Working too many hours and working those hours for limited financial reward could sum up anyone at any number of fledgling breweries. It's something that also rings true for Melbourne’s indie games industry. As too do traits like being driven by passion, a love for your craft, and devotion to creativity.
The shared ethos of the people behind indie beer and indie games is what Louie Roots wanted to bring together at Bar SK, in Collingwood: part craft beer bar, part independent games space, part art gallery.
Louie has carried the SK name with him as far back as when he was in a band called Sad Karaoke in Western Australia, where his sister, Ali Scott-Malcolm, is one of the founders of Margaret River's Wild Hop Brewing. And it was while working in the games industry that he connected the dots between craft beer and games. In Perth, he frequently ran events that blended gaming, art and beer; those events would bring him to Melbourne.
“The Melbourne artsy game scene is really good; there’s a lot of different and independent people who have a lot of time to do stuff and should be getting paid a lot more than they are,” he says.
“We made games for parties and public spaces and we were trying to work out ways to make games for festivals and things like that."
After switching coasts permanently in 2016, he turned those events into a permanent space at Bar SK. There, along with bar manager Dayvid Clark, he could work on getting games into more hands.
And it was at Bar SK, when the game developers Louie works with started putting local beer into their games, that things took off.
“When we started putting beer logos into independent games we got a really good reaction, people were really into it,” Louie says.
The first of those reimagined the classic shoot 'em up Doom, replacing the original's weapons with beer to create Brew Doom. Quite naturally, the explosive barrels were replaced with cans of VB.
“So, your starting pistol is something easy-drinking, really reliable and something you can drink all night – the first one was Moon Dog Beer Can,” Louie says. The same brewery's David Boysenbowie fruit sour appears as a weapon later on.
“The hard thing is you have to scale it down to a really low resolution, so the beer has to be really recognisable – you have to look at a blurred image of the beer and go: Oh yeah, that’s [KAIJU! Krush].”
Today, beer launches at Bar SK depart from the tap takeovers you’ll find in bars across the country. Instead, you're likely to walk in and find a custom-built Beer Pong with Stomping Ground’s logo and references to their beers inside. Or CoConspirators collection of characters brought to life in Midnight Heist, a dungeon crawler built with cooperation in mind. Samples of the SK approach to public space can be seen on Instagram here.
If each game sounds simple, there’s a reason for that. They’re built to be as accessible as possible.
“The levels of interaction are really interesting and that’s kind of where our strengths have been,” Louie says. “People walk in somewhere and, if they see an Xbox controller, they don’t give a fuck; they don’t want to play that because there is a shitload of buttons on that little bit of plastic.
“No one has time to sit down and learn that and we’ve really worked to simplify everything and go: here’s a bit of wood with a button on it, push that button and see what happens.”
It’s a style of game development Louie’s well familiar with, having worked on mobile apps in Denmark after studying at Edith Cowan University.
“For mobile games, people play them for an average – it’s something stupid like seven seconds – before they go, ‘Nope, I don’t like it – delete it’,” he says. “So, someone has to be in your game, enjoying themselves and having fun in a really short timeframe. A lot of that kind of thinking is really useful in a space.”
That concept of bringing games and interact artwork into spaces is one that’s evolved too, as Louie has looked to bring what SK does outside the bar and into other venues.
At the Blobfish Festival a few months ago, sour beer fans may have noticed the festival’s logo slowly ripple and move throughout the afternoon. At Molly Rose, the SK team worked on a program that matches the Collingwood’s simple and clean fitout.
“Their space is pretty mature and it’s not really screaming out for a video game,” he says. “So, for Molly Rose, they were interested in something they could project on the wall that was going to be ambient, it wasn’t going to be interactive, but it could be in the future.”
It's a direction SK will be following further next year when the lease on their space ends. With the installation side of SK growing, Louie has been spurred on by how seriously breweries are considering how they use their space at events like GABS. [You can read our story on the evolution of festival stands here.]
“It’s really fascinating to talk to people after events and to see what sticks,” he says.
“Looking at all the booths last year, like with Hawkers and seeing what people are doing, my thoughts are, ‘What if this reacts to that or what if this did that?’.”
And while Bar SK might be set to close in 2020, Louie SK has plenty of ideas for Melbourne’s beer world.
“The bar’s not going to be there but I’m not going anywhere.”
You can check out examples of Louie's work on Instagram or call into Bar SK at 90 Smith Street, Collingwood.
And you can view other entries in The Collaborators series here.