PAX AUS INDIE SHOWCASE 2023 – Copycat
The PAX AUS Indie Showcase is a chance to see some of the best new and upcoming titles from the ANZ digital and tabletop development scene, with past winners including such celebrated games as Unpacking, Hollow Knight, Yum Cha and many more. The 2023 Indie Showcase is shaping up to be another highlight of the event and Player2 encourages visitors to PAX AUS to make their way to the PAX Rising area and check out the following title, as well as the many other excellent indies on display.
Copycat comes from New South Wales based developers Spoonful of Wonder made up of founders Sam Cable (Head of Narrative) and Kostia Liakhov (Head of Art) alongside Daniel Bunting (Composer). All three have extensive experience in their respective fields which is very much on display in the early trailers for the game. Player2 spoke to Sam and Kostia about their Indie Showcase win, what inspired Copycat and their experiences of the development process.
Player 2: Hi Sam and Kostia, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to Player2! Let’s start with a predictable question: what was your reaction to winning a place in the PAX AUS Indie Showcase for 2023?
Sam & Kostia: 80,000 people walked through the doors of PAX last year. It is the biggest gaming convention in the Southern Hemisphere. So when we found out, we were totally scaredy cat! I mean, we’re jumping in the deep end as a tiny two-person team presenting our debut indie game. But we know there’s a strong audience of people who love their pets and love cosy, narrative-driven games. We can’t wait to meet our players. If that person is you, please come say Hi!
P2: Where did the initial concept for Copycat come from, was there any particular inspiration behind it?
S&K: Great question. The joy of bringing a pet home for the very first time was such an important part of childhood for Sam! All Sam’s cats came from the pet shelter. So for the game, we wanted to give players an opportunity to experience the same moment for themselves. Then we also remembered the time our cat ran away and we were so desperate we almost mistook another cat for our own. Rookie error. We wanted to blend both stories to tell a heart-warming and intimate narrative about animals and their owners. In the game, the owner (Olive) and cat (Dawn) have to mend each other’s hearts, because both their hearts have been broken in some way previously. In the script, we also layered in philosophical meta-ethical questions about existence and morality, all disguised as a simple story about a cat trying to discover where she truly belongs. At the end of the story, we want players to hug their animals and hug their loved ones. The human-pet bond is so special.
P2: How long has Copycat been in development and what have been some of the most rewarding and challenging moments of the process?
S&K: Copycat has been in development for almost two and a half years now. But we’ve only been working on the game for nine months full-time. It’s been amazing to see how far we have both come. Before developing Copycat, we were an art director and writer duo in the world of advertising, film and animation. But taking on the responsibility of developing a video game was a huge step for us. The most rewarding part for Sam was going into the voice over recording and seeing her script come to life. The most rewarding part for Kostia was seeing people play our demo and their excitement. On the other hand, the challenging moments are normally centred around doing things for the very first time. Like starting a business, GST, tax return, legal contracts, superannuation and localisation. It’s even still a learning curve when it comes to coding. We had to learn to crawl before we could walk.
P2: There is clearly a lot of yourselves invested into Copycat – how do you both relate to the themes of home, loneliness and belonging and has living and working remotely channelled these themes into the game on a more personal level?
S&K: What a lovely question! Since COVID, we’ve been working remotely, floating between places while working on our game. The experience is very liberating, sometimes lonely, however we recognise our definition of belonging and home is vastly different from most. Growing up, Sam’s family moved houses multiple times between New Zealand and Australia; so it was as if she was living in the in-between, never really belonging to either place. On the other hand, Kostia has a different relationship with the theme. Kostia can’t return home due to the war in Ukraine. His parents are displaced and haven’t been back to their town in almost two years. We both have a nuanced relationship with the meaning of home and belonging. Therefore, it makes sense that we were drawn to it as a theme. We want to remind players that home is not certain or a guarantee. Home is not always about things, places, or people. This is because not all those three things are always possible. Instead, home is a sacred space that evolves and shifts over time. Home can be broken and mended. Home can be abandoned and found. But most importantly, home is the place where you are needed most. These themes of belonging mean a great deal to us, and we wanted to give players an opportunity and quiet space to reflect on it for themselves.
P2: You’re both very accomplished artists in your respective fields – is there any prior work you would suggest readers seek out if Copycat resonates with them?
S&K: Aw, thank you. You are very kind! We are very new to the indie game scene but have deep roots in storytelling. Our background is in advertising where we worked as a creative team together—writing, crafting and filming commercials. Kostia was responsible for the visuals, and Sam was responsible for the words. Sam received her Masters in Screenwriting, and Kostia gained valuable experience as an art director, 3D animator, and motion graphic artist. Along the way, we led a handful of creative projects before pivoting out of advertising and jumping into Copycat. Here’s a few we’re very proud of:
Pop!: A vibrant short animation about a cactus shop owner who has to learn to face her worst fears when a balloon cart parks outside her store. On this project, we also collaborated with our Copycat composer, Daniel Bunting.
Really Great: Our debut short film animation about love, loss and unusual habits we invent to deal with change.
Barking Mad: A short film about an elderly man who picks a bone with his awfully optimistic neighbour and her peppy pooch so he can sleep in peace.
The Little Cloud Who Was Left Behind: An imaginative and sensitive kids book that reminds us of the importance of positive self-talk whether it’s rain, hail or shine.
ALSO – If you’re into graphic novels, our lovely Sam wrote Matching Belle a few years ago. This witty, intelligent, and gut-wrenching comic book gives a powerful, new face to modern day homelessness. 286 Pages. (PG) Suitable for those aged 16 years and over.
P2: The compelling trailer for Copycat hints at extensive use of light and colour to convey mood to the player and is quite striking as a result – how did you develop the visual style of the game and is there anything you’re paying homage to?
S&K: As the art director, Kostia draws inspiration from the film world, using a complementary colours approach and camera tricks. Being familiar with the basics, it’s fun to think about what colours and camera angles mean, what emotions they evoke and how they can make you feel. Sprinkle some Pixar vibes on top and you get a potent and exciting look to work with. In the gaming world, we look up to Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch and Life is Strange for their use of light, colour and cinematography.
P2: How vital has government funding been to supporting Copycat and do you think this is an area that could do with further investment?
S&K: There is zero chance we would be where we are today without the funding and support of Screen Australia. We are so grateful to the team: Amelia Laughlan, Chad Toprak and Lee Naimo. Funding has been instrumental in our development. It has elevated our game, provided a financial safety net, and given us a genuine industry jumpstart. Most importantly, it has allowed us to pay our collaborators for their time and creative energy, including our wonderful composer, voice-over actors, translators, coding contractors and audio engineer. We’re lucky Australia is so progressive and innovative when it comes to supporting games. We encourage all creatives to apply to Screen Australia to help shape future stories.
P2: Where did you find Daniel Bunting, and what has that collaboration process been like?
S&K: Daniel Bunting is our composer, dear friend, and final piece of our Copycat team. We have collaborated together on a couple of short film projects and are so humbled to work with him on Copycat. His music is truly heartfelt, with a focus on whimsy, wonder, curiosity and vibrancy. He is a master craftsman of bittersweet melodies and FMOD. In the early days of collaboration, Dan shared this really fascinating insight: see music as the full stops, ellipses and commas of the project. Just like us, this is also Dan’s first game and he is absolutely thriving. Listen to some of Dan’s work here. Dan also debuted as a voice-over actor in Copycat, so keep your ears peeled for his lovely voice in the opening scene.
P2: What’s next for Spoonful of Wonder? Have you had a chance to even consider such a thing or are you focusing on wrapping Copycat first?
S&K: Copycat is our baby at the moment and we’re putting everything into making her strong and healthy. But yes, we do have an idea for our next project. Our dream is to continue making narrative-driven, animal-centric video games with beautiful graphics and a big heart. The next one will be underwater though!
PAX AUS 2023 Attendees can find the Copycat booth in the PAX AUS Indie Pavilion section of PAX AUS from October 6-8. It’s available to Wishlist on Steam now, with an expected release window of February/March 2024.