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Mickey Treadwell, Software Engineer at Atawhai Interactive — Interview Series



We caught up with the folks over at Atawhai Interactive, a “tiny” independent studio based in Ōtepoti, Te Waipounamu, to discuss their upcoming atmospheric flight game, Toroa: Skycall. Suffice it to say that, if you are something of an aviation aficionado, and aren’t entirely sure which horizons to set your sights on next, then you ought to stick around for a while. Let’s talk turkey — sorry, albatross.

Tell us a bit about Atawhai Interactive. How did it all begin, and what inspired you to pursue a stake in the gaming industry?

Mickey: Atawhai Interactive started as a group of four friends: myself(programming), Lisa Blakie (narrative lead), Connor Bridson (art generalist), and Max Howard-Martens (tech and concept art). Lisa and Connor were already veterans by the time we all knew each-other, and Max and I had worked together on various art and tech projects over the years. We had all talked about wanting to work on a project together — like a real grown-up commercial project — but we knew the amount of work involved, and that we’d need some financial backing to get it off the ground. Enter CODE (the “New Zealand Centre Of Digital Excellence”).

Around the time we were toying with appropriately-scopedgame designs, a government-backed funding org called “CODE” started operating in our home town of Ōtepoti (Dunedin, New Zealand). We pitched our game to CODE (with some very considered documentation), and they agreed to fund our prototype development.

Armed with a budget and a laptop, we met up at a lovely bar called Woof and incorporated the company online. We’ve been working on Toroa: Skycall ever since.

What are some of the hardships that you face as an independent developer? Do you have any tips for those looking to follow in the same footsteps?

Mickey: In a small team, everyone has to wear numerous hats, and inevitably has to take on roles they didn’t expect to. While I’m nominally the lead programmer on Toroa: Skycall I also do a lot of production work, and any number of random little jobs that crop up in the process of operating a small company. Sprint planning can get complicated when you have to pull half the team off production to assemble the new office furniture.

There is also the money side of things; “indie” generally doesn’t mean “flush with capital”. In addition to actually making a video game, a significant amount of our time is spent making sure we can pay our bills. You have to be prepared for some frank conversations about how much you can afford to pay yourselves, and that entails a high level of trust and accountability within your team.

Let’s talk about your upcoming game, Toroa: Skycall. What is it, and what can potential players expect to find?

Mickey: Toroa: Skycall is an atmospheric, narrative-driven adventure game in which the player flies across the pacific as an albatross. “Toroa” means “albatross” in te reo Māori (the Māori language), and the game takes place in te ao Māori (it reflects a Māori worldview).

In terms of what you can expect to find: you, the player, will paddle on the ocean surface, take off (splashily) into the sky and soar on the winds of Tāwhirimātea, God of the winds and weather. The world around you is populated with other characters of the Pacific (dolphins, seagulls, eels, penguins, whales, squid, crabs, salps…) and rendered with toi Māori (traditional Māori art) designs by the fabulous HeramāhinaEketone.

I sometimes describe it as a walking sim for players who would prefer to fly — though that’s a bit reductive. While it is narrative-driven, we have put a lot of effort into making the moment-to-moment flying gameplay zoomy and engaging, and there is a variety of mechanics around character interaction, item collection, squid-based-powerups, and mini-games to be had.

So, can anybody jump in and play? Or is it something that’s slightly more suited to a particular breed of gamer?

Mickey: Anybody should be able to play the game, that is our goal. We want the game to be accessible to a very wide audience, so if it’s too hard for you to play, that’s my bad.

If you had to compare it with another game, what would it be? Or would you describe Toroa: Skycall as something slightly more original and unheard of?

Mickey: It shares a lot of DNA with Journey, ABZÛ, and A Short Hike: games that value story, movement and the environment. Maybe a dash of Ecco the Dolphin in there.

Toroa: Skycall is definitely an odd bird though. It’s flight-sim-like, but with controls designed for the casual crowd. It’s a chill narrative game, but with boost-rings like Sonic the Hedgehog.

Toroa: Skycall - Gameplay Trailer

And is Toroa: Skycall the only thing you’ve got in the pipeline for this year? Are there any unwritten ideas that you’re currently experimenting with?

Mickey: Toroa: Skycall is certainly our number one priority for most of this year, but we are also working through our list of potential Game 2 designs. Nothing I can discuss yet sorry, but watch this space.

For those looking to support you on your journey, where is the best place to start? Kickstarter aside, do you have any social handles or newsletters that followers can subscribe to?

Mickey: Absolutely! You can follow us on TikTok @atawhaigames, Twitter @AtawhaiNZ, and you can subscribe to our mailer for updates at We also maintain a community Discord you can access via the website. Throwing a wish list our way on Steam is also a great way you can help us out on the road to release.

Any final words for our readers?

Mickey: Thanks so much for reading! Do check out our Discord if you’d like to learn more about Toroa: Skycall and keep an eye out for it later this year. I’d like to take this opportunity to shout out the Live Royal Albatross Cam on YouTube: it is a 24 hour live stream of the albatrosses nesting near our city, and it is a constant source of inspiration in our office. You would not believe how fluffy a baby albatross is.

Thank you for your time. We’re looking forward to seeing some more of Toroa: Skycall over the coming months!

To stay up to date with Atawhai Interactive, be sure to check in with the team over on their official social handle here. Alternatively, you can visit their website for additional information here.

Jord is acting Team Leader at If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.