Wade Savage is a WA filmmaker turned game designer as he looks to his upcoming project Skourge Legacy as a new way to tell a story and create something that’s entirely his own. A melting pot of elements from Pokemon, Fallout, and old-school beat-’em-up’s, the game sounds to be something of a love letter to Wade’s various interests and nostalgia. Far from being just a game, however, Wade is also planning on releasing an animated series and a toy line based on the franchise he’s creating. Wade attended PAX Aus to show off the first look at some screenshots at concept work for the video game and was kind enough to take some time to talk to me about this most ambitious project.
I’m kind of drooling over the idea of Pokemon meets Fallout, just saying.
So, tell us a bit about Skourge Legacy.
Skourge Legacy is something I’ve been working on in development for about two years, and it’s come off the back of doing the Fallout Lannius film. I spent a long time trying to pick up other IP’s to do for film work and I was bothering everyone, and everyone was really excited about Fallout Lannius and that kind of thing, but there was just no ownership in what we were doing. A friend of mine – actually, the editor of Fallout Lannius – he said, “The next thing you do, you should own it, it should be totally yours, you’ve done your dash producing content for other people, create your own brand.”
So, I thought about the kinds of worlds I really like; I thought about the kind of audiences I wanted to affect, and how big I wanted to go. The weird thing is I wouldn’t even call myself a game designer. I’m a producer and a filmmaker, but I thought, “How would I do something for a big audience that I would enjoy?” So, I thought about kids stuff, and I thought that I really like the Fallout universe and post-apocalyptic stuff, and I really think creature collecting is one of those subgenres that people really relate to and get excited about.
The tone of the game is very comedic but then there’s drama stuff as well. Two of the kids, the main characters, grew up with single parents because they both lost their parents very early on when the Skourge hit. One character’s mother died during a Skourge creature attack, and another whose father died during a food riot because, in the story, things were really bad for awhile and we’re exploring this kind of content that’s going to be presented for kids.
Something that helps to break the age barrier a little, perhaps?
Yeah! So, I settled on creature collecting, and I wanted it to be set in a really interesting world. You know, I was closer to a ’90s kid, I was born in ’83 – so that golden era of filmmaking from people like Zemeckis, Spielberg and George Lucas had a profound effect on me. So, Skourge Legacy was born out of those ideas, that fun, exciting but almost scary kind of content and it’s what I’m calling a “horizontal development approach.” It’s going to be a video game, an animated TV series and a toy line.
All three are kind of being done at the same time – we’re here at PAX so we’re obviously talking about the game and the game itself is a side-scrolling 2D brawler, which is co-op based. The idea is that the three main characters have been sucked into a VR simulation, which is a very 80’s thing, but they’re not aware of it and this particular simulation uses your memories and emotions against you. The way the game will work will have an overworld map, and the players can choose “sites,” which are like levels, and each site will be a piece of a memory, or the computer’s interpretation of a real place. All of these sites will end with a big boss fight which unlocks a node, and for every node you’ll get a new creature.
It’s not a traditional creature collecting style game, we’re very, very small and it’s all very early days. We’re not talking about creature swapping or building your own creature, or any of those traditional Pokemon or Tamagotchi style systems; it’s very narrative based, and it’s very brawler based. So, your three characters will each have special abilities and a specialized weapon, and as you collect more Skourge creatures, you can swap out the character “Jack” for a Skourge creature. It’s kind of like his special attack; you can build up the attack to swap him out to actually play as the Skourge creature. It changes things tactically; we’ll be showing some beautiful screenshots tonight of the game’s 16-bit style.
What I’ll be talking about tonight is the tactical co-op side of the game, so one character has a zap bat, which is like an electrified bat that can stun enemies. One of our characters has a wave glove, which can push enemies. So, if you work together you can push an enemy towards your friend who can zap them, and then our bruiser character, which is actually our female character, she’s got a croquet mallet, can finish them off. So if you had three players at the same time, though you’ll be able to play solo as well, you can work together to pull off cool combos and there’ll be a lot of narrative based around them as well.
Do you have a grand overarching vision of how you want it all to go?
I don’t know how it’s all going to go, but I know where I want it to be. I want to be able to walk into department stores and see Skourge Legacy toys; I want to create something that people really relate to and love. I want to be able to see the Skourge Legacy lego set one day. I want it to be one of those things that makes people really happy and gets them really excited, and I think that can be done with kids stuff. I mean, we’ve had twenty years of Pokemon – maybe people want something a bit different, maybe a bit darker or cooler. We’re not trying to compete directly with stuff like Pokemon; we just want to provide an alternative.
Will there be any mechanics that adjust difficulty based on how many players are present? Or a challenge mode where you’d play as one person against three players’ worth of monsters?
Yeah, it’ll be metered to the number of players that are in there at any one point. We could absolutely add some challenge modes in as well, anything that gives the players different modes I think is a good way to go.
“In the overall story of Skourge Legacy, there was this big ship over Earth that got blown out of the sky and, as a result, flora and fauna on Earth have changed forever, which has had a really cataclysmic effect.”
Will the level design be quite linear in traditional 2D side scrolling fashion?
What happens with each site, or level, there’s three things involved: There’s basic exploration, there’s a sequence, and then there’s a boss fight. So, for example, I’ll show a screenshot tonight from a level called “The Bridge,” it’ll just be one screenshot – again, very early days – and the narrative behind it is about these two big cities. In the overall story of Skourge Legacy, there was this big ship over Earth that got blown out of the sky and, as a result, flora and fauna on Earth have changed forever, which has had a really cataclysmic effect. Heaps of people have died because some of the creatures are cute and furry, but some are big and terrifying.
With the bridge, it’s supposed to connect these two sister cities but neither really went above and beyond to help each other out and so both failed. So, exploration of the bridge will reveal notes and stuff, looking through cars and stuff like that. The sequence will take place after you’re done exploring; there’ll be this big kind of blob creature that’ll attack you, he’ll start moving all these cars around, and you’ll have to defend yourself against the Blob creature while jumping from car to car. Then you’ll fight the blob creature, and if you beat him you’ll get a node, and then you can explore a different site.
If you’ve seen something like Cuphead, that’s an example of an overworld where you choose the sequence you want to go through, that’s a big inspiration for our overworld. Being able to say “Oh, no, that’s too hard, I’ll come back to that,” then coming back to it later and saying “Yeah, I think I can do this now,” and being able to choose your own path.
What’s your role within the project?
I’m the creator and the director, also kind of the producer – the screenshots we’re showing tonight are by a guy called Jacob Jenerka and he did a game called Paradigm, which PewDiePie played and is all kind of a big deal. Key art is by Arden Becworth, she did that great poster we have, and I’m the guy who’s gonna get the money together, get people excited and explain my vision.
What would you say, then, is the biggest influence or inspiration for Skourge Legacy?
Fallout’s a really huge one though Fallout’s a little bit different because it has those really ’50s kitsch aesthetics; our visual pallet is very ’90s. Also Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, they’re really fun and dramatic. Gameplay wise, probably something like Streets of Rage. Even something like Two Crude Dudes, I don’t think it’s aged very well, but I love those ’90s style vibrant colors. I love the co-op that works like an actual co-op game where you need each other to win, not a kind of co-op where you’re just fighting alongside each other. Even in the hey-day of those ’90s shooty side-scrollers, unless you were something like… a Kangaroo with roller skates, all the characters felt pretty similar. We’re hoping these characters all play very differently.
Do you think it’s going to be really challenging to present some of these darker themes in a kids medium?
I think it will be, and we’ll need to look to the masters of that kind of stuff, guys like Pixar, and again Avatar, for seeing how far you can push these things and what you can explore. A lot of it is done in exposition and conversation; going back to Avatar, Aang found his sensei dead as a skeleton among all the Fire Legion guys. It was a really non-confrontational way of conveying something heavy that had happened. What’s really great about that show is that they made the characters really relatable, none of them were really annoying. Kitara was motherly, Sokka was comedic, and Aang was the straight man for the setup of a lot of [Sokka’s] jokes. They were all very loveable and nuanced, and the show didn’t treat kids like idiots and dealt with stuff in a really nice way. If you treat kids with respect, you can give them heavy content, and I think a lot of that is to do with the execution.
Skourge creatures are really wondrous and really exciting, but a lot of them are really dangerous as well. Some are as tall as buildings! These large ones are really rare, and Jack – the main character – his thing is that he’s very empathic, and he can communicate and even influence the Skourge creatures.
What’s it like trying to launch a project of this size from Perth?
At this stage, like I said, we’re still in the announcement phase and trying to get people excited. There are a lot of funding bodies involved, and I think that Screen Australia needs to deal with the Canadian Government about [co-productions], which would also fund video games and that could be a way to go. It’s a bit weird because it would be good to have it commercially produced rather than relying on a funding body, which have a lot of stipulations and a lot of loop-jumping, which I don’t know would be detrimental to this brand. It’s just tricky dealing with them.
“So, Australiana, it’s a bit of a death knell, you might get some cool press here in Aus, you might get a bit of interest, but it limits your sales in a really big way, unfortunately. “
So, if the game is first, how will the gameplay later translate into the animated series?
Well, it’s why we’re going with the trope of them being sucked into a VR simulation because then it doesn’t largely affect the narrative of the main show. It’s its own thing, it’s self-contained and won’t have a massive effect on the eventual series.
Will there be any strong Australiana themes in there?
To be honest, it’s all very Americanised; even for all our promo-works, it’s all designed for an international audience. So, Australiana, it’s a bit of a death knell, you might get some cool press here in Aus, you might get a bit of interest, but it limits your sales in a really big way, unfortunately.
Would you say then that the Australian style, or Australian works, just don’t do well overseas?
They don’t, not in a traditional sense, not unless you have something really cool like Mad Max. But then in that you’ve got Tom Hardy, who was like Australian, then British, and then American in that film? It was hard to keep track of his accent, but Charlize Theron was American all the way through. It was lovely that we had a lot of Australians around that on the outside, but it’s very hard to market an Australian through-and-through product.
Yeah, especially since we can’t put Mel Gibson in front of a camera anymore.
Not really, we can’t market him anymore.
So the game is still in really early production?
It’s still very early days, we’ve got a lot of work to do – what we’re doing to help us build momentum, and a lot of the advice we’ve gotten has said, is to build a community around it, ask people “Hey is this any good? Are you interested in this?” Because then we can take that to investors and say, “This is what we’re doing, and people are interested in this.” So, we’re doing social media; we’re doing prizes, all that kind of stuff so that we can help build an actual brand and get some investment. I’m always a bit wary of talking about something too much before it happens but with this the kind of advice we’re getting is: “If you want to get picked up, you need that built-in audience.”
There’s no, like, secret, dark, back-room meeting and you get a cheque – it just doesn’t happen anymore. The first things you’re asked are “How many Twitter followers do you have? How many likes do you have on Facebook? What’s your social media engagement? What are your analytics?” It’s kind of a backward way of going about it, it used to be “Oh, they have this cool idea, let’s throw money at it.” But now you have to have an audience before you’ve even got a product.
So you’re doing a panel tonight about the game, what’s on the agenda?
First we’ll be showing the promotional video, and then after that I’ll be going through an explanation of what Skourge Legacy is, what the game will be like, I’ll be talking about the gameplay and show off some screenshots. Then I’ll be going over our three main characters and talk about what we’re doing next with the project. We’ll also be fielding some Q&A and handing out some prizes including our first ever toys – some 3D printed, hand-painted models of Yib.
“It’s kind of a backward way of going about it, it used to be “Oh, they have this cool idea, let’s throw money at it.” But now you have to have an audience before you’ve even got a product.”
Yeah, that’s the little purple guy with the orange eyes. He’s our “Pikachu.”
A little slimy and horrifying, but still just as cute, right?
That’s right! When we originally designed him, he was covered in slime. I wanted him to be reminiscent of Slimer from Ghostbusters; he eats everything, and he’s quite cute and a little funny. But then it just looked he was just covered in water all the time, he just looked constantly wet. But yeah, that’s our Pikachu.
Author’s Note: The artwork that you see in the screenshots for Skourge Legacy was created by none other than WA’s very own Jacob Janerka! If you’d like to see more of Jacob’s stuff, you can mosey on over here.