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Friday, June 14, 2024
Courtesy of Garage Sale

UW-Madison students to release new indie game Garage Sale

A small group of UW-Madison students are set to release Garage Sale, an indie game 2.5 years in the making.

University of Wisconsin-Madison student Amelia Zollner’s junior and senior years of high school were filled with boredom and disconnect due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was then that she was prompted to put something out into the world, intent on making her mark with an indie game titled Garage Sale. 

Zollner had always taken an interest in games and turned to a lot of smaller indie games to pass time during the pandemic. To Zollner, playing games like Undertale allowed her to feel a strong sense of community during a time when social interactions were limited.  

"I was embarrassingly about five years late to the party, but when I finally got around to playing Undertale, I stayed up until 6 a.m. to finish it one night,” Zollner said. “It just impacted me in a way that I never thought any form of media could.”

Zollner said she couldn’t stop thinking about Undertale after playing the game. With Undertale at the forefront of her mind, she decided to look into the game’s creator, Toby Fox, and discovered he made the game almost entirely by himself. 

“[Fox’s] story, paired with the game's relatively small scope, made me realize that I might be able to take my lifelong love for storytelling and put it into a game, a format which I've always idolized but never thought I could get into as a writer with absolutely zero coding knowledge,” Zollner said.

Using Bitsy, a game development platform similar to Scratch, Zollner began to bring Garage Sale to life. 

Zollner originally intended to finish the project before she left for college, but after facing some setbacks, she decided to pitch her idea to the Game Design and Development Club (GDD) at UW-Madison after encouragement from friends. 

“I feel like when I started making this game, it was going to be about moving away from a town and feeling a sense of loneliness because I was worried about meeting people at college,” Zollner said. “But when I got to college, I made so many friends and realized I could make a game that was happy instead of sad, about community and putting roots down instead of being sad about leaving.”

A team effort

Shortly after pitching her idea to the club in fall of 2021, Zollner acquired a small team of around six members. Some members of the team have come and gone, contributing with their talents when needed, but a few have stayed core members for the duration of the project. Those members include Jennifer Kim (programming and art), Josie Ronk (art and writing), Allie Carlson (writing) and Rishit Khare, the lead programmer, sound designer, composer, artist and writer responsible for the technical decisions behind the game’s development. 

Khare’s programming knowledge proved to be a major asset to the group. It was Khare’s idea to recreate the game using Godot, a free and open-source game engine, widening their opportunities with the game’s development. To Khare, the switch to Godot was “a commitment to something larger in scope.” 

The team also used software like GarageBand and Aseprite to help create all aspects of the game themselves, including sounds, graphics and the storyline. 

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Another factor in the group’s success was attending game jams, which are three-to-five day gaming marathons Khare said allow game creators to throw ideas around and create with “less pressure to catch lightning in a bottle.” 

"Jams were a great experience for me to learn because they forced me to think outside the box and just create, rather than overthink or overcommit,” Khare said.

Khare said game jams taught him the value of pushing beyond the walls of perfection, which he found especially helpful when working on Garage Sale.

“With jams, since you can throw away the idea once it's over, and they typically don't last over a week. Everything you make is sort of trivial, and it takes the pressure off,” Khare said. “During my first jam, I couldn't even make the deadline and never submitted my game, but I still learned so much from the process." 

Garage Sale was the first long-term project any of the members have worked on, making it a big learning process for the team. 

While Zollner is the group’s director, in charge of the collaborative effort, consulting and creative direction of the game, all members brought something to the table.

"As leader and director, Amelia has been very open and flexible. She made it a point from the start of the development process that this game was everybody's project, not just her own,” Khare said. “She would spend time and earnestly consider every concern or suggestion that was brought up to her."

A stress-free, community game

Garage Sale focuses on the narrative of a girl exploring the community-wide garage sale. The player is able to discover different parts of a forest town, complete quests and collect friends throughout. The landscape is a quaint and comforting town featuring a wide variety of rooms for the player to discover. 

While Zollner said she adores a lot of mainstream classic cozy games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, she said, at times “it can be frustrating to come home from a stressful day of work and try to unwind with these games, only to be met by decision-making and money management that just feels like a second job.”

Zollner said she wanted Garage Sale to be an exploration-based game instead of a game that just “replicates capitalism in a cute way.” 

“I took what I had learned from similar exploration-based games and drew ideas from my own childhood, my experience going to garage sales and thrift stores and flea markets and my love for things like walkable cities and tight-knit communities,” Zollner said. “Yes, you can collect coins and buy little trinkets in Garage Sale, but achievement isn't tied to that — the real goal is just befriending your neighbors and exploring." 

Courtesy of Garage Sale

Khare said the game allowed him to feel a sense of community he hadn’t felt in a while due to the pandemic.

"When COVID struck, I felt like my final years of high school had sort of been stolen from me. It was heartbreaking to have such limited contact with my friends, and things didn't really get the chance to go back to normal before my high school friends had to part ways for college,” Khare said. 

As an out-of-state student from Washington, Khare said he didn’t know too many people when he moved to Wisconsin. He said joining the Garage Sale team allowed him to build community in a new state.

“When I first saw Amelia's pitch, the emotional themes of finding community and friendship to overcome loneliness that she was trying to emulate with her game really struck a chord with me," he said.

The Garage Sale team has already started promoting their game on platforms such as TikTok and Twitter. The game will be published on Steam and is currently available to be wishlisted before its release. 

Zollner said the group is looking forward to sharing Garage Sale at the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee this April. They plan to release it within the next few months. 

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