Melbourne-based studio Ghost Pattern are transporting players back in time to 1978—to an airborne hospital, moored just off the Victorian coast, near Inverloch. The story told within the game is a snapshot of Australian life at the time, explored across the three generations on board—the youngsters, the staff, and the elderly patients.
Players join 14-year-old Casey on her summer break as she visits the hospital where her mother works as the head nurse. While Casey starts off a little uncertain about about talking to people six times her age, the residents are keen to talk to a fresh, youthful face. Casey hears rich and vibrant stories as she sits with them in their rooms amongst their belongings, as they sip tea, listen to the cricket, or watch the new colour tellie.
Australia is an uncommon setting for videogames, so Ghost Pattern feels a responsibility to the time and place they have chosen. Capturing the essence of Australia requires more than just including a few choice terms or landmarks. To design meaningful representations, consultation and first-hand experiences are key—and they have been used in shaping the design of Wayward Strand, particularly in relation to the representation of Indigenous peoples and people with chronic health conditions.
The Ghost Pattern team has worked closely with representatives of the local Bunurong community, including Dan Turnbull and Uncle Chris from the Bunurong Land Council, to ensure both culture and characters are represented in an authentic and respectful manner. After a successful experience with consulting, members of the Ghost Pattern team are now sharing the lessons they learned with other creatives, noting that it opens up the possibility for constructive criticism.
“Consultation isn’t [as some people think] a box to tick off or something that you can use to make yourself immune from criticism,” Jason Bakker said, speaking at Play by Play. “Criticism is good, healthy and valuable, especially when it comes from people who are more marginalised or less privileged than you.”
The Ghost Pattern team also know that consultation is not a one-stop solution to any problem, but is instead, “an ongoing process that empowers you to make your creative work more relevant to more people. Every discussion that we’ve had so far has given us further insight and more interesting elements of the setting to explore, and has enriched the final player experience.”
As a result of the initial consultation, Ghost Pattern began to craft Ted, a Bunurong youth and newfound friend of Casey’s. Paying homage to one of the roles that the Bunurong people held in the 70s—guiding people across rivers—Ted works the cart that ferries people up to the hospital. More of Ted’s personality—his humour, habits, stories, and even the way he interacts with the elderly residents—will be defined through further consultation with additional members of the Bunurong people.
The other key outcome thus far was determining exactly where along the coast that the ship would be moored. With Dan’s advice, the ship was located within view of sacred women’s land, providing a notable landmark for Casey during a formative time for her and her relationships with other women within the hospital.
If you are interested in the process of consultation or how it might be able to help you, The Ghost Pattern team would love to discuss the process and the tangible outcomes present within Wayward Strand, both currently and as development continues.