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  • Educated Play: Love Punks

    - Patrick Miller
  •  What happens when you mix game developers Stu Campbell and Duncan Gates, a bunch of Aboriginal Australian kids, and leftover costumes from an indie zombie movie? The answer is Love Punks, a fun Flash game that takes you through a tour of the Roebourne (Western Australia) landscape -- and a little bit of the kids' personality and culture.

    Patrick Miller: What is the Yijala Yala project about, and how did Love Punks fit into it?

    Stu Campbell: The Yijala Yala Project is run by Big hART -- a social arts company that has worked with remote and disadvantaged communities for 20 years. The project is supported by Woodside, a liquid natural gas company that has a conservation agreement with the federal government to conserve Aboriginal culture and heritage in the area. Big hART came on board to engage the indigenous community of Roebourne in creative projects to teach them new skills, so that in the future they will be well equipped to conserve and transmit their own culture.

    I arrived on the project a year ago to assist filmmaker Telen Rodwell and indigenous actor Trevor Jamieson to make a zombie film titled Love Sweet Love. You're probably asking yourself -- what does a zombie film have to do with preserving traditional Aboriginal culture? Trevor and I had a big discussion about this and we decided the answer was...nothing much -- but it was a hell of a lot of fun, the community got engaged in the project, they loved making it, and it's probably the world's first indigenous zombie film.

    For the film, I created the kids' costumes and designed their face paint, and together we slowly established their overall identity, which became known as the Love Punks. The narrative was very basic; the old people were all slow zombies, and the kids were hyperactive, colorful balls of energy racing around at high speeds making mischief. Over the course of the film I got to know all the kids pretty well and would regularly crack up at how funny they all are. Once we screened the film in the community, every kid in town wanted to be a Love Punk. So when thinking about what project to do next, I knew it had to be another incarnation of the Love Punks and it had to include everyone!

    PM: Why did you decide to make a game?

    SC: I went into the local school with ideas of creating an interactive comic, but when I arrived in the classroom I realized very quickly that all the kids were game mad, so I benched the comic idea and decided we had to make a game. I wanted to make a game that would reflect the kids' personalities and the environment that helps to shape them. The kids are hilarious, cheeky, and full of energy. The geography surrounding Roebourne is beautiful and diverse. It's located between the desert and the sea; there are also mud flats, salt flats, and ranges, not to mention the massive industrial presence here. Some of the biggest mining operations in the world are just around the corner. Also it's bloody hot, all year round. It reached 52°C (125°F) last year!

    Funnily enough, one of my oldest friends (who these days is an avid gamer) grew up in Roebourne, and I remember him telling me how he grew up in this place that was so hot, there was nothing else for him to do but sit inside in front of the air conditioner playing games. The Aboriginal kids from the community will happily spend the days inside playing games, but as soon as that sun goes down they'll be outside in a second. So with that in mind I knew I had to make an "outdoor" game.

    PM: How were the kids involved?

    SC: When I met the IT teacher at the school, he showed me how he had been teaching the kids to make stop-motion animation using clay. Right at that moment I realized we had to make a stop-motion game and began thinking of ways to engage the kids technically in the process. We started off by filming the kids in front of a green screen, imported the film into Final Cut Pro, and exported it as a JPEG sequence, then we imported the frames into Photoshop as a layer animation. From there, I taught the kids how to cut themselves out of the background using a combination of tools including the magic wand, lasso, mask, and brush. They also learned a load of shortcuts: Command + S quickly became the class mantra.

    All the kids had great hand-eye coordination and were adamant about precisely clipping themselves. Clipping the frames using the lasso tool became a competition and the kids were racing each other to finish their animation sequences. Over a period of three months we managed to cut out about 2,000 frames. It might sound like child labor -- there was definitely a lot of sweat involved -- but we did find that repetitious practice made them into a team of proficient Photoshoppers.

    The kids and I would have regular meetings and discuss what areas of Roebourne should be in the game and how they'd interact with those environments. They had so many ideas that the only way to deal with them was to create one big crazy montage: The mudflats blend into the junkyard, which blends into the river, then the sand dune, then the Burrup, and finally the desert.


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