PAX AUS INDIE SHOWCASE 2023 – THE DRIFTER
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.
From Powerhoof Games, The Drifter is a compelling point and click adventure with excellent art, atmosphere for days and a great voice performance from Adrian Vaughan. While The Drifter secured a winning spot in the 2023 PAX AUS Indie Showcase, Powerhoof themselves are no strangers to the show, having appeared in in 2014 with their multiplayer brawler Crawl. Player2 spoke to designer Dave Lloyd about the development process of The Drifter and what Powerhoof has in store for the future.
Player2: How did you feel finding out that The Drifter had been selected as a winning Indie Showcase title for 2023?
Dave: It’s been a long time since I announced the project, and there’s always the nagging feeling that it’s taking too long and people won’t care any more. It was both surprising and validating to be selected! PAX Aus always feels like it comes after a long winter spent hidden away working on our games. Suddenly we’re out in the light, showing people what we’ve been cooking up, and it’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s an important reminder of why we’re making these things in the first place, for people to play!
Pax Rising and the Showcase is my favourite part of PAX too, getting to chat to other devs about their projects, and play upcoming stuff. It’s a real privilege to be included.
Player2: Readers are able to try out a demo of The Drifter on Steam right now. What has the reception to the playable demo been like so far?
Dave: I think it’s managing to surprise people and really grab them in the short time we have their attention in the demo. And I had and a lot of people that aren’t fans of the point ‘n click genre say they’re now a convert, which is the best praise I can get for a genre I really love!
Player2: I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the demo and it brings to mind plenty of cool touchstones for me personally; Tex Murphy, Dark City, Stephen King (as you’ve mentioned) – where did the initial idea for the game come from?
Dave: Yes! Love to hear it. I drew inspiration from everything really, lots of schlocky novels, 70s movies. The initial idea for the character came from working with my voice actor friend Adrian on other projects. I just had a picture pop into my head of this salt-of-the-earth drifter guy hitching into town, monologuing with Adrian’s gravelly Australian drawl. The scene under the water at the end of the demo was an early one I pictured too, something that would get the player really feeling the tension and raising a bunch of questions the player will want answered.
Player2: It’s been over a decade since the first Powerhoof blog post – what have been some of the highlights over this time period for the dev team?
Dave: Wow yeah. The years sure fly by fast… One particularly special memory for me was having Regular Human Basketball up on a big public screen at Fed Square in Melbourne. Something about a weird game I’d made being in a big public space kind of broke it out of the indie gaming sphere I’m used to. There’s been lots of big exciting things over the years, but that one stands out.
Player2: Aesthetically, The Drifter is a knockout – the casting of Adrian, the colour palette and sound work…it pulls off that amazing trick of feeling like it could have come out in the golden age of PC adventure games while also clearly being much more advanced than those titles. How difficult is this vibe to pull off for the team, and what has Barney drawn on in particular for the art style?
Dave: One thing both Barney and I love with low palette pixel art is how it forces you to allude to shapes with lighting using a lot of high-contrast light and shadow. That goes hand in hand with the crispness you get from pixel art too. With older palettes like 16 colour EGA you don’t have all the shades of a particular colour you might want, so a bright brown colour might turn green then purple as it goes into shadow. We don’t have that limitation forced on us with The Drifter, but try to evoke those interesting colour choices and contrast as much as possible.
Player2: Alongside the speculative aspects, The Drifter is tackling some heavy subject matter including homelessness, mental health, the death of a parent and struggling to maintain relationships as a result of one or more of these issues. Were these themes present from the initial concept or did they grow as the game did?
Dave: They developed over time, as I wrote more and got to know the characters and the world more intimately. I wanted it to feel real and honest from the start, and grounded in reality. I’m conscious of how easy it is to be flippant about the issues involved when writing a game. But one thing I learned from listening to novel writers’ talk is that even in a schlocky thriller, you need the gravitas that comes from the characters and relationships feeling real and relatable.
Player2: Where can readers find out more about Acid Knife, another Powerhoof title currently in development?
Dave: Wouldn’t I like to know! Barney’s been very tight lipped about it… The last build I got to try was quite a while ago now! One of the things Barney wants to do is make the game about discovery, experimenting with the world to uncover its mysteries and hidden secrets. And that’s kind of how it’s being developed too.
Player2: What can PAX AUS attendees look forward to at The Drifter booth?
Dave: Come play the demo and chat to me and the team! I’ll endlessly talk about adventure games if you’re interested, or even if it’s a genre you haven’t got into (yet). We’ll have some sweet tshirts for sale too!
Player2: Any hints as to when The Drifter will be launching?
Dave: I’ve been really hoping it’ll be later next year, but progress has been slooow… bit off a more than I can chew with the quality bar we want to hit for a game this length to be honest! The game’s fully playable, but the last 3rd is just a rough placeholder with no art. And things like recording dialogue can take a long time too. There’s about 60,000 spoken words to record and edit! So… if you’re holding your breath, I hope you have a decent lung capacity!
PAX AUS Attendees can find the The Drifter booth in the Indie Pavilion section of PAX AUS from October 6-8. The Drifter can be Wishlisted on Steam and has a playable demo available now.