It’s a familiar tale in the Australian videogame industry: the closure of a large gaming studio leads many developers to shun employment opportunities abroad to instead focus on creating their own iOS title independently. Jason and Nicole are no different. The Starks have over 20 years of experience between them working at Krome Studios and KMM, but when the studios closed, the two relocated and created their own game studio.
Their story however, is more of a family affair.
Jason and Nicole Stark founded Disparity Games in 2011, working towards their recently released first title Run Fatty Run on iOS and Android. The Disparity website paints a picture of a family development team, where their children contributed to the creation of their first game. Oldest daughter Alia came up with the original idea, Raven worked on the comic art, and even their second youngest Yukari is listed as QA in the credits.
The game imagines a world where the government implements a weight loss incentive program to encourage obese people to lose weight by releasing tigers to chase them.
The tongue-in-cheek premise is backed up by a solid isometric chase game, tapping and slashing to stop rotund hero Bert from being eaten.
Gameplanet spoke with co-director Jason Stark about the challenges and successes surrounding Disparity's first game, Run Fatty Run.
Gameplanet: What made you decide to start your own game company instead of looking for other job positions locally and abroad after the closure of KMM?
Jason Stark: Witnessing first hand the decimation of the local games industry was kind of like experiencing a natural disaster. You see so many lives battered about and dreams crushed. One of the best character modellers I know is lifting boxes for a living. Seeing things like that really inspires you to rebuild - to try and create something to replace what was lost. Our ultimate dream is to build up Disparity Games to the point where we can start employing people and offering jobs to local game developers.
Gameplanet: Both yourself and Nicole have a background in console development, how did you find the transition to the mobile platforms?
Stark: Nicole and I both did a lot of work during the PS2 era and the current crop of mobile devices have well and truly hit that level of power. In fact, modern phones have way more texture memory and we have access now to much better dev tools. It's like developing in the old days but on easy mode! Of course, instead of a talented team of 40 people we have two - but that's powerful motivation to learn new skills fast.
Gameplanet: How did the concept for Run Fatty Run come about?
Stark: I owe the entire game concept to my wonderful but slightly evil eldest daughter Alia. She was studying the government's response to the "obesity epidemic" and one day sarcastically announced she had developed a cheap and effective solution that utilised the forces of natural selection - unleash tigers onto the streets. It was a horrible idea that made people laugh and no established studio would touch it with a ten-foot pole. In other words, a perfect indie game.
Gameplanet: Did you look to other similar games as inspiration?
Stark: The key inspiration for me was always the old school classic, "Decathlon". I destroyed so many joysticks playing that game as a kid and I really wanted to evoke that sense of desperation and genuine physical exhaustion. You can find levels in Run Fatty Run that are directly inspired by the Hurdles, 100m sprint and 1500m decathlon events.
Gameplanet: Most side scrolling games are 2D, why the decision to create the game in 3D?
Stark: Habit mostly! Nicole and I have worked in 3d all our game careers so it never occurred to us to make the game any other way.
Gameplanet: What are the challenges and benefits to being a husband and wife team?
Stark: It's easy to neglect your relationship when you work together. Although we were less than a foot away from each other at all times, we were so focused on the game we barely spoke about anything else. At some point we had to make a time in our day when weren't allowed to talk about the game.
The biggest benefit to working together is we’re really open and honest with each other, even when (especially when) we think the other person is wrong.
Gameplanet: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome during development?
Stark: There are only two hurdles to overcome when you're two people who are married and developing a game: one, staying married; two, finishing the game. Everything else is easy.
Gameplanet: Was it always your plan to create an Android version of the game, or were you waiting to see how successful it was on the iOS platform first?
Stark: Most of my family and friends don't have iPhones. We mostly released on Android to stop them complaining! But seriously, we are developing with Unity so there is very little reason not to release on Android. If you're going to develop a game for nine months, you may as well spend a few more weeks to gain a whole new marketplace.
Gameplanet: Have you had any obese people complain about the game?
Stark: Not so far which is a huge relief. We spent many nights worrying about this. We never wanted to create a game that was nasty or exclusive. Run Fatty Run was always intended as a cheeky commentary on modern society and we are very happy to see it being received that way.
Gameplanet: What were your initial hopes and expectations when Run Fatty Run launched on the iOS?
Stark: We seriously did not know what to expect. We know talented people whose games have struggled to sell a thousand copies and we also know Brendan Watts who worked on Ski Safari. Even now a week after launch we have little idea of how successful Run Fatty Run will be in the end. Every day brings a new dip or rise in sales. It's a crazy ride. You have to either go a little zen or a little crazy. We tend to do both.
Gameplanet: What’s next for you guys?
Stark: There's support for Run Fatty Run in the short term of course but we're already looking forward to our next game release, "Ninja Pizza Girl". In the not-too-distant future, increasing traffic congestion has created only one way to reliably deliver pizza across town in under 30 minutes - underpaid student ninjas!
Gameplanet: What advice can you give to other small startup developers?
Stark: The surest way to success as an indie developer is to immediately run out and purchase 5 copies of Run Fatty Run. But in all seriousness the most important thing to a small start-up is the people around you. Make sure to look after your friends, your family, your fans and your local development scene and they will look after you. There is a ton of talented and extremely friendly people in Australia. Be nice to them and listen to what they have to say.