1. How long have you been making games? What is it like being a female game dev in the indie scene? Anything you’d like to tell to fellow female game devs starting out?
I made my first game by copying a listing from the C64 manual (I was 6). It was supposed to be a joystick-controlled bat that chases flying bugs around the scr- wait a minute! <googles frantically> THIS ONE! I found it . Sadly it never worked for me. The print quality of the greek manual was appaling (printed on a faint dot matrix printer) and I probably got some PEEKs and POKEs wrong. I’m sure going to try it on an emulator now!
Anyway. I was always trying to make games myself, but coding resources were scarce when I was growing up, and I was way more interested in the animation and making the games look cool anyway. Plus I was too lazy to learn how to code. I mean, I spent days upon days of making character-art robots (like my then favorite C64 game “SideArms”), inside PRINT statements, and would make the code refresh the screen to make them move.
10 PRINT” (*) “
20 CLR * clear command in commodore basic
30 PRINT” )*( “
It looked cool and it came naturally, so why would I want to enter strings of meaningless RAM addresses?
I never stopped planning games on paper since. Always huge, overachieving monstrosities based on my currently playing list. Quest for Glory 3 didn’t even run on my PC, didn’t matter, I used the info in the manual to make my own fantasy campaign.
My second brush with actually making games was when I was I was given a bootleg version of Klik and Play (later “The Game Factory”, later “Multimedia Fusion”). I was in awe! I could make games with drag and drop! I actually made a Ballistix clone back then (a Psygnosis game similar to the boardgame Crossfire) and quickly realized I had to step up my game graphics-wise. So when I got into medical school, I naturally ignored actual medicine and picked up the WACOM. I became a professional illustrator for a living, and in 2011 I picked up Construct 2, being familiar with the drag-and-drop interface from Klik And Play and began calling myself a gamedev, in the hope I can live up to that title…
My experience as a female gamedev and a female gamer is mixed. On one hand there’s very supportive people. On the other hand the vast majority of games are uninterested or openly hostile towards women players, and I get my gamer cred (and my general geek cred) belittled just because I’m a girl. You know, because, cooties.
It’s hard being in a line of work that you can’t see yourself in. I mean lately there’s all these *amazing* female gamedevs and game artists, musicians, you name it and I’m so giddy with excitement for the future. But it’s been like 28 years of games with only male player characters, games with CASUAL misogyny, games where I couldn’t see myself and was treated like that was normal. It isn’t. Having your bad guys punch and kidnap a woman might have made for ONE good game story, but it’s been the frigging norm. Having your bad guy call the male player character’s love interest a bitch and a whore to show you how edgy the game is, didn’t frankly make me think highly of women and myself. And for years in geek circles I would think less of myself for being female, thinking that was my place, and later I’d go on to say that no, other women are inferior weaklings, I’m not like other women, I’m one of the guys -you know. The usual signs of internalized misogyny. Thankfully, thanks in part to fantastic feminist geeks, I got over that.
So yeah. I play as femShep in Mass Effect and the female character is SO clearly slapped on in the second part of development that lots and lots of replies are the generic male one by mistake. That takes me SO quickly out of the zone, it’s not even funny. I won’t even dwell on the invisibility of non gender-binary characters in games, and how everything is cisgender and straight men and women, or at best (shock!) cis gay men and cis lesbian women.
And then there’s the fact that this is the norm. Men are considered people, with motivations and job descriptions. Women are just “girl”. It’s the same in most media, but as a gamer gamedev I notice it more in games.
Misogyny and the male gaze is rampant. When Samus was revealed to be female, people were freaking out, does that make male metroid players gay? Outrage! Nintendo deceived us! Duke Nukem, seriously? Male orcs in WoW being triple in size to their female counterparts? Shadow of The Colossus, an emotional masterpiece, one of my favorite games, and what does the character that looks like me do? Sleep in a magical coma for the duration! Even Snow White had more lines in her story! The list is endless.
Mind you, I don’t think games have to pass the Bechdel test or have obligatory women in them. Stories about just men are fine. Sam’n’max, Roger Wilco. It’s just that when it’s always the same tired trope, and when women make an appearance they’re either prostitutes, your mom or your love interest, and worse, when there’s belittling of feminine traits, homophobia, transphobia, ridiculing of male characters who aren’t manly enough, and the one girl in the whole game dies in the end? And no people of color anywhere, even though it’s a fictional setting? Wtf.
Lately this has begun to right itself. Feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and pro-social justice critique, invaluable in all other media, is being applied to games. At a great cost. Even the feminism 101 of Anita Sarkeesian is met with so much hostility. Female gamedevs and gamers are suspect. We use our body to gain favors, we “were asking for it” whenever someone threatens us. I’ve received threats as a female game dev, as a trans woman and as a lesbian. Friends have received threats. When we talk about our oppressions we are usually met with skepticism and “are you SURE you didn’t provoke him?” or hostility “you are just trying to create drama and get more famous”. Newsflash, I want to be working on games 100% of the time, yet I’m dragged into unwinnable arguments with people supporting sexist opinions constantly. No, women aren’t naturally worse at hand-eye coordination. No women shouldn’t be prevented from competing in the same gaming events as men. No, it’s not my time of the month. I’m not doing this for drama or fame. I’m talking back because if I don’t talk back, indie gamedev and gaming/geek spaces in general are going to stay hostile to me, and they feel like home to me, and I don’t want a hostile home.
Fellow female devs are rightly put-off by the recent display of overt misogyny, as am I. 4% female participation in the latest Ludum Dare. That says everything to me. But gaming and gamedev are passions. We learn to adopt, adapt and improve, thanks to role models, like Sarkeesian, Bell Hooks, Adam “Atomic” Saltsman, Will Wheaton, Elena Serova the first female cosmonaut on the ISS, who was asked how she’d wash her hair in space, and she replied to the double standard by reversing the question “why aren’t you interested in the hair of my male colleagues?”. The whole gaming and gamedev community is going to have to improve. It’s not just the female devs’ fight. To new female devs I say: keep strong and self-organize into groups.
2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.
I used to think I have no stories to tell. Apparently, I have lots. They just need coaxing. Gamejams are amazing for that reason, I’m suddenly on fire, bursting with ideas. My creative process so far, when not making games for other people, is this: enter Ludum Dare, get super-fired up, come up with an idea that seems amazing at the time and then botch up the execution in the course of three days I make pretty graphics and animations, get completely stumped on code, and discover how untrained and unskilled I am at proper, fun level design and game design. I end up with a pretty-looking tech demo that looks very promising and is not fun at all. So I promise myself I’ll finish it later. And I actually do work on those, as my confidence in my coding skills improves. This is where I’m at, for the time being. I can talk a lot about failure, but not a lot about a workable creative process
I love love love Ludum Dare! I have enough game ideas to last me a decade already, thanks to LD. My absolute favorite is Kumiho, the game I developed with Fedor Jutte. It was an amazing experience, we were both super-thrilled and on a roll, ideas exploded out of us. The final game is a cool combination of controlling a super-powerful spaceship, and game stages that test your power to the limit. When I play it, at no point do I feel the game is being unfair, it’s always my fault when I fail. That’s what’s awesome in good bullet-hells. We made the game via skype, and became friends
My favorite of the games I’ve made completely solo is Legend of Troll. It’s The Cave/ Lost Vikings type of game (because I was on my 5th playthrough of The Cave at the time, most probably), and I love that a lot of people quoted “all hail the Queen” from the game. It seems they connected to the characters. I want to finish this game SO bad. But my lack of skill in game design is still holding me back. Soon, though…
4. Unluckily, last Ludum Dare you didn’t make it… BUT WOW. World Tree sounds really interesting. A game with greek goblins “influenced by the great Dungeon Keeper and some Amiga nostalgia”? Sign us in! Are you fleshing it out? Also… what are your favourite Amiga games and why?
You’ve certainly done your homework <3
I am indeed fleshing World Tree out. Learning about finite state machines. Also, the game I made for SpeccyJam later that week helped me solve some problems with pathfinding. So yeah. With each game I make, I’m closer to finishing up the unfinished ones. It might not be an efficient system, but it makes me happy!
My favorite amiga games, wow. I didn’t actually own an Amiga, I had friends who did. During the reign of the amiga I played on C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, gameboy DMG and an IBM PS/2. Sometimes I played ports of the same game on different systems. My favorite games at the time were Gods, Prehistorik 2 and Ugh! (the prehistoric flying cab) the PC port of Xenon 2 as well, Bubble bobble, Rainbow Islands – everything Taito made. Too many to mention! Solomon’s Key, Agony. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark – she was probably my first crush. Rick Dangerous, Bombjack, Tetris, Defender of the Crown – hundreds of hours on that one. The Bitmap Brothers and Psygnosis were my idols at the time, because of the graphics that were so full of style. Lemmings. Cadaver. Zool, Gobliins, Beneath a Steel Sky, Indy and the Fate of Atlantis, Monkey Island, Space Quest – everything by LucasArts and Sierra really, Ultima Underworld, Wing Commander Privateer, Captain Blood, Space Crusade, the Last Samurai, Civilization, Speedball, Saboteur, Eye of the Beholder – oh that captured my imagination for months. I played *everything* I could get my hands on. I’ll stop now What I’ve taken away from the Amiga is the immaculate – for the time- presentation and the mysterious otherworldly realms. But that’s probably just Psygnosis and the Bitmap Brothers. Pinball Dreams and Diggers 2- Extractors, and Mandy, the sort-of-interactive sex movie. Now I’m done.
5. Your pixel art is amazing. Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most? And working outside games?
Thank you, I’m glad you like it, and do I ever! All I do I owe to other pixel artists! Snake, Helm, Fool, Cocefi (chickysprout), Syosa and Paul Robertson ( see the curious lack of women in my list? :/ I’m taking suggestions! ) and Marina (making Octopus Blues) are modern artists that come readily to mind. And of course all the breathtaking talent that’s gone into making all those console games for all the years that 2D games were AAA titles. Unknown Nintendo or Sega or Capcom men and women that have created masterpieces and whose elegant solutions to pixel-placement problems are awe-inspiring even to this day. And Susan Kare, the woman who created the first ever icons for Mac, is totally my hero and should be everyone’s as we probably owe her the look of modern operating systems.
6. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?
Eric Chahi, because of Another World and From Dust.
Double Fine because of everything, and because Psychonauts still ranks as one of my faves, and because Tim of Legend is making an effort to include women and hear what we have to say.
Jane Jensen because of Gabriel Knight, but since she’s not super-super active, I get another one (my rules)
and Kim Swift for Portal.
7. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?
I’m the heaviest gamer I’ve met yet, which is sad, where is my geek circle of friends? Try to keep up please, you don’t need sleep. At the moment I’m replaying Wizorb (damn you adorable slimes), first playthrough of Shovel Knight, Lego Marvel Supeheroes (kinda meh so far), Dungeon Keeper II for the 10th time, the Cave again, Child of Light, Costume Quest, Fez, Spiral Knights and XCOM Enemy Unknown. Also Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit (I wish the obstacle course had a million levels, seriously!), Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Grim Grimoire, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, Windwaker, Katamari Damacy when I want to feel all-powerful and free, World of Goo, and Candy Crush. Incidental, art or super-casual games I’ve played this week, like Mainichi by Mattie Brice, Faster than Light, Desktop Dungeons, Indiana Jones Desktop Adventures, Rabbids Go Home and Mario Party 9 might also count. And Mass Effect 3 is sitting on my desktop, but I’ve left it half finished for too long…
8. One last random question. If you could have any ability from a metroidvania game in real life, which one would it be and why?
Double jump EASILY! Imagine what that would mean for modern physics.