The Aussie games industry has been experiencing quite a growth spurt over the past decade, particularly when it comes to small studios creating massively successful titles. With the support of government grants like those in Victoria, Melbourne development studio House House was able to create a well-developed and engaging game, that was poised for success. Of course, I’m talking about the wildly popular hit, Untitled Goose Game.
For those unfamiliar with the Goose Game (where the hell have you been?), it lets players embody a disgruntled goose out to cause mischief in a quiet village. Honestly, the tagline sums it up perfectly — “It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.”
To find out more about how the game came to life, the government grants that made it possible and why the goose is so damn angry, I had a chat with co-creator Jake Strasser.
Untitled Goose Game won worldwide acclaim upon its release in December 2019, winning D.I.C.E. Game of the Year along with other impressive accolades. Strasser says the game’s broad appeal might come down to its encouragement of misbehaviour, rather than it simply being a byproduct of its world the same way it is in the GTA franchise, for example.
“The game gives license to people to play in a way that I think people like to engage with games anyway. People like to cause havoc and sort of break games, but often, it feels like you’re playing against the game itself,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“You have to push against the systems in order to cause this sort of chaos. The Goose Game lets you do it and kind of encourages you, and it doesn’t penalize you for it. Everything sort of resets and it’s all okay, so it’s a very safe space to cause a bit of mayhem.”
After the release of House House’s first game, Push Me Pull You, the team started thinking about what to make next. Like so many good ideas, Untitled Goose Game started as something of a joke kicked around in Slack. Strasser even sent me photo evidence in the form of a Tweet by fellow House House dev Michael McMaster back in 2016.
People think game development means you get to play games all day, but they're wrong – it means you talk about geese pic.twitter.com/I8XvTWy7b1— Michael McMaster (@mjmcmaster) August 11, 2016
“It started off as off-hand and silly, as you can see, and it took a long time for that joke to actually crystallise into a game idea and then an actual prototype,” Strasser said. “It took us a long time to realize that the dumb goose idea was maybe the idea we wanted to pursue.”
As for the goose and its anger issues, there’s no backstory there. It’s just being itself. Sorry to anyone expecting a wild origin story here.
“I think of the goose as totally motiveless almost, and emotionless,” Strasser said. “Its nature is the only excuse that it needs to do all this stuff.”
With more and more Aussie games garnering international attention, there’s been a real shift to a kind of DIY mentality within the local game-making community. Readily available technology plays a big role in this shift, as does the support from the Victorian Government for those located down south.
“I don’t know if I can speak to the national industry but definitely in Victoria, the assistance of Film Victoria is an absolute godsend,” Strasser said. “I think a lot has changed in the last 10 years. Technology has become a lot more accessible, which has opened up game-making to people like me.”
“Me and House House didn’t have any like qualification or technical experience with games before we started making them. We kind of come from an art background and the tools have become accessible enough that people like us could start making things.
“Having funding and having Film Victoria around is the thing that can turn artists who want to have a go into potential business owners.”
He says the grant helped legitimise the small team of devs as a fully-fledged company, even though they felt like they were kinda muddling their way through all of it in the beginning.
“It gave us the confidence and sense of self to see ourselves as these legitimate game developers and sort of strive for more exciting things to help establish us, for ourselves and for the industry,” Strasser said.
He explained that while applying for the grant was fairly involved, it forced the team to look at their game from a very different perspective for the first time, which helped them consider the bigger picture of actually producing and releasing a game.
“That sort of application process is a really good way to get people thinking about their work seriously,” he said. “It asks you to write [about your game] in a bunch of ways that you wouldn’t naturally.”
“It gets you to create a decent paragraph synopsis and a one-liner and it gets you to budget the project properly.”
As for what House House plans to do next, I can tell you it won’t involve any angry animals, but it will be unique.
“I think hopefully we’re going to do something completely different again. Like as different as Push Me Pull You was to Goose,” Strasser said.
“Obviously there are similarities in those two games and I’m sure there’ll still be like a House House feel to it. But yeah, I’m most excited to do something totally different and kind of challenge ourselves in new ways and hopefully surprise ourselves and surprise everyone else.”
Whatever it turns out to be, we can’t wait to see it.