One of the most universally loved genres of video games is the good old platformer. They’re usually accessible to players of various age and skill, and they’re often just good light-hearted fun. Games such as Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot or one of the many loved Nintendo IPs have a special place in the hearts of most gamers. It makes sense then that these games would serve as inspiration to those who are now looking to bring their own ideas to life. One of those developers is Michael Pearce, the founder of Western Australia-based studio Tinyware Games, whose debut project Misc. A Tiny Tale wears its platforming inspirations on its sleeve. I had the chance recently to sit down with Pearce and discuss all things Misc. A Tiny Tale, inlcuding its influences and when we’ll get our hands on the charming platformer.
WellPlayed: You’re developing a game called Misc. A Tiny Tale – what’s the elevator pitch?
Michael Pearce: Misc. A Tiny Tale is a 3D Platformer where you play as Buddy, a bug-sized robot made from miscellaneous parts. Reminiscent of classics we grew up with, it’s a heartfelt journey that everyone can enjoy.
WP: When did you first begin work on Misc?
MP: We started work around February 2020 and quickly had a prototype put together by late March 2020. I had a rough concept of the game in my head years before, but it wasn’t until that time that I really sat down and tried to make it possible. Technically, the game started development under my friend’s team Fluminus as a potential publisher. After a few months of development, it exited the prototyping phase, which is when I saw the full scope of the project and realised it was a bigger game than initially planned. To make the game possible, it was something I had to really dedicate myself fully to. After some careful planning and discussion with my friend, We decided it would be better if I took the project on myself and self publish it under my own development team Tinyware Games. I’m really grateful I made that choice and had that kind of support from my friend. He’s been a great help along the journey! That’s where we are today.
WP: How many people are working on the game?
MP: Currently, Tinyware Games is made up of three people from across the world. Our music composer Bernard is in Florida, our 2D artist Chris is in New York, and myself as the lead developer here in Perth, Western Australia.
WP: Misc started off as a much smaller concept. What made you want to expand the project?
MP: It was too fun to stop! We began with a simple idea, as most games initially start out. The more we made, the more ideas we had. We always (especially now) try to be really mindful of that ‘feature creep’ as people call it, where potentially you can work on a game forever if you think of enough new additions. I think part of why we expanded the project was also the response we got from our fans. We had shown the game briefly in a few forms of media after our prototype came together in March 2020. To the public, it didn’t look too different from what you see now, but on the technical side it was so bare bones. Especially back then, looking for what kind of art style we wanted the game to follow, we made all of our assets to the best quality we could. The models we made during that prototype are still in use today for the final game. This went against the typical workflow of prototyping, where you’d normally make a very rough placeholder model that has no texture. This kind of ‘invisible work’ happens all the time during games development, so as a small team it does become tough to really show how much progress we’ve made to the public since most of it is stuff you can’t see. The structure of the game such as the dialogue system and jumping physics were our main focus at the start. That took most of our time during the first few months. After that is when we began expanding what the game could be.
Hello Buddy and Bagboy
WP: You’ve mentioned that Misc is heavily inspired by classic platformers, especially Chibi-Robo. What is it about that game, those games, that influenced Misc?
MP: Chibi-Robo is one of those ‘cult classic’ games. The series (despite being great games) never did too well outside of Japan, so you have this huge chunk of people who have never played it. We wanted to make sure that games like Chibi-Robo still exist in the gaming landscape now. It’s been a long time since the last game came out, and if the series doesn’t continue I hope people find a place for these types of games with Misc. I always loved the series and how it did its own thing. Similarly, we’re trying to do our own thing with Misc. Elements of what made the games we grew up with great – and the Chibi-Robo series great – are infused into our vision. You can see it in many ways throughout the game. With Chibi-Robo specifically, you see it through the feeling of being a small robot, changing the world one robot at a time.
WP: Visually, Misc looks similar to a Pixar film. Why did you choose this visual style?
MP: Firstly, thank you. We worked really hard on finding a style that played to our strengths as a small team. Part of that was figuring out our weaknesses first. When starting the project, and even to this day, there were things I was still not great at when it came to art. One of them was making organic objects, such as humans, animals, etc. At my core I’m a 3D environment artist which typically doesn’t see many organic objects, instead we focus on ‘hard surface’ objects such as tables, chairs, etc. Knowing that I wasn’t good at making organic models, I decided early on that the easiest characters to do would be things made from those hard surface objects. Robots were perfect especially as metallic objects are very easy to get looking great in engines like Unreal (which is what we use).
Another thing I was fairly new to at the time was animation. I had animated small things in the past, but never full characters. When starting Misc I was worried I’d have to hire a dedicated animator. Instead, I took it as an opportunity to learn animation and grow my skills there. It’s why we decided on simplistic characters with limited bend points. For example, you might notice our lead character Buddy has floating limbs. This was decided early on to make sure animating his hands would be easy and sort of fill in the blanks for the player when he moves. A few years later and now I’m much better at animation, so as the game continues we’re finding it easier to accept more complex designs!
As I mentioned before, as the lead artist for the game, I make all the 3D models, animations etc. that you see when you play. Our 2D artist Chris is incredibly talented! He’s always coming up with fun ideas for character designs and has been my go-to man for fleshing out concepts. He has his own style in 2D that luckily translates very well to 3D when it comes time for me to make a model based on his concept art. We always look at our weaknesses first to recognise our strengths and build our art direction around those. That’s why Misc looks the way it does – its foundation is built on who we are as developers! I’ve found it’s the best way to work when it comes to bringing a project to life.
WP: Misc features some light combat, with some boss fights. Can you talk us through how these will work?
MP: As you progress through the game you’ll pick up new abilities. In Chapter 1 you find yourself with a sword, which is actually a safety pin. You can use this safety pin to wack all sorts of things including keys that open doors and cardboard that stands in your way. Chapter 2 has you gain the brush which lets you clean up oil spills. Towards the end of that chapter, you come across your first enemy in the game – windups. These windup toys are made by our main villain Atom who invented them. Combat throughout the game will be very light and low stakes, but it’s there and we hope players enjoy the variety of ways to interact with the world around them.
WP: Misc sees the protagonist Buddy teaming up with another character named Bagboy. Do you play as Bagboy? If so how does that change the gameplay, if it all?
MP: We can’t share too much info outside of confirming that at one point of the game you will be able to play as Bagboy. We always want to offer new ways for people to play as they dive deeper into their adventure. We hope people look forward to discovering more.
WP: Misc feels like it appeals to a wide range of audiences. Was this a deliberate choice? Are there any sacrifices you have to make if you want to appeal to a younger audience?
MP: Misc being a game that’s full to the brim of dialogue, actually limits us with how wide of an audience it can reach. Translation-wise we need to go through a lot of effort to make the story come across to many countries and languages. Reading-wise, it limits very young players who are still learning to read, so they might not fully understand how to progress without dialogue. Despite this, at conventions we had people as young as 3 and as old as 93 were seen playing the game. I had this heartfelt moment with an older lady who walked up to the game and was in love with the characters. She picked it up and played it. Later I found out that was her first video game experience…ever. To know someone like her could be drawn to the game’s world and be able to get around and play it without any video game knowledge was a special moment. It’s continued to surprise me how many people this game has reached and I think we got lucky. We didn’t set out to make a game that everyone could play, we simply set out to make a game we wanted to play ourselves. The fact that so many people can come along and enjoy it too is all the better.
WP: Approximately, how long will the game be?
MP: We’re aiming for around the 6-8 hour mark. Of course how long is a game is like asking how long is a string – it depends on the string. We’re hoping to provide enough content for people to go back into chapters and 100% the game if they wish. But the core game should be long enough (and most importantly) quality enough that people can enjoy it.
WP: Initially Misc. was meant to launch in 2021 but was delayed to 2022. What were the reasons for this?
MP: We’re a very small team. I’m the lead developer, but my time is taken up mostly by my day job. I have to work on Misc between that, which really gives me about two or three days a week if I’m lucky. This was something I didn’t deal with initially in 2020 as I was still looking for work back then. A similar thing goes for most of my team, we have other obligations and things that we need to spend our time on. Added to all of this is simply the state of the world right now, we began just as covid hit the world. It’s taken a toll on our mental health, but we’re pulling through and keeping safe.
Hopefully Misc will put a smile on your dial
WP: What’s been the most challenging thing about Misc’s development?
MP: The hardest thing is simply finding the time. As mentioned, we all do this as a side project. Doing so much of the game’s development with a three people team is hard too. There are lots of hats we all have to put on so time is hard. When you do find the time, the art, programming, all that stuff is actually the smoothest bit. It’s challenging of course, and there are absolutely days or weeks where it feels like the project will never get done, but it’s also rewarding. Seeing ideas come to life in front of your eyes is one of the most magical feelings I’ve experienced. It’s why I love making games, and why I’m in this industry. Being able to share this little robot world that’s been in my head, as something that other people can see, can hear, can play, that’s just incredible.
WP: Is there a feature or an idea you had to cut from Misc because of scope or budget restraints?
MP: As far as budget goes, we’re very limited. We’re a tiny team and everything is funded out of our own pockets so when we do pay for external work, it’s usually on things we absolutely can’t do ourselves. One example of that is when we commissioned our theme song, sung by the talented RAYM Music.
In terms of cut content, we try to really have a mentality of ‘every idea is a good idea’ within the team. We’ve very rarely rejected an idea before, instead we put it aside and try to fit it better into a different part of the game that matches. Really the only things we’re limited to is making sure our ideas work on a technical level on both PC and Nintendo Switch. The Nintendo Switch is a fantastic piece of hardware and it’s really surprised me that we could get the game running on the console. That said, we do have to keep both platforms in mind as some things simply work better on PC than they do on Nintendo Switch.
WP: Misc is coming to PC and Switch. Are you considering bringing it to any other platform?
MP: We’re very lucky to be able to bring Misc. A Tiny Tale to Nintendo Switch, it’s been a dream come true. I’m always keeping my eye out for opportunities to bring the game to as many people as possible, but for the time being we’re lucky to cover most bases, with PC covering high-end performance, Nintendo Switch covering portability and those who might not own a PC. It’s a great combo, I know I’ve heard a lot of fans interested in picking up two copies (one on PC and the other on Nintendo Switch) just to have that choice of high power and portability.
WP: Thanks heaps for your time. Best of luck with the game’s development.