Perth Games Festival 2014 is tomorrow, and is set to showcase many of the great games being made in Perth!
In an effort to highlight some of our local talent prior to the day, we’ve reached out to several developers who will be attending the festival to talk about their games. Stirfire Studios are somewhat of a veteran in the growing Perth gaming scene; having seen their previous game, Freedom Fall, launch across multiple platforms to a positive critical reception.
To tell us more about their new mobile game/VR experiment, Dead End Alley, we recently caught up with Garth Pendergrast, the Director of Stirfire Studios, as well Lisa Rye, the concept artist and digital illustrator of the game:
As a Perth-based developer, could you tell our readers about the history of Stirfire Studios?
Garth: Stirfire was founded in 2011 as a way to assist aspiring WA game developers in bringing their products to market. Our initial ambitions were to act as an incubator and something of a publisher, but we have become more of a traditional studio over time. We still work towards a culture of creativity, live in the local community, and are always open to collaboration.
Our first breakthrough title was Freedom Fall, which launched at PAX AUS 2013. We were always ambitious for Freedom Fall and punched far above our weight as a tiny indie. We launched the game on iOS, Android, OUYA, and Window and Mac through the Desura platform. Of course, we put ourselves on Steam’s Greenlight program and later made it through, launching in January 2014. We think we were the first game from WA to make it on to Steam (although, we are open to being corrected!). We were also approached by Amazon for their new Fire TV content platform and mini-console and we launched in April on that platform. The Steam and subsequent releases were a much more polished game with better animation, more levels, additional music, and Steam/Amazon achievements. It was a massive achievement to produce this game on the budget we had, and it really was a testament to how much we love this style of game and how much we love the characters.
We have been through a spectacular journey over the past three years and we are still growing!
What was the primary source of inspiration behind your new game, Dead End Alley?
Garth: Dead End Alley was originally a brief given to us by our friends at Cry Havoc Games, of whom we had previously constructed a short commission as a loving recreation of the classic Gorillas game. The premise was simple, they wanted a cartoon-horror zombie game inspired by Fruit Ninja and classic ’80s arcade games. In practice, this has been another huge effort and has turned into something really special.
How would you best explain Dead End Alley to someone unfamiliar with the game?
Garth: Well, your number is up. You are trapped in the classic Dead End Alley that you have seen in zombie movies dozens of times (do you watch zombie movies? We do. A lot). You have a chainsaw, and a will to live and not much else (although, watch out for nail gun drops and pedestrians). Then the wandering dork zombies start coming. Except they’re running at you. And the rats come. Those rats… And then the Tank starts throwing zombies at you and things only get worse from there.
Dead End Alley started its life as a touch-screen game, inspired by the classic movie zombie scenarios with elements of the Fruit Ninja experience, but like anything involving biohazards and zombies, has evolved into something… else. You can now play DEA in virtual reality with an Oculus Rift headset and a chainsaw prop.
What has been the biggest challenge since you began working on the game?
Garth: Getting the gameplay balance right has been an absolute challenge with this game. We had an initial issue that the game premise was good, but it lacked a spark of “Unlife.” We worked hard to get that spark, and have then had a lot of refining to get the balance and difficulty ramp right.
Could you tell us how you feel Dead End Alley stands out from other games in the genre?
Garth: Well, you will notice Stirfire’s characteristic art-style and black sense of humour throughout your experience with this game. Zombie games tend to be either silly or take themselves very seriously – one of the two extremes. We wanted the player to be really laughing when a zombie fell apart after you cut it into bits with your chainsaw but we also wanted the player to have that real sense of stress while they are playing- in the best possible way. It’s a casual game that you will find yourself coming back to a lot, if only to laugh at the pile of zombies flying apart.
Stirfire has become known for it’s art-style, could you tell us more about your creative approach?
Garth: I’ll let Lisa Rye take this one:
Lisa: Getting the zombie’s character to be full of personality was the first step – we wanted them to be both cartoony and expressive, but a little creepy too. Zombies have been done so many times, but I wanted ours to have a style that matched the theme of the game. As the game is set in an urban environment, I looked to street art and band imagery, like the Gorillaz, for inspiration. The animations were also key – you can bet we did a lot of zombie-shuffling around at meetings to demonstrate movements.
We understand that you’re working on a VR prototype too, could you tell us about that?
Garth: Yah, that’s a whole different bundle of crazy. You get a VR headset, a chainsaw prop, and a bunch of zombies coming at you in 3D. It’s funny watching grown men panic as life-sized cartoon zombies come scrambling at them. Right now is a fantastic time as the consumer-grade, affordable VR headsets, are on their way soon, so this is a massive opportunity for the game. Again, it will still maintain a casual flavour, but it is really like a classic arcade game in VR. It’s a lot of fun.
As a mobile app, could you tell us more about your plans for future content, if any?
Garth: We would like to see event versions of the game around Halloween, Christmas etc. We would also like to bring our black senses of humour for something like a World Leader Pack. We have a lot of different zombie-types we well, brain-stormed and ready to be unleashed.
You’re going to be at the Perth Games Festival this month, will we be able to play it there?
Garth: Yes. We will be bringing chainsaws, and, of course, we will be bringing devices with the mobile version.
What is the estimated release date, and what platforms will the game be available on?
Garth: We will be released before PAX AUS 2014 later this month. Initially, we will be bringing DEA to both iPhone and Android, but we are also running the game on Windows Phone 8.1. We have big ambitions for the VR version of the game, so keep your eyes out for that one. We would also like to see an arcade version of the game!
To stay in touch with any future updates related to Dead End Alley, please follow Stirfire Studios on social media!