Amber Gibson (ACMI X Community Coordinator) spoke to Paulina Samy from Melbourne-based indie game studio (and ACMI X residents) DragonBear about the story behind their upcoming game Innchanted. We also learned more about what games inspired them, as well as the importance of championing underrepresented voices and supporting the rapidly growing and potentially lucrative videogame industry in Australia.
Amber Gibson: You wowed everyone with Chaos Tavern (now known as Innchanted) a couple of years ago at our Audience Lab. How was that experience for you?
Paulina Samy Audience Lab was our second exhibition ever, and we learned so much from it. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep the night before! We were up late in the evening fixing last minute changes to the build, sorting out marketing, and packing for what felt like our big day. It helped us feel like “real” developers to showcase our game in the same space as some of our friends like Untitled Goose Game and Wayward Strand.
I loved engaging with a whole bunch of strangers that day – watching couples sit and play for ages, children teaching their parents how to play games, and little girls get excited about seeing themselves represented on screen. Audience members drew us little sweet pictures and wrote us cute little encouragement notes in our guest book.
That exhibition was before our current art style had been implemented, so it was super rough and a touch embarrassing, but we loved that even before our art was pretty and cute that people really loved playing our game (one couple came and stayed and played for over an hour!). That proof of concept helped us solidify the confidence of our direction.
AG: DragonBear was recently selected to be part of a 12-month residency at ACMI X – When lockdown eventually lifts, what would you like to achieve during the residency?
PS: Many things! We love the beautiful and creative space at ACMI X and can’t wait for the collaboration that being there will bring.
I’d like to achieve making a safe, fun, and happy space for our team, and support them with regular external mentoring, catch up with other devs, and to feel inspired by the beauties of Melbourne. I’d like to go for walks with the team, see shows at the Arts Centre and to relax on the bank of the river. If we manage to finish developing and release our game that would be the biggest achievement.
AG: Innchanted is coming soon – How would you describe the game to new audiences?
PS: It’s a co-op adventure where you craft magical potions, serve otherworldly guests, and pacify monsters. Here’s the plot: Taram and her party discover a scheming Wizard has taken over her Uncle’s magical Inn. To stop the Wizard from causing chaos and claiming the Inn as his own, the party must pass the Wizard's challenge: Win over the community and make the Inn a roaring success.
AG: Why did you decide to change the name from Chaos Tavern to Innchanted?
PS: There were quite a few reasons for the change – the most important being that the old name didn’t quite capture the game and resonate with our team and project ideals anymore. We wanted a name that had puns and reflected the humorous and whimsical nature of our game, whilst also capturing the magic of the setting.
We also felt there were some negative connotations to the old name that we wanted to shed. Our game is about crafting magic potions; many people assumed from the old name that the game was about serving alcohol in a pub, when our setting is actually alcohol free. We felt that it was important to make that differentiation, as supporting the alcohol industry and the problems that stem from it wasn’t our intention, and we didn’t want to alienate people in our audience who don’t drink. A pub isn't a very child friendly setting either, and as the game is designed with families, friends and couples in mind we wanted to focus on the magic the experience will bring instead.
AG: Why did you choose an Australian-inspired fantasy world as a setting?
PS: Fantasy is usually represented in European settings, particularly in games, and we wanted to depict a fantasy inspired by a culture that doesn’t get much air time, and is closer to home. We also knew some Indigenous artists and developers and wanted to give them some space to shape a fantasy world about them.
AG: What type of games do you love, and which games inspired you to become game developers?
PS: Games allow such a broad range of expression of art, play and story. I love many games of different types – from the gorgeous cute art of Pokémon that relaxes you, to strategic city builders like Civilization, to role-playing games like Baldur's Gate.
Planescape Torment is one of my all-time favourite games and it really inspired such curiosity, wonder and fantasy while making me ponder deep questions. Monkey Island was also one of the games that shaped me as I was growing up. Later on in life I ended up learning historical sword fighting, and I think I unconsciously grew up to be like Carla – a badass sword fighter – from playing that game [laughs].
But the game that pushed and inspired me to actually go out there and do it was Dream Daddy. It was actually the first visual novel I’d ever played, and it was just so approachable and inclusive that it dropped the barriers for me. I actually got to meet one of the creators of Dream Daddy – Leighton Gray – at ACMI’s Women and Non-Binary Games Club last year. It was so exciting to meet one of my heroes and tell them that they inspired me.
AG: What sort of role do you think videogames have in championing underrepresented voices?
PS: A huge role, and one that is growing every day. Videogames and media have the power to normalise and represent minorities, and the ability to help address unconscious bias in society. It's a big deal, and I’m happy that diversity is increasing in the mainstream media, but we have a long way to go yet.
AG: It’s exciting to hear that Indigenous violinist, composer and dancer Eric Avery will be on board to compose music for the game. How did that come about?
PS: I love the violin. It pulls at my heartstrings and expresses so much emotion. When we started looking for our third Musician our composer Meena recommended Eric, who he is a huge fan of, and we knew straight away that we wanted to invite him to our special project. His music is just so soulful and unique, and we are so excited to have him on board and watch him shape the music with the other Indigenous musicians and Meena.
AG: Tell us about your team at DragonBear? How many people are in your team and what do they do?
PS: Our team are a delightful bunch of funny, sweet and talented game developers.
Aside from me, there are 7 core team members: Ben (Technical Director, and at the moment they are doing a lot of game design); Dan (currently our lead programmer, making systems and code); Meena (Composer); Phoebe (Cultural game designer); Toya (Junior Artist, 3D and 2D); Susan (Lead artist); and Trish Mckean (Concept artist).
AG: What is everyone working on at the moment?
PS: We are currently developing the second act of the game and all the exciting Indigenous architectural inspired designs that come with it. Most people aren’t aware that Aboriginal people built houses and had stone quarries, and we are really thrilled to get to depict art inspired by these historical gems. This has very much been inspired by Uncle Bruce’s book Dark Emu, if readers are further interested in this topic.
AG: What are your hopes for the future of Australian gaming?
PS: I hope that the federal government will start supporting developers. The creative industries of Australia are worth billions of dollars and could be an even bigger source of jobs and digital exports if we were supported as much as other industries. The games industry is also a less environmentally damaging industry, and is better for sustainability, so it will be better in the long run too. Games can bring people together and create such happiness and I hope there are more opportunities for this in Australia.
To keep up with the latest Innchanted developments, visit DragonBear's website or follow them on Twitter and Facebook. If you’d like to play the game, you can add it to your Steam wishlist to get notified when it becomes available.
On Monday 24 August, Paulina Samy will be a guest on our upcoming series 'Games Talks 2020'. Subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when videos will be available to watch.