Curtin University students Nathan Scott and Carly McGowan showcased their game “Birdened” at the 2015 Perth Games Festival. In this 16-bit-style platformer you play as a blue elephant, and yes, of course you can still jump. With the help of your bird companion, for which you are quite the burden, you can jump even higher. We had a bit of Q&A with Nathan and Carly about Birdened.
When did you start working on Birdened?
Nathan: Birdened started as a university project at Curtin, sometime August-ish? So we’ve been developing for roughly three months so far. The Perth Games Festival was our first public showing.
Why 16-bit graphics? Did any game(s) inspire you, in particular?
Some of our fondest memories are of SNES platformers, specifically Yoshi’s Island and Donkey Kong Country 2. They’re games that are easy to pick up for newcomers, but have a huge amount of depth to them and a really high skill ceiling for veterans. I’ve actually kept a SNES under my desk throughout development to help get Birdened feeling somewhat up to par.
Ok, I have to ask… Why a platforming elephant?
The game originally featured a little girl with a bird friend who would help lift her out of pits if she fell. That gradually evolved into an animal duo – we liked the symbiotic relationships of elephants and oxpeckers or cattle egrets. The weight of the elephant also lent itself well to interesting platformer scenarios, and would hopefully make players feel a bit of sympathy for the bird as it struggled to carry its friend around.
Did you make all of the assets yourself? (Programming, sprites, etc.)
Yep – Carly does all the art and spritework and Nathan handles the scripting side of things. Sometimes it takes a while to learn how to do new things, but in the end it pays off to know your way around your own code and project files.
How much longer do you think it will take to complete the game?
Hopefully, we’ll be close to wrapping up after another six months. We’d like the game to have enough replay value for players who want to master the mechanics, but we have other stories to tell, so we don’t want to be working on Birdened for another 2-5 years or whatever.
What’s next for Birdened? (Planned features, any plans/hopes for release, etc.)
We have plans for a few different level types, plus some more characters to interact with (good and bad). Showing the prototype off so early has been really valuable, though – we’ll probably spend some time in the next few weeks to make controls a bit more kid-friendly, and maybe look into prototyping some new abilities.
Why did you decide to get into game design?
Nathan: Back when I was about 7 or 8 I would draw level designs for made-up Mario or Donkey Kong clone games. I always liked that design aspect growing up – it wasn’t until I was 14 that I actually finished coding my first game in VB.net. (Nathan)
Carly: Like (probably?) every other game developer, I’ve been super into video games and art for a very long time, but I always thought making games was this unattainable thing. Especially for someone like me who had been living in a rural town for most of her life. But now after the big indie boom it’s become this… real thing that pretty much anyone can do if you just have the drive and guts to do it. After moving and studying traditional art and finding a friend who was like-minded and into making games, I finally feel like yes, it’s time to just have a go at making games and just do it!
What’s it like being a developer in Perth?
It’s a lot more isolated here, so can be easy to get hung up over the fact that big studios mostly exist overseas. But lately it’s gotten a lot easier – platforms like Steam let you publish personal projects online to a larger audience. Twitter and Tumblr allow developers to connect with each other and fans all over the world, and the Perth Gamedev community is super welcoming even for newcomers. Events like PGF make you realise that there’s a really supportive fan base here already, it’s all very humbling.
Do you have any ideas for your next project?
We have a few ideas buzzing around that we’d like to prototype at some stage. Gamejam events like Ludum Dare are nice every now and then for experimentation and a break from the usual grind.
What are your plans for the future? (Start/join a studio, make more platformers?)
Nathan: I think I’d just like to make more games that tell personal stories through gameplay. Genre doesn’t matter too much – I like a lot of different stuff.
Carly: I’ll be studying animation and game design next year, working on Birdened and hopefully improving and getting used to this whole… game dev thing. It’s still a pretty new thing for me. But yeah, like Nathan said, I’d really want to make more personal and interesting games.
What was it like showing your game to the public for the first time at PGF?
Nathan: If you rewound two days before the event, our levels weren’t connected to each other properly, and we had no cutscene events after level 1 or 2. We originally planned to have music in the demo but had to mute it after running out of time to polish the audio triggers. So naturally before the festival we were incredibly stressed and worried about what the public would think, and whether the game was too unfinished for most to enjoy.
But once the doors opened we found everyone was super positive, understanding and even excited about the game despite it being pretty early in development. All but one or two really young children played the demo all the way through (one of which was actually dragged away by an impatient mother and appeared quite upset, haha). Many would hang around to talk to us about the game, compliment the art style or the feel. After feeling trapped in our own little bubble for so long with no real idea of how the game was going to be received, the response was very encouraging. It’s really motivating for us to have something better to show for next time.
Carly: For me this was my first time getting in-person feedback on the game, so it was an exciting but nervous kind of thing. Nervciting I call it.
How can our readers follow and support your games?
For news and development updates, you can follow us on twitter and facebook. Our Tumblr blog also has archived gifs and videos of our development, if you’re interested in how the game has progressed over the last few months: