vicscreen games

Melbourne Devs Are Creating Bloody Good Games And We Got To Check Some Out

Another big year for local talent thanks to support from VicScreen!

VicScreen (formerly Film Victoria) has been supporting video game development in Victoria for over 30 years now, but as the indie game scene continues to nurture and incubate new talent and disciplines the agency has also made a concerted effort to adapt and grow and support local games and teams more and more. That was made especially evident today as VicScreen invited Press Start and other members of the media to a showcase of six incredibly special Victorian-made games, giving us the chance to get our hands on some much-anticipated titles and chat to the people behind them on what their development journeys have been like and how securing funding has helped them achieve their goals.

The day started off with some impressive stats from VicScreen themselves, who revealed that Victoria is home to over half of Australia’s game development studios and represents a whopping 57% of the country’s total workforce. It’s a direct result of the group’s belief in the medium and ability to recognise and bolster talent, as well as the Victorian Government’s unwavering support for the state’s game developers. The past year has been especially huge with games produced with support from VicScreen and the Victorian Production Fund reportedly injecting $9.7 million into the state’s economy.

Helping to open the day’s events was Victoria’s Parliamentary Secretary for Creative Industries, Katie Hall, who also announced that Victoria’s Games Development Internship program would return for its second year. The (paid) internship is a huge opportunity for creators in the screen industry to get into games development and includes placement programs with studios such as Sledgehammer Games and Robot Circus. You can learn more about the Games Development Internship here.

Today was all about up-and-coming titles from local teams though, that have all had the chance to flourish thanks to this support and funding. We had the chance to get our hands and eyes on some truly special projects and talk face-to-face with some of Victoria’s most talented and passionate local developers, from Cult of the Lamb by Massive Monster, Future Folklore by GUCK, Wayward Strand from Ghost Pattern, Kinder World by Lumi Interactive, Way to the Woods from One Pixel Dog and Wood & Weather by Paper House (who hosted the event at their studio in Thornbury). It was a fantastic opportunity to see all of these games in one place and understand firsthand the sense of community amongst our local talent and to have that all backed by our own state government.

Cult of the Lamb

It feels as though a game like Cult of the Lamb needs little introduction, which is proof in itself of just how much Massive Monster’s new roguelike/dungeon crawler/colony sim mashup has blown up as it heads towards launch this week. It’s a huge success story for the Melbourne and UK-based studio (whose previous work includes The Adventure Pals, a game I adore) especially being able to work with publisher Devolver Digital and have the game introduced to the world thanks to showcases like Nintendo Direct.

The best news is I don’t even need to tell you about the game – you can play a demo of Cult of the Lamb on Steam right now and it’s out on PC, Switch, PS5, PS5, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One this Friday, August 12th!

Steam | PlayStation | Xbox | Switch

Future Folklore

One of the most interesting projects we had the chance to learn about is Future Folklore, a kind of inverse and subversive sim with a futuristic fantasy setting inspired by the Australian bush, native flora and fauna and Aboriginal culture. It’ll be coming to mobile platforms and will focus on things like care of country and healing while telling new stories in a future fantasy setting through the lens of Aboriginal culture and ideals.

While Hayley and Kati from the game’s developer, GUCK, weren’t able to show or talk too much about the game itself with it being very early in actual development, it was a privilege to listen to them talk about the studio’s journey and the impact of being the first First Nations-led development team in Australia. 

As they describe it, GUCK (side note: my autocorrect is having a field day with that name) isn’t just about taking inspiration from Australian First Nations’ people and multitude of cultures or checking a diversity box but actively creating spaces and setting a framework for the wider industry going forward. And where other sources of funding might have seen the endeavour as a “risk” or not understood the gravity of what GUCK has set out to achieve, VicScreen was there and evidently saw the value in Future Folklore and the team as a whole. I’m super excited to see more from the studio and the game going forward, and highly recommend keeping them on your radar.

GUCK: @guckhq FUTURE FOLKLORE: @futurefolklore_

Wood & Weather

In development at Paper House, the kind folks who lent their space to VicScreen and the other studios to make this whole event happen, Wood & Weather is a game that I knew very little about going in and somehow still know very little about after playing it for myself. Described as a “silly god game” in a wooden toy city loosely based on our own, it tasks you to interact with its blocky little citizens and flex your powers as a supreme deity by manipulating the weather to see how it affects their adorable little lives.

The short demo we played gave a good impression of how it’ll all work – controlling a godly, floating hand to directly interact with the world, solve problems and generally just poke around at things until you uncover new surprises. The folks at Paper House explained that there’s a lot more to see and that they’re keeping their cards close in terms of what to expect from the full game. I really enjoyed how tactile and freeform of an experience it is compared to other god games, with your interactions being very physical and almost no UI or menu elements to speak of.

PAPER HOUSE: @PaperHouseGames WOOD & WEATHER @WoodWeather

Way to the Woods

I’ve had my eye on Way to the Woods ever since it made waves online when its sole developer, Anthony “Ant” Tan, was just 16 years old. Fast forward seven-odd years and we’ve finally had the chance to get some actual hands-on time with the game, which is something of a narrative adventure/exploration game that centres around a deer and a fawn making their way through a post-apocalyptic world. Our time was short but it was great to see the concepts and ideas come to life and hear from Ant about the process of designing a game with such a sombre tone and message that still looks beautiful and is fun and engaging to play.

You can check out Way to the Woods with the trailer below (particularly enjoying the part at the end where it says “Coming in 2020… for real this time.”

Official website.

Kinder World

Lumi Interactive’s mobile game about caring for digital houseplants by practicing kindness has been on my radar for a while now, so it’s great to be able to catch up with them and chat all things Kinder World.

Already available in Early Access on iOS and Android, Kinder World is on the road to release and continues to be a wonderful little tool designed to promote mental health and wellbeing through just a few minutes of play a day. We were able to gain more insight into how Lumi is applying real-world evidence to create something both useful and safe to cultivate a kind of “crowdhealing” amongst its user base, as well as how it avoids the potential pitfalls of being a monetised mobile experience in an environment where that type of product is typically more exploitative than it is healing. 

The game’s been supported not only by VicScreen but by some hefty international funding as well, no doubt in large part to the frankly groundbreaking work that the team is doing to make this a viable component in its users’ mental wellbeing toolkit.

iOS | Android

Wayward Strand

Having followed Ghost Pattern and their ongoing development of Wayward Strand since I first saw it at PAX Australia 2019 it was great to be able to sit down with the game and see how it’s shaping up, as well as chat to some of the team about the journey and how VicScreen were able to support development. The story is the same with absolutely everyone we talked to today – without the influence and funding support from VicScreen the game simply wouldn’t be what it is now.

And what it is now is a gorgeous slice-of-life experience set aboard an enormous flying vessel that also happens to be an aged care facility. As wannabe teenage journalist Casey Beamauris, you’ll attend the facility and converse with its residents, learning their stories as the rest of the game world plays out around you in real time. It’s a quietly beautiful little game with some excellent writing and a glorious voice cast, and absolutely worth keeping an eye on as it floats towards release this September.

Official website.

Thanks again to VicScreen and all of the participating studios for this unique and excellent opportunity!

Feature image courtesy of VicScreen and Sarah Chav.