IGM Interviews: Space Dust Studios (Space Dust Racers) – Part One


If you are listening to this, you have located my time capsule from the year 3015 AD, and humans are virtually extinct.

The distinctive scent of high-octane fuel lingers in the air as dusk finally descends on a strange planet, teeming with exotic locations and hostile aliens who only know one life. They were born behind the wheel. Trained to race, trained to fight, and trained to win. Their eye-catching, cartoon-like appearance almost had me fooled, but these creatures are unmistakably Spartan-like; Viciously competitive, and brutal both in loss and victory. Hidden in a secret location away from the racetracks, I have managed to uncover a studio dedicated to observing them.

Space Dust Studios, a Melbourne-based game development company, has set up a colony here with the intent of making an intergalactic party racing game based on these aliens. Space Dust Racers is a game with the heart of Micro Machines and the soul of Mario Kart, underpinned by vehicular combat racing and absurd weapon power ups for up to 16 players. Naturally, I was full of questions, and fortunately Grigor Pedrioli and Michael Davies were kind enough to indulge me. But my oxygen tank won’t last much longer. I must ensure these findings make it safely back through time…For science.

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Indie Game Magazine: Could you tell us a bit about your backgrounds? Specifically, what drew you to the field of game development?

Grigor Pedrioli: Yeah sure. Well, my background’s in fine art, but I actually ended up working in video production for about seven years before I got into games development. And it wasn’t till I was a bit older, when I really decided that I wanted to get into games, that I went and did a course. This is going back to 2000. And then I started doing Q&A testing at a place called Atari Melbourne House, which was then called Infogram’s Melbourne House, which was a kind of seminal games dev in Melbourne. So I started my games career in QA, and it was from that point that I then went and started doing some QA at a place called IR Gurus, and then I moved into art. I’ve been an artist now for about 10 years probably. I worked from a junior up to a director in my own company, which is pretty good fun.

Michael Davies: So I’ve been making games since I was about 11 years old. My dad taught me programming when I was really young, and back then we didn’t have Unity or Unreal Engine, all these nice sort of middleware engines, so we had to do it all from scratch. So I made some really basic 2D games, and I just sort of knew I was going to be a game programmer at some point. I studied computer science at The University of Melbourne and then from there went to Torus Games, and I was there for about 4 years. I started focusing mostly on gameplay, artificial intelligence, and stuff that’s sort of user interface-like hands on; things where you can see the end result. I wasn’t big on things like low-level graphics and stuff like that, but that’s why we’ve got Glen Stuart on the team. He loves that stuff, so we’re a complementary sort of pair. I moved to the UK for a little while, and started working at EA there. I was at EA for about 7 years, and came back to Melbourne when they opened up an EA Melbourne studio. I met Grigor at IR Gurus.

Pedrioli: Yeah, we worked together briefly at IR Gurus, probably around 2004 or something. And then I worked again with Michael at Visceral Games in Melbourne for a few years. (Michael) had been working there a while, and I came across from Transmission Games, which closed down in 2009. I went and joined Nate and Michael and Glen at Visceral Games.

Davies: Yeah it seems a bit of a common theme in Melbourne, that people circle around each other over and over again. So we’ve been working on and off together for over a decade. But the time was really good when we started up Space Dust-we were all available, which had something to do with EA Melbourne closing down.

We had a bit of time off, and some of us were doing contract work, but we weren’t really happy with what we were doing. So we just decided to take the opportunity to make our own games.

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IGM: How did you first conceive the idea for Space Dust Racers? Was it an instant burst of inspiration, or did it involve a combination of ideas?

Davies: Yeah, so the first couple of weeks we were sort of getting all of these ideas and dreaming really big. The project on the wall behind us that we didn’t end up following through was this gigantic, huge scope free-to-play game that was going to be like Firefly meets Borderlands. And it was going to cost like $3 million to make and we would have this huge studio in Melbourne. We started planning it all and we put together a prototype for it. But we took it to the US to see if any investors would be interested in buying into it. And the feedback that we got was that it was probably just a bit too big in scope.

We had the experience to make it if we could find the people to ramp up the studio, but they wanted to see something smaller first. So we ended up going away and putting it on the shelf, which was painful, but I reckon half of my games career so far has probably been working on games that haven’t seen the light of day. I think that’s pretty standard. So yeah, we put it aside and came up with the idea of Space Dust Racers. It came about because Nathan, our art director, was playing Crash Team Racing with one of his kids, and I was still playing Mashed on the original Xbox with a lot of my friends. And we were kind of amazed that nothing had come out on a more recent platform that would cater to the same style of gameplay. And then Glen at the same time mentioned that we could probably do smart phone controllers, and we were like “OK, let’s try and combine them all!”

IGM: According to your website, each of you has experience with many different games including Dead SpaceTomb Raider, Need for Speed and Battlefield. What was it like making the transition from working on those games to developing your own game? Did it give you more freedom?

Davies: Yeah, that’s a really good question. So working on a AAA game, you tend to be a very small cog in a big machine. So you have a really limited window of responsibility. It’s good fun if you’ve got a good team around you, but certainly in terms of creativity, even in a lead role there are so many different departments and disciplines coming together that really, you’re all being directed by the creative director of the project. So there is some creativity there, but doing our own thing is an incredible difference. You’re suddenly in complete control and there’s  no one telling you that you have to have this feature for marketing purposes, or you’ve got to cater to this audience. You can make whatever you want. You can be as crazy as you like.

Working on a AAA game, you tend to be a very small cog in a big machine…Doing your own thing it’s an incredible difference; You’re suddenly in control.

It probably won’t sell if it’s too crazy. So yeah, it’s amazing because you have full control, but it’s also really scary at the same time because you don’t want to make a complete disaster. I mean, we’re not young anymore, we’re not students living with our parents-we’ve got rent and mortgages to think about, so we tried to think of a project that was going to be really fun for us to work on, but also commercially viable.

Pedrioli: I think with our experience working at big companies too, we sort of know what is a commercial product, as opposed to one that’s purely just an art piece. And I think we’ve managed to achieve that with Space Dust Racers. We love the project as artists and creators, but we also want to to be somewhat of a commercial success because this is something we’re trying to build a studio around, and hopefully from this point go on to doing more games.

A keen retrogamer who grew up playing classics like Prince of Persia, Aladdin, and Diddy Kong Racing, Katrina believes that digital games are not just fun, but a great way to learn. These days she enjoys studying Japanese language acquisition, and designing her own games.