Amber Gibson: Congratulations on announcing your new game. How would you describe it to new audiences?
Julian Wilton: Thanks! Cult of the Lamb is a weird hybrid of dungeon crawling and base building/colony management where you start a cult of cute critters.
How it works is you go out into a dark mysterious world where you’ll have to fight off enemies to find new recruits for your cult. You then bring them back to your base where they'll worship you, as well as doing tasks. But you’ll need to keep them happy, fed and alive – a bit like a Tamagotchi. You’ll be able to do sermons to customise the beliefs of your followers and perform rituals with your followers to get stronger to take down the non-believers.
AG: How did the original idea for this game develop?
JW: The idea came from a lot of iteration. We had quite a few other ideas before we ended up with a cult: starting your own Hell, starting a base on the back of a flying whale, and a game about being a god eating your followers. We settled on the cult idea through the aspect of wanting to look after your followers; it's also a great marketing hook that's easily communicated. Plus I’m a big fan of horror films and love everything cult and occult.
AG: You have mentioned that you hand draw all your art to give it a personal touch – did you use the same approach for Cult of the Lamb?
JW: Yeah, all the art in Cult of the Lamb is hand drawn, minus a few shaders. I’m a big fan of being able to see the artist's hand in games. It makes it that bit more magical.
AG: What's your favourite aspect of developing games?
JW: My role in this game has been the Creative Director, where I do a bit of everything; but I like steering the direction of a project. I’ve leaned more into the business and marketing side for this project to try and make sure we are developing something that people want.
AG: Through previous work, Massive Monster has become an award-winning game developer. What do you attribute to your success?
JW: I think it goes back to our core design principles. We try to emphasise personality and play, and I think that’s what helps us stand out. For play, we make sure everything is as juicy and as fun as possible while being accessible. For personality, we let our own personalities and weirdness come out in the games we make, which means that people are getting something unique that will stand out in the market.
AG: What were some challenges as a developer when you first began creating games?
JW: I think the trickiest part of game development is turning it into a sustainable business. It’s inherently very risky and difficult to get started. No one wants to fund a developer that doesn’t have a track record, so often it requires a lot of bootstrapping (dipping into personal savings). We are only now getting to a point where it can be more sustainable.
AG: Do you have any advice for other indie developers trying to break into the Australian industry?
JW: I think the best way to get started is to find like-minded developers at a similar level to you, and collaborating; working together on a small project such as a mobile or web game. You’ll learn a lot from your early games, so it's best to keep them small and make sure you can complete them. Once you have done a few games, try applying for some grants and taking a bigger project to a publisher, and you’ll be an indie sensation in no time.
AG: What are your hopes for the future of Australian gaming?
JW: I hope the Australian Government puts more effort into federal funding that is aimed at small developers, to help nurture and grow them without the big tax implications in the process.
AG: Massive Monster was recently selected to be part of the Industry Residency at ACMI X – When lockdown eventually lifts, what would you like to achieve during the residency?
JW: My goal at ACMI X is to connect with other creatives across industries with who we can potentially collaborate in the future, and to inspire our creative work.
AG: What does a day in the office – working from home – look like for you?
JW: Working from home for me usually looks like a poor work/life balance, where I’ll work 12 hours from 12 to 12 or something weird like that. So I am looking forward to being back in a co-working space.
AG: Tell us about your inspiration for composing the music.
Narayana Johnson: I’m using a lot of vocals generally chopped up or distorted in interesting ways (pitch shifted, etc.) to capture the occult theme. I think of them as chants or spells. This aspect of the music is influenced by Swedish group The Knife, and Fever Ray. I’m also using marimbas and other mallet instruments to embody the cuter aesthetic of the art style. This is all tied together on top of big distorted bass synths and punchy electronic/hip hop inspired drums.
AG: And you have a live music/pop background, right? How did you make the transition into composing for games?
NJ: Me and Julian actually met through my previous project Willow Beats. He had been to a show and we connected later online. Musically, it's been a great transition for me, since my music has always had a “gamey/world building” feel to it. It also really helps that the team at Massive Monster already liked my pop/electronic music and wanted me to carry that into the game. It’s been like: “Ok just do you, but make it sound like you could get killed by a cult monster around every corner!”.
AG: Do you have any advice for musicians who might also be interested in composing for games?
NJ: I was super lucky to connect with Julian who really springboarded me into the games world. I guess you have to look out for luck. Back in 2017 Julian had just followed my group Willow Beats on Twitter and I noticed he had kind of a gamey looking profile pic, so I reached out. We got talking and before long I was scoring a mobile game he was developing. Fast forward to now and we’re working on a big project together.