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00:04 Carers Queensland announcement: Want to know more about the National Disability Insurance Scheme? A chat with a Local Area Coordinator can help you understand the NDIS, whether it's right for you, and how to apply for access. Book a spot at LAC in Community, a free service from Carers Queensland. Find out more, check for events coming up near you and book your spot online at carersqld.com.au. You can also call us on 1300 999 636.
00:40 Voiceover: Choice and Control: a podcast celebrating people with disability, brought to you by Carers Queensland, NDIS Local Area Coordination Partner in the Community.
Today we're talking to some young men with autism who are making a name for themselves in digital spaces. Soon we'll chat with Gold Coast YouTuber Joe Smith, who's rubbing shoulders with celebrities, athletes, and people from all walks of life through his own online chat show.
But first we're catching up with Bradley Hennessey, the creator of Aspergers-themed computer game An Aspie Life. Brad’s studying game design and interactive environments at QUT. He started his own company, EnderLost Studios, and he's working on a prequel to An Aspie Life based on his experiences when he was younger. He started developing games in high school as a creative way around the rules.
01:30 Bradley Hennessey: At the time, there was this rule in the school that basically you're not allowed to play any games on the computer systems, of course, but you're allowed to make your own games. So that leads to me going up to computer lab lunch, just like, ‘Oh, I can make my own game? Hey wow, that’s the way I'll get around these rules!’ Over time I got more addicted to developing and enjoying and so much, then it's just gone on to where it is now.
I like to focus more on the narrative side, the stories and exploring different parts of the human condition, so obviously autism, because I think that's something that a lot of developers don't tap into. Obviously you've got your shooters and you've got your adventure games and stuff, but then you got those ones which are more “fun” – I put “fun” an air quotes. But I like to explore autism, explore disability, mental stuff, things that people don't usually see in games. So I think that's what I focus on, it helps me be a little different inside that space.
Pretty much An Aspie Life is a game about autism. It puts you in the shoes of an autistic character who's roughly 20, so roughly it was my age. I was basically basing off myself at the time. And basically it uses all the character and game design and game developments to basically try and recreate autism in a way that players can engage with. So by that I mean I used a lot of visual metaphors, such as all the characters in the game are just black outlines, so in that sense the character who has autism can’t tell body language and therefore all the players who playing can't tell the body language of the characters of the game. There’s a lot of things like that throughout the experience, it helps to basically simulate it in a way.
03:12 Fiona Stutz: So how has developing the game helped you in your life as a person with autism?
03:17 Bradley: At the time I didn't really know much about myself, put simply. I knew I had autism, but when you're still young it's like, ‘oh, I've got autism. What does that mean?’ So I think by developing that game, because I had to base it off autism, so I had to look at myself and my traits and then base it off that, which means I had to do basically a constant reflection for a year and a half on who I was. So it helped me get a better understanding of what impacts me, what things cause me stress, what things I can improve, what things I've got benefits from. So I think by developing that it gave me better understanding of who I was going forward into my adult life.
03:56 Fiona: That’s excellent. And so now I understand you also within that started your own company, the indie game studio EnderLost Studios. How is that going?
04:05 Bradley: It's been going pretty well. I think it was, yeah 2017, I was going through a development cycle. For the past few years has been slightly on the backburner while I focused on uni, because uni studies full time, it's just so much work. So it's been there, but also has been sort of working in the background because I'm still developing the game and other games at the same time while doing uni. But it's been going rather well in terms of just general exposure and also learning curve, because it is technically a company so you've got to manage all the taxes and all that stuff. So there's a whole learning curve to that side of stuff that's all business based.
04:45 Fiona: So your next project An Aspie Life Begins is a prequel to the game that started it all. What is this project up to?
04:52 Bradley: After I finished the first game, I wanted to develop a prequel. Originally it was going to be just some downloadable content, some DLC, a bit of fun on the side. But then it's expanded, it's gone places, it's grown, grown a little too much, put it that way. So this project has mainly been experience in learning to manage scope.
Scope’s a game design term, but basically it's how much is involved in the project? How long is it going to take? The original game was just one street, and you walked through different things, like eight shops on that street, right? This one, it's got a whole island, it's an abandoned mining town. There's still a few people living there. It's a whole, far larger story. There's a lot more involved mechanics, it's got a whole system where you fight monsters, which are incarnations of the players’ emotions.
So there's so much more being developed at the same time. So it's been an experience of ‘how am I going to get this done?’ in a way. That comes with the realization it will be done when it's done, because no point rushing it. At one point I was even thinking of cancelling it because it just was getting so big. And it's like, do I have time for this? But I've put so much work in already. Cause I pretty much developed it after I finished the first game. I think it was like March 2018 I started, so it's been still a few years now. So I couldn't bring herself to cancel it because all the major components are done, it’s just that there's so much story and levels to develop. It's like, ‘Okay, we’ll play it slow. And when it's finished, it'll be done. And then that gets released at some point.’
In terms of the game itself, so it's a prequel. It's basically the same character in the first game. It’s set roughly somewhere around the late 1970s, so during their childhood. Basically the way it focuses on autism and mental disorders in this game is, the main character, Bailey's his name, is learning about his strengths, he's learning and his parents learning that he's got autism. So that's the main focus in this one. But then we break it up into different categories because this game you can swap between three different characters. So Bailey’s obviously the Autistic character, you've got Elijah who’s basically neurotypical, a ‘normal’ person, and then you’ve got Hotaru who's Japanese and she's got a language barrier. The way this is focused in the narratives, by switching between the characters you can see how each of them see the world through their own respective lens.
So Bailey’s isn as in the first game, obviously autistic traits, the black outlines, he’s got sensitivity issues, et cetera. And then Elijah, obviously she's more ‘normal’. She does have some strengths Bailey doesn’t have, obviously she can tell body language better, communicate better. And then for Hotaru, obviously having that language barrier, it's sort of a contrast between autism and the language barrier in the way that communication as humans changes how we interact with people, and how we see the world based on how we perceived in our childhood, in a way. So that's how it all plays. There's a whole narrative based around that, which I won't go into detail about for like six hours. (laughs)
07:51 Fiona Going back, you're at university at the moment, so how's it going for you and where do you see yourself after completing your degree?
08:00 Bradley: So far university is going pretty well. I just completed my third year. So I'm in my fourth year now. I've been doing three subjects a semester because four, it's doable, but it’s just too much stress I found. So I was like, three is where it’s at. I’ve completed my final capstone, but now I've got just a minor to complete, which is basically just a marketing minor. It's an important thing to learn, especially in games because when you’re creating things as a solo dev [developer] you need to know how to market yourself and what you've developed, right? Should be good, should be finished end of this year, so all hopes are I get through.
After completing the degree, it’s all up in the air, cause obviously the current times we live in things keep changing because of Covid, it's a fun time. But the current plan is I want to move to Melbourne for about six months just to gauge the community down there. Because in Australia, our dev community is quite small compared to other countries, and in the last like 10 years. Everyone's just migrated to Melbourne. It's all down in Melbourne, it's like, ‘oh, want a job? Melbourne!’ ‘Can I get a job anywhere else? Melbourne!’ So go down there, just interact with the community down there, build some connections and things. Also take a break in a way, not really a gap year but different location, different sights, try to refuel after four years of study. That'll be my main focus then.
And then I don't really know after that, it’ll basically depend on what happens down there. If I get a full-time job down there, probably stay. If not, then I'll probably move back to Brisbane. It's life, you’ve got so many pathways you take, obviously I want to get An Aspie Life completed, still working on that one, hope to get it out sometime soon. I'm looking at developing a VR [virtual reality] project as well, expanding space. I’ve got myself a headset now to develop applications for. For a while I wanted to develop a game around autism for that, cause it's obviously a lot more of an immersive experience. So that's one avenue I'm looking into. And then I’ve got some friends I've met at uni and we’re going to make a game together as well. So lots of projects coming up, it's just a matter of saying, ‘Okay, I’ll complete this one first, so we can then do that one.’
10:01 Voiceover: Brad’s using the support he gets through the National Disability Insurance Scheme to navigate uni, and prepare for the future.
10:07 Bradley: While I've pushed myself to overcome my difficulties, they’re always going to still be there because, you know, it's a neurological disorder in a way. I won't say disorder. When you think of autism or something, it's like, it's such a complex thing. I’m still heavily impacted by noise sensitivity, things get very annoying and it really impacts on my learning and obviously my development. So, NDIS has helped a lot in giving me ways to mitigate that. I also think it's just having that support structure, especially where I'm at now, you know, 20, turning 21, getting my first car, looking to move out, move to Melbourne and stuff. I think having that support structure I can fall back on if things do get tough or things start to fall apart, which, it’s life, things happen. So I think it's just nice having that there as a way to just mitigate worry and stress.
11:00 Carers Queensland announcement: Work isn't just money in the bank. It's learning new skills, facing challenges and making a difference to the world around you. If someone in your life is leaving school soon, find out what support’s available and explore options for the future in Carers Queensland's free workshop Let's Talk About Work.
Find out more, check for events coming up near you, and book your spot online at carersqld.com.au. You can also call us on 1300 999 636.
11:31 Voiceover: If you're looking for the next big chat show host, keep an eye out for Joe Smith. The 23 year old from the Gold Coast is behind the YouTube interview channel Top Guest Studio with Joe. Fiona Stutz caught up with Joe and his mum Leisa to find out more.
11:47 Joe Smith: I started the show, to show people with disability you can do anything you set your mind to. The show is about just being positive as possible and just being yourself. I do choose the guests who I feel I have a common interest with, like people who are in entertainment in the triathlon or in the sporting world. So, I've interviewed the likes of Ben Hannant, NRL and State of Origin player and now Hit 90.9 co-host. I absolutely want interview Hugh Jackman, cause I met him in 2019 at his show, The Man, The Myth, The Legend Tour. It’d be great to interview Hugh Jackman.
12:44 Fiona: Now I understand Joe, you hope your YouTube channel can land you a job in radio or TV. What has this experience taught you, and what would be your dream job?
12:54 Joe: My dream job would be to be a voiceover person or to be a character at MovieWorld.
13:04 Fiona: Oh, that's great. What's your favorite character at MovieWorld?
13:07 Joe: Definitely going to say Shaggy, from Scooby Doo.
13:11 Fiona: And having your own YouTube channel. What has that experience taught you?
13:17 Joe: That experience taught me to make eye contact, and it's helped me to contact the guests.
13:25 Fiona: Previously you have worked with support workers to write your scripts, contact guests, operate audio equipment, things like that. I understand even your parents are helping you a little bit about that. So, how's that going? And how valuable is this assistance?
13:41 Joe: Well the NDIS funding has helped a lot for my channel. And as I say, there's a quote I like to say on my channel “there are barriers, but no limits”. We’re boasting about 150 subscribers.
14:01 Fiona: Oh, that's great. How do people find out about it?
14:03 Joe: Well you can just go to YouTube and search “Top Guest Studio with Joe”.
14:11 Fiona: And so Leisa, just to you, what do you think about Joe's creative outlet?
14:16 Leisa Smith: It’s been amazing for Joe to have that outlet, socially and really for learning different skills associated with all the audio and technical side. He's really learned to have a conversation with people, he’s really learned to ask people questions, just have a real conversation about somebody else's knife rather than his own. So yeah, that's been, that's been really good.
14:45 Fiona: And Leisa, how is the NDIS supporting Joe to achieve his goals?
14:51 Leisa: Initially the NDIS funding helped us secure Natalie, the show’s initial producer, as a support worker and mentor for Joe. So they started the show together and the NDIS funding allowed us just to have that few hours a week to pay Natalie as a support worker. Joe had really no experience of, you know, uploading any content, or how to approach somebody through social media as far as the guests go. So that really helped initially with Nat. She’s since left to start a family and did have a move interstate. So it’s myself and my husband doing a lot of the work with Joe, but due to COVID things have slowed down, but we're just hoping this year now restrictions have lifted to secure another support worker to carry on and help Joe continue with the show.
We have a support worker at the moment, Tia, who does a few hours a week still helping Joe on researching things, but as I said COVID has slowed things down. We’re hoping with this year’s NDIS plan we can just continue what Joe started last year.
16:13 Fiona: Joe, now what's next for you in this creative space?
16:18 Joe: My goal is to just try and get a job in the media, or any of the radio stations. I've done a bit of voiceover work for Hit 90.9 here on the Gold Coast.
16:36 Fiona: Oh, that's excellent. Well, hopefully you'll be able to do a bit more of that in the future. Day-to-day what else do you get up to, Joe?
16:44 Joe: I do a lot of sport and running, and I do a lot of different activities. I work at Hungry Jacks in Mudgeeraba on Fridays and Saturdays.
16:55 Leisa: Joe really, really has benefited last year from having the support worker with this channel, just gets him doing the research independently of us, which has really benefited him and kept him very motivated. It just be great if we could continue that this year and hopefully get a weekly interview out. It’s just very hard to secure work experience per se, in this industry. So we just think that this show is the way to go as far as gaining the valuable experience that he needs.
17:37 Voiceover: Catch Top Guest Studio with Joe on YouTube to follow Joe's adventures.
And you can find out more about An Aspie Life And Brad's other game projects on the EnderLost Studios website, enderloststudios.com.au.
Thanks to Fiona Stutz for the interviews in this episode.
Thanks for joining us at Choice and Control, a Carers Queensland podcast. For more information about the National Disability Insurance Scheme or Carers Queensland, contact us online at carersqld.com.au. You can call us on 1300 999 636 or head to Facebook and look for Carers Queensland NDIS.
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