Graduate In Focus - Peter Castle12-Mar-2014
Co-founder of Whale Hammer Games and AIE graduate Peter Castle stopped by to talk about forming his new indie game company, making the switch from screen to games, advice for students and his new game Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire.
Hi Peter, What course did you study at AIE and how did you find the experience?
I studied the Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media – Specialising in 3D Animation and Visual FX. After completing my first year I found myself really interested in animation and compositing. I chose the screen course mainly because it allowed me to spend time polishing my animation skills. The skills I learnt in the screen course translate really well into game development.
The course taught us a lot about creative process and defining a process which allows you to produce a lot of high quality work in a relatively short amount of time. This helped us build a workflow that we’ve been able to integrate into the game we’re currently working on.
Below is an animated character from Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire
Would you be able to let us know more about your upcoming game?
One of the graduates from my screen class, a friend who studied at the ANU and I started our own independent game studio called Whale Hammer Games. We’re currently working on our first game called Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire.
The elevator pitch would be – It’s a turn-based tactics game for the PC, in which you play as Princess Tahira leading her people across a dying planet.
As you traverse the world, you’re being chased by the enemy who destroyed your kingdom and who seem hell bent on reclaiming the lost technologies of the past.
The world you’re travelling across is set after the fall of an advanced human civilization, so your technology at the time of playing is more in line with medieval weaponry. As you play you’ll find relics of the advanced civilisation all over the place, crashed battleships in the sand, abandoned cities and other things, I want to keep under wraps for now. It’s been a really interesting challenge to bring that world to life in the art and the writing.
The game draws a lot of gameplay inspiration from games like Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, X-COM and other turn-based tactics games we played when we were kids. One of the things I always thought could be improved was the story and setting. We want people to be emotionally invested in the characters in Tahira and that will hopefully mean they care even more about winning the battles.
When will people be able to get their hands on Tahira?
Internally we’re playtesting at the moment. We are aiming to have the first playable demo available late this year or early 2015.
We have a very big story that draws a lot of inspiration from movies like Nausica of The Valley of the Wind and a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels I read when I was younger. To do justice to the world and the characters we decided to split the game into smaller parts. We’re hesitant to call it episodic at this point because until all the parts are in and fleshed out we’re not sure how long each game will be. At this stage we’re thinking around 10 hours for each game, with the emphasis being placed on the combat, setting and characters.
It’s been really great to scope the game into these smaller pieces. For example, I’m the one writing the game and it has allowed me to write a very distinct character arc for Tahira (our main character) for part one. When you finish part one you won’t have resolved the whole plot, but you will have experienced a complete narrative arc for Tahira and that’s really exciting to me. It would be much more challenging to have written the game that way if it was just me trying to write this epic 30 hour RPG.
You recently successfully applied for Screen ACT funding. How will that help the games development?
Screen ACT has a development fund which is open to games and film people within the Australian Capital Territory. The application process took place in September and we put together information about the game which included budget, synopsis, timelines etc.
The Screen ACT funding has mainly gone towards the games audio. We‘ve hired a sound designer, composer, voice actors and studio space to record it all in.
What advice do you have for students who want to start their own game studio?
Just do it. If it is something you want to do, don’t just talk about it, do it. If you’re a student chances are this is the best time in your life to try it. You’re coming out of school and hopefully don’t have too many other responsibilities. For me, working on Tahira has been very rewarding.
We looked at our strengths as a team and Peter Simpson (the other artist on the team and also an AIE graduate) has done a lot of illustration and comic book work and is a really proficient 2D artist. This was the biggest reason that we chose to work in 2D.
Seb who is the AIE Incubator Program mentor gave me the best advice. “It doesn't have to be epic” and while it might not seem like we have followed Seb’s advice, we definitely keep that in the back of our mind. That’s a big part of why we chose to release the game in smaller parts. It breaks the scope of the game into a manageable structure and lets us concentrates on making each part as good as it should be. Picking a project that your team actually has the time and resources to complete is really important.
Where can people go to find out more about Tahira and gain insight into how the game is being developed?
YouTube: Whale Hammer Games You Tube Channel