Golf Club: Wasteland

by Demagog Studio
The studio
Edgy and irreverent creators

A close-knit group of high-school friends from Belgrade, Serbia reunited a few years after college in search of something more. What resulted was no ordinary engineering job, but a team that would go on to create film, games and music relevant to current issues in a changing world.

Demagog Studio began informally in 2013, and is led by Igor Simic, an award-winning filmmaker and contemporary artist who returned to Belgrade after studying film and philosophy at Columbia University in New York.  

Naming their team after a leader who exploits ignorance among the common people (a demagogue), it’s no surprise that the studio’s games express a deeper political or social meaning. Their first game was Crisis Expert, an infinite runner made in light of the financial crisis. You play the role of a shopping cart, driving on an economics graph with the goal of maximizing profits. A year later they launched Children’s Play, a satirical game themed around child labor.

“We thought of these early games more as experiments because none of us had ever made a game before,” says Simic. In 2017, Demagog became an official company and they decided to take their experiment to the next level by creating an art project that spans several mediums, including mobile games, videos and music.

Igor Simic, Creative Director; Nikola Stepković, Art Director; Shane Berry, Sound Designer/Composer; Ivan Stanković, Technical Lead; Miloš Milojević, Level Designer; Miloš Mihajlović, Programmer; Nevena Janković, Marketing

Igor Simic, Creative Director; Nikola Stepković, Art Director; Shane Berry, Sound Designer/Composer; Ivan Stanković, Technical Lead; Miloš Milojević, Level Designer; Miloš Mihajlović, Programmer; Nevena Janković, Marketing

The project
Teeing up satire on a planetary scale

Golf Club: Wasteland is a mobile game that tells the story of the ultra-rich who move to Mars after the apocalypse. These new Martians pass their time by playing golf on Earth, which is now a wasteland. You play the nostalgic spacecraft pilot who takes one last solo trip to his old home.

Hidden among the game’s leisurely “golfplay” are three levels of storytelling. To start, each of the 30 chapters begins with a satirical phrase presented like a title while the screen loads. Secondly, if you listen closely to the soundtrack, you’ll notice that it’s actually a radio station, providing regular updates of life on Mars. Lastly, if you play well, you unlock the diary of the lonely golfer to learn more of the backstory. This gives players incentives to revisit certain chapters in hopes of a higher score.

Scoring a creative hole-in-one

Despite the fact they’re in a wasteland, players are captivated by the creative level design and stunning art style, filled with out-of-place objects and shiny neon lights. While only released on iOS in June 2018, the game took first prize for Most Innovative Gameplay at REBOOT Develop. It was also nominated for Game of the Year at REBOOT and received the award for Best Story at The Big Indie Fest. They’re planning to release on Android and Nintendo Switch later this year.

The story features a complete soundtrack and several music videos. The Radio Nostalgia from Mars soundtrack is a collaboration between Igor and Shane Berry, a former Tokyo-based DJ and sound designer now living in Paris. It comprises seven original songs and five recordings from citizens of Mars calling into the radio station. Not only does the music add depth to the game’s story, but the combination of synthwave, techno and a capella singing has been praised by the iOS gaming community.

The atmospheric music videos make extensive use of the art created for the game, giving the viewer a 3D perspective in 2D. Like the game, the videos contain creative references to the Cold War and our current political climate. According to Igor, the videos purposely contain no narrative, and act as mood boards with emotional arcs.

Radio Nostalgia from Mars - Distant Thunder
The reveal

“For some effects in the game we needed custom shaders, such as post-processing grain, to give it an irradiated feel or water effects. The challenge was to create mobile-efficient shaders, and we managed to do so by using Unity’s extensive documentation,” explains Ivan Stanković, Technical Lead.

Still, the game is not limited to the graphics and gameplay. Sound and UI were key components to the underlying story. Demagog used FMOD for all the atmospheric sounds, while the sound design of all levels simply used Unity audio features like Reverb Zones and Audio Filtering. With regard to the interface, the talented team employed only the Animator and Unity UI elements to achieve their elegant menu and smooth transitions. “This ease of use was important since we changed the UI four times,” remarks Igor.

 

World-building on Cold War ruins

The world of Golf Club: Wasteland is irreverent and charming. Neon lights flicker among communist-era architecture. One building in the game closely resembles the well-known Western City Gate, a 36-storey brutalist skyscraper in Belgrade constructed in 1977.

To build these eye-catching worlds, the team took advantage of Unity’s extensive 2D toolset, including the Sprite Editor, to build most of the game levels. Golf ball trajectories were calculated using the built-in physics engine, while leaves, smoke and ash were authored using the Particle System. While the team used many out-of-the-box features, they also developed a few custom solutions to achieve the unique art-style representing the ruins of Earth.

Less pipeline, more creativity

For the game’s music videos, Unity’s versatility was essential. They mixed 2D assets and textures from the game with new 3D elements to create a more immersive feel.

Unity’s real-time rendering let them iterate quickly. The Animation system, combined with the new Post-Processing Stack and offline rendering, allowed them to settle on the final look of the video early. “That gave us more time to spend on the video itself, instead of focusing on technical issues, data wrangling or anticipating downstream problems,” says Igor.

Finally, since there was no additional post-work involved, their production time was reduced by 50% when compared to conventional 3D animation pipelines. This production optimization is a big win for modern artists like Demagog Studio, whose work traverses mediums and whose precious time is needed for exploring their edgy and irreverent creativity. After all, nothing beats breaking the mold, especially when it can change the world.

Create your own gorgeous 2D worlds just like Demagog Studio.

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