My name’s Oscar Brittain. I’m from this place called Fremantle. It’s a satellite city south of Perth in Western Australia. At first glance it seems entirely insignificant and non-unique. Just another West Coast town with old buildings ranging from the 1870s to 1970s, and with a shipping port accounting for half its area. People are nice, but that’s just WA tor you.
You might mistakenly think it only exists for the port. You might see the ancient football ground in the centre of town, with a statue of local legends battling it out mid-game. But if you don’t stop the car and have a look around, you’d never know what a beautiful place you’d missed out on experiencing.
When I started making my game, Desert Child, I was studying architecture at university at the time, and, inspired by this and the work of artists like 1041uuu and waneella, thought to do some 2-point perspective backgrounds for the game. This is a decision that took up the next two years of my life.
The first scene I drew was a big amalgam of things from Fremantle. None were really, directly referencing buildings or locations, but just a first attempt at transferring that Freo feeling into a sci-fi setting. I really liked it and set about drawing more and more local landmarks into the game.
This is sort of my reimagining of the Fremantle Bridge, repurposed as a footbridge. I took a bit of inspiration also from the New York Highline, with the ground having a bunch of greenery, since cars just fly in this future.
At the end of the real Fremantle Bridge, there is an old radio navigation tower. It was abandoned until very recently. I always thought of this as a cool modern lighthouse, and what Aussie kid doesn’t have a soft spot for lighthouses after growing up watching “Round the Twist.” I wanted it in the game. I integrated it into the bridge itself, and kind of redesigned it for having been used for space ship navigation in the past, whereas now it’s used as a Centrelink office.
Centrelink is the Australian dole agency, but it’s also responsible for giving students their Austudy allowance. It basically forms the bedrock of Bohemian Australia. Let’s just say I’d be a hypocrite if I ever complain about paying taxes in the future.
In reality, any Centrelink branch with this kind of land value would have been sold and relocated to the suburbs years ago, but I still pine for them to return to Packenham St, near the good cafes.
The Fremantle Harbour was at once a dominating presence in the city. The giant dinosaur-like cranes have become these calming creatures that are always visible from the beach, watching over everyone as they work. I actually added them into the game quite late in development, as my friends complained that it didn’t feel like Freo without them.
Fremantle’s High Street has really come back to life in the last 5 years, but for a while, the rent on these beautiful old buildings must have hit rock bottom, since huge old bank buildings were being rented for things like bookshops and cafes. New Edition Bookshop moved into this massive old place, and instantly gained this sense of quality and culture.
The Broody Hen is a new cafe that just opened around the corner from my house, so I go there often. It’s so cozy, and it’s the first place I’ve ever been to regularly enough for the barista to remember my order. I don’t know if this is a good thing, or it means I go there too much.
East West Design is a furniture warehouse located right on South Beach. When they moved in, they spent a truckload of money painting this enormous mural on the side of the previously ugly building, which has now become a backdrop for several cafes and restaurants. This image doesn’t do it justice; the mural is about 70 meters long and is something I’ve tried and failed to post to Instagram on numerous occasions.
Speaking of murals, Fremantle has a weird bend towards paining insanely massive paintings on the sides of buildings. The many old buildings used to have huge images of buffalo, goats, and praying mantis on the side of it, so I tried to include some huge street art pieces in the game as a tribute to this strange local obsession.
One of the first things I put into the game was the tiny late-night deli across the street from my house. I’m looking at it right now; I love it. I put it in the game just because I see it so often, and I made it sell just useless, overpriced items. Then about a week after that, they started selling decent Vietnamese Pho. So now I just look stupid. Also, they own a giant mech.
Finally, you can’t really make a game inspired by Freo without including the Fremantle Markets. It’s not even that it’s a good market, it’s just right in the centre of everything. It’s this giant tourist trap that, very occasionally, you’ll be with someone and they’ll tell you how they got a great donut or bao in there. And so you venture in and finally emerge two hours later with something edible. It probably isn’t what you wanted to eat, but it’ll do. Then you walk across the street to The Up Markets, or Uppies, and get dinner for under $10. It’s a way of life.
And so ends this bizarre tribute to the place where I live. It’s not perfect, and there’s probably way too many cheap sushi joints, but I think it’s worthy of its own video game. Even if I had to pretend it’s on Mars.
Desert Child is available now on Xbox One via the Microsoft Store and is part of the ID@Xbox Winter of Arcade event.