Indie games are sometimes started as a developers passion project. They’re made to fill a gap the developer thought video games were missing or so they could give an artistic message. For David Richards, the developer behind Platypus Adventures, creating a video game is a way to satisfy a creative need.
“Game development, for me, is the pinnacle of creativity,” he said. “It combines music, art and storytelling. There’s everything there and I think it’s the most satiating thing I can do as a creative person.”
There are many reasons to make a video game: to meet an entertainment demand, because it’s a job or to express artistic creativity to name a few. Richards is using his game as a conservation effort.
Platypus Adventures stars Platy as the titular animal to showcase nature in Australia. To bring the game to life, Richards observes the flora and fauna around him and carefully studies indigenous Australian artwork. By focusing on the beauty of the Down Under’s landscape and wildlife, he is making his contribution to the preservation of Australian nature and culture.
Richards spent his childhood in rural Australia. In his adult life, he lived in larger cities but said he began to feel depressed and drained living in the concrete jungle.
“[The city] just wasn’t for me,” he says. “I just craved the mountains and the water so much that I would dream about it. I couldn’t get to sleep without the artificial sound of a creek.”
Eventually, Richards returned to the place he grew up, surrounded again by nature. He said he’s fortunate to have a beautiful property in the Australian country and was inspired to work on Platypus Adventures from the animals wandering around his own backyard.
“One of the first things I thought when I moved back was: I have to share this,” he said. “I can’t truly capture the raw beauty of what I see, but what I see out here is magic.”
There are certain animals that only exist in Australia. Kangaroos, kookaburras and a certain subspecies of the platypus, for example. Richards fears these animals won’t be around much longer it’s what inspired him to create his game.
“The world is going to shit and I hate that,” he said. “But right now, I can see these animals walking by me every day and I just wanted to share it.”
Richards said the platypus is actually very elusive. He’s only seen one about 3 times in his life. He enjoyed playing games like Banjo-Kazooie as a child so he wanted to take a similar formula for his game but use an animal he’s hasn’t ever seen in a game. In this case: the platypus.
There are some platypuses in pop-culture. A certain green platypus who’s also a secret agent may come to mind. However, Richards feels the duck-billed, beaver-tailed, egg-laying mammal is critically underrepresented.
“[The platypus] is an incredibly beautiful animal,” he said. “I just wanted to share it with anyone I could. I love all these animals but for me, it just had to be the platypus. I’m putting you in the shoes of this awesome little creature and letting you run around the woods like I used to do.”
Australian wildlife is often seen as dangerous. Stories of extremely venomous snakes and spiders and myths about hyper-aggressive koalas are associated with Australia about as often as Vegemite, at least from a North American perspective. Richards lives around these animals and has a different viewpoint on them
“I live with snakes around me,” he said. “I’ve had them slither past my feet while I’m eating dinner but it doesn’t faze me. I know that if you leave them alone and don’t provoke them then everything will be fine.”
The animals in Platypus Adventures live in harmony with each other. Although Richards knows that’s not exactly how they behave in nature, he wanted to show them in a more peaceful way.
Even if Platypus Adventures isn’t the next Banjo-Kazooie, all Richards wants to do is get as many people as he can to see his game. It’s his way of sharing his vision and his backyard with the rest of the world.
Levels Designed by Experience
The animals and characters aren’t the only things Richards is designing through personal experience. The level assets and sound design are all taken from the natural world.
The game’s main hub is called Boondaburra Forest (from the Aboriginal word for rainforest) and the trees and plants are based on the landscape of Far North Queensland. The ocean and desert areas are also references to real places in Australia.
“For me, the crux of the game is the forest,” Richards said. “Some people might only play the first 20 minutes or so and that’s what they’ll see. That’s where the game had to start.”
Richards has a background in sound design. He’s worked as a musician and did a lot of the recording and mixing on his own. Just like the character and level design, much of the sound design in Platypus Adventures is taken straight from nature.
Rainfall, running water and the ambient sounds of the forest are all recorded from the source and out into the game. Everything has a sound and it mostly comes from nature except for a few manufactured sounds for the stylized elements.
“I’ve tried to be very authentic with the sound design,” Richards said.
It’s About People Too
The natural world is important to Richards and so are the people who live in it. Although human elements are minimal in Platypus Adventures, he’s also hoping to push what he calls “real Australian culture”. That is, not the mainstream colonial culture to which most other people are exposed.
“There are still human pieces in the game but I’ve tried to focus on Aboriginal culture instead,” he said. “I feel theirs is the truest sort of Australian culture I could include in the game.”
Platy’s boomerang, for instance, is based off the traditional Aboriginal tool that’s still used today by Australia’s native people. Richards studied the Aboriginal style of artwork and incorporated the dot-painting and earth tone colors as faithfully as he could into the design.
When working on pieces which incorporate Aboriginal culture, Richards said he tries to be as respectful as he can and often wonders if he has the right too.
“I’ve done a lot of work in Aboriginal communities and worked with these people,” he said. “The consensus for me is they just want to be heard.”
Richards isn’t trying to speak for them but he feels Aboriginal voices are too often drowned out in Australian society. He said the people he works with are often sad because their culture is dying.
“The newer generations often don’t care about their ancestry [or the environment],” he said. “Especially in the capital cities. I spoke to a guy who didn’t know platypuses were real.”
The biggest concern for Richards is that the animals he loves and the Aboriginal stories and artwork won’t exist for much longer. Even though his reach may be limited he feels like making this game is important to bring awareness to the nature and culture of Australia.
“If there’s something that’s worth my time, I feel like it’s this,” he said. “I care about these people and I care about this country. The real Australia.”
There’s a lot of soul put into this project. Platypus Adventures may not seem like a real conservation effort at first but below the surface is an honest attempt to preserve something the developer feels is leaving the world.
“If nothing else, I hope something about this game feels real,” Richards said. “Platy deserves a story.”