International award success for RMIT video game designers

International award success for RMIT video game designers

The Melbourne-designed Untitled Goose Game continues its meteoric run of success, taking out the top gong at the world’s most prestigious video game industry design awards.

The 2020 Game Developers Choice Awards recognised the Goose with Game of the Year, after its release last September saw it become a surprise viral sensation.

Untitled Goose Game, about a horrible goose wreaking havoc on a picturesque English village, was developed by small independent Melbourne-based studio House House.

The studio is a collective of artists and designers who have all regularly taught into RMIT’s Bachelor of Design (Games).

Alongside RMIT games alumni Kalonica Quigley and Cherie Davidson, PhD researcher and lecturer Michael McMaster (pictured above, right) is one of the creators behind the game.

He described winning the award as a “deeply surreal experience” that he was “completely unprepared for”.

“We never imagined winning an award like this was something even achievable for a game of our scale, with a team as small as ours,” he said.

“I'm incredibly proud of everyone who worked on Untitled Goose Game, and I'm also very grateful to the GDCA panel for recognising a game like ours in this way.

“Looking at the list of previous winners is kind of overwhelming - it's a very strange feeling to win the same award that was first given to The Sims in 2000!”

The win was all the more significant because Untitled Goose triumphed over extremely polished and innovative games in its category, including Hideo Kojima’s groundbreaking PS4 game Death Stranding from AAA studios.

McMaster is the first to admit he is still somewhat surprised by his game’s success.

“Part of the appeal, I think, is that people were excited to play a game where you were allowed to menace people in a relatively mundane and harmless way,” he said.

“There are a lot of games that put physical conflict at their centre, but usually it’s quite high-stakes violence.

“I think the mundanity of the conflict of our game helped make it broadly quite approachable. And it turns out people have very strong feelings about geese!”

McMaster’s PhD supervisor and RMIT colleague, Dr Douglas Wilson, said it was extremely rare to see such a low-budget, independent game win the top award.

“It’s a testament to how successful this little video game has been,” he said.

“Most of the games they were up against are these giant productions with millions of dollars in their budgets, made by hundreds of people.

“I think this game has been so successful because it is accessible to a wide variety of people.

“People who don’t even think that they like video games can watch and really appreciate the humor, the design and the charm - it’s such a funny game to watch.

“This is going to go down as one of the most widely received Australian video games ever.”

Wilson, meanwhile, has recently experienced his own success with a prize for Excellence in Audio for his post-apocalyptic mutant soap opera Mutazione at the 2020 Independent Games Festival.

Mutazione also received the most nominations (four) for any game at the IGF, with nods for Visual Art, Audio, Narrative and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

Wilson is a co-owner of Copenhagen-based studio Die Gute Fabrik, and as the game’s audio programmer and co-designer, much of his work was done remotely from Melbourne alongside colleagues in Denmark and Italy.

He says the themes of Mutazione have gained new significance with the outbreak and spread of Covid-19.

The Game Developer Choice awards and the Independent Games Festival ceremonies were due to be held on consecutive nights in San Francisco – but because of the virus outbreak they had to be moved online.

Mutazione is about building community in the face of trauma,” Wilson said.

“It’s about the importance of tending gardens and tending people.

“It’s been a huge honour, one of the biggest of my career. I really admire the people on the various juries so that’s also a huge professional honour to be recognized by people you look up to.”

Wilson and McMaster have previously co-taught one of RMIT’s most successful game design subjects, Game A Week, which in 2018 won a Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, and another for Strategic Contributions to Learning and Teaching: Innovative Approaches to Curriculum and Modalities of Teaching that Inspire Futures-Orientated Graduates.

Wilson said the recent recognition of Melbourne-designed games with international industry awards is a great example for up-coming local designers.

“I think Melbourne is ones of the best places in the world – if not the best place for making independent video games,” he said.

Goose Game is a really nice emblem of that flourishing scene and industry here in Melbourne.

“It shows that there’s this pathway here in Melbourne, this success story by these self-starting developers. It’s also a big inspiration for our games students at RMIT.”

 

Story: Claire Slattery

01 April 2020

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01 April 2020

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