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Made In Australia

Made In Australia: Tinyware Games

We learn all about Tinyware Games

A couple of years ago I received an email from Michael Pearce, an Australian developer working at Dutch studio Fluminus, which is run by River Thomas. He was introducing me to their title Misc. A Tiny Tale, which was still early in development for PC, but the team had enough to put together a trailer and show off their vision. Fast forward a couple of years and Fluminus is no longer developing Misc. Instead, the WA-based Pearce started his own studio, Tinyware Games, and took on the game’s development due to the increased scope of the project, with the game now launching on PC and the Nintendo Switch.

Tinyware Games is currently a trio, with Pearce the lead developer, Bernard A. Kyer the studio’s composer and 2D artist Chris Kleiner, although only Pearce is based in WA. While Pearce has high hopes for the future of Tinyware Games, he’s keeping his feet firmly on the ground for now, focusing on finishing Misc.

The partnership between Fluminus and Pearce ended because both wanted to pursue different projects. Fluminus had another project it wanted to focus on, while Pearce wanted to push forward with Misc. The split was amicable though, and Pearce says that he and Thomas still collaborate and discuss ideas frequently.

Chibi-Robo! is the main source of inspiration for Pearce’s vision for Misc. A Tiny Tale, with the Nintendo-published title seeing its first release in 2005 and its latest in 2015. Although not all entries in the series made it to the West, Pearce tells me that Chibi-Robo! developed a cult following, which has its own Discord, something that Pearce is a member of.

“There are so many different game ideas I’ve wanted to do over the years, but Misc is everything I’ve wanted from a game,” says Pearce.

“I’ve always wanted to make a game that I enjoy playing – I’ve always been super into 3D platformers, like I love Super Mario and I grew up with Crash Bandicoot and Spyro and all these classic platformers.”

Introducing Michael Pearce

Even though Pearce says that Misc is its own thing, he does believe that there is enough influence that you could label it a spiritual successor of sorts, however, he doesn’t want to give people the wrong idea.

Pearce spent the first year developing the game full-time before getting another job that reduced the time he could commit to the project, and although it slowed down the game’s development, he tells me that his new job has allowed him to learn new things to bring to Misc, such as improved writing.

Michael isn’t the only member of the Pearce family to pursue a career in game development, with Michael’s brother Brandon working at Minecraft developer Mojang in Sweden. Despite their different career paths, Michael Pearce is happy living the indie dev life and says that he prefers the creative freedom it allows.

Pearce is an animator and 3D modeller by trade, although he has no formal academic training, instead, he and his brother would spend hours watching YouTube videos on game development and programming. One of the reasons Pearce didn’t walk the academic path is due to the rapidly changing landscape of game design. Pearce believes that the courses offered by schools in Australia often deal with software that is out of date, making a lot of stuff you’ve learnt redundant by the time you start developing your game.

“There are also so many variables – how can you teach what good art is? How can you teach what a good game is? A lot of it comes from just figuring it out for yourself,” says Pearce.

Pearce explains that his father was a tech-savvy person and used to build computers as a hobby even before he was born. He was also into video games, owning consoles that the Pearce family would play together and it’s something that Pearce says put him onto the video game development path.

However, Pearce says that he and his brother used to play games together as kids, but not only that, they would also edit games. Pearce recalls one of the first times they pulled apart a game, a PC title called Black and White, where they messed around with some of the textures of the characters.

“Just seeing how everything is broken down and made up, and seeing the file for a texture and editing that and giving it its own look was such a fun thing. Those little experiences we had growing up definitely built up to where we are today.”

While the two brothers have worked together on small projects before Brandon moved to Sweden, Michael Pearce says that they have discussed working together in the future and that the great thing about the two brothers is that their skillsets complement one another.

“He’s got all the skills that I don’t,” Michael laughs.

“He’s really good at programming, but I can only do programming in visual programming, which is why we chose Unreal Engine.”

As huge fans of Jurassic Park, one of the bigger projects that the Pearce brothers worked on was Jurassic Explorer, a game that allowed players to explore a 3D recreation of the park. Pearce tells me that the project started with him drawing fan art of the visitor centre from Jurassic World and sharing it on Reddit where it caught the eyes of those online who encouraged him to continue making content. As the project grew in scope it attracted people who wanted to contribute to it, which is where Pearce met Bernard Kyer and Chris Kleiner, the two other current members of Tinyware.

“We used that project as a learning experience to figure stuff out. How do I work on a game development team? How do I manage that and improve our skills along the way as programmers and animators? That project was such a vital part of my game development journey.”

There are so many different game ideas I’ve wanted to do over the years, but Misc is everything I’ve wanted from a game

Tinyware has shown off Misc. at various events in Perth, with the game receiving a positive response from punters, however while Pearce says that WA has a very strong gaming community, it is small, especially compared to the eastern states.

Pearce is part of a Perth initiative called Let’s Make Games that focuses on game development. Each year they host the Perth Games Festival and some smaller events, which is where Tinyware has shown off Misc.

Although it’s part-funded by the Western Australian government, Pearce says that there aren’t as many funding opportunities in WA as there are in other states, which is why a lot of developers seek greener pastures elsewhere.

“I’d want there to be more incentive for people to stay here and develop games and build studios,” says Pearce.

Let’s Make Games are also a great resource for help should Pearce and the team ever get stuck or need some advice, and Pearce says that he’s reached out several times for support, especially when it comes to the Switch development side of things. Other than that, Pearce consults his brother for feedback on game builds and ideas, as well as ways that Misc. could be improved.

Pearce reveals that several publishers have approached Tinyware about striking a deal for Misc., however the team has turned them all down because they wanted to maintain creative freedom, even if it would allow the team to work on the game full time.

“Even if it takes a little bit longer or is a little bit more expensive, I know we can get through and complete the game,” proclaims Pearce.

“If we ever got a publisher it would be a really big decision. It would have to be something that we feel matches our company and the type of games we build.”

The team hasn’t ruled out running a crowdfunding campaign at some point should it be required, however Pearce says that it’s “a very intimidating experience,” and something that requires a lot of planning.

Tinyware showing Misc. off at the Perth Games Festival

One of the biggest challenges that Pearce says he’s had to face is not biting off more than the team can chew when it comes to Misc.’s scope, and with the project already expanding from Pearce’s initial vision, he’s had to learn when to say no to ideas.

“They call it game creep, where you’re nearly finished with your game and you think ‘I’ll just add this one extra feature’ and then that ends up taking three months. In some ways it’s good to expand your game but in other ways you have to find that right balance and know when to put down your mouse and say the game is done. It’s something that I am still learning.”

As for running the studio, Pearce says that the biggest hurdle is the amount of time everything outside of developing the game demands. On the other hand, Pearce says that he loves running a studio and being a game developer because it allows his creative side to roam free.

“You can translate an idea you see in your head into something that is real and that other people can interact with and enjoy.”

Pearce says he also enjoys collaborating with others and discussing ideas with members of the team and seeing them evolve from sketches on a page to being implemented in the game with a story and music, bringing them to life.

Another aspect Pearce loves is simply having people play his game and receiving feedback, even if it’s negative. In fact, Pearce admits he seeks out negative feedback as much as he can.

“No matter what you make, no one is going to make something that everybody will like,” says Pearce.

Concept art of Misc.’s protagonist Buddy

Although Pearce tries to work on Misc. as much as possible, part of Tinyware’s ethos is that it wants to ensure that the mental and physical health of its workers is looked after, even at the expense of the game’s release.

“We’ve worked as a team on other projects well before this, and in those projects we really focused on ‘let’s set this as a date no matter what get it out,’ but it ended up working into really bad habits like crunch time, which puts so much stress on our whole team.”

“We really want to avoid that with our game and even if it takes longer, the end product matters the most and the health of the team matters the most, so we have this approach of ‘this is a rough deadline, if we get there we get there, if we don’t, whatever.’ What matters is that we keep happy and we make a really good product.”

As a lifelong Nintendo fan, Pearce says that Misc. is a “natural fit” for the Switch, and that it’s a dream come true to be developing a game for Nintendo hardware.

“The fact we’re developing a game for a Nintendo console still blows the whole team away,” says Pearce.

But when it comes to other consoles, Pearce admits that the Xbox platform is more enticing than PlayStation.

“People are still having trouble getting a PlayStation 5 let alone a dev kit,” explains Pearce.

However, one thing that Xbox or PlayStation consoles would give Tinyware access to is more power.

“I’m honestly kind of shocked that our game even runs as well as it does on the Switch, but there are definitely moments we’ve had to scale back certain elements of the game just so it does perform well on both PC and Switch.”

We don’t do this for the money, we don’t do this for any other aspect apart from helping us fund even more of it – we do it because we love it

Earlier in our conversation Pearce talked about the rapidly changing nature of the video game industry, and one technology that has been gaining a lot of attention lately is the blockchain and NFTs. It’s something that Pearce finds interesting but also something that he doesn’t think fits with games.

“From personal experience I really hated the trend 10 years ago when DLC and microtransactions were starting to happen more and more in games,” says Pearce.

“Over time we’ve kind of adapted and we see a little bit of value in customising characters with digital assets. As far as NFTs, I don’t think where it’s currently at I would be interested, especially for games. People are rushing into this technology not having a background in game development.

“At least for video games I am really opposed to doing it and I can definitely say that we would never do it at Tinyware Games – I don’t plan to do any NFTs.”

When it comes to the future of Tinyware Games, Pearce says that no matter what the reception for Misc. is he’ll continue to develop games. The hope is that Misc. will put the team on the map and allow them to continue making games with more resources and less stress.

“We don’t do this for the money, we don’t do this for any other aspect apart from helping us fund even more of it – we do it because we love it.”

More concept art for Misc.

Indie game development is a tough gig and regardless of how Misc. performs once it does launch, it’s this attitude and approach to game development that will hold Pearce and Tinyware Games in good stead for the future, and hopefully this is just the start of Tinyware Games’ legacy.

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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