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Small Time Inspiration

Small Time Criminals draws on the tropes and traditions of classic heist fiction. We asked the design team to tell us what’s inspired them.

Kevin Turner (Game Designer)

The film I bring up most in meetings is Ocean’s Eleven. I really think it’s the quintessential bank heist film; there are others like The Italian Job or Inside Man which are also great, but Ocean’s Eleven has the right tone. We want players to walk out of Small Time Criminals feeling like George Clooney’s crew. I also keep bringing up the videogame Fallout 4 (Bethesda). I want players to be able to hack into computers, open boxes, to explore a fully realised world. There’s also the tabletop roleplaying game Fiasco (Jason Morningstar, Bully Pulpit Games) which is so much fun; in a game like that you talk through what we want to have players actually do in Small Time Criminals!

The 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven, starring George Clooney and a bunch of his mates.

The 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, starring George Clooney and a bunch of his mates.

Anastassia Poppenberg (Set and Props Designer)

I’ve mostly been collecting a lot of images on Pinterest! But I have also watched a lot of heist films. I love the part in The Italian Job where the acrobat come up into the vault, leaps over all the lasers and ends up propping himself up in a doorway, it’s so over the top and ridiculous! I like the level of absurdity, though having never robbed a bank myself I assume the real version would be much less glamorous.

Ben McKenzie (Game Designer)

My favourite heist film is the original The Italian Job, though since they rob a bunch of armoured cars and the focus is the escape through the city, sadly I don’t think it’s very applicable! But one of my biggest influences for this are the adventure games I loved growing up in the early 90s: The Secret of Monkey Island, Simon the Sorcerer, Day of the Tentacle. Text adventures too, like Zork or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They don’t feel like puzzles, they feel like problem solving: “I have to stop this thing falling into this hole, so I need to block the hole with something, but it needs to be something soft…I have a towel!” Even the more bizarre ones have a logic by which you can work out what to do, guided by the things you find and hints in your environment. At least the good ones do; I have a big LucasArts bias, there won’t be any “walk left and suddenly you die” moments in Small Time Criminals like you used to find in the Sierra games!

Sayraphim Lothian (Experience Director)

We watched some films, including Ocean’s Eleven, some late-80s/early-90s heist films, and The Heist (2001) with Gene Hackman, which does what it says on the tin! The opening scene was particularly good. But the inspiration for Small Time Criminals as a whole was me playing Thief on the Playstation 3. The story is fairly linear, but one of the side things you can do is just break into places and nick stuff. I was really enjoying that, and Rob was watching me play and thought “How good would it be if we could do this for real?” I also play the Assassin’s Creed games, and got into the stealth genre with Dishonoured, and elements from those games also helped form the original idea. Now we’re growing that seed and making it better!

Robert Reid (Artistic Director, Head Writer)

I like old-fashioned heist movies: I prefer the original versions of The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair…I’m watching the remake of that at the moment, and I thought “oh no, he’s talking to his shrink, this is going to take forever”, but then they get straight to the heist, which was good! But I still prefer the original. More than those, though, I’m drawing on things like The Wolf of Wall Street and the UK version of The Office. There’s a kind of run-down nastiness to those characters and those worlds that I find really evocative and interesting. And the other thing is the financial crisis: the actual global financial crisis. I really love the idea of an immersive, interactive performance work where you can get your own back on the people who nearly destroyed the world. The 99% are an influence. My old politics are still part of my art!

Small Time Criminals will open in Preston in April, and is crowdfunding on Pozible until 4:39 PM on March 17, 2016. Find out more and pledge to support the project at

Taking It to the Next Level

We’ve reached our base goal for Small Time Criminals! But there’s still plenty more to do. Let’s talk about stretch goals – including two new ones we’ve added today.

The accepted (not to mention tried and tested) wisdom when crowdfunding is to set your goal at the minimum amount of money required to make your project happen. In the case of Small Time Criminals, we came up with a real shoestring budget that would nonetheless allow us to create a great, working experience for players.

Now, thanks to our wonderful Pozible supporters, we’ve blown past that! This extra money will not only allow us to improve on the basic aspects of the game, but also to achieve some of our stretch goals – things we always knew we wanted, but didn’t know if we’d be able to afford. Already this extra support has allowed us to budget for laser tripwires, a pressure-sensitive alarm setup, improved technology including headset radios for players, and the first of several alternative narratives, allowing us to bring in extra writers to create multiple games inside the one space.

With the campaign going strong, it looks like we might hit our last couple of current stretch goals! So we decided to go back to our wish list and add a couple more things that can make Small Time Criminals even better. Here they are:

$11, 400 Stretch Goal: THE DEAD OF NIGHT

At this level, we can add to our infrastructure budget to dramatically alter the ambience of the bank. While it was always going to look like a real space and feel like the home of corrupt scumbags you were happy to rob, this extra money will allow us to purchase flats, light boxes and other theatre trickery to realise the dream of ETERNAL NIGHT: even during daylight, your heist will be able to take place well after working hours! The space has a lot of windows, so this is no small undertaking…


Robert Reid directs the action in a promo video for Small Time Criminals, featuring Kevin Turner, Kat Yates, Jack Beeby and James O'Donoghue.

Robert Reid directs the action in a promo video for Small Time Criminals, featuring Kevin Turner, Kat Yates, Jack Beeby and James O’Donoghue.

The bank will be filled with characters who you’ll meet through the debris of their working life: post-it notes, emails, official documents and more. But if we reach this goal, we’ll bring them to life! We’ll hire actors and make a web series of four 5-minute episodes chronicling life in the bank: the drama, the cruelty, the dashed hopes of escape and crushed dreams of avarice. There might even be some joy amongst the corruption! You won’t need to watch the series to play the game – but if you do, who knows what kinds of clues you might find?

Small Time Criminals will open in Preston in April, and is crowdfunding on Pozible until March 17, 2016. Find out more and pledge to support the project at

Fresh Air 15 and our very first crowdfunding campaign!


Fresh Air 2015 is crowdfunding on Pozible!

For two years we’ve worked hard on Fresh Air, our annual international games festival at Federation Square, and we’re proud of what we’ve managed to achieve on a tight budget – a fraction of what other similarly sized festivals spend. For 2015 we want to really go all out and make it the biggest and best Fresh Air yet – but to do that, we’re gonna need more money! So Pop Up Playground are launching their first ever crowdfunding campaign with the good folk at Pozible.Read More

Such exciting news!

We’re thrilled and super happy to announce we have a brand new sponsor- the wonderful guys at Pozible, the Australian crowdfunding platform! We’re so excited to be working with this amazingly friendly and community-minded company.

square-logoLook how lovely they are: Pozible loves supporting local artists who connect the community together so we’re super proud to be a Pop Up Playground sponsor. We can’t wait to see what games and experiences Pop Up Playground have in store for us in the near future!

Thanks so much to all at Pozible!