von Falkner’s content creator career taught him, it’s that no amount of success is worth compromising your health, both physical and mental. When it comes to game design, von Falkner is adamant that everyone is better off if the creator doesn’t burn themselves out.

“I think longevity is more important than the immediate focus on something.”

It can be hard living so far away from family and friends, especially during a pandemic. However, von Falkner says that he is very grateful to Australia for the opportunity it has given him. As such, he wanted to repay the country and he did that by joining the Army Reserve. While it allows von Falkner to give back to the community and earn a few dollars, it also allowed him to get his body back into shape.

“The money that one earns on the side is secondary, it’s really the experience and benefits psychologically and physically that one gets that are really great.”

Born Punk’s development is almost at the Finnish line

Although Born Punk’s release is only a few days away, that hasn’t stopped von Falkner thinking about the future, stating that he would love for Born Punk to become a franchise and a universe. It’s something that could be on the cards, with a lot of the early feedback von Falkner received for Born Punk being super positive – in fact it was too positive he says. Like most developers, von Falkner says it’s important to get negative feedback about your project, and he was relieved when someone found something wrong.

Post-launch, Insert Disk 22 will be working on DLC for Born Punk, something which von Falkner says will allow him to improve his skills without needing to jump straight into development for Born Punk 2. He also hasn’t ruled out a return to streaming and content creation. Whatever comes next is likely dictated by Born Punk’s reception.

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It’s almost cliché to say these days that video games are a labour of love, but in cases like von Falkner and Born Punk it’s absolutely undeniable. The point-and-click genre has had such a profound impact on his gaming life that developing anything other than an adventure game would have seemed out of place. Even if von Falkner did somewhat fall out of the trees and stumble onto the game design path, the leap of faith he took to try something new and the commitment to honing his craft is impressive, and in many ways inspiring. No doubt, it’s these traits that will hold Insert Disk 22 in good stead for the future and we’re proud as punch to call Insert Disk 22 and Falko von Falkner an Australian game developer.

Written By Zach Jackson

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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