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Melbourne-Made Games Are Kicking Goals Thanks To VicScreen

Victoria is leading the way

There’s no denying that Victoria – Melbourne in particular – has some insanely talented development teams and is home to the country’s best video game financial supporter in VicScreen (formerly Film Victoria). In what may surprise many, 57% of Australian game developers are based in Victoria and more than half of the nation’s development studios. Melbourne may be known as the sporting capital of the world, but it’s clearly making a name for itself as a haven for video game creatives.

VicScreen, founded in 1976, has been a massive supporter of the Victorian creative industry over the years. Its support for games continues to increase and is justified by not only the critical acclaim its backed games receive but the financial results, which speak for themselves, with VicScreen-funded games generating more than $9 million last year – an enormous 46% increase on the previous year.

Last week WellPlayed and other media outlets were invited to VicScreen’s first ever games showcase of sorts, where a six-pack of upcoming Melbourne-made games was on display for media to get their hands on, as well as chat to the minds behind the projects. The games on display were Cult of the Lamb (Massive Monster), Future Folklore (Guck), Kinder World (Lumi Interactive), Way to the Woods (One Pixel Dog), Wayward Strand (ghost pattern), and Wood & Weather (Paper House Games).

Kicking off at the iconic Thornbury Picture House cinema, we were treated to a rousing speech from VicScreen CEO, Caroline Pitcher, whose passion for the Victorian games industry was evident, before Katie Hall, Labor MP for Footscray and Parliamentary Secretary for Creative Industries announced that Victoria’s Games Development Internship program was open to applicants for its second year. The program is a paid opportunity for upcoming creatives to get a taste of the games industry through placements at various studios, including Sledgehammer Games. From there we made our way to Paper House HQ where the games were waiting to be played and I was eager to dine out on the creative feast on offer.

Cult of the Lamb

Developer: Massive Monster | Platform: PS5/PS4/Xbox Series X|S/Xbox One/Switch/PC | Release: 11/08/2022 | Official site | Twitter

While Cult of the Lamb was released last week on August 11, the showcase took place before reviews and the game had dropped. However, even so, you got a sense that the team at Massive Monster had something special with Cult of the Lamb – I mean, Australians do love their lamb, just ask Sam Kekovich. Admittedly, this was my first time going hands-on with the game, but it was easy to see why WellPlayed’s Mark Isaacson waxed lyrical about the title in his 10/10 review.

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Creative director Julian Wilton told the crowd that Devolver Digital was the perfect publisher for Cult of the Lamb and the funding from VicScreen made that dream possible, and after playing it, albeit briefly, I agree with him. Cult of the Lamb has put Massive Monster on the map and I can’t wait to see what comes next from them.

Future Folklore

Developer: Guck | Platform: Mobile | Release: TBA | Official site | Twitter

Future Folklore was the only game that was not playable on the day. Instead, Hailey Percy (Project Director) and Kati Elizabeth (Game Runner) from the game’s developer Guck were on hand to discuss the game’s foundations and premise while showing off some concept art. Impressively, the project is centred on First Peoples, with the game’s futuristic fantasy take on the Australian bush being crafted with consultation from Aboriginal people. Furthermore, 12 of the game’s 17 developers are First Peoples, including Percy who is a Wiradjuri woman, and it is the first Aboriginal-led mobile game.

The game’s premise sees players tasked with restoring the bush and caring for it in an almost-sim management way. Percy tells me that the project wasn’t born from any one idea to make an Aboriginal game, instead, it became apparent that this was not only a great opportunity for First Peoples to inject some of their culture and heritage into video games but also a great opportunity to get Aboriginal people involved in the creation process.

Future Folklore has only just started development, with Guck taking their time to ensure that the right amount of care and respect goes into the project, which has been possible thanks to VicScreen’s support. We may not have seen much, but I am really excited to see more from this project, as Aboriginal culture is underutilised in video games.

Kinder World

Developer: Lumi Interactive | Platform: iOS/Android | Release: 2022 | Official site | Twitter

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Kinder World has been making waves this year, with the female-led project securing a $9.76 million (US$6.75 million) investment from venture capitalist group a16z back in June. But the project was able to get off the ground and show how big its impact could be thanks to the support from VicScreen.

With mental health and wellbeing such important pillars of our day-to-day lives, Lumi Interactive wanted to build an experience that reinforced positivity and allowed users to share that positivity and kindness with each other. Kinder World, which is available now in Early Access on iOS and Android devices, tasks players with nurturing and caring for houseplants while performing kind actions and spreading that kindness with the game’s community.

Often, it’s ideas that focus on such simple mechanics that can have the biggest impact, and Kinder World’s positivity is no doubt infectious, which is why the project has already resonated with so many users.

Way to the Woods

Developer: One Pixel Dog | Platform: Xbox/PC | Release: TBA | Official site | Twitter

One-man development team One Pixel Dog (Anthony Tan) has been hard at work on Way to the Woods for what feels like forever – even he’ll tell you the same thing. The project has been quiet for a couple of years now, but while some wondered whether the game had been abandoned, Tan has been hard at work ensuring that the final release is something that he is proud of.

Tan, who has been developing this game since he was 16, tells me that the support he’s received from VicScreen has really allowed him to hone his craft and spend time figuring out exactly what sort of game he wants Way to the Woods to be.

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What we got to play was very much an early development build that allowed us to sample what Tan has in store for players. Set in an abandoned world, the story follows the journey of a deer and their fawn as they navigate the world using the power of light. Despite the demo’s brevity, three things stood out – the visuals are unbelievably cute, the animations are crazy good and this game is going to be worth the wait.

Wayward Strand

Developer: ghost pattern | Platform: PS5/PS4/Xbox Series X|S/Xbox One/Switch/PC | Release: 15/09/2022 | Official site | Twitter

You’d be hard pressed to find an Aussie-made game that I’ve been more excited for over the past couple of years than ghost pattern’s Wayward Strand. The premise sees teenager Casey Beaumaris explore an airship hospital and get to know its patients, with everything playing out in real-time. With the game’s September 15 release right around the corner, it was great to get one final look at the game and chat with the team before then.

Wayward Strand has evolved a lot since the last time I saw it, with the most noticeable improvements being that all characters are now fully voiced thanks to an impressive cast, and the real-time gameplay has been refined for a better player experience. I didn’t delve too deep into the build on hand as I want to save as much for the full release, but chatting with the team it seems that it’s been an exhausting but rewarding six-year development journey, one that wouldn’t have been possible without VicScreen’s support.

Furthermore, it was interesting to hear about the team’s experience with voice actors and the challenges they faced with the gameplay and its real-time system as it evolved over time. Much like everyone else present at the event, it was clear as day how passionate ghost pattern is about Wayward Strand, and I have no doubt players are in for a great time.

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Wood & Weather

Developer: Paper House Games | Platform: PC | Release: TBA | Official site | Twitter

Now this was a title that took me by surprise. From the makers of Paperbark, Wood & Weather is a “silly god game” set in a wooden toy recreation of Melbourne where the player has full control over the city’s weather. The demo we had access to was a taste of what the studio is aiming for, with Paper House keeping its cards close to its chest when it comes to the full gameplay experience.

In the demo, the player was able to interact with the citizens and complete simple objectives, such as helping one person free their bogged van (what a stitch-up that was) or helping another fish for the right item, all the while wreaking havoc with the weather.

Paper House states that the game will explore climate change themes, however I was unable to confirm if the game’s weather changes will be narrated by Livinia Nixon. I adore the wooden city aesthetic and I am very keen to see more when the time comes.

Overall, it was a great day and excellent to see a small selection of what the creative minds in the Victorian games industry are up to. Big shoutouts to VicScreen for organising the event – I can’t wait to attend the next one.

Image credit: VicScreen and Sarah Chav

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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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