PAX AUS INDIE SHOWCASE 2023 – The Dungeon Experience
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.
Jacob Janerka is no stranger to PAX AUS, having previously won a spot in the Indie Showcase for his riotous comedy adventure game Paradigm in 2016. His latest upcoming title The Dungeon Experience is in collaboration with Simon Boxer, another PAX AUS alumni whose game Ring of Pain won an Indie Showcase spot in 2019. Looking to continue the humourous approach of Paradigm alongside a healthy serve of LARP-ing and Dungeons and Dragons, The Dungeon Experience is something we can’t wait to get our hands on here at Player2. Having won (yet another) coveted Indie Showcase spot this year, we spoke to Jacob about the development of the game and some of his other past projects.
Player 2: Thank for talking to Player2, Jacob! What was your initial reaction to being selected as an Indie Showcase Winner for 2023?
Jacob: Absolutely stoked! We’ve been wanting to show The Dungeon Experience for a while to the public, and this is a great starting place. Finally, I will be able to have people other than my Mum play my game. I am hoping that they too will with undying love tell me I’m doing a good job.
Player 2: You’ve listed Firewatch and The Stanley Parable as big influences on The Dungeon Experience, primarily due to their use of a guiding voice or omnipotent narrator (albeit with more of a community theatre DnD vibe in TDE). What about this particular idea got you so motivated?
Jacob: While both of these games have absolutely nailed the guiding voice as a main driving force as gameplay. They never explored what if, the narrator was a self-conscious low level mudcrab with less than a 100 dollar budget and reads self-help books. I hope to be an innovator in this specific space of narrators. On a more serious note, I thought it was the perfect vessel for comedy to create a character trying his best to show you a good time with little budget he can. Contrasting epic narration with cardboard cut outs seemed super fun to me. Surprisingly though making things look ‘shitty’ is a fine line between “shitty 3d Graphics” and “shitty in world objects” However I think we found that balance.
Player 2: Both Simon and yourself have quite a lot of prior PAX AUS experience – notably Simon with Ring of Pain which we covered in 2019 and yourself in 2016 for Paradigm. How important do you think the presence of PAX AUS is in 2023 for indie devs and the Showcase in particular?
Jacob: Being at PAX can mean a lot, especially in the showcase, as people will seek you out just for that reason. For us it’s our first showing of the game publicly and are looking to see real human beings in front of us play the game. There’s nothing more motivating than seeing people visibly laugh at your work vs someone saying it’s funny online. We are hoping for people to publicly hate it, so I can cry publicly.
Player 2: Across your social media and in your work thus far, comedy is always a major focus – what are some of your biggest comic inspirations and in what ways do you think gaming can be an effective vehicle for comedy?
Jacob: Great question. I take a lot of comedic influence from all over the place. I love stuff that leans into the surreal/weird stuff like Mighty Boosh, I wish you would leave, Smiling Friends, Metalocalypse. However, I love stuff like ‘less surreal” Seinfeld, Always Sunny etc. Game wise stuff like Stanley Parable, Jazz Punk, Frog Detective, Psychonauts are some of my inspirations there.
As for it being an effective vehicle, what I love about it, it’s pretty unexplored. A lot of comedy requires timing, performance, execution etc, however a game can really throw that out the door. Of course you can get a lot of comedy out of characters talking/cutscenes, however there is a lot of potential from working in your chosen genres/control schemes/visuals that just wouldn’t work in other mediums. For example, we have a nipple button pressing mini game. An animatronic barbarians nipples extend, and to enter The Dungeon Experience you must push them in, with two buttons, at the same time. Visually it is funny of course, but the act of you the player, pushing them in, and them pushing back at you, adds another dimension to the joke not otherwise possible. I love talking about nipple mini-games in a thoughtful way.
Player 2: Many people would know you for the Seinfeld Adventure pitch you delivered – as a huge fan of the show and that particular era of adventure gaming, it was very exciting to see and incredibly upsetting when it didn’t land you a highly paid production gig. What are some other potential properties you would love to translate to a classic point n’ click adventure?
Jacob: Haha, we almost did land a contract to use it for promotion years and years ago via an LA marketing agency, but it was pitched to Sony (who own distribution rights) and they told us Warner Brothers (who owns the shows rights) would have to greenlight it.
I think there are two things if I were to make a classic point and click. One of my pipe dreams was that Larry David liked the pitch, and he’d make an episode about how me and Ivan Dixon were trying to get the game made, and would annoy him in LA for it. It would of course have a tie in game.
I think realistically another property where it could happen was Always Sunny since it’s such an active show even today, and they like doing weird creative stuff.
I actually did pitch a Stranger Things game (make a viral gif), the Duffer Brothers even saw it (David Harbour is a huge P n C fan, and showed it to them), but they ended up making some more NES influenced games with other creators.
Player 2: When developing The Dungeon Experience, what have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Jacob: I think the amount of people begging me to make the Seinfeld game. It was very tempting if not for the large lawyers on retainer with Jerry Seinfeld and Warner Brothers. But really the transition to a new engine and 3D (I learned 3D for this project) were the biggest challenges in general. While things are much faster sometimes, there are a lot more technical hurdles compared to when I made Paradigm. A lot more ways that people can break the game, and things in general just take longer to create. However I am glad I took the plunge, I am very proud of what it has become, and my abilities in 3D have lead to a lot of cool opportunities.
Player 2: What can PAX AUS Attendees look forward to at The Dungeon Experience booth?
Jacob: A very firm handshake from me, if you so choose to have it. I might even say, “I’m proud of you” – for a small fee of course, that fee being, please Wishlist our game. However, I think what people are going to most look forward to is the private saxophone performance by the crab in-game. While technically it won’t be private, with potentially 10 000’s of people around you, it will be private in spirit. You will be also able to play the saxophone in-game too, the world’s first playable sax in a first-person game (I hope)!
Player 2: Do you have a rough window for the release of the game and are you considering any platforms outside of PC?
Jacob: We’re are looking to release Q3-4 2024. If not, I’m looking to put myself in a public cube in the middle of Federation Square in Melbourne till it gets done.
PAX AUS Attendees can find The Dungeon Experience booth in the PAX AUS Indie Pavilion section of PAX AUS from October 6-8. The Dungeon Experience can be wishlisted on Steam right now!