The Clark family was moving from their home town in Western Australia to Brisbane on the other side of the country. For the three brothers, Kailan, Brayden and Lachlan, this meant saying goodbye to their childhood friends. But as they were all keen gamers, they vowed to keep playing online together.
However, Kailan had slightly more ambitious ideas. He had already been playing around with the Blender game engine at High School, and had designs on making something for them all to play.
"I messed around in Blender for a long time. Even in school projects I would opt to make animations, instead of doing the assignments," he tells us. "Blender also had logic bricks, and I could input things to make stuff move. I thought programming was something super smart people did... I really wanted to make a mini golf game...and I wanted it to be multiplayer. But I didn't programme -- I just did logic bricks -- and I thought multiplayer was out of reach.
"Then we moved to Brisbane, and that's when I started using Unity. That's when I started to make little games that I never completed. We did all these little projects here and there, but then I remembered this golf game idea. It's pretty simple... It would be really quick for us to make this game. We didn't realise it would take four years."
Lachlan says: "Mini-golf is one of those things you do with your friends, and this was a way to do it over long distances."
Kailan handled the programming and animations, while Brayden, who designed apparel at the time, was tasked with the art. They even started a course in Brisbane to learn how to make games, but that soon stopped as Golf With Your Friends began to take shape.
"We had more fun working on that from home than we did on the course," Brayden says. "We had a lot more passion for it."
Kailan adds: "If I met a programmer from another game, I would still think that they are a god-tier person. I don't really know if I am good at programming. There's no-one to compare to. I don't have a degree or a certificate to say I am at a certain level. The entire thing has been a huge learning curve for me.
"Stack Overflow was a huge place to go, just copying and pasting and learning other code from previous games, breaking it down, seeing what it does, and then just researching. If we wanted to do something, I would get to a point where I say... 'how do I do that?' And I would look it up. The internet is so powerful. If you want to move an object in Unity, just search for how to move an object in Unity and it'll be right there."
"We said if we could sell ten copies a day, that would be huge. But it's now done over two million copies."Kailan Clark
At the start, the dream for Kailan and Brayden was still to make a game to play with their friends on the other side of the country, and they published it initially to Itch.io. Things started to escalate soon after.
"A few people purchased it and gave us a little bit of money to help us out," Kailan recalls. "I did a big post on Reddit, and it blew up. It went crazy. We applied for Steam Greenlight and we told everybody on the original Reddit post to vote for us.
"We got greenlit in ten days. The night before, all the likes had dropped off our page. I was freaking out. I was so sad. I thought it had failed. But the next morning, I woke up and we were successful. This was like winning the lottery. I never thought we'd get onto Steam, ever."
Brayden adds: "And then watching the numbers go up was amazing."
Kailan: "Oh yeah. Watching the number of people who wanted to play this thing that we created was just insane. And then my little brother was working at an age care facility, and we turned to him and said: Come make this video game with us."
Lachlan says: "I do bits and bobs. A bit of effects, a bit of modelling, a little bit of texturing, the QA... that sort of stuff."
The sudden surge in interest caught the brothers by surprise. After the Redidt moment, they did think that they might have something on their hands, but even then the expectation was small. "We spoke to our parents and said that if we could sell ten copies a day, that would be huge," Kailan says. "But from the moment we released, and the amount of people buying our game and the interest... we had to pinch ourselves. It's now done over two million copies."
The three brothers, alongside UK musician Kriss Wiltshire, are the creators of Golf With Your Friends. But beyond making a game, Kailan, Braydon and Lachlan also formed their own company -- Blacklight Interactive -- and another member of the Clark clan became involved.
"We are lucky to have our dad to handle all of the business stuff," says Kailan. "He does all the accounting and all the business stuff. We have no knowledge of that... It's scary, but if you have someone who sort-of knows what they're doing, and is willing to learn, which is our dad, then we can focus on making the game."
With no publishing support or development expertise, the journey of getting Golf With Your Friends made was a challenging one. It had received the attention of popular streamers and YouTubers, and as an Early Access title, Kailan, Braydon and Lachlan had to contend with a vocal community of fans.
"We had no experience. No training. So there are a lot of points where you're like... are we going to fail?Kailan Clark
"The hardest part, I'd say, has been the negative feedback of the players," Brayden admits.
"Oh yes," Kailan adds. "The mental stress and strain of negative feedback, and doubting ourselves. We didn't know if we could do the things that we wanted to do. We had no experience. No training. So there are a lot of points where you're like... are we going to fail? Are we going to let down all of these people? When you've got thousands of people playing your game and YouTubers getting millions of views, that's a lot of pressure.
"We played a lot of games on Steam, and we played a lot of Early Access games. A bunch of them never got a full release and the devs basically gave up on them. We felt pretty hard done by with that. So to do that ourselves, to our customers... we really didn't want that. We did everything we could to try and keep pushing the game... we were learning, we were working, we were doing seven days a week for two years straight. It was hectic, we were making mistakes, but it was all a big adventure."
The community was certainly passionate. The game was initially called Golf With Friends, which Kailan describes as a "project name that just stuck." However, they ran into a trademark issue and so tweaked it to Golf With Your Friends, which sparked a lengthy debate from the community. Meanwhile, some of the other criticism could get vicious.
"It was targeted, too," Kailan says. "It was at the lot of us, and it was abuse. They'd go to the end of the earth to get our pictures and our personal details. We learned a lot with that, and had to emotionally get past it. We can't let it hurt us and stop us making the game we wanted. So we kept pushing."
Lachlan counters, however, by saying that these voices were in the minority. The positive comments, he says, far outweighed the negative ones: "Being open with our community was the best thing, although it did allow some of that other stuff in."
One of the early mistakes the team made was in their rush to fix bugs and over-promising on when they would have things ready.
"We would push updates and bug fixes too soon," Kailan says. "We wouldn't wait a few more days to make sure they're actually out of the game. In fact, we'd push it out and we'd have introduced new bugs and the old ones were not even fixed. We had support for Linux, Mac and PC, so on some platforms it was fixed, but not on others. We didn't take the time. That was a big learning."
"It was targeted, too. It was at the lot of us, and it was abuse"Kailan Clark
After four years of working on the project, and despite enjoying some big success, the pressure of developing a game in Early Access was starting to take its toll. And it was at this point that Team17 CEO Debbie Bestwick got in touch.
"After doing this for four years, basically, we got burnt out," Kailan says. "We were struggling to get stuff done. We had a few offers from big companies, but Debbie was completely different. She contacted me on LinkedIn with just a friendly message, and we started talking from there.
"It was night and day compared with other companies... The other companies just wanted to help themselves, it felt like, whereas she wanted to help us. The deal felt very friendly and it has been an enjoyable adventure so far. I am glad we waited, but she did come at the right time. I have already told her this, but she's like the angel who scooped us up and helped us complete what we started.
"She took the time to talk to us, and she's the boss... She didn't get someone else to do it, she did it herself. That meant a hell of a lot."
Team17 put its own development resources behind the game to help it over the line, and even handled the release of the game on consoles. Golf With Your Friends left Early Access in May, and is now on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
Lachlan calls Team17 an "actual games company." But with the game now out in the world, and with some big sales behind it, is there an ambition to turn Blacklight Interactive into an actual game company?
"Speaking for myself, I would love it if I could just sit down and make games for the rest of my life," Kailan says. "It's my passion. It's what I want to do. I want to create things. If I can just do that and not worry about anything else, I'd be happy. And I think that's what we'll probably do."