This is the closest thing to a Tim Burton game that I’ve ever seen aside from Lost In Random.
Berserker Interactive is a Brisbane-based indie studio that specialises in video production and interactive media. On the 16th of December, they released their debut game onto Steam, The Abnormal Place. Described aesthetically as “a cross-pollination of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Studio Ghibli“, the game is a creepy adventure platformer that begun as a solo project.
Wanting to learn a bit more about their first game, I spoke with the producer and developer behind The Abnormal Place, Glenn Wauchop.
Would you be able to describe what The Abnormal Place is all about?
The Abnormal Place is this strange little adventure game that is about this young woman named Abigail who’s found herself in this new world inadvertently. And who in the process of arriving at this place, she’s also lost her voice. So essentially, she’s in a strange place and she has no ability to talk and she really wants to just go home. So throughout the game, you have to find these voice fragments, so it enables her to be able to talk and converse with the various guests of the resort and hotel. And from there, she’ll be able to find out more about where she is and how she can find a way home. It’s a strange sort of premise. It’s kind of using that silent protagonist sort of trope, but then actually gradually giving her more of a voice and more agency in what she wants and is able to do and say.
What are some of the influences and inspirations that you and your team had when making the game?
I’ve been very much a fan of film animation, especially, and I’m a big Nintendo fanboy as well. But specifically, there’s elements of Nightmare Before Christmas, other sort of stop-motion animated films, a little bit of Coraline in there. There’s similarities to that. The young girl being trapped in a strange world, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, and the like. So there are elements of inspiration from all of those. Growing up, I liked Dr. Seuss. So sort of like the strange and uncanny and things that don’t look quite right. And that kind of filtered its way through to the art style, the music and character designs. The odd and the unusual was a bit of a guiding light in terms of how I wanted to structure a lot of things in the game.
Yeah, wicked. And what’s the development process been like?
So it’s mostly been a solo project that I started originally in 2016, so it’s been going for a little while. The initial idea of what I wanted originated around 2016. And then from there I was doing some prototypes and testing, lots of different various game play and mechanics and just styles. So in 2019, I had one version of the game where it had a lot of the elements that I wanted, but it wasn’t quite there. And I didn’t have any of the world and really all the characters mapped out except for one.
I got a bit of feedback, got lots of feedback. And in late 2019 I did a bit of a reboot on the game where I redid the visual look of it and then really nailed down exactly how many characters I want, what were their purpose, and just essentially the levels and the game environments or structure. Not down to the minute detail, but a lot of that I mapped out from end of 2019. So this current version of the game is really two years old, but I’ve been working on the game concept for a while.
In terms of other people being involved, it was around late 2019 I got one of my friends who’s an illustrator, Richard Brett Mann. He has a bit of background in animation and just general art. I kind of commissioned him to create me one of the characters. So that’s the first character that you actually run into in the game called Flotsam. I was quite happy with what he created with that design that I got him to design the rest of the characters. He was able to create the rest of those designs in 2020. And from there, I was able to 3D model and animate them myself.
But he also helped out with the illustrated icons in the game for picking up things and inventory. Those are his designs as well. I did the original sort of like, “Okay, this is what I wanted.” And then passed onto him to do a final sort of polished version. Had a little bit of help at the end of 2019, beginning of 2020 with a 3D modeller, Rick Smart. So he was able to create just a couple of things here and there in terms of environment. From there, he wasn’t able to continue on helping the team essentially. But what he created there I was able to use as inspiration and went forth and I’d continued to create the rest of these environments.
So a lot of 2020 was getting most of the game content in there. And then 2021 was essentially making all that content work, making it playable, and then also hiring a composer who I hired in May ’21. And she was able to wrap up. The composer, Frankie Dyson Riley, she just created such a amazing soundtrack for the game. It’s over an hour long. And I’m just blown away by just her creativity and imagination. She was able to add to the game. I’m really happy with that aspect especially.
One thing with the characters especially, another person that helped out, Gabriel Castro, he did all these voices for the characters. So when you talk to each of the monsters, guests of the resort, they have these just little sort of dialogues or little blurbs they’ll say to you every time they try to speak. It’s not like voice acting, but it’s just like weird, strange things. It’s like you’re not going to expect monsters to say normal things, here’s a strange thing to say.
So this is the first game to come out of Berserker Interactive. So first of all, congratulations. And second of all, have you stumbled into any challenges during development considering this is your first one?
I guess with my background, I guess I’m a slightly older game developer. I’ve got quite an extensive history in doing commercial from government software development with predominately web applications, so I’ve got an extensive background with that. I also have a film degree as well. So with that sort of preparing me, I was still naive in how much time and effort it would take to actually create a game, especially a 3D game. And I guess my purpose and my goal out of creating this project was something that I wanted to create something I was happy with, and I wanted to create a game.
But I also wanted to learn all or most of the steps that are required to create and release a game and just up skill in those areas. Because I was essentially working in web application background in my previous job, I was in education and doing interactive media there. So it was sort of adjacent. I used a bit of that to do a bit of a stepping stone, try to get more into the games industry via that. I originally learned Unreal a bit after film school, but after that because of my background in using C# as a language, I thought Unity would be just a better approach.
I had a lot of problems with the earlier version of the game. There were actually a lot of specific bugs that I couldn’t resolve or resolve easily, so I did an engine switch and that helped tremendously. That was a part of the reset in late 2019. Using Unity, because of the size of the levels and how some of the details were packed in, I couldn’t quite get some of the lighting exactly how I wanted. I’m still happy with how it looks and aesthetically, but there is possibly a version of the game in another alternative reality where it looks slightly better.
There’s lots of different systems in place behind the scenes. So there’s the big dialogues system, which I used a free open-source option online called Yarn, and that was able to work well with Unity. So from there I did some custom changes, and that allowed me to have the dialogue trigger certain things. So you can be talking to a character and they can give you something and they’ll pop up in your inventory. And they can also trigger things in the world as well. The dialogue engine, I’m really happy with how that came together, but there was lots of problems with that as well. But just lots of the system-based things. It gets tricky to make everything work perfectly.
Yeah, of course. After the release of The Abnormal Place, does your studio have plans to release more games in the future?
Very good question. So the priority at the moment is to just do some fixes for the game, look at whether other options can be available such as releasing on Mac, Linux. Just improving some things. There’s no promises there. It just really depends on how it’s received I guess first, but the priority is just making sure that it plays well for current and new incoming users. That’s my first priority. It’d be nice to look at a couple other platforms such as Mac and Linux, they would be the easiest ones to create next. Maybe look at releasing on Itch.io as well. So not just Steam. That’d be fun. Also making it a little bit cheaper for people.
Apart from that, I’m also helping out another sort studio at the moment. So my work balance will be balancing that and just supporting the game as it continues on. I have some ideas about things I would like to make next. I don’t know. I’m a big fan of horror, not to say that I want to create a traditional horror first-person game, but there’s a lot of I think space for creativity in that genre especially. Because this game at the moment, there’s spooky dark vibes, but essentially it’s PG. There’s nothing terribly scary or there’s no violence. You can die as a character, but there’s no blood or gore or anything like that.
There’s a weird, disturbing, uncomfortable feel to it sometimes, but nothing too out there. But horror, I don’t know. I don’t think I would want to get into too just raw sort of horror, but horror in terms of the moody ambience, Silent Hill sort of type of horror where it’s all about the setting. So using what I’ve learned from The Abnormal Place and pushing the aesthetic and mood and more just smoke and fog and just atmosphere type things that can make a world and a location especially scary.
The Abnormal Place is now available for PC on Steam.