During our recent indie event at Game City, GC Editor-In-Chief, William Kirk got the chance to meet up with Garth Pendergrast and Lisa Rye from Stirfire Studios to talk about their latest game, Freedom Fall, and the challenges they faced not only developing from Perth, but also on the road to a Steam release in early 2014.
Could you begin by telling our audience who you are, and what you’re here representing today?
Lisa: We’re here as Stirfire Studios, and I’m Lisa Rye, the Creative Director for Freedom Fall, which is a down-scrolling platformer game set in a massive tower with an evil princess in which the player has to find their way through a huge tower to freedom at the bottom.
Garth: I’m Garth Pendergrast, the Studio Director. Basically, I’m the person that gets everybody into the room to try and make things happen in the first place. If there’s a role that needs filling, I grab someone to fill that role, and I do a lot of the backend things such as the legal and the marketing, and everything else associated with that.
Perth, it’s a rather small industry as some people might know. Not a lot has been going on, well, at least not in the public eye. What can you tell us about being a Perth development studio up and coming, and the challenges have you faced getting to where you are now?
Garth: The biggest factor is the isolation. You’d think that the net would solve a lot of these problems, and it does to a point, but when you’re looking for industry insight, we’re still very much out of it. The other thing is that Australia has a small industry to begin with when it comes to game production. In Perth, it’s really just the independent studios that are here. If you go to somewhere like Melbourne, you’re going to experience a much larger industry, and it’s establishing those connections that becomes one of the most important contributors.
That’s right, and you haven’t just been in Perth, you’ve been going around to events as well?
Lisa: We were lucky enough to PAXAus last year, and we also got to go to GCAP which is the global game conference in Melbourne!
As described earlier, you’ve taken quite a unique take on the platformer; being a down-scrolling narrative driven game, which is quite different. How have the players reactions been so far?
Lisa: It’s always great to see. We’ve had lots of people playing today, lots of smiles, lots of anger, it’s good to see the emotions coming out of people, and lots of people just wanting to talk about the game and engage with us.
Garth: It’s always a positive outcome. The other thing we get from coming to events like this is the feedback. We’ve gone to just about every convention or pop-culture event all year, and we always walk away with another particular little gem. There might be a recent build of the game which has changed the scenario, and we want to know how that works. However, the trouble is that you’re a developer, and as such, you’re too close to it, so you don’t really understand what’s going on with that. Where as, someone who’s never played it before can pick it up and say, ‘I like this,’ or ‘I don’t like that’. It can be frustrating, it can be enlightening.
I understand that Freedom Fall has been Greenlit for Steam. Congratulations on that, that’s a massive achievement for Perth! What’s involved in the road now, being one of the first local developers to go down that path? What will the next couple of months mean for you guys?
Lisa: A lot more polish on the game, which I’m really excited about. We’ve added a few more features, hopefully a few more levels as well! Still a fair way to go, so hopefully early next year we’ll be launching.
With Freedom Fall, who would you say would be the prime demographic that you’re targeting? Is it for everybody, or more tailored for a casual audience? Who’s going to play this game?
Lisa: Originally, I thought it would be 20-30’s “ish” people, male and female, but after events like Supanova, there’s actually a lot of kids who really like the game as well. It seems to have a wide appeal which is great to see!
Garth: It sits really well with a younger audience because initially it’s quite easy to play, but as you progress the difficulty curve is quite steep, so there’s something in there for a wide variety of people. If you’re a casual player, you’ll probably enjoy those early levels, but you might quit out before you finish.
Lisa: I’m not sure about that. I think the game is designed with that in mind, so that’s why there are lots of paths in the game that let you choose the easy path or the hard path. I think that will help a lot with gamers that aren’t as confident with those harder sections.
Coming from your current position in the Perth gaming industry, what advice would you give to somebody that wanted to get involved in game development? Would they be required to found their own studio, or would they perhaps come to someone like you with their ideas?
Lisa: Well, I can give you my story. I worked in the game industry as an artist, but I really wanted to get into design and making my own games and my own stories in those games. So, I started using my free time working with a program called Construct, which is essentially a free game making program that you can sit down and make your own games, even with no programming skills. That’s what I recommend to a lot of students who want to get into making their own games. That prototype I made, I showed to Stirfire, and Garth picked up on it, and Stirfire decided they wanted to make it for real.
Garth: You have to be dogged too. You have to be absolutely single minded when it comes to production because even a small game, or what looks like a small game, is a massive undertaking that can take over a year, even two years to do. It’s kind of like a rock band, you don’t elect 20 years to be an overnight success, so you’ve got to be prepared to lump along. The other thing is that so many people will come along and criticise your project, the game that you’ve invested so much time into, and have so many emotions attached to. Someone might just dismiss it, “That looks crap,” and walk on. You’ve gotta stick with it regardless, and that’s a real test of yourself. You can’t be here to be a millionaire, you’ve got to be here for the love of it!
Lisa: The analogy of a rock bands actually works really well because, in terms of starting out, you end up having to play multiple instruments. You’re working with such a tiny team, and yet, you somehow need to make an orchestra, so sometimes you end up playing three instruments at once. It’s something to be prepared for.
Thank you for your insight, and I know I speak for all of us when I say that we’re all really psyched to see how Freedom Fall is going to flourish with the upcoming Steam release!
And finally, just for fun, could each of you tell us what your Game Of The Year is for 2013?
Lisa: I’ll have to give two! For indie, I’ll say The Stanley Parable because it was such a amazing and bizarre twist on your expectations as a gamer. For a big name game, I’ll have to go with Bioshock Infinite because it just a beautiful and interesting game.
Garth: That’s a hard one… In terms of the games I’ve played the most this year, because I have a three year old daughter, I end up playing Just Dance 2014 more than anything else; which is not a happy image I’ll leave with you… But the game that single-handedly captured me this year is an indie game based off the old Warhammer Quest board game by Rodeo Games in the UK. For a game that I picked up when I’ve been waiting at airports, on my way to places, or got stuck, I’ve not played any game for so many hours!