If you want to explore the Australian bush as a sleepy wombat, ‘Paperbark’ is the game is for you

Paperbark's appreciation for Australian nature is unlike we've seen before.
Image: paper house

While Australia’s renowned natural beauty is often plastered on postcards and featured in the occasional film, it’s something yet to be represented in the gaming world.

Paperbark, set to release early next year initially on iOS, will change all that. The game focuses on the life of a sleepy wombat exploring Australian bushland, discovering all kinds of flora and fauna along the way.

The game was originally the final year project of RMIT game design students Ryan Boulton, Nina Bennett and Terry Burdak. All three grew up in regional Victoria, and wanted to focus on creating a game that looked like an Australia they knew.

Image: paper house

“We’ve never seen the Australian bush in a game before, and a lot of the times when Australia is shown in media, it’s usually in the outback,” Burdak explained to Mashable. It’s a more detailed representation of the Australian bush than we’ve seen in other games, with titles like Forza Horizon 3 showcasing the classic desert, rainforest and coastal environments of the country.

“Like, I’ve never been to the desert, I’ve never been to central Australia. That feels foreign to me. We wanted to show what was familiar to us, and probably a lot more familiar to other people as well.”

A point-and-click exploration game, there’s a real nostalgic sensibility to Paperbark’s art for those who grew up in Australia. It’s rich in watercolours inspired by the illustrations in nature-centric Australian children’s books like Blinky Bill, Diary of a Wombat and Possum Magic.

“It’s what’s magically unique about Australia, we have these amazing plants and animals, and this amazing bushland. So we wanted to present that as it is, on face value,” Burdak added.

“That’s the essence of Paperbark, it’s this exploration game where you’re wandering through the bush. We just wanted to present that, and let people soak it up.”

Burdak said capturing those Australian colours was “incredibly hard,” but they’ve been receiving pointers from Diary of a Wombat illustrator Bruce Whatley.

“He really loves the game, and he’s been giving us great tips on how to do particular techniques,” Burdak said. 

When we saw the demo on display at PAX Australia, the game attracted a vast cross-section of ages, more so than many games on display at the conference.

It’s down to how beautiful Paperbark’s art is, but also making it a game that’s easy to just start playing. All you need is your finger, which you use to move the wombat around and paint an otherwise blank canvas.

“It has a lot of quiet time, and I think some people get a little scared of that.”

“We wanted accessibility to be a key, and we wanted anyone to just be able to pick it up and play. Obviously we want young kids to play it … but we also don’t want adults to shy from it as well,” Burdak explained. 

“Just because it doesn’t have guns or crazy action, it doesn’t mean you won’t get something out of it.”

In an exhibition hall filled with a cacophony of gun sound effects and the whirr of futuristic paraphernalia from other games, Paperbark cuts through the noise with its calm.

“It has a lot of quiet time, and I think some people get a little scared of that. They’re so used to having media throttling them with sound and action,” Burdak said.

“There’s just something really nice to get that feel of paper onto a screen. Not in the physical sense, but in the way it slows us down a bit.”

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