Independent development in Australia has been going from strength to strength over the past few years and the PAX AUS Indie Showcase serves to highlight some of the fantastic work being put out by local developers. Player2.net.au caught up with developers awarded a spot in the PAX AUS 2017 Indie Showcase to get a sneak peek at what attendees can look forward to.
PAX AUS Indie Showcase 2017 – Grabity
With a passion for competitive couch gaming and titles that beg for just “one more round”, developer Ninja Thumbs have emerged from the burgeoning New Zeland development scene aiming to leave their own mark on the genre with Grabity, their debut title. Player2 spoke with Steve Salmond and Moritz Schlitter, the two-person team that makes up Ninja Thumbs to find out more about Grabity and their involvement with the PAX AUS 2017 Indie Showcase.
Stephen del Prado: Hi guys! How did you first get involved with the industry?
Steve Salmond: I actually got my start way back in the mists of time – 1999! I worked for a local Auckland studio on Roboforge, an early online game where you designed, built and taught giant robots to fight in tournaments. We accumulated a small but very dedicated group of players, and the game was eventually released as open source to the community. I’ve worked on a bunch of different things since then, but Roboforge will always have a special place. I still have a favourite (now very tattered) T-shirt from that time!
Moritz Schlitter: Initially thinking I would work in 3d animation, I was lucky enough to land my first job as a 3d artist at a small games startup company. It was then that I realised the possibilities of creating something lasting that people could come back to and enjoy multiple times. I really enjoy how the consumer interacts with your ideas directly, rather than just observing them.
SDP: Grabity seems to be fighting an industry trend and endeavouring to keep couch co-op alive – is this something you feel strongly about or have fond memories of growing up?
SS: Yeah, we are both very passionate about couch gaming. At our previous company, a bunch of us would play games like Rocket League and Halo during lunch hour. Some of our best gaming experiences came from those lunchtime games, and we still remember those times very fondly. I guess we’re hoping to keep that experience alive for other gamers in our own little way.
MS: We didn’t make a conscious decision to combat any trends in the industry. At the time we came up with Grabity we would play games like Halo 4 or Rocket League almost religiously during our lunch breaks with our colleagues. Playing those games face to face we never had a dull moment, whether we talked trash, clutched a match last minute, ganged up on the camper, or teabagged to annoy one another. Those are all funny and memorable moments because we experienced them together.
SDP: What are some of the inspirations behind Grabity in terms of design and visuals?
SS: Probably the core influences would be Rocket League and Halo 3, mixed in with some Smash-style gameplay, Overwatch and maybe a pinch of Half-Life for good measure. In many ways, every game we’ve played between us is an influence; they tend to seep into your psyche after a while.
MS: The idea was to manage scope since we are a two-man team, so we settled on an arena brawler. Hence we took inspiration from other arena brawlers like Super Smash Brothers. Visually, however, we have quite differing tastes; one likes sci-fi, the other cartoons. So what we tried, in the end, is marrying the two the best we could – a bit like putting Mario in the Master Chief outfit (Mario Chief?)
SDP: Tell me your first thoughts when you received the news you had won a place in the Indie Showcase?
MS: We both were super excited, especially after we found out how many people had applied. The whole experience has been very humbling and so incredibly motivating. Coming from New Zealand, this is a completely unique opportunity for us to show the game to a ton of new people who would have probably never seen the game otherwise.
SS: We were totally stoked! I didn’t actually quite realize how important it was though until the announcement articles came out, mentioning the number of games that were in the running. Really humbled that the selection panel thought Grabity was worth putting out there.
SDP: What can PAX AUS attendees look forward to experiencing at the Grabity booth?
SS: Hopefully some really intense and enjoyable gaming! If we’re really lucky, people will be able to take away some classic memories of close victories, clutch plays and funny fails.
MS: People can look forward to intense 5-10 minute throwdowns, hectic battles against friends and a healthy dose of trash talk. Grabity is really easy to learn and best suited for people who enjoy a challenge. We hope that people will keep coming back to get revenge or defend their title in classic “just one more!” fashion.
SDP: When do you anticipate a release taking place and what platforms are you hoping to release on?
SS: We’re shaping up for an release on Steam shortly after PAX. We’re a small team so limiting our initial release to a single platform is probably sensible, but if the game is well received we’d love to look at bringing Grabity to a wider audience.
SDP: Who is better at the game – you or Moritz?
SS: Moritz for sure, but boy does it annoy me to admit that.
MS: No comment 😉
SDP: What genre would Ninja Thumbs like to work with next?
SS: That’s a great question, don’t think we have an answer for that yet. I’d personally love to work on a narrative-focused game; something based in a unique and visually captivating fantasy setting. Who knows what we’ll actually end up doing though.
MS: Whatever genre would fit the idea that would seem the most unique, fun and doable in terms of scope to us.
SDP: What are you looking forward to checking out at PAX AUS if you get some free time?
SS: I definitely want to check out the big exhibit hall if possible. Never experienced that kind of scale before and I’m sure it will be incredible! The PC, console and VR freeplay areas also look really cool – would love to soak up some of the atmosphere there. And we absolutely must play the other AIS games! I had a go at Sky Noon at NZGDC and it was a total blast. The other games look like they will be amazing too. I guess there’s simply not enough time though for everything on the list, bit sad about that.
MS: I am mostly just looking forward to taking it all in, seeing that this will be the first big convention I have ever been to. Checking out the games, meeting fellow game developers and enthusiasts alike. One thing I am looking forward to in particular is checking out Party Mode, organised by Saleem Abraham. It’s a game show featuring 12 ANZ podcast personalities competing against each other in front of a live audience, playing different video games – and Grabity may be one of them 😉
Grabity can be experienced by attendees to PAXAUS 2017 in the Indie Showcase section of the Indie Pavilion from October 27th to 29th.
Stephen del Prado
It was whilst toiling away in the bowels of the now mythical Australian Gamer forums that Stephen del Prados attempts at writing were recognised by then up-and-coming Matt ‘Hewso’ Hewson as “not terrible”. Since then Stephen has contributed to such sites as The Age’s now defunct Screen Play, the recently retired Black Panel and currently serves under Editor-in-Chief Hewso for Player2.net.au, at least until the pattern of decline obvious in his previous engagements is picked up by Hewso and he is exiled from games journalism forever