Made In Australia: Introducing Juicy Cupcake

South Australia, it’s a beautiful state that is home to some of the world’s best wineries and national parks, and Adelaide, the capital city that’s home to a buttload of churches (thus commonly referred to as the city of churches). However that’s not the only thing South Australia is home to, as about an hour outside of the Adelaide CBD is Onkaparinga Hills, a suburb that houses the headquarters of two-man development team Juicy Cupcake. The studio was formed in 2012 by Andrew Freeth, who reveals that early doors Juicy Cupcake was more of spare time workshop for a bunch of mates to share game ideas with one another. The group’s first project was called Baked, which was a game that required a juicy cupcake to slay hordes of mutant lamingtons. Despite the casual nature of the meetups, Freeth always envisaged a future for Juicy Cupcake. ‘The goal to make this a successful business was always there’, says Freeth. ‘We took a few years to get to the point where our development was up to scratch to deliver the kind of games that we wanted to’. However, it was during these formative days that members of the group realised that game development wasn’t for them, and as such Freeth and Tily joined forces to officially start Juicy Cupcake.

Introjuicing Andrew Freeth and Tim Tily, also known as Juicy Cupcake

The developer, who converted an old backyard band room into a studio is hard at work on their upcoming debut Brief Battles, a couch co-op party game which we played and thoroughly enjoyed at PAX 2017. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that Editor-in-Chief Kieran Stockton named it as his game of PAX and I went on to back the game’s Kickstarter. When quizzed about the studio’s unique name Freeth explains that there were a few quirky names floating around. ‘In the end I stuck with one that was memorable enough, without already being a common search term in google’, he says. ‘It’s a pretty odd name that felt weird saying aloud for a while, though I think it suits the weird brand of humour in Brief Battles and future games to come’, Freeth adds.

Freeth and Tily were both new to the industry when Juicy Cupcake was fresh out of the oven. Neither had worked on a proper game before, with Freeth’s experience made up of creating Flash games and messing around with game engines for hours. ‘To begin with I picked up just about everything by using online tutorials and some game design books’, he says. ‘At times I wish I took the official study route though, as I can often self-doubt if I’m doing things right. We’re still learning every day’.

Tily’s journey was a little different, as he started learning his craft in C++, where he would learn to create games from scratch as well as mod personal favourites such as Quake, Doom and Elder Scrolls. ‘Back in the old days, my dad bought a 14.4kbps modem for our 486 PC. We didn’t have web browsers, but there were bulletin boards. I’d jump on the programming bulletins and read tutorials to teach myself programming’, Tily states. Tily – who credits Juicy Cupcake as the architect of his interest in game design – would later go on to study 3D animation at the MAD Academy in Adelaide as well as digital media.

The team’s first project was called Baked. A game about a juicy cupcake…

I’ve always wanted to make games. I used to make them on paper before I had a computer at around age ten. John Romero and John Carmack were my two heroes. I remember seeing Doom for the first time and being completely blown away

Tim Tily – Juicy Cupcake Co-Founder

Both Freeth and Tily knew that video games would play a big part of their lives when they were at school. ‘I started building grand ideas of a business like Juicy Cupcake in early high school’, Freeth says. ‘Although my vision was overly ambitious back then’, he laughs. Despite their lack of qualifications, they were committed to forging their own video game career – or at least making a fist of it. ‘It’s something I’d always been interested in, although I didn’t have a game console until around my mid-teens’, Freeth reveals. ‘My dad worked in IT and I remember he brought home a PC and a bunch of game demo disks. I was hooked on the excitement of exploration and stress playing some early PC games’, he adds. Tily echoes Freeth’s sentiments, ‘I’ve always wanted to make games’, he says. ‘I used to make them on paper before I had a computer at around age ten. John Romero and John Carmack were my two heroes. I remember seeing Doom for the first time and being completely blown away’.

But why video games I ask. ‘I love the wonder, laughter, stress, escapism, the puzzles and the social aspect’, Freeth replies. ‘But mostly I like the idea of creating some of these things in my own games’, he continues. ‘Andrew took all the good words already, but just being able to sit down for hours and lose yourself in a game is hard to beat’, Tily adds.

Naturally they’re both big gamers at heart, with Tily crediting Prince of Persia on the original Mac, Hexen and Wolfenstein 3D as some of his favourites. ‘I’m yet to find a modern game that captures the joy and experience of playing these classic games (maybe I just don’t play enough games these days)’, he adds. Freeth on the other hand is a big fan of Crash Bandicoot, Red Faction Guerrilla and anything found on old PC demo disks (such as Wolfenstein 3D). ‘I also love couch co-op games as you can imagine. One lesser known favourite would have to be Bomb Squad, which I actually discovered on the Ouya (RIP)’, he says.

Brief Battles is inspired by the addictive fun of couch co-op games of yore

So how did a team whose roots seem heavily forged in the FPS genre conceive a couch co-op game centred around underpants? It’s no secret that shooters have been done to death, and for Freeth and Tily it was all about how they could make their game stand out. ‘The game started out as a 2.5D platformer demo where we’d created the agile sticky wall and roof climbing that’s in Brief Battles today’, Freeth explains. ‘While we worked on brainstorming a title for the game and discussing what would make it stand out, we gradually embraced the power of the butt and re-scoped the game to be all about the underpants’.

Brief Battles, which began development around two and a half years ago has had its share of little wins along the way. The title was Greenlit by Steam in February 2017 and received plenty of positive feedback from critics and players as it toured the gaming event circuit in 2017. While in March 2018, Juicy Cupcake was invited to show off Brief Battles at GDC (Game Developers Conference) in conjunction with ID@Xbox, and just recently it was a recipient of extra funding thanks to Epic Games’ Unreal dev grants.

Nothing says come play my game like the devs rocking a pair of tighty-whities

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, with both Freeth and Tily employed in other occupations with Juicy Cupcake being more of a moonlight hours/weekend job as Freeth puts it, making it hard for schedules to align sometimes. Both Tily and Freeth agree that locking in a concrete schedule is one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced. Alas, the funds for Brief Battles have to come from somewhere, so when the duo aren’t working on the next souped-up pair of tighty-whities, they’re working regular jobs just like the rest of us. ‘The day jobs keep us going. For me it’s to fund game development and life, and for Tim it’s for his family’, explains Freeth.

Freeth, who is working in QA for a web digital agency admits that it’s always been tough to get the right balance. ‘When I need to scale back on game dev in favour of the day job so that I can fund something for Brief Battles the game loses development hours’, he says. But while the need to work has extended Brief Battles’ development time, it’s actually working together that unearthed their shared passion for creating games.

‘Tim works at a local liquor store, and it’s that liquor store job that actually led to Tim and myself working together on games’, Freeth explains. ‘We both worked at the same liquor store for a number of years before we eventually started talking about making games’, he continues.

When asked if he could foresee Juicy Cupcake being a full-time gig, Freeth quips ‘that would be the dream, right?’ But what would life hold for the pair if they weren’t compelled to create supercharged budgie smuggler warfare? ‘I’d probably look to get into 3D animation. Or brewing beer. Maybe both?’, responds Tily with a chuckle. As for Freeth, he’d continue working in web design, although he admits he’d love to get into video production or illustration.

When they’re not working, they’re working

I love the wonder, laughter, stress, escapism, the puzzles and the social aspect (of video games). But mostly I like the idea of creating some of these things in my own games

Andrew Freeth – Juicy Cupcake Founder

To secure additional funding to help Juicy Cupcake deliver on its vision for Brief Battles, Freeth and Tily turned to the popular crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. ‘We were having discussions with publishers who could cover a lot of what we still needed to fund (marketing, porting etc.)’, Freeth says. However, with so much of the game already developed, Freeth and Tily weren’t comfortable with giving up control and a percentage of the earnings for something they had worked so hard on. ‘We decided to do this ourselves to the end and get all the experience we can from this release. Kickstarter seemed like the best option to get us what we needed, though it wasn’t without it’s risk’, Freeth reveals.

And risky it was, as Brief Battles only reached its $15,000 funding goal mere hours before its deadline. ‘It was incredibly stressful. I had family members telling me how we weren’t going to make it’, Freeth says. Despite the campaign’s success being in doubt, Freeth was rather confident in the campaign’s final 48 hours. ‘I knew that there is always a rush towards the end of a campaign (or so says the Internet), and at that point we started to really gain momentum on social media, and with regular higher pledges’.

‘I think the scariest part of the Kickstarter campaign was the middle’, Freeth reveals. ‘There was this two-week dead zone where we were back at day jobs with little time to promote the campaign, and we were getting very few organic views at the time. We were both incredibly stoked when we made it in the end!’.

However, the risks associated with Kickstarter go both ways, and horror stories such as cancelled projects or backers not receiving rewards are sadly all too common. I experienced the ugly side of Kickstarter recently with the horror game Agony, where I didn’t receive my game code until three weeks after the game’s launch, with some having to wait a month for their codes and other rewards.

‘We’ve never wanted to be one of those campaigns’, Freeth exclaims. ‘I think our project was always pretty low risk with the delivery of the game a sure thing after a successful campaign. Crowdfunding campaigns for something that doesn’t exist yet are a little scarier’. As a backer of their Kickstarter I can vouch for Juicy Cupcake’s efforts thus far. They’ve made sure that non-game rewards have been delivered asap, and this has resonated with the campaign’s backers. ‘Although the full game release is dependent on when it’s shiny and ready, I’d like to think we’re doing everything we can to make sure our backers are happy’, Freeth states.

With a 2018 release on the cards, Freeth and Tily are working hard to get Brief Battles into players’ hands as soon as they can. But when they aren’t crafting the next character, level or pair of briefs (‘should we doing anything else?’, laughs Freeth) the duo enjoys the simple things in life. ‘I’m pretty into eating and cooking, for eating purposes’, responds Freeth. ‘If I get the time I enjoy playing guitar and writing music as well’. As for Tily, any moment he can share with his kids he’ll take advantage of, and he’s not adverse to a cup of coffee either.

Despite the Australian government’s reluctance to take game development in Australia seriously, Freeth believes the Australian games industry is heading in the right direction. ‘Honestly we’re a little sheltered from some of the major industry growth in larger game dev states like Melbourne (and even our own)’, he replies. ‘But it’s clear that there are some really successful teams all over Australia that are growing and helping to bring others up around them’.

Brief Battles is expected to launch in 2018

It’s this honesty that makes you root for small indie teams like Juicy Cupcake, and although the government may not see the boons in supporting game development just yet, we know that with people like Freeth and Tily behind the scenes that the industry is on the right track.

Zach developed his love for gaming thanks to the Sega Mega Drive and the Capcom games of yore, such as Resident Evil, Onimusha and Dino Crisis. Outside of gaming he is an ardent sports fan that supports the San Jose Sharks, Carlton and Burnley FC. Get around him on Twitter @xackclaret