There are a number of Perth developers attending PAX Aus 2014, including several old friends of GameCloud that we caught up with to talk more about the games being showcased this year. Today I hopped on down to the indie pavilion to speak to Stirfire games’ Brendan Ragan and Lisa Rye about their games: Dead End Alley VR and Freedom Fall. I also delve into what it’s like for them setting up at the expo as an indie developer and find out there’s some exciting news just around the corner for the Perth studio!

What’s your PAXAus experience been like so far this year?

Lisa: It’s been crazy, really, really busy – particularly Dead End Alley, everyone wants to try the Occulus Rift, so it’s been really exciting for everyone.

Brendan: It’s been amazing, we’ve had such a great respoinse from the Occulus version of dead End Alley that we’re demoing here. People love it and the hardware’s holding up well so far – fingers crossed. It’s nerver wracking having a complete prototype and beta hardware here. We actually had Callum from Occulus come here and look at Dead End Alley, that was really awesome. Of all the SDK’s that are out there for virtual reality, Occulus’ is really solid. We’ve still got people coming through seeing Freedom Fall for the first time, as well. We’ve even sold a few Steam codes too now that we actually have a game that we can sell, so it’s been great.

There’s been a huge improvement between Perth Games Festival and now for Dead End Alley, so what was the refinement process like?

Lisa: It’s definitely been a trial by fire, Dead End Alley has a lot of moving parts. We have the Kinect to tell where the person is in physical space, we have the Occulus Rift which is simulating a virtual environment, and on top of that we have a custom made chainsaw prop. So yeah, it’s been complicated and we had some issues at the beginning, but it seems to be going much better this time around.

Brendan: It was basically a result of what we saw at Perth Games Festival, there were a number of things we saw there that were problematic. As always we reiterated it, worked on it, cleaned it up and it’s better for it. We did that a bunch of times before bringing it over here. We even demoed it at the Perth unite Conference which was the Monday before, we picked up problems there. If you look at our Twitter, there’s a number of “in-progress” shots from a hotel room here being used as an electronic work space to fix the chainsaw controllers. Maya was also doing some programming on the 40-inch screen in our apartment, kneeling on the floor and typing and stuff. But, you know, we got there in the end.

You guys actually made the chainsaw props?

Lisa: Yes, yes we did – they’re actually childrens toys from Toys’R’Us which we gutted, just completely gutted, cut down to size and repainted. The guys have spent a lot of time rejigging the insides to have haptic feedback – it rumbles all the time while it’s on and when you hit a zombie you get a little jolt.

So Lisa, you would’ve done a lot of the art for the game?

Lisa: That’s right, I did a lot of the 2D concept art, the texturing and a little bit of modelling this time around, which was exciting for me. It was a first and I even helped with the animation a little to begin with.

So where did you guys get the idea for Dead End Alley?

Brendan: You’ll notice it’s branded “Cry Havoc Games,” it’s being published by CHG and Stirfire produced it. They came up with the original idea and were like “It would be awesome if you were stuck at the end of an alley and had to kill zombies!” So we took that idea and added to it, so in the mobile version there’s extra stuff like the nail gun and other weapons, other kinds of enemies – more content to make it more of a game, basically.

The VR thing actually came out of PAX last year, when I was playing “Wander,” which was beautiful and amazing, but one of the things that I noticed… where if you move around, you’re walking in game but you’re not in real life and you get this weird disconnect. It doesn’t tend to happen with fighter games, which is why Valkyrie and Nomad’s Sky are going to be amazing on it. But because in Dead End Alley you’re not moving around, all we need – all we need – is to track the players arm movements so we can put a chainsaw on it. That turned out to be a many week exercise. But we got there and people are having fun with it. So that’s pretty much the genesis of the original and VR versions.

You guys were at PAX last year, too, has there been any major differences between now and then?

Brendan: It’s definitely a bigger expo this year, so there are more people through the door and the expo is better run. In terms of our own internal procedures, we knew what to expect, setup was a lot easier and smoother. I wouldn’t have tried to do this complex VR setup if it was our first time going to an expo, and it was definitely aided by the guys at PAX. Last year we tried to do a lot of stuff DIY, renting our own freight, we printed our own stuff, we didn’t rent a lot of stuff. This time around we liaised with the recommended vendors and it was much easier. When we came in on Tuesday, our freight was sitting by our booth so all we had to do was unpack, we didn’t have to haul it from the hotel or anything like that.

What’s the response been like from the crowd this time around?

Brendan: The major difference between PAX and the Perth cons is one of scale and one of audience. For one, there are more people here than any other Perth convention. But at the same time, those same people are predisposed to like our stuff because they’re gamers. Believe it or not, the Perth crowd is tougher than the PAX crowd. PAX attendees want to like your stuff, they want to see a new experience and they’re here to play games. There’s also a lot of games here, so if they pass by and think “I’m not really into platformers,” they just won’t come up to the booth. Whereas at Supernova [in Perth], or wherever, people will come up to your booth, say you game sucks and walk away. Which is a bit harder to take.

The only negative comments we’ve ever had have been in Perth – the PAX people have been lovely. They’ve been really good at giving us constructive feedback, like “The difficulty curve is too high,” or “the controls are too floaty!” They’re right and that’s the kind of stuff we want to hear about – the Perth crowds, some will notice that stuff and mention it, but we also get much less useful feedback.

You’ve got Freedom Fall here again, is it still going strong?

Lisa: It has been quite popular again, which is great. This time around we’ve actually put it up on Steam before the show and we’ve added a whole bunch of new levels and features. So we’ve had a lot of people stopping by and asking “Ooo, what’s new?” and wanting to talk about stuff like that, so it’s been pretty exciting.

Brendan: People are still coming to see it and are loving it, what’s been cool is that we’ve had people who have seen it before coming back. They’ve got the mobile version, they wanna know what’s changed, they want to know why they should get a desktop version, they want to know when updates are coming out. We’re really just building on an interactions we had with them last year, which is great. We’re also getting new people who haven’t seen it before, which is understandable with the increase in size of PAX. We’re getting some internationals coming down too, which is very, very cool!

It’s been really well received – but the main question that we get from people who’ve already got it is “What have you done for me lately?” So, we’ve got some other stuff coming and we’ve also had some more interesting things happen today on the console front that we’ll hopefully be able to talk about in the future.

Can you give us any sort of a hint about these upcoming projects?

Brendan: Let’s just say it involves a certain Japanese console manufacturer!
Lastly, what are you guys hoping to achieve here at PAX this year?

Brendan: We’re trying to work out where to take Dead End Alley VR, we’ve had a number of pointers in that direction. We’re considering turning Occulus into an arcade installation, which we think is the clearest path forward. We’re basically asking “Where can we take it?” We’re getting some answers to that, which has been good. We’ve spoken to some people about Freedom Fall, we’ve had Google and some other people come and talk to us about it, too. We’re just gonna keep putting it out to people, we’re gonna keep going as an Australian developer.

That’s the other thing about being here for a second year in a row, we’re letting people know that we’re not going anywhere guys, we’re here to stay – we’re coming from Perth, we bring the crazy and we’re giving you a good time!

Stirfire are a Perth based development studio, you can check out their website here. If you’d like to check out the great games they’ve got on offer at the moment, you can see them in the ANZ Indie Pavilion in the Expo Hall. Freedom Fall is also available through Steam, and the mobile version of Dead End Alley is available via the iOS App Store and Google Play.

Patrick Waring

Patrick Waring

Executive Editor at GameCloud
A lifelong Perthian, Paddy is a grumpy old man in a sort-of-young body, shaking his virtual cane at the Fortnites and Robloxes of the day. Aside from playing video games, he likes to paint little mans and put pen to paper, which some have described as writing. He doesn't go outside at all anymore.