We speak with SMG Studio head Ashley Ringrose about the Overcooked-style game out now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Australian developer SMG Studio recently released its latest game, a physics-based home-moving simulator called Moving Out. The quirky and humorous game puts you into the role of a Furniture Arrangement & Relocation Technician, or F.A.R.T. for short. Set in an '80s world called Packmore, the game challenges players to move objects from inside a house or building into a moving truck in the fastest time possible.
At a glance, it looks like Overcooked but with furniture. With up to three others, you have to be careful not to break fragile material, but anything about the building you're moving out of is fair game--and often chucking the couch out the window is the most efficient thing to do. Some objects require two people to move and you must also coordinate your timing to toss objects over obstacles or into the truck.
There is also an Assist mode that allows players to turn down the difficulty or extend the timers, among other things that should help everyone have a good time. There are also character customization tools that allow you to change hairstyles and color, while you can also give your creature a wheelchair or a hijab.
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To learn more about Moving Out, GameSpot spoke with SMG Studio head Ashley Ringrose, who told us more about the game's accessibility features, which he hopes becomes standard in games going forward. Ringrose also spoke about the importance of inclusivity and represenation in Moving Out.
"[One example] of inclusivity in Moving Out is that the human character has the option of wearing a hijab," Ringrose said. "I’m Muslim, and for me it was important to have my wife’s family see themselves represented in a fun and positive way. The human character has a number of skin tone options available too."
He also discussed the comparisons to Overcooked (which shares a publisher with Moving Out in Team17), and he spoke to us about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ringrose said the team at SMG--which has offices in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia--shifted to a work-from-home setup quickly, but it wasn't the biggest concern considering Moving Out was very close to release at the time of the outbreak.
Not only that, but SMG was working on Moving Out already in a virtual capacity somewhat with its satellite office in Los Angeles and co-developer DevM Games in Sweden. Additionally, publisher Team17 is based in the UK. "In that regard, we were pretty used to communicating with different teams across multiple sites," Ringrose said.
To celebrate the launch of Moving Out at the end of April, the SMG Studio teams had a party over video chat--due to the differing time zones, some were popping champagne, while others were sipping coffee. "I'm hoping we can have a physical launch party later in the year and invite the wider group of people who helped make the game," Ringrose said.
"I think we need to recognize that the current environment caused by the pandemic is causing a lot of difficulties, pain, and suffering for millions of people around the world right now," Ringrose continued. "Games have always been an escape into fantasy, and hopefully games like Moving Out can help distract and entertain families and housemates as we all continue to get through the situation. We spoke about it as a team and have to remember that making people smile and entertain them is also something the world needs."
You can check out GameSpot's full interview below. Moving Out is available right now on PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One. The Xbox One version is free with Xbox Game Pass, or it can be purchased outright for $25 USD.
GameSpot: I read a study that said moving house is more stressful than a divorce. Can you talk about where the idea for Moving Out came from and how you went about making a traditionally awful experience something fun and whimsical?
Ashley Ringrose: Not sure about that divorce study but I can say that moving house is a universally relatable activity. We don't need to explain the premise, it’s moving stuff out of the house into the truck. There’s also some really good game design fodder in moving as you have delegation of tasks, manoeuvring, stacking. So it’s like a giant Tetris set that you need to move the pieces by hand.
I think that’s what sets the act of moving house up for humor and fun in Moving Out. We’re able to subvert what people are expecting in silly ways. I mean, moving would be more fun if you could just toss the TV out of the window and not care!
The time period is also an intriguing element of the game. Why is Moving Out set in the '80s?
The 1980s was the most fun decade ever, right? The fashion, the movies, the cartoons, the music - there was so much going on (ask your parents!) By setting the game in the 80s we’re able to visually theme the game, we can make fun of the era’s technology and avoid the realities of modern life.
I like to think of the game and story as a 1980s cartoon or movie. Things happen that are fun and make no sense and you just keep going. There’s no need to explain or rationalize it. This was very freeing for the story. Ash wants a giant robot boss battle at the end? Sure! We’ll make the story work!
Can you explain more about the music in Moving Out? I understand it's pulled from archives and never before released until now?
The story behind the music we have in Moving Out is just extraordinary; the tracks were literally made in the 1980s!
It all started with Dave on our team jokingly cut our “announce trailer” to the track “The Touch” by Stan Bush, which everyone knows from the 1980s Transformers cartoon movie. It was perfect! After seeing that I said, “Ok let’s see if we can licence it!” and while we were reaching out to Stan Bush and other avenues we spoke to our publishing partner on Moving Out - Team17 - about our music plans. They correctly flagged this would cause copyright claims on YouTube for the track. Even if we licenced it ourselves it’d be flagged by every upload, which would have been a real shame - not to mention inconvenience!
During that short time we’d heard back from Lenny Macaluso--look him up, he’s done a LOT--who was the producer/co-writer on The Touch and so many other tracks from the 1980s. We told him we couldn’t use the tracks due to copyright issues and he suggested we check out his archives; we opened up his collection of tracks literally made in the 80s but never released! There were so many that were amazing we decided to change plans and use as many of Lenny’s tracks as possible. In fact, all but two in the game are from his archives.
Something that is immediately noticeable about Moving Out is that it bears a resemblance in style and tone to Overcooked. What is your response to this, and what sets your game apart and makes it special?
Well Overcooked and its success in reinvigorating local co-op gaming was one of the reasons why we signed with Team17 in the first place. Obviously, the theme of Moving Out is totally different, and aside from the couch co-op nature of the experience, the gameplay is also very different.
Can you talk about the decision to keep the game strictly a couch co-op experience instead of adding online multiplayer?
Sure. Moving Out was built from the ground up as a couch co-op experience because we believe that provides the most optimal and meaningful experience for players. With this focus we were able to spend all our time on polish and tuning the game to be the best it can be.
Another unique element of Moving Out is its assist mode, which lets you customize the difficulty to your liking for lower stress gameplay. Can you talk about why you wanted to include this and more generally about what you're doing to accommodate players of all skill levels and interests?
There’s many reasons with the main ones being accessibility and to ensure players of all ages can enjoy it. We were doing the UX/UI design and Dan--who was developing the interface for the game at our studio-- brought up this site, which is such a great resource. It became clear that if we wanted to do a good job with this, we’d need to do more than subtitles and colorblind options. Seeing how some other games like Celeste and Nintendo games handled accessibility was a good benchmark to what to aim for.
Also, being a parent of kids who are younger than 10 years old I would find very few games I could play with them. Finding a game they could play that isn't centered around fighting or shooting is even harder, so Moving Out’s Assist Mode opens up the game to them when it normally would have been inaccessible.
It’s been really rewarding to have people reach out and thank us for adding Assist Mode as it’s what enabled them to play the game.
Moving Out also features a number of accessibility features like dyslexia-friendly text and remappable controls--can you talk through your approach to accessibility in Moving Out and why it's so important to you?
I’m really hoping these all become standard across all games, especially resizable UI text, which is easier in our game as we’re quite text light, but still it’s something that’s important.
The dyslexia-friendly text has conflicting reviews if it helps but we thought if it helps a few then why not. Adding remappable controls on PC was a big one to include too. While we don’t have fully-remappable controls for gamepads, we do have some presets for players to choose.
The character customization elements are also more inclusive than other offerings on the market--what kinds of customization items will be available and can you speak about your general approach to representation and inclusivity?
This is another link back to Overcooked! and that game’s racoon chef, who is wheelchair bound. Team17 told us it was the most popular character so we didn't want to pass up any insights like that. We were inspired to create one or two wheelchair-bound removers for Moving Out, but we shifted tact and realized that we could give players the choice of having any or all of the character in a wheelchair. What’s important to add is that being in a wheelchair has no impact in the gameplay – there’s no disadvantage.
Another example of inclusivity in Moving Out is that the human character has the option of wearing a hijab. I’m Muslim, and for me it was important to have my wife’s family see themselves represented in a fun and positive way. The human character has a number of skin tone options available too.
What's it been like working on releasing a game during the current global crisis as teams work remotely and processes are affected by this and other factors?
We were very lucky in that by the time the pandemic arrived we were only a matter of weeks away from Moving Out’s release, so we were not in mid-production. We were able to move to working from home pretty quickly as many of the SMG team already worked a day or two from home as they are parents (almost half the team have kids of their own).
We’d made the decision to work from home on a Friday morning and then by the end of the day plans were set, test devices distributed and everyone started from Monday. We’re into week eight now and it’s going well. Jan from DevM Games--our co-developer--in Sweden already worked from home.
SMG Studio is spread across three individual offices, two in Australia (Sydney and Melbourne) with a third in Los Angeles, while our co-development partner DevM Games is based in Sweden, with Team17 in the UK. So, in that regard, we were pretty used to communicating with different teams across multiple sites.
We did have a video celebration drink/chat for the launch with champagne/coffee. I’m hoping we can have a physical launch party later in the year and invite the wider group of people who helped make the game.
On that subject, more people are at home playing games today, so how do you feel about launching Moving Out now into that environment?
I think we need to recognize that the current environment caused by the pandemic is causing a lot of difficulties, pain, and suffering for millions of people around the world right now. Games have always been an escape into fantasy, and hopefully games like Moving Out can help distract and entertain families and housemates as we all continue to get through the situation. We spoke about it as a team and have to remember that making people smile and entertain them is also something the world needs.
Are there any developer secrets or helpful tips you can offer to new players?
The quickest way is usually through a window. Don’t worry, the clients signed a waiver! Plan how you’ll stack the truck with the bigger items first and then throw the smaller ones on top.