Saturday, February 17, 2018

Australian Themed Games

I’m Australian and I reckon Australians make great games. 

Many of our games hold their own against the best from around the world. We’ve also produced some of the most downloaded games, Fruit Ninja for example, has been a global phenomenon.
Fruit Ninja has had over a billion downloads

Right now, in 2018, Australia is home to a thriving indie scene producing some extraordinary games. The recently released Florence by Mountains is a fresh and exciting example of what the games medium can produce and it's set in Melbourne.

Florence by Mountains

But what I want to talk about is the lack of games set in Australia and/or featuring Australian characters made by Australians. This is more of a discussion out loud with myself than an essay offering any real answers. If you, dear reader, have some insight into why Aussie game developers prefer to set their games in sci-fi or fantasy worlds or in countries other than Australia then please let me know in the comments below.

I’ve thought about this lack of Aussiness for quite a while. Back in 2000 I started work on a brand new game called Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. We shipped it on Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube in 2004 to worldwide success. In fact, the recent re-release on Steam is one of Steam’s highest rated games. Ty is an unadulterated Aussie game set in Australia starring Aussie animals and featuring true blue Strine. It’s fairly over the top in it’s Australianess - I wrote the script and co-designed it so feel free to blame me - but most of the language I used is based on real life language I heard growing up or spoken by people around me while making the game.

I co-created Ty to be 100% Aussie!

The creation of Ty was in part a reaction to American and Japanese companies using Aussie characters in their games. Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog have Australian animals in them. It was hearing Crash’s sister, Coco, speaking for the first time in an America accent that pushed me over the edge and made me want to make a game that was a true Aussie game.

It is ironic that non-Australian developers have made more of an effort to create Australian characters and use Australian settings than the local development community. Notable examples include Beneath a Steel Sky (made by UK Revolution Software), Saxton Hale from Team Fortress (which was co-developed by Aussie Robin Walker), Junkrat from Overwatch (by US based Blizzard), Mad Max (developed by Sweden’s Avalanche Studios), Uncharted’s Chloe Frazer (by US based Naughty Dog) and Chips Dubbo from Halo (by US Microsoft) to name just a few.

Saxton Hale from Team Fortress

Beneath a Steel Sky

Junkrat from Overwatch

Here’s a list of games that use Australia as a setting:

And Kotaku has this article on Australians in games:

I did some research into the number of Aussie made games featuring Australian characters or locations and my list came up a little thin, which is surprising given the large number of indie games that have been made in recent times. 

Locally made games with Australian settings and/or characters include the previously mentioned Ty the Tasmanian Tiger games (four of them!) and Florence, the wonderful golfing RPG Golf Story,  Bioshock which was partially developed in Australia, a bunch of AFL and Cricket games, Down Under Dan, Escape from Woomera, Melbourne Cup Challenge, Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze… and that’s all I could find.

Escape from Woomera

Golf Story from Sidebar Games

What have I missed? There must be more than just the handful of games I’ve found.

So, why don’t Australians make games that celebrate their country, culture and people? We definitely have a “voice” that is uniquely Australian. You can experience it in games like Fruit Ninja, Florence, Crossy Road, Ski Safari and other games that aren’t overtly about Australia but still manage to exude a sense of Aussie charm.

I’ll throw out a few ideas.

Fantasy and Sci Fi Rule

Game developers have a penchant for fantastical works and these tend to be set in made up places. And traditionally the origins of video games are steeped in scifi/fantasy so it only makes sense for the current generation of developers to follow in these footsteps.

Movies have a Big Impact

Game developers take a lot of inspiration from movies and the majority of blockbusters are set outside of Australia. By constantly reinforcing New York and LA as important cities it makes sense for a developer to set their game there. It's much faster for a player to get a sense of place with New York than Adelaide.

Cultural Cringe

Australians tend to suffer from cultural cringe and find hearing their own “voice” in any medium to be, well, cringeworthy. Interestingly the term cultural cringed was coined here in Australia :-)

As I mentioned earlier I’ve made Aussie games with the Ty series . These are over-the-top examples of Australia but I believe there is so much more that can be be done to explore the uniqueness of our country. There’s an untapped well of stories and characters  that are perfect to explore in the games medium. I would love to see indigenous developers draw from their rich history to create something like Cleverman for games.

I definitely want to include more Australian characters, themes and locations in my future games. They’re probably going to be more in the style of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger than a work of art like Florence - but you gotta start somewhere. 

So what do you think? Is there a reason for the lack of Australian made Aussie themed games?

- Johnno

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