If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely scoff at the idea of the Australian military going to war with emus early in the 20th century. It is an absurd notion that is more likely the product of parody than history. But it’s also very true. For the uninitiated, a brief (albeit dumbed down for my sake, not yours) lesson in some truly wild Aussie history.
The year is 1932 and veterans from the first World War are given plots of land in an attempt to create a new generation of farmers.
Although global military conflict had passed, the Great Depression loomed large over an economy in disarray and few were hit quite as hard as the Australian farmer. The collapse of the exporting economy farmers relied on crippled the industry and many moved back to the cities in search of steadier work.
But for the veterans who remained on the farms, yet another war was about to bob its agile neck out from the scrub. Our great national bird, the majestic, goofy emu, was at this time experiencing its own little boom. Massive population growth led to approximately 20,000 emus wreaking havoc on outback farmland, decimating the already struggling farmers economy. Faced with this absurd challenge to their land and livelihoods, the former soldiers did what they were trained to do – went to war.
With the assistance of some very misguided government support, troops armed with machine guns marched into the Australian outback looking to cull the troublesome national icons. Turns out emus were a far greater adversary than the military realised as the birds would frequently avoid fire and were even reported to take multiple shots and still flee to safety.
This fiasco of war would continue on for some time before being officially called off after just 1000 emus were culled. A resounding failure on the part of the military, eventually the culling of emus would be left to the public as bounties were put in place to incentivise citizens.
This was, uh, not the best time for Australian leadership, rivalled perhaps only by the state of our government in 2020, but it makes for a bloody good story. Which is exactly why two Aussie game devs put their heads together and decided to make a wonderfully strange PC game about the whole thing.
From the socially safe distance of an email, I got the chance to talk to Alex from Hermit Mode, the team behind Emu War! about inspirations, the flexibility of historical accuracy and the future of weird Aussie games.
PowerUp!: What first inspired the team to make Emu War?
Alex: It seemed like a fun setting to make a game about. Being such a ridiculous event, it allowed us up to be creative.
PowerUp!: How did you go about finding a balance between historical accuracy and the more absurd elements* of the game?
Alex: What absurd elements are there in the game? It’s entirely accurate!
Jokes aside, we didn’t really worry too much about keeping a fine balance between accuracy and absurdity. The game is a light-hearted affair that uses the meme as a start point but branches out into its own ridiculous tangent made up in part of influences and inspirations from other media we grew up with, as well as iconic Australian movies. Realism definitely took a back seat.
*Emu War!, despite its historical inspirations, leans hard into the kind of colourful, violent absurdity that many comedic PC titles do. My time with the game was peppered with the emu equivalent of a Force push, mechanised emu suits and a generous serve of neon-drenched aesthetics. It’s a lot, and quite brash, but quintessentially Aussie in its commitment to the bit.
PowerUp!: How big is the team at Hermit Mode and what is your general background in game development?
Alex: We are a two-person team with one main developer – self-taught in programming – and the other helps out with social media and smaller projects for the game.
We both started developing mobile apps with the goal of moving to PC games. Initially, we focussed on 3D modelling and hired programmers but it wasn’t sustainable for a tiny self-funded studio so we learned to code and brought 100% of development in-house.
PowerUp!: Any plans to cover other strange bits of Australian history?
Alex: When we began developing Emu War!, we were already developing another game based in Australia. We have put a pause on that for now as we focus on refining Emu War! and expanding to multiplayer. However, we do plan to continue this other game in the future, with other projects in mind.