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Sally-Anne Hurley 0:21
Hello, hello. It's time for a new episode of the How to Love the Sh*t Out of Life podcast, Sally here. And it's a new guest episode, which we haven't had in a little while because as many of you know, the podcast has been on a mid-season break, we returned last week. And this is the first guest episode of the second half of season three. So I'm really excited before I get into who the guest is, that is joining me on today's episode. I do just want to quickly as usual say thank you, massive thank you for supporting the podcast for listening, for telling your mates about it for just you know, being around legends.
You may be listening to the podcast on one of several different platforms. As per usual, I'd like to just, you know, rattle them off for you. So the podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Pod Bean, SoundCloud, and Spotify. And you can access all the episodes via my website, www dot how to love the shit out of life dot com. If you throw on a forward slash podcast, they're all there. I recommend going through and having a listen. Now, today's guest I was lucky enough to do a number of recordings during the midseason break and particularly during the last few weeks. When you listen to this episode, I am hoping that greater Sydney and several other regions around the area are out of lockdown, but I'm not too sure I am currently recording this while we are in a lockdown period because of COVID-19. But I was lucky enough to do a few recordings during the lockdown period as well via Zoom. And one of them was with a man named Nico King.
Now Nico is the Executive Creative Director for online gaming company Chaos Theory Games. So I want to do an episode on video games for a really long time. I’ve been trying to get the right guest for it, and I think I found it in Nico. Nico's story is really special. It is kind of that quintessential living the dream, in my opinion, because he is doing what he wanted to do when he was a kid, he has turned his childhood love of games into a business. He has done this with two of his childhood best friends as well, which makes it even more special. So I think this is the ultimate dream. And you can hear a lot of that passion and love for what he does and obviously his friends as well, in what Nico says and what he talks about. He also went into really good detail about the process of creating a game.
And as someone who's loved video games from a really young age, I'm a big PlayStation fan. Maybe not as much now as what I was when I was a kid, but I've always been, you know, team PlayStation. And sometimes I just think when I'm playing like, “How amazing is this?” You just pick up the controller, you chuck the game in, you press play, and you're on your way. But what goes into it? So I asked Nico about that and he gave a really great response. He goes into a lot of detail, but I assure you it is worth it. He also touches on briefly, we got a little bit into the misconceptions about games. And you know how video games can actually be a source of positivity and doing good in the world. And I can assure you from the stories that he has told me some of the games he goes into detail about that they've developed at Chaos Theory, they are doing good, they are making positive impact. So I just love that, I love this chat. Nico is really great at giving, as I said detailed information about the process, but also you get that passion and that love for what he does. So I hope that you enjoy this episode.
Sally-Anne Hurley 4:21
Hello, and welcome to a new episode of the How to Love the Sh*t Out of Life Podcast. On today's episode I will be speaking with Nico King, who is the Executive Creative Director of Chaos Theory Games. The business develops a wide variety of games aiming to make a positive impact, including virtual reality, augmented reality and mobile apps. So welcome to the podcast, Nico.
Nico King 4:46
Thank you very much for having me.
Sally-Anne Hurley 4:48
Awesome, thank you for being on. We are recording this via Zoom obviously, with the COVID lockdown situation going on right now. We won't be able to meet in person but that's okay. So if you wanted to start by telling us a bit about yourself and Chaos Theory Games.
Nico King 5:06
Yeah, sure. I always like to start the story relatively at the beginning. I have always had a passion for games, always been very interested in all things games and playing them to my heart's content. Even though my parents might have not enjoyed that as much or discouraged that as much as they could. But I guess I was just always passionate and always interested.
And I was very fortunate to meet my now two business partners, when we were about 10 years old and we really bonded over our love for games. And at the age of 12, had already come up with the name for Chaos Theory Games. We had been drawing different doodles and game designs and filling up books with our ideas of the games that we were going to make that were going to change the world. I don't think any of us really knew what was involved in game development, we didn't know what software development was. So over the next, sort of six or seven years, we really came to realise what's involved in game development, studied software development at school, and in a few holiday breaks, made a few prototypes, and really just started to get our hands dirty in game development.
The day after the youngest of us turned 18. My two business partners James Lockrey and Will Bagley, James is our Managing Director and Will is our Technical Director. So the day after Will turned 18, who's the youngest of us, we officially legally founded the company. That's as early as we could do it and we couldn't hold ourselves back. And then throughout our tertiary studies, we continued to design games, make them in our holiday breaks, andI guess the first few concepts that we came up with were way too ambitious and were way too large. We built the first kind of components of that. But realised we should really just take a step back and design something smaller and smaller and smaller, until we eventually decided on making a mobile game. Something that was just going to be a little one level arcade game that we could really polish and do a good job of and release on the stores. So yeah, that was our first kind of official release.
I studied 3D animation at AIE, a game design college. The main reason that I went into 3D art and animation was because we needed an artist on our team and I was the one that could kind of draw. So that was what kind of picked my role. I think I'm quite data-driven and analytical and quite logic based so would have made a great programmer but the need was there. So I jumped into it with gusto and learnt all that I could about 3D art and animation and concept art and applied that to our game development process. So that's kind of the history of how we got started.
Sally-Anne Hurley 8:06
I wanted to comment and just say how cool it is that you guys have done this from, you know, such a young age. And as you said, when Will turned 18 it was like “Yes, let's make this official.” I just think that's really cool. Obviously, it's like a childhood dream come true.
Nico King 8:22
Indeed, I think I'm very fortunate to have known what I wanted to do, pretty much my whole life. Very, very fortunate to have Will and James part of the team and having three people for starting a business is, in my opinion, the best number. Because you always have the mediator who's there as kind of - if you have any argument that third person can just weigh in and you've got a majority vote on anything. And then because we've known each other for so long, we were very much invested in the long term vision. So any disagreement, we leave our baggage behind and say, “this is what the group wants to go with, so let's do it as a team.”
Sally-Anne Hurley 9:03
The podcast is all about joy, positivity and happiness. So how do digital games and this business Chaos Theory Games give you that?
Nico King 9:14
Starting with games because that's where it started - started a love for games and then that made me want to make them. As I mentioned, I've always kind of been obsessive about games. I remember, I think the first game I ever had was a GameBoy game when my parents finally gave in to giving me some form of game, because I was asking for it so much. And then I saved up my pocket money to get a GameCube and used to play a lot of games with Will and James. As well as played a lot of Sonic Adventure 2 Battle and really fell in love with the Chao Garden which is essentially like a little pet simulator within that game.
It's very hard to describe why I love games so much. It's always caught my interest, I think, reflecting on a little bit, it's probably the interactive nature. You're not sitting passively and observing something that somebody else has done, you're getting actively involved in the story creation process, you're learning something new, you're engaging your mind, and you're really growing as an individual. So I'm very interested in space and science and learning new things. I don't sit down and sort of read a book very easily.
I like to kind of get my hands dirty, and be involved in terms of the business and the happiness that the business has given me. Businesses really, in my opinion, are like the ultimate game. It's this incredibly complex system, there's a set of rules, there's an objective to work towards. I think a lot of businesses will work towards making a profit. So that could be your score, essentially. And as long as you're still in business, you're going on to the next level, which is the next year in business. And it's incredibly challenging. It's this puzzle that you need to work out. There's a social element where you're collaborating with a lot of different people. There are achievements, you can win awards for things. I relate everything back to games and gameplay. And I think that it's been a really incredibly rewarding experience to build a group of like-minded individuals that are focused on the same objective. We all love to come into work together, we make a positive difference in the world. We have a great time, most days of the week.
Sally-Anne Hurley 11:54
It sounds like you're living the dream!
Nico King 11:58
I think so. I mean it's always been my dream, I think some people would have a very, very different view. I've had friends who have active jobs, where they're doing a lot of physical work, and they say, “I just don't understand how you could sit at your computer all day, every day.” And I was just telling them, “Oh, yeah, then I go home and sit at a computer some more to play some games and chat with some people.” I think it's a particular kind of dream that I'm really invested in. And it's probably the difficulty, the challenge of it, the problem solving nature and the people that I work with, is what makes it the best job in the world for myself.
Sally-Anne Hurley 12:43
On the flip side of that, how have games and I guess the business as well helped you overcome any challenges or obstacles that you may have faced in your life?
Nico King 12:54
This question is a little bit challenging, because, honestly, I don't know that I've faced too many challenges that Chaos Theory has helped me overcome. But I feel like that might be down to myself being quite positive and optimistic. And I guess content with my life, there doesn't appear to be anything that's upset me to a point that I need to necessarily overcome it. I think time heals all wounds, and anything that's been emotionally devastating has been something that I can move on from. Games have played some part in that, but not necessarily Chaos Theory.
And I'd say that Chaos Theory has definitely caused a few headaches in my life. There have definitely been, I guess the challenge part of that comes into it where there's a lot of big, hard problems that don't really have a clear answer, that are just essentially lose-lose scenarios where you've got to pick the lesser of two evils. And I guess starting a business being in a position of authority or being in a position where the decisions that you make will impact other people's lives. Yeah, there are definitely some really difficult challenges that have come up from that. But it's all been a learning experience and a growing experience. So yeah, I wouldn't change it for the world.
Sally-Anne Hurley 14:19
I would really like to know a bit about the process of creating a game starting from scratch, because, you know, I'm a fan of playing games as well. I'm a big PlayStation fan so obviously have grown up playing video games my whole life. And you know, you just sit down, you grab the controller, you pop the game in, and you play and it just seems so seamless. But obviously, as you're probably about to explain it is not - so can you just tell us a little bit about the process of creating a game from beginning to end?
Nico King 14:52
Out of curiosity, what sort of games do you like to play on PlayStation?
Sally-Anne Hurley 14:56
Oh, look it kind of varies, I love sports games. At the moment, though, I've gotten back into Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
Nico King 15:08
Nice, a classic.
Sally-Anne Hurley 15:09
Yes, a classic! Yeah, so I've been getting through that. So but I would say probably sports and maybe your platform games, you know, obviously I'm a massive Crash Bandicoot fan from yesteryear. So probably there are two categories, I would say, would be my favourites.
Nico King 15:26
Nice, a PlayStation gamer through and through then.
Sally-Anne Hurley 15:29
Nico King 15:31
I guess jumping into the game development process. At a really high level, it's a very interesting mix of different disciplines. You really need a strong technical foundation to build from - pretty pure software development in terms of your writing lines of code, and you need to review and quality control that code in order to create something that's functional. I often have my mind blown about the complexity of the systems and all of the back end engineering and architecture that goes into creating a game that a lot of people don't see, a lot of people don't notice creates that seamless experience is really the goal of that.
Then there's the creative disciplines. So breathing to life, a world of story, doing art and animation. It's a very different mindset of trying to create something new, and being imaginative and inspirational. And I find that the technical side is always very problem oriented, solving problems, and finding out why things won't work so that you can avoid any mistakes. And then the creative side is very big picture, don't worry about the details too much. So that's a really interesting blend of two different perspectives when you're having a discussion about how to approach developing a game.
And then there's also the business development side of things. So any commercially available game is a business, it has to generate revenue. There's a lot of time and effort and money that get invested into making a game so as to make a return on that. And again, that's quite a different perspective of looking at the customer - ”How to generate revenue?, What's the best way to do that?, How do you make contact with different platform holders and sign publishing deals?” - if that's the path you're going down.
So from my experience, those are the three kinds of key ingredients that you need to develop a game on the production side of things. So how do you actually produce a game? The first stage that we go through we refer to as Pre-Production. So that's any work that needs to happen before you actually start building the game itself. So that might be first and foremost, you might do some market research, or your start with a game concept first. So if you were taking a market research oriented approach, you would use analysis tools to look at the other games that have been released. What audiences are out there? What's popular at the moment? What's the next up and coming platform?
It's definitely a valid way to start out a game. Most of the first games that we created just started with an idea. “Wouldn't it be cool if…?”, and those would always be based on some sort of inspiration. So I think the first five or six different games that we designed, we're all just ripping off other people's games. To be fair, we were like 11, or 12. So that’s where we were at in our development.
Sally-Anne Hurley 18:50
Haha, surely they couldn’t sue you for that.
Nico King 18:53
Oh, we didn't build them, we just designed them. But I think one of the first ones was called Scope and Crank, and it was just a ripoff of Ratchet and Clank. And, I mean, I say rip off but I think we were designing a world or writing a narrative and it just had a lot of similarities between games that we liked, games that we thought were really cool and interesting.
These days, if we're going to design a game, we do a lot of work in the applied game space, or sometimes called serious games where it's looking to solve a real world problem using a game. The objective might be education, so teaching somebody something, could be changing somebody's behaviour, could be raising awareness for a certain social cause. Essentially, anything that you want to do, you could probably design a game to do it. So with those projects, we'll ask what the objective is, what are we looking to accomplish, and then we'll do as much research as we can into the subject matter.
So we've made a few games about coral reef conservation and sustainability. Those games really came from a passion or an interest I had in marine aquariums and science and biology. Just being an addict to the Animal Planet when I was younger, just very interested in all things science. So I did a lot of research into the breeding habits of fish and marine ecosystems and food chains. And all of the different interesting fun facts about the marine animals that inhabit the reefs, I've also had a particular interest in environmental sustainability. So being aware of what coral bleaching is, and how that works, what algal blooms are and how those work, what invasive species are currently threatening the reefs.
So I think there's just a lot of background information or experience that I brought into one of the projects that we worked on, called Rainbow Reef. So that concept came from a place of, I had all this existing experience, all this existing knowledge, and I wanted to create a game about it. So then I looked at different game design frameworks. So what's the genre? Or what's the platform that we're going to be working with? What sort of features go into those games? And then quickly build up an idea around the core of the experience of what we're going to be building. So that's where that project started and where other projects of such a similar place.
Moving on to the rest of Pre Production, the work that's involved in that would be looking at the technical architecture. So we're going to be building a very complex system. Let's plan out in detail all the different component parts of the system, do any research, find any tools that will help us along that journey. From a game design perspective, we would write a game design document, and that would include all of the features or the system's high level overview of the concept. What's the elevator pitch? So if you had to tell somebody about it in 20 - 30 seconds, What's the most important information? Looking at the core gameplay loop, what are the steps that people go through the main system that the player is interacting with again, and again, and again?
So something like Tony Hawks, the core gameplay for that would be you jump into a level, you're skating and you're trying to get a high score, you're trying to reach objectives, you're trying to get collectibles, all those sorts of things. So that would be the core gameplay loop of Tony Hawks. And then when you finish a level, you want to play another one, you can always come back to it. And you can always re-engage with that core gameplay system. And then on the art side of things, there'll be concept art that's developed. If it was a narrative game, we would create narrative snippets or narrative overview, write bios for different characters, things like that.
I'd say that that's probably a high level overview of what we've done on projects in the past for Pre Production. There are a lot of different tasks or activities that you can do during Pre Production, it's essentially just preparing to get an entire team of people working together under a cohesive vision. So that as you're building it block by block, piece by piece - it all fits together at the end, and you end up where you actually want to be. So one of the benefits of doing market analysis is that you understand who you're making this game for. Who's the ideal end user? And you can be testing it with them.
A lot of the early games that we made were just for us, we made games that we wanted to play. And they weren't very marketable, because they were very niche to our interests and our tastes. They were really hard because that's what we wanted to be playing. I think over time, we've really realised that doing a lot more playtesting and bringing in people who are external to your team, is really critical for creating an end product that people actually want to play.
So going on to the development side of things, once you've got all of your groundwork laid, and you know the direction that you're heading - that's when the development team and the art production team and anybody else that's working around them would really start to be involved in building the game. And I describe it block by block, because whenever we work on a project, we chunk it up into the most logical pieces that we can and work on those individually.
So I guess on a fundamental level, the developers and the programmers writing code, so they might create a script to cause characters to jump up and down. That's a piece of code. There might be much more complex systems such as doing leaderboards, or doing a multiplayer system that has a lot of different component parts to that. But fundamentally, writing these pieces of logic, these scripts that get attached to different objects and different systems in order to make it all run to make it all move, so that when you press the button, something happens.
The project management tool that we use is called JIRA and essentially, we’ll create tickets that move from the backlog into “Doing” into “Done” and then they'll be reviewed, or QA’d. So what we do is write up a bit of detail about what this chunk of work is, and put it into a big backlog where we'll have maybe 30 or 40 tickets for a person to work on. And then they just pick up one at a time and move through those tickets, and work on that piece by piece. At the end of every two weeks, we'll have a new build that we can play.
So working on each individual bit is an efficient way to work, but you sometimes lose and can't see the whole big picture. So doing builds every two weeks and taking a step back and playing it, talking about it, seeing where you're up to really allows you to hone the direction and make sure that you're working on the most important work and heading in the right direction. So bringing in external play testers at that stage is really great and getting their feedback, observing them play the game - “Where did they get stuck? Oh, we need to develop a new system here. Or they fell off the map or they got stuck in this corner - cool, alright we need to resolve that.”
Art production perspective - we use 3D modelling software to create 3D models, and then import that into the game engine. We do texturing, animation, effects and everything to make it all look pretty. And then there's usually close collaboration with a developer to implement some of that art or to create tools for those artists to use in order to create interactive art pieces that fit into the broader game. Any questions on that? Is that enough detail on the production side of things?
Sally-Anne Hurley 27:15
Wow, that is pretty incredible! I was actually just going to chime in there when you were talking about the external play testers. So do you reach out to just random people to test the games? Like how does that process work?
Nico King 27:29
Yeah, that there are a lot of different ways that we approach it. So it always depends on the project that we're working on and the most important thing is - we are designing a game for a particular type of person. So we don't get our mum to come in and play it because she's gonna have very different opinions to a 17 year old school student or high school student. Recently, we worked on a project for a university that was to go into their curriculum to teach cybersecurity and we worked with their university students. Our office is positioned next to some of the other gaming colleges and we brought in some of the AIE students to come in and playtest the game and give feedback. So they're learning about the game design process, while also giving us feedback on the game.
Sally-Anne Hurley 28:17
Oh, that’s awesome.
Nico King 28:20
That's really beneficial. For other types of games where we don't necessarily have access to the users in our immediate vicinity or don't know where to find them. There are online services that we can use to specify, “I'm looking for somebody of this age of these demographics and I would like them to play our game”, and you can have people record their screen. So through those services, they can sometimes record their screen and talk about their experience. That can be a really useful tool for getting really high quality feedback early in development and you see the observations.
I remember we were working on a game called KangaZoo, which is a wildlife rescue game, where you take on the role of a national park ranger and you're travelling all around Australia, rescuing injured animals, taking them back to your sanctuary to rehabilitate them and release them. The intended audience for it was people overseas and we got some people playing it and they were looking for a kangaroo and they were driving around just asking questions and drove up to a rock and they were like, “Is this a kangaroo? And just drove up to a tree like, is this a kangaroo?” Sometimes you'd never think that that might have been a problem. All of a sudden you got to explain what a kangaroo is. So really great insights that are gained from playtesting.
And then a few other ways that we can play testers, Facebook analytics or Facebook targeted ads can be really, really beneficial. So we might design a mobile game and we know it's for a particular demographic. So we will run a Facebook ad for that particular demographic, to get those users. And then in the analytics, we can see just the users that we bought through that ad campaign. And then we can analyse the performance through the app; what levels do they get stuck on? Did they come back on the second day or the third day after downloading the game? So that's a really good way to get a larger quantity of players.
Then there's also going to conventions so going to like PAX Australia, or any of the other PAX around the world. PAX is a large gaming expo, if anybody doesn't know. So going to those conventions, there's 1000s of people there coming through looking to play games. And you can sit there and watch, ask questions, get really, really good feedback on the game. If people are interested in the game, you can get their emails, you can build a bit of a mailing list. And some of those people will be the most dedicated fans who really followed the development for the progress and would be involved in some of the early stage releases of the game and testing it to give feedback.
Sally-Anne Hurley 31:17
Thank you for that, because that's probably a bit of hard work going through the whole process yourself. You know, obviously, you go through it a lot in your actual work, but just maybe writing it down and actually spelling it out. It's probably not super easy, so thank you!
Nico King 31:34
I'm sorry, if it was a bit scattered. There's definitely a lot that goes into it. I was recently playing Ratchet and Clank, the new one that came out on the PlayStation and it is such a seamless game, I was just playing it and just admiring, there aren't any, like loading screens. Everything is just so well polished. I don't see any bugs in the entire experience. I was just thinking the whole time like, “This took a lot of people to make!” There's a web design saying, “the best website is invisible, or the best user interface is invisible,” where you don't notice when something works really well. And as soon as it's not working, you really notice it. And that game was just very smooth. Everything was kind of invisible. And there's nothing between you and the enjoyable experience that they offered. It's really a work of art, I’d say.
Sally-Anne Hurley 32:31
The pinnacle of games, haha. Amazing. So one of the things that stood out in my research for this episode was the focus of Chaos Theory, in being advocates for change. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that and why that's important to the overall brand of the business?
Nico King 32:52
Games obviously had a very large impact on my life when I was younger. And I've always seen games have a huge potential to have an impact on other people's lives. If they could convince me to dedicate my entire life to making them and to be invested in them, then they're obviously a very powerful tool. So from that early age, we always knew that they had this potential and that we wanted to make games that weren't only about entertainment. We wanted to make games that were leaving the world a better place. I think we all have some interests, myself and the other two directors have some interest in space, science or education and have learnt so much from games.
I know that our Managing Director used to run different guilds or raids in World of Warcraft, and learned how to manage a lot of people through that, and picked up a lot of really great skills from playing that game. And it's this kind of interactive sandbox where you can make it whatever you want. And we acknowledge that and really wanted to create games in that same vein of transformative experiences, I guess. We do quite a bit of client work now, so we do quite a bit of contracts for other companies. When we started doing contract work, we started working with a few universities doing a bit of work in the education space.
I think we have always wanted to create games that had a positive difference. And we've had a particular interest in environmental conservation or social change - these big, complex problems that don't really have too many good solutions. And personally, I think it just came down to, if we could work on anything we wanted to work on, what would we want to make? And creating fun, engaging interactive experiences is at the core of that, but what do we want to make them about? And I have always pushed for things like environmental conservation or things like social change, because it's just really interesting. It's an area that needs more people to be focusing on it, it needs more attention. And it isn't a problem that's been solved and is a problem that needs to be solved.
So that's probably where we started getting interested in it, because that's been part of our DNA or part of our vision from the early days of Chaos Theory. We managed to assemble a team around that, who are all aligned under that one vision and want to contribute to that positive difference and it's kind of just built and grown and snowballed. And I feel very fortunate to not only be working on games, but also to be leaving the world a better place and to be able to hold my head high and say that I'm doing something about it.
Sally-Anne Hurley 36:06
That's awesome. I think it also pushes back on, I guess some of the misconceptions about video games and online gaming that people that don't play games and don't really know too much about it think they're just a waste of time, or that they're just mind numbing, and whatnot. Obviously, there are games that are just suited to kind of take you away from the world and they're an escape and that sort of thing. But the fact that you guys are actively working on games that are making that positive impact, it shows that there's so much more than what I guess some people think of them.
Nico King 36:41
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about games. I personally believe that there's an element of “its new technology”, and speaking about some parents that don't like their kids playing games, there's an element of “this is new technology, I didn't have this when I was growing up. And I don't think it's valuable. I don't see the value in it.” Which is starting to shift now. But those people are currently sitting in Parliament, these senior business leaders, and the society that we live in, that really flows down and those views trickle down. Not all people that work in the media, not all people in government, but that's the trend - is that they haven't had these really great positive experiences. So they focus on the negative, there's a bit of fear mongering that's out there, I don't think there's anything malicious about it. It's just that people don't understand it. They haven't had those experiences.
Sally-Anne Hurley 37:40
Nico King 37:42
Speaking of the merging between the real world and these fantasy worlds, or this, like escapism that some games do have, we worked on a game called Rainbow Reef which was about coral reef conservation. One of the features that we implemented into it was the water temperature in the game was driven by the water temperature in the real world, so the objective of the game was to raise awareness for coral reef conservation. One of the ideas we came up with was, what if, when there's a bleaching event, or when there's a warming event of the oceans, in the real world, that happens in everybody's game. So everybody in their pocket has this reef, this little garden that they have been taking care of, that they have been maintaining, and all of a sudden is under threat by the warming oceans. And then gamers would traditionally go onto Google and look up “my reef is warming, what do I do about it?” And then they find out, that's what's happening in the real world, and you can't really do anything about it.
So go out there and talk about it or post it on social media or here's some links to some places where you can actually sign up and make a difference. So it's that blending of creating an interactive experience that people can get emotionally invested in, and then linking it out to other real world resources or bits of information or avenues to make a difference that we can create this, I guess, multimedia experience that has a positive difference on the world.
Sally-Anne Hurley 39:23
Could you share a few of your favourite projects that you've worked on?
Nico King 39:26
A lot of my personally favourite projects that we worked on, were the earliest projects because we went into them with a certain amount of or I went into them with a certain amount of naivety of what needed to happen, or I guess I was just naive to reality. So I made the game that I wanted to make, and really just poured my heart and soul into creating something that was just a pure expression of one aspect of myself.
So one of the first games I mentioned was called GLTCH which was the first mobile game that we worked on as a company. The premise of that game is, it's a mobile game, which is a blend between Pac Man and Snake. So you're a little Pac Man character that's going around a grid on your phone, kind of like Snake. And you're trying to eat these little dots and avoid the bad guys. The premise of the game is that the more you play, the further you progress, the more broken it becomes, the more glitches happen. So you're going around, you're collecting all these little dots, or these little bits of data, and the the phone progressively gets more and more broken, so there'd be dead pixels that pop up, or they'll be static, or there'd be like tearing lines that come up, the game would freeze or the game would jump ahead, time would change. So just all these little, I guess, obstacles would come up and they all made the game feel like it was more and more broken.
And then we implemented this concept of game breaking bugs, which was where another game breaks into this game. So we'd have like, the notes from Guitar Hero fall down from the top of the screen, or the Snake from Snake comes up and that's an enemy that you've got to avoid. Or the mushroom from Mario comes along, and you eat that and you get big and you get an extra life. So just all these little kinds of quirks of what we loved in games, what we loved about bugs and glitches that are in other games that are funny and entertaining. We really just went into this game to make a fun, tight arcade game that we really enjoyed. Another game that we worked on was called Bleached Az. So this was also about coral reef conservation, do you remember an internet video called Beached Az? With a Kiwi whale?
Sally-Anne Hurley 41:49
Yes, I do.
Nico King 41:51
So we partnered up with the original creators of that video. I think it was, like 10 or 15 years ago, or something when they released it.
Sally-Anne Hurley 41:58
It was a while ago, yeah.
Nico King 42:01
It was one of the early internet memes, when there were so few internet memes that it really circulated quickly and a lot of different people saw it. So they were coming up to their 10 or 15 year anniversary of releasing that video. And they got some funding to do an ocean sustainability focused version of the game. And then we created a game for that. Sorry, I combined the two into one sentence. So yeah, they were working on a web series. And we worked on a mobile game to go along with that.
So we created a game called Bleached Az, which was about bleached corals and they had ridiculous Kiwi accents. It was a very irreverent and silly look at ocean sustainability, so the three main corals in the game were all voice acted and all spoke to one another, they had this nice little relationship. Your objective was to defend them from different threats. So you'd be using sort of Fruit Ninja style controls where you're slicing different bits of plastic, or there'd be fishing nets, or trawling nets that come through. And if you cut the nets, then they would kill all the corals then you'd have to start again. It really was about the characters, though, and a lot of hilarious voice lines. When we got the original voice recording from the Beached Az team there was just a lot of profanity, a lot of talking about bleached buttholes!
Sally-Anne Hurley 43:42
Nico King 43:46
Yeah, things that you wouldn't want to show your kids or get your kids to listen to. But we ended up just putting a lot of that in the game because it was really, really funny. And the objective of the project was to, again, raise awareness for coral reef conservation - we didn't want to censor that and take that all out. We weren't doing it for the profit, we didn't need a PG rating. We knew that the older audience or the older demographics are the ones that really need to engage with this and learn this because they're going to have a bigger impact. Our kids are much more likely to be environmentally conservative and conscious. So yeah, really just put it all in there and, and we'll see how it goes - ended up winning the Australian Game Developer Award for Best Serious Game which was really cool.
[Bleached Az] had a plant a tree system where we donated a percentage of the revenue from all of the ads that were shown to plant trees to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. As somebody played the game, they would see their carbon collection tick up. So they'd have a little “You've collected this many grams of carbon by playing this game.” And there's a high score for that, so introducing a competitive element of who could play the game the most and capture the most carbon out of the atmosphere.
Sally-Anne Hurley 45:20
Oh wow. Oh there you go. That’s really cool, as soon as you said Beached Az I knew exactly what you were talking about
Nico King 45:34
It's a kiwi whale taking the piss out of the kiwi accent. But it's actually made by a team of Australians, which I only found out when I met them through a mutual contact.
Sally-Anne Hurley 45:42
Nico King 45:47
So yeah, I'm not gonna try and do a kiwi accent. I was born in New Zealand, so I feel like that gives me some licence to make a game about a kiwi coral that's bleached az.
Sally-Anne Hurley 46:05
Yeah haha. Ah, okay. Well, we're coming towards the end of the podcast. And I always like to get my guests to sum up the topic that we've spoken about. So Nico, how do you love the shit out of games?
Nico King 46:20
I feel like games had such an impact on my life, that I've dedicated my entire life to create games to change public perception around games. I think games can be so much, they can do so much. They can bleed into the real world, the real world can bleed into them. And I'm going to continue making games for the rest of my life.
Sally-Anne Hurley 46:44
What other things do you love the shit out of obviously, your work probably takes up a lot of time and you're very invested in what you do. But you know, any other hobbies or interests outside of gaming?
Nico King 46:56
I think my friends and family have probably topped the list. Work definitely takes up a lot of my time and conscious effort. And I guess as I get older, I'm only 28. But as I get older, I'm definitely acknowledging how important friends and family are and making more time for them. And being less obsessed with work is definitely something that I cherish and work towards.
In terms of other hobbies and things, I'm always very interested in science. I get interested to the point where I know a very broad amount about a subject, but then it gets too hard and too complex. And then I just move on to the next thing. So I'm very hungry for knowledge. I think space and astrophysics in particular, are very keen interests of mine - that I love the shit out of. Sci-fi and all things sci-fi, sci-fi novels, sci-fi movies and sci-fi games, something I'm very interested in. I'm an optimist, and I think the future is going to be amazing. So that's the sort of sci-fi I like to consume, the type that paints a better, better future or talks about an oppressive future and how everything so right or everything will kind of carry on and progress beyond the terrible circumstances.
Sally-Anne Hurley 48:29
That's such a good message to put out there. Thank you for sharing that. Finally, how can people get in touch with Chaos Theory Games?
Nico King 48:39
I'd say our website is probably the main place to go if you want to check out what we do and see some of our games. So it’s chaostheorygames.com but if you would like to follow what we're up to Facebook and Twitter, we post a lot about what we're up to. It's mainly just us as a team, and the people that work for us more so than the games that we work on.
We occasionally post about the games that we work on, but because we do a lot of contract work and client work, usually those games are promoted through other channels. We've got a great loyal following that we love chatting to online and showing what happens behind the curtain a little bit Chaos Theory.
Sally-Anne Hurley 49:25
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Nico, for being on the podcast, I have learned a lot. And, you know, I sometimes you know, you kind of go away from different hobbies and whatnot. And I'm, I kind of go in and out of playing games here and there. But as I said, I've been playing a bit of Tony Hawks recently and getting me back into it. So you've really reinvigorated my love of games, and I'm sure you've done the same for some of our other listeners. So thank you.
Nico King 49:54
You're more than welcome!