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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Site Update

Welcome back again.  As you can see, we are starting to populate the site with new content.  There are few new writers and contributors waiting in the wings with new content.  If you are interested

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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Site Update, GaMExpo, Nerdvana Con, Life Updates

What to Watch: You Tube

Top 5 YouTube video’s of the past week (with one blast from the past). Each week, on Tuesday, I am going to post 5 videos I think are worth watching on YouTube.  I’d love to hear what you

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What to Watch: You Tube

Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Welcome Bac

Welcome back to Killer Betties! It’s been over three years since I’ve made a post, but I am back. Before I get to what I’ve been doing for three years, I want to talk first about The

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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Welcome Back, TWD, The Bar, and Other Random Thoughts

Football Manager 2017 Review

Football Manager 2017 is a football management simulation video game for the PC developed by Sports Interactive and published by Sega. Gameplay: In terms of gameplay, it is really fun. You can create

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Football Manager 2017 Review

Volunteers Wanted

Killer Betties is going through some growing pains and we need more bodies (and pens) to keep up with it. If you have any interest in writing video game reviews, previews, interviews or editorials, p

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Volunteers Wanted

Killer Women: Victoria Moran

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by on February 20, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2009, 40% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Victoria Moran works for NCSoft-Carbine Studios as an Associate Systems Designer for their as yet unannounced MMO title. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Victoria Moran
Title: Associate Systems Designer
Company: NCSoft-Carbine Studios

What’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

My first memory of video games would probably be unwrapping my Nintendo Entertainment System, which was the first system I personally owned. I remember games like the original Super Mario and Zelda and being excited to receive new cartridges on my birthday. My parents were very hesitant to buy me any video games, which is humorous considering they met each other while working at Atari in the early 80s.

We were definitely no strangers to video games during my younger years, especially with arcade games that I played with my cousins. We also had an Atari pinball machine in the house up until I was around 14, which was always a hit at birthday parties. During my free time, I played computer games like King’s Quest and the Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes, which were sometimes quite challenging for a 9 year old. After my NES, I had a SEGA Genesis, which I absolutely loved because of games like Sonic the Hedgehog.

From the time I was about 10 until age 15, I didn’t play many video games because I was so focused on sports. Around age 15 I got really excited about ice hockey, which is when I got reintroduced to console gaming with the PlayStation, playing EAs NHL games with my dad and cousins. From there by chance I happened upon the Final Fantasy series, and I was permanently hooked on stories and narrative in gaming.

From there I branched out and played all types of games through high school and college, from Pokemon to Dance Dance Revolution to Phantasy Star Online to Final Fantasy and Warcraft. I loved all different types of games equally until I got sucked into the gigantic machine that is the MMORPG, when I started playing Final Fantasy XI seriously. I was skeptical at first about a traditionally single player RPG series being converted into an MMORPG, but as I gave the game a chance, I started to find not only the game growing on me, but the other players as well. I found that in MMOs, I wasn’t just consuming a story that a writer had written to be spoonfed to me through cutscenes, but that stories occurred between real players as well. Joy, achievement, drama, and strife were part of the story that was my character’s life in that game, created not by the game but by my interactions with friends and enemies.

I started my linkshell (guild) in Final Fantasy XI roughly 6 years ago; many of the players I played with in Final Fantasy XI have and still play a variety of online games and MMORPGs with me now, including Guild Wars, City of Heroes, and World of Warcraft.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I completed my undergraduate degree at UC Davis as a double major bachelor of arts in Communication and Japanese. I originally intended to aim for the Japanese style RPG-side of the industry before I was swallowed by the MMO world, so Japanese seemed a perfect complement. During my final year of undergrad, my boyfriend heard about the Interactive Media graduate program at USC in the news, which had been recently given a big push when it received funding from EA. He encouraged me to look into the program, since I was still unclear about the direction I wanted to take in the game industry.

After researching more into USC’s program, I applied and was accepted. The program is 3 years in length, though I took a break after the first year to work and get practical experience in the industry. By this point, I had my goal in front of me, knowing that I wanted to enter the design world for MMOs. At USC’s Interactive Media program, we learn and practice production, business, cinematography, practical design, game design and design theory. Our courses had us write, cast, and shoot films, create business plans and funding proposals, and create board and video games.

In learning to design and prototype, collect feedback and receive criticism (sometimes harsh criticism!), USCs Interactive Media program definitely set me on the right track for design. I had a hard time adjusting to graduate school straight out of undergrad, but there were a few very supportive and inspiring professors that helped me get through my three years there. With their wealth of experience and encouragement, I was able to successfully create my interactive thesis project and graduated in May of 2008.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

I entered the industry as a tester (in the summer between school sessions) as one of my first jobs, my absolute first being at SEGA of America in San Francisco. I tested NFL2K3 for a brief period before being transferred to Phantasy Star Online for Gamecube due to my previous experience with the Dreamcast version of the game. The following year, I worked at Konami of America doing compatibility and localization testing for games like Castlevania, Yu-Gi-Oh!, TMNT, and Pro Evolution Soccer.

After my first year of graduate school, I took a year off and worked at Square Enix on the Final Fantasy XI Online Community team as an assistant. As I was playing Final Fantasy XI heavily during this time, it was amazing to be able to work at Square Enix on the game I loved. It was here I got my first peek behind the scenes of an MMO, which greatly influenced my desire to be an MMO designer.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

I decided I wanted to get into the game industry when I was around 15, when I started playing all of the amazing role-playing games out at the time. I wanted to work with something I love and enjoy, and video games seemed like a dream job.

I applied at SEGA for a test position, since everyone that I knew suggested that I needed to get experience in the industry under my belt, and that testing was the ground floor of it all. It was rough, because SEGA was an hour and a half away from where I lived and at the time I didn’t have a driver’s license. I basically woke up every day at 5am to catch the train to San Francisco and get to work on time. Despite that, I had a great time every day I was there, made some friends in the industry, and learned a lot about procedures and production schedules.

How long have you been working in the industry?

I started in the industry 7 years ago at SEGA and worked here and there between sessions at my universities.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

As an Associate Systems Designer, I write detailed design documents for systems that will be implemented in the game. Specifically, I’m the designer for the game’s social systems, which includes many of the social tools and features that MMO players use in their everyday gaming. My goal in designing these systems is to provide players with the features that they want and need, and I do a lot of research into player suggestions, feedback, and comments in current MMOs.

I spend most of my day working on design documents or in Photoshop creating demonstrations of tools and UI layouts for artists and programmers to reference when these tools are implemented.

As a particular system gets further along, my job shifts from concept to iteration, testing and polishing these systems so they function smoothly and provide the features that players want.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

Just last week I was able to pitch an idea to the company and gather feedback. It was really exciting to be able to share my design with each of the different departments, and to hear new ideas and suggestions that improve my design.

I think that definitely the most exciting moment is when one of my systems is implemented in the game. It’s one thing to write a document that says ‘here’s how it should be,’ and an entirely different thing to see that design in action. It’s very exciting and definitely a rewarding feeling.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

I think that working with and playing games has made me very sedentary. When you’re so engrossed in creating something amazing or progressing on a raid boss, it’s sometimes really hard to tell yourself to stop, get up, and move around. I also tend to get so focused that I don’t eat for hours on end; recently I’ve been working out and eating healthy to rectify this. At many companies, people are confined to workstations and only get up to go to their car and drive home. Carbine Studios, on the other hand, is a great environment; the designers, artists, programmers, and producers who work here are a very fit and active group of people, often choosing to bike and walk everywhere. It’s a very encouraging environment to be in as compared to the “dungeon” work rooms I’ve been in.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

When designing the features of an MMO, we have to consider many different types of players, play-styles, and potential player interaction and interference. It’s never a simple task, because everything has to be balanced and tested and rebalanced many times. Players may believe that features or content are designed for a certain type of player, but that’s definitely not true, especially for our game. There is a delicate balance that has to be preserved in every design proposal and decision. When I create systems, I have to think about all types of players, different classes, player mobility, potential griefing, guild drama, item stealing, looting mistakes, disconnections…all of these things and more go into consideration in every design.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

Although it can be intimidating at times, I don’t feel disadvantaged being a woman in a predominately male work environment. I think that men think through design problems one way, and women another, and to have a variety of ideas, solutions, and possibilities are key to creating a great game.

I do think I had an advantage in several cases, in applying for graduate school and positions in the industry. Game companies are starting to see the value in diversity, and although it is still a predominantly male industry, women are starting to get their foot in the door.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I don’t consider myself a hardcore gamer anymore, but I’m sure my play hours lead most people to conclude I am one. Currently I play roughly 50-70 hours of games a week, and raid 6 days a week in World of Warcraft. At the peak of my Final Fantasy XI play, I was logging over 100 hours a week.

If you’re wondering how 6 days a week of raiding doesn’t amount to hardcore play, I am approximating it by the length and difficulty of the raids. Some creatures I fought in Final Fantasy XI took over 8 hours to kill and could drop nothing, while I can run Naxxramas in World of Warcraft and get 60 items in 5-6. You have to be pretty hardcore to fight monsters for 8 hours with the potential of no drops. I don’t have the patience, the heart, nor the time for that type of play anymore.

I’m still a guild leader and I still lead raids, so maybe that does make me hardcore because I have to invest extra time into the game that I otherwise wouldn’t.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

I love fantasy worlds and characters, especially if they are based on mythology. I’m a big RPG and MMO nut, but I’m mostly open to any genre or setting so long as the game play is active and fun; I don’t think that I have a least favorite. I’m pretty terrible at drums on Rock Band, though!

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

I think I would probably be lying to myself if I said I enjoyed any game more than I enjoyed the N64s Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The world and characters were so amazing and I played that game for hours and hours on end.

Derby Owner’s Club (horse racing) is a close second. Being able to save your game on an arcade machine is really awesome, and playing against 7 other people is even more so.

If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

I think that’s a really tough question and I don’t know if I can choose just one answer. I think the problem that game designers have with women is that they try and stereotype what women like and they think that adding these features in the game will instantly attract women. I would caution against that in any case.

I think the best thing to add that will appeal to players of all types and backgrounds is things that are collectible in-game (but not TCGs that give you in-game items). Cards for an in-game card game, dice for an in-game dice game, mounts, mini-pets, costumes, furniture, role-playing gear, trinkets…all these things are fun for players to collect and display, no matter if they are male or female.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?

I personally dislike attempts to create girl gaming; I feel that it segregates the gaming community when companies offer games that are excessively cute or pink or fuzzy in an attempt to attract women or girls. I think that games that try to integrate content to interest both males and females are a better method to create a strong gaming community.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

All I can say is that it’s a very exciting Sci-Fi/Fantasy style MMO.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

The best advice I can give is to get involved from the get-go. Looking back I now wish I got involved in more student projects, group game projects, and pursued my own interests a little further. I always seemed to get a project of my own started, and never follow through because of school or the MMO I was playing at the time. It’s important to make time to follow through with these things, because they give you valuable experience for when you’re ready to enter the industry.

Keep your passion for games. It’s a lot different to work on games than it is to play games. At times you’ll be looking at the same feature or design for months. If you can keep sight of the big picture, it’ll help you to keep on loving games. Play a wide variety of games to keep yourself up to date on the newest features, graphics, and gameplay that companies are currently offering players. It’s homework, but fun homework!

Also, you should expand your skillset whenever possible. Learning programming, 3D artist’s tools, Photoshop, creative writing, basic design, basic production, public speaking and presenting, production schedules, time and effort budgeting…these are all important things that go into making a game. The more you understand about not only your own position, but everyone else’s, helps everyone in the long run and makes communication easier.

What are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

For favorite games, I’d have to say: Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Gitaroo Man, Rock Band, Xenogears, Final Fantasy VIII, Phantasy Star Online, Monster Rancher 2, Bioshock, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI, Viva Pinata, Singstar, and Karaoke Revolution to name a few. These are all really great games, and in the case of the music games, I think it’s awesome that these games always seem to pull in non-gamers and get them involved. The action and roleplaying games have amazing stories, especially Bioshock which gave such depth to characters you never even met during the game. And of course, the online games are a passion of mine, because I love the social aspect of MMO gaming.

Movies are a bit harder, but I definitely love comedies, family films, Disney, and Pixar films. Superbad and Dewey Cox are hilarious. Night at the Museum really captured my imagination the first time I watched it on an IMAX theater. I watched so many Disney movies when I was younger, I pretty much know the script to each and every one of the older animated films (Lion King especially)! I really enjoyed the Golden Compass movie, and I’m eagerly looking forward to a potential sequel, should they decide to make it.

As for books, my favorite series is actually a Japanese fiction series called “Juuni Kokki” (The Twelve Kingdoms) by Fuyumi Ono. The novels were mostly written in the 80’s and detail the journey and trials of a young Japanese girl who fights her way through a strange alternate world, only to find she’s the new queen of the Kei Kingdom. Some of the novels have been translated into English fairly recently, and they made a brief anime of the first few books. The story is slightly different than the books; I’m more inclined to like the books because the main character goes through more hardships that justify her personal growth than in the anime.

I also really enjoyed a book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón called “Shadow of the Wind.” The book is full of intrigues, drama, and romance. I won’t say more than that other than it’s definitely worth reading. I’ve also read Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Despite the controversy surrounding the movie and novels, as a work of pure fiction, the story is amazing and every twist and turn takes the reader on a wild ride. Currently, I’m finishing up the fourth book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, “A Feast for Crows.” I’m taking it slow because I don’t know when Martin will finish book five, if ever, and if I finish book four without a book five to turn to, I might not get back to it.

All of these books, films, games, and many more serve as my inspiration for design, as well as the voice of the players, the voices of my friends and family, and my own likes and dislikes.

In my free time I’m either raiding in World of Warcraft, being a foodie and chowing down on some Tonkotsu Ramen (there are some wonderful ramen places here in Los Angeles), playing board games, making hand painted T-shirts, or making game themed cakes.

Killer Women: Theresa Pudenz

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by on April 24, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Theresa PudenzTheresa Pudenz works for Flying Lab Software as Public Relations for Pirates of the Burning Sea. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Theresa Pudenz
Title: Public Relations
Company: Flying Lab Software

What’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

I started playing video games when I was a little kid. My mom lifted me up to play arcade games at three years old and I grew up playing console and PC games as a casual hobby with my dad, uncle (49ers > Giants in Super Tecmo Bowl on the Nintendo Entertainment System) and sister (my sister, Angela, was always Luigi in Super Mario Bros. – I still feel bad for constantly stealing Player 1 throughout our childhood). My sister and I often played Mario Kart and Mortal Kombat on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System too. Once I hit age 14 I played Quake online, via the good ‘ol 28.8 modem, more than anything else. I’ve played video games on a regular basis to this day.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

After high school in Iowa, I basically moved straight to Los Angeles, California and started working in the video gaming industry. I’ve taken classes specifically geared for my career and they’ve helped immensely. I’ve made a personal commitment to continue taking time throughout my career to attend classes, because I believe it really makes a difference.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

I was pretty young when I landed in the gaming industry, so before that I had the great job of painting houses and barns in the summer. I had a paint spray-gun, which was both really fun to use and extremely helpful when I was up eight stories high when hornets attacked. I was known to yell, “Eat paint, hornets!” while spraying paint everywhere. Painting: not exactly my forte.

The jobs I’ve held in the industry have been mostly in QA, or Test departments, although my career-path is starting to lean towards public relations more and more. Through contract positions, full time positions and volunteer work, I’ve had the pleasure of working at Disney Interactive, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Angel Studios / Rockstar, The Behemoth, Ubisoft, Inside the Game, Penny Arcade, Microsoft and now Flying Lab Software.

Female AvatarWas your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

My entry into the industry was all chance. A friend of a friend suggested that I should hop on over to Disney Interactive and check out their contract positions for testing. When they said all I had to do was play a game and I would get paid for it, I was hooked (I didn’t know then, but now I know that this isn’t the case about testing video games!).

Coming from a small town and loving Disney as I do made the move to Southern California like rolling around in treasure at the end of the rainbow, with unicorns and butterflies made out of cotton candy at arm’s reach at all times. In Hollywood, many people I worked with made kung-fu movies, so I had more than one opportunity to play a dying person at the hands of a kung fu master. At Disney, I was extremely happy to be working on Winnie the Pooh Baby, though I grew to dislike Winnie the Pooh. For that specific job, I was required to hit the keyboard as a baby would, in order to make Winnie the Pooh and friends react on the screen. How’s that for a starting job? I gained a lot of experience switching out hardware and printers to test the performance side of the game as well.

I have very fond memories of that job, as it was my first “big city” experience after moving from Iowa. There were celebrities all over the city, I had sushi and calamari for the first time, it was the first time I saw people put lemons in water (Amazing! Delicious!) and IKEA was the best store ever.

Continue The Interview On Page 2

How long have you been working in the industry?

About six years.

ShipWhat does your job entail? What is an average day like?

My average day is filled with gathering public opinion and staying up-to-date with current industry news, opening channels of communication with other companies, organizations, and everyone else, putting the right people in the right place to keep the public informed and preparing and delivering press releases while sticking with our press plan. When I’m not buried in Outlook or Excel, I’m researching LANs, conferences, and conventions to bring Pirates of the Burning Sea to upcoming events around the world.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

Spying on people that talk about Pirates of the Burning Sea with Google Alerts. But really, the most interesting, exciting, and fun part is working with the people that I do, meeting new people and seeing old friends throughout the gaming industry.

Trying to come up with fun ideas to promote FLS initiatives is also one of the best parts of my job. While many ideas go straight to the trashcan, once in a while they work out and are given the go-ahead. That “green light” is one of the biggest reasons why I love public relations work.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Working in test has made me realize that test is almost always disliked by other departments in one way or another. It’s sad and weird, but it makes sense. No one wants to hear that their latest update to the build has a problem or ten. Testers are known to spend around 100 hours a week working hard on finding all the issues possible or that show-stopper before the game ships. The dislike of test is slowly changing as test departments are changing and thank goodness!

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

That marketing and public relations are the same thing, when they are actually very different.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

In some ways I feel there are advantages, in other ways I feel definitely disadvantaged. I find it easy to get attention, but hard to be taken seriously at times. Though I have come to learn that if you know what you’re talking about, people will at least listen.

Also, it may be my outstanding sense of style, but I get more comments on my outfits than the guys in the office do.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I used to be more a hardcore gamer than I am today, I’ve gone from about 80 hours a week down to about 40.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

MapI love fast, online multiplayer, PC FPS games. My PC is “under construction” at the moment so I’ve been away from Enemy Territory and Quake (Guess which game I’m really looking forward to? I’m a total id Software fan-girl). Like many PC gamers, I pay attention to mouse weighting, the rough/smooth surfaces on my mouse pad for speed or control and system performance from the RAM and video card, down to what kind of monitor I’m using. A recent upgrade to Vista has transformed my machine into a large paperweight, so I’ve been playing on the Xbox 360 much more than in the past. Currently I am playing Rainbow Six: Vegas, GRAW 2, Guitar Hero, and Texas Hold’em at night on the Xbox 360. When I’m not playing online games, I’m usually up to my ears in single player RPGs.

Slow-paced FPS has never really appealed to me. Nearly all of the gamers I play with online and offline have talked to me, trying to get me to play these games, and I would rather eat a sandwich with gross mustard spread all over it.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

No One Lives Forever. Castle of the Winds. Maybe Gitaroo Man for the PS2, or The Elder Scrolls Morrowind for the PC. I loved Morrowind and the pro-active modding community. It could be Kingdom Hearts because it made me get all teary eyed. As you can tell, it’s really hard for me to pick a game as the best game ever.

Continue The Interview On Page 3

If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

Have the characters that are agility-based, or the female characters in general to be some of the hardest hitters. While this can sometimes be the case in fighting games, they’re usually falling out of their outfits. I am somewhat sick of being pulled into an RPG battle and always having the girls die while the guys save the day. I would love to see a game where the developers are creating outfits that they would let their 13 year old daughter wear in a battle. I think the developers of Beyond Good & Evil did a great job of this, while making sure their game was also fun to play.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?

I think women in gaming industry positions should make the most out of where they are for our next generation of girls. Work hard and keep up the great work! Once it’s regular to see female developers, female gamers won’t be so out of place. Even just yesterday, while playing Texas Hold’em online, someone said “Whoa! You’re a… girl?” I get that a lot.

I would love to see more female gamers playing online so that the guy to girl ratio isn’t as one sided as it is now on the various game servers. It really makes a difference that women are at least out there and making themselves visible. Hopefully in 10 years, it won’t be as weird to sound like a girl over Ventrillo or Xbox Live, and that day will be outstanding.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

I work full time at Flying Lab Software on the Pirates of the Burning Sea team! In general, I spread the word about this upcoming MMORPG, and keep people informed about the latest news at http://www.burningsea.com. Since I joined Flying Lab Software a year ago, the game has changed tremendously. Heck, it’s changed tremendously since last month. Right now, every update to the Pirates of the Burning Sea beta server dramatically improves the game. The last few updates have been related to avatar combat, missions, the economy and the art. I’m constantly by our art team! Their ability to make the game so beautiful while keeping game performance in check is incredible. In addition, the content team has recently completed their goal of creating 1000 missions for each of our 3 nations! The visuals, performance, and game-play for Pirates of the Burning Sea are constantly improving. I’m really excited to see how the game will be received.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

Other than endless practice in something you’re passionate about, I recommend moving to a city where there are gaming companies and applying for the jobs that catch your interest. You can find game developers near you (or far from you, if that’s what you’re looking for) on this handy map: http://gamedevmap.com. Linked-In (www.linkedin.com) is also a handy tool to get your name and resume out there.

I also recommend keeping up to date with the companies you’re interested in. I like cruising http://www.gametab.com, http://www.gamepolitics.com, http://www.gamasutra.com, and http://www.next-gen.biz.

What are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

In my free time, I like kayaking, tennis, snowboarding, biking, attending classes, cruising Youtube, and spending time with friends. Friends and my family are mainly where my inspirations come from. I’m a fan of Eleanor Roosevelt as well:

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

House of Flying DaggersSome of my favorite games are Castle of the Winds, No One Lives Forever, Skies of Arcadia, Morrowind: The Elder Scrolls, Quake (1, 2, & 3), Enemy Territory, Beyond Good & Evil, Populous, Darkstone, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy VIII, Rune, Super Mario Sunshine, River City Ransom, Guitar Hero, Thief, The Sims (1 & 2), Populous, Age of Empires III, Lumines, Tetris, Gitaroo Man and Kingdom Hearts 1 & 2.

A few of my favorite movies are House of Flying Daggers, Willow, Lost in Translation, Groundhog Day, The Jerk, The God of Cookery, Love Actually, Kal Ho Naa Ho and My Neighbor Totoro.

A special thanks to Theresa for taking the time to answer our questions

in Interviews

Killer Women: Cricket

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by on December 11, 2006 at 4:03 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Cricket works for NCsoft as a Community Coordinator for City of Heroes/City of Villains. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Cricket
Title: Community Coordinator for City of Heroes/City of Villains
Company: NCsoft

IntellivisionWhat’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

Some of my earliest memories in general involve the Intellivision – I think I was four when we first got it. I don’t remember much about life when I was four, but I do remember playing Kool-Aid Man. (Oh yeah!)

I’ve always had a love for computer games. When I was in elementary school my parents got a Commodore 128: that thing kept me occupied for hours. At the time I was living in a military base in West Germany…there wasn’t much else to do. Sure, I played outside with the other kids, but we didn’t have Chucky Cheese or any places like that. So I played all sorts of games at home, so many I can’t remember them all. A schoolmate lived in the building and I caught the competitive spirit of gaming from him…without him rainy days wouldn’t have been so much fun.

My father is also really into playing video games (and he still is!) so it really has always just been a part of my life. We used to figure out all sorts of adventure game puzzles together. At the time I didn’t realize that these puzzles were making me think – learning can’t be fun, right? But honestly, I think they made me a little bit sharper in the logic dept.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I earned an associate’s degree but I never graduated from a four-year college. I actually stayed in college until my senior year – that is something I kind of kick myself for. They all told me “if you don’t go back now you may never go back” and I didn’t believe them. Transferring to another school out of state is a lot harder than I originally thought.

My college work focused on the social sciences. History, geography, and my fav – political science. I had no idea I could actually land a job in the gaming industry. It just never crossed my mind.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

During my high school and college summer breaks I would work at an amusement park. I didn’t have many jobs I really liked back before joining the gaming industry, but I really enjoyed working in an amusement park. Perhaps it was the fun atmosphere and the gang I worked with, but it really was exciting and enjoyable. I felt very important operating all those big rides – sitting at a control panel with a mic in front of you isn’t so bad.

Besides working in community I also have a few years of GM experience under my belt. I started out in the industry by working as an Ultima Online GM. That is how I found City of Heroes…the game was in beta and they needed more GMs. In just a few months I was a Senior GM, and now here I am in community.

I don’t have any technical experience whatsoever. I have a lot of gaming knowledge and I have a lot of customer service under my belt…that is what got me in the door. However, I must say that email support is VERY different from in-person customer service, or even the kind of customer service you’d provide via telephone. People treat you differently via email, and you have to be very careful with that. You have to remain professional BUT you cannot sound like a robot. That may sound easy, but that is a lot harder than it sounds. I also think it is very important that all responses remain plainly worded. Some people think that is a no-no, but really, people don’t like to try to figure out what you are really saying. Jumping around the issue can agitate players really fast.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

By chance…I just moved to Austin, TX and I actually saw an ad to work for EA. When I applied I had no idea it was even for a UO GM position – the ad just said it involved customer service.

I was lucky to even get an interview…I’m sure a lot of people applied for it. In my interview I discussed my customer service and gaming background. I must have done really well, because that afternoon I got the call saying I was hired.

How long have you been working in the industry?

Roughly 3 and a half to 4 years total. (Between UO and COH I did some QA testing for a business software company.) Three to four years doesn’t sound like a whole lot to me, but in the gaming industry I think 3 to 4 years goes a long way.

Heroes vs VillainsWhat does your job entail? What is an average day like?

It depends on what is going on – sometimes we are getting ready for a new patch or preparing a new announcement. Each day can be different.

For the most part the regular activities include various meetings, answering player questions, compiling player feedback, forum moderation, and dealing with lots of internal company emails. Not only do we have to handle whatever may be currently going on but we also have to prepare and manage all upcoming events and content. Everything is planned carefully and teamwork is key– from both NCsoft and Cryptic we have QA, customer support, community, publishing, operations, marketing, and a whole lot more. Everyone has a say in the processes. Is it time consuming? Yes. But it is well worth it. It is very important that we all remain on the same page.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

By far the best moment was when I received replies back from the selected contest winners. I felt like Santa Clause. Many were extremely thankful, but really, we wouldn’t have picked them if they didn’t deserve it.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

If you want to work in this industry please be prepared to work long hours. We generally work business hours but we also have to work during game’s prime time hours – evenings and weekends. When you work for an MMO your business doors are open to clients 24/7. But we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to be; the end results are well worth the extra invested time. But the hours can be really tough at times, especially if you have a family.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

Many things that community folks just post a few times a week and that is it. If only our jobs were that easy. We’re always working on various things behind the scenes – multi tasking is very important. There are some things we deal with that the outside world never gets to see: everything that goes live (either in game or on our website) has to go through all the internal processes first.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

This is a very interesting question. I think both men and women in general have to fight stereotypes regarding gender – women are more sensitive than men, men are more decisive, etc. This is certainly a global issue in my opinion.

I don’t know if I have had any accidental or intentional advantages/disadvantages in the workplace …perhaps it is neither. I wish I knew, but frankly, I just have no way of really knowing.

Outside of the workplace (as a gamer) I certainly noticed something. A few years ago I was really into playing FPS games. It took a lot of practice, but at the time, I was a really good shooter. I heard the sentence “you are pretty good for a girl” more than once. I really don’t like hearing that because it implies I have a natural disadvantage at gaming. I also think I had to deal with a lot of re-matches simply because they wanted to see if my win was a fluke.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I play whenever I get the chance – nights and weekends. Sometimes I don’t get to play as much as I would like, but then others times I need to take a break. I think it is okay to step back away from a game to avoid getting burned out. You want the game to be fun, not a chore.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

I’ve stepped away from FPS games for a bit…I’m really into all sorts of MMOs. And since I work for NCsoft I get to play all of our cool games.

I like the fantasy genre but I have to be in the mood for it. That is where City of Heroes and City of Villains comes in….it is so refreshing to be something other than a dwarf or an elf.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

I don’t know if I can pick just one. But I can honestly say that I have invested more time playing COH than any other game EVER. And I’m not just saying that because I work for the game. I have a lot of alts.

City of HeroesIf you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

Cute outfits are wonderful, but in some games you just don’t have a choice in what your character wears. I think it is important to give both genders different styles; let the player decide how much skin they want to show. I like how female characters can dress sexy – but sometimes I want my character to wear full body armor. I think other MMOs can learn a lot from City of Heroes and City of Villains in this regard… leave these decisions to the player.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?

I think more and more women are getting into the gaming industry. Why? I’m not sure exactly, but I do know more female gamers now than I have ever known before. I think there used to be this misconception that video games were only meant for young males. That turned out to not be the case at all!

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

We just got Issue 8: To Protect and Serve out the door. This update primarily focuses on heroes this time, and boy we’re sure excited over Veteran Rewards!

In the future we’re releasing a skill system called inventions. I can’t really talk much about this now, but I can say that a lot of time is being put into it. I’m very impressed with what I have seen so far. The cool thing about inventions is that it is completely voluntary. And if you do decide to focus on inventions your time and effort will pay off. It’s work, but optional work.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

Check the job listings for various gaming companies and see what is available out there. What looks interesting to you? What type of positions you see the most? It will give you an idea as to what the current demand is. Do your online research – read more about the position. I think it is important to do all of this before you actually start training. Also remember that most gaming jobs are located in California, so relocation may also be a factor.

in Interviews

Killer Women: Jaclyn Shumate

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by on December 8, 2006 at 12:57 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Jaclyn Shumate works for Flying Lab Software as a Sound Designer on the Pirates of the Burning Sea game. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Jaclyn Shumate
Title: Sound Designer
Company: Flying Lab Software

Super Mario BrothersWhat’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

Nintendo – Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. 4rd grade I think? My parents made me save up $30 to put toward it. I think I was doing chores for months to earn the cash. Before that I had a love for Ms. Pacman, although I didn’t own it. I still do love all of those games!

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

My education is pretty varied. I always thought I’d be a classical violinist, but then I injured my hands when I was 21 and had to re-think things. Consequently, I have an extensive music education, and then on paper a liberal arts education from Barnard College, where I got a degree in Urban Studies. After graduation, I floundered for a few years in jobs I didn’t enjoy. I decided to figure out how I could get into a more creative career that suited my music background, and ended up taking classes at Shoreline Community College in Seattle to learn about Sound Design and Audio Engineering. After that I worked my way into my current job. I actually love school, and would go forever if there were more hours in the day! And, I do think my education has prepared me well for the industry. I use the music and music technology training I have every day, and my Barnard education helps to round out my knowledge base.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

My first “real” jobs out of college were administrative jobs. I knew they weren’t for me, so I came up with a plan to switch careers. I began to take Pro Tools classes while still working and eventually went to school full-time and worked on getting my violin chops back again. After that, I was able to switch my career and work as a violin, studio session musician, and audio engineer. After a couple of internships in Sound Design, one of which was at Flying Labs, I was offered my current job here as a full-time Sound Designer.

PotBS 8Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

My entry into the video game industry was planned, but luck had a hand in it as well. I wanted to do sound design, I wanted to do it in Seattle, and I wanted a stable income. Video games offered me all of those things, and still gave me the creative work that I need. I mentioned this to a friend, and she knew of a few companies for me to look into, one of which was Flying Lab Software.

How long have you been working in the industry?

HA! Only three months in video games. I’ve learned a heck of a lot, and am looking forward to learning more.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

My job is two-part, both making the sounds for the game and then putting them into the game. To make the sounds, I use Pro Tools software and piece together sounds from sound effects libraries, changing them as I see fit. Sometimes I get to go to the studio to record actors, swordfighters, or whatever is needed, and then use the sounds we get there to create new sounds for the game. That’s one of the most fun parts of my job. Occasionally I get to make music for the game, and that’s awesome as well.

The second part of it all is putting the sounds that I make into the game. I decide where I want to put sounds, how loud they should be, and how far they should go. I use our proprietary software to place them into different environments in our game.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

The most exciting part of what I do is hearing what I’ve done in the game for the first time. It’s awesome working really hard on something, and then having such tangible results when you’re done.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

A lot of people think good sound just happens, like magic. In reality, it takes a lot of work and resources to have great sound.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

It’s definitely a double-edged sword, but on the whole, as long as you’re willing to stick up for your rights on occasion, I’ve found that being female is a positive in the industry. The absolute greatest thing about it is that everyone knows your name. It’s easier to make contacts, and you stick out from the crowd. For me, so far working in games there hasn’t been any negative side at all to being a female. However, I have definitely been in a few interesting situations in the male-dominated audio engineering world. I’ve had to be much more assertive and call people out more frequently than I would if it was a more balanced work environment. It can be difficult, but it’s worth it, especially if something might negatively impact your career.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)? I’m definitely not a hardcore gamer.

I’m too busy to play games regularly outside of work, but I do engage in “research” on occasion!

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

You really, really have to hustle to get what you want. Work hard, do your homework, and make contacts. Find an angle that makes you unique, and sell yourself. Research the background of the people in your favorite job, and develop your own similar skill-set.

ScissorhandsWhat are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

Free time – make music! Also ski, hike, travel, and spend time with family.
Inspirations – my two very successful women-entrepreneur friends. They were a great help mentoring me. And, my parents, both of whom are self-employed do-it yourselfers.
Authors – Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens
Movie – Edward Scissorhands

in Interviews

Killer Women: Bekah Hamilton

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by on November 21, 2006 at 1:39 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Bekah Hamilton works for Perpetual Entertainment as an Associate Producer on the Gods and Heroes game. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Bekah Hamilton
Title: Associate Producer
Company: Perpetual Entertainment

NESWhat’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

I grew up with video games; my earliest memory was when my aunt brought home an Atari for my cousin. We thought it was the coolest thing ever & you couldn’t drag us away from it! Later, my mom bought me a Nintendo & to this day she’ll tell you that the only way she could tell if I was actually sick (& not just wanting to stay home from school) was if I wouldn’t play my Nintendo.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I loved collage so I was on the 10 year plan & ended up with multiple degrees all of which have come in handy. My education focused on the creative arts, like painting, photography, animation & creative writing.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

I’ve had many different jobs over the years from bookkeeping to managing a dry cleaning store. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in more creative and fun jobs. I worked for Cox Cable in AZ as an assistant editor working on local commercials. Defiantly the most interesting and challenging job has been being a producer for Perpetual, which is my first job in the industry

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

After graduating with my animation degree I worked for a small local (Bay Area) start up animation company doing 2D & 3D animation. Since the company was so small I started taking on more producer type tasks which got me really interested in becoming a producer. I knew some people in the games industry and the opportunity to work at Perpetual came up so I jumped on it.

How long have you been working in the industry?

I’ve been in the industry for a little over a year.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

My job and daily tasks have changed so dramatically over the past year, even on a day to day basis they aren’t the same. Currently I am helping out with the balancing and tuning of our game. Being a producer, my main job is to make sure people are communicating & when things are broken or people are blocked from doing work, I figure out ways to fix the problem. Great communication skills & an almost neurotic sense of order are a must for my job.

GNHSquadTalosTell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

Currently the most exciting moment in my job is actually seeing everything come together. We are getting closer & closer to shipping our game and everyday when you jump in the game you see something new or something that’s been greatly improved. It’s a very exciting time at our company.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Honestly I haven’t found anything that I don’t consider worth the payoff of getting to work in an industry that can be so fun & rewarding. The hours can get long & the stress can be hard to deal with but both of those things I bring on myself so I can’t complain 🙂

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

That it’s easy & all we do is sit around all day playing video games all day. It’s so far from the truth, I usually work 12 hour days & I haven’t had time to play a video game during the week for months now. Any game time I get is weekends only.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Anywhere you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

I think the industry is evolving and there are more women in the industry now than there were even 5 years ago, and it seems that more women in the industry is a welcome change. As for advantages, I haven’t seen many just because I’m a woman, you have to work hard to make it anywhere and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.

World of WarcraftDo you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I don’t consider myself a hardcore gamer, but I have sat for 10 hours straight playing WoW. Unfortunately now with the schedule I’m keeping I don’t get much time to play many games. I still play for a few hours on the weekends if I’m not working.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

I like adventure games & my characters in WoW are on a role playing server which has been pretty fun. I’m not much of a fan of the first person shooters, I just couldn’t ever really get into them.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

I don’t think I could pick just one! As a kid I wouldn’t have hesitated, Super Mario Bros. 3 was my favorite; I played that game over & over again. Currently I really love the Sly Cooper series for the PS2 & I still like to jump in and play WoW when I have time.

If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

A good portion of women tend to be more casual gamers so I’d say they should take that into consideration if they want to attract a broader audience.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?

It’s changing, more women are getting into the industry and there are more female consumers out there now. Change is slow but gaming isn’t just a guy thing anymore.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

Gods & Heroes is a fun and exciting MMO, it’s really coming together and I always look forward to the company wide play tests when I get to play with other people. We are set to release early next year & have a ton of info up on our websites www.godsandheroes.com and http://community.godsandheroes.com.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

As with anything, you need to be passionate about wanting to work in this industry. It takes a lot out of you but it’s also the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. This industry is still very small and it’s all about making good contacts & having a great work ethic. Anything is possible, so if you want it bad enough go for it!

What are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

I have a bunch of favorite things & it’s hard for me to just pick a couple but I’ll try ;-p

Sly CooperFavorite games: I’m currently playing the Sly Cooper series. I’m still working on the third one but I really loved playing the first two. I also really have enjoyed the Kingdom Hearts games, Neverwinter Nights & its expansion packs (though some of the best adventures with my friends were when we were playing some of the mods that other players made) & WoW

Favorite movies: I have a wide range of movies that I like but I’ll limit to just a few that I liked…I recently saw The Departed & would recommend it to anyone. I still really enjoy animation films & I think Monsters Inc will remain one of my favorite 3D animations, as far as 2D animation, I like the classics like Cinderella as well as the more recent Miyazaki films.

Favorite authors: I enjoy a lot of the “main stream” authors but especially John Saul, Iris Johansen, Clive Cussler & James Patterson. I also really like J. R. R. Tolkien, Edgar Allan Poe & Shakespeare…I spend a good a majority of my free time reading (especially sitting on Bart on my way to & from work) and I’m always looking for a good story to take me away for a few minutes.

My inspirations: Many people have inspired me over the years but the one person who has always pushed me to follow my dreams has been my mom (I know it’s cheesy, but true). If it weren’t for her support & faith in me I wouldn’t be where I am doing my dream job right now.

In my very limited free time I like to read, play video games & get out of the house as much as possible. I enjoy traveling but hardly have time to do it so I usually task short day trips to little beach towns or up to the mountains.

in Interviews

Killer Women: Anna Murchison

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by on November 17, 2006 at 2:42 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Anna Murchison works for Flying Lab Software as a Mission Designer/Web Specialist on the Pirates of the Burning Sea game. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Anna Murchison
Title: Mission Designer/Web Specialist
Company: Flying Lab Software

Kings QuestWhat’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

I don’t remember the first game I ever played, but the game that got me interested in video games was King’s Quest I.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I went to a very good, very experimental college, so I had the opportunity to explore many different facets of what “makes” a game. Most of my background is in programming, which I think is indispensable for what I do. But I don’t think any classes I could have taken would have *fully* prepared me for the industry.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

This is my first job in games. My previous jobs were all programming-related, most of them writing the backbones for websites and other web applications.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

Well, I went to college with the starry-eyed dream of working in the game industry, so I suppose I could say it was planned. I had worked at a number of jobs before I found my current job, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work.

How long have you been working in the industry?

About a year — I’m a newbie.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?
I’m first and foremost a mission designer — I lay out what the structure of a mission (quest, job, what have you) in the game looks like, and implement it with our in-house tools. I also do odd jobs for the backend of the website and write internal tools. My day mostly consists of a giant to-do list of things I need to fix or work on, and me trying desperately to remember to do it all.

PotBS 8Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

I love the feeling of finishing a creation task — a storyline, a single mission, or just an NPC that I particularly like. Especially when I feel like all that time I put into it really shows in the final product.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Since the gaming industry is so very young, there aren’t a lot of standard procedures for things in any company. Documentation for internal tools was probably the biggest bubble that burst upon getting this job — sometimes it happens, but it’s not something you can count on. From what I’ve seen, the web industry is the same way. I can only assume it’s because the game industry is very young, and has yet to set down a rigid formula for how things should work.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

When people hear the word “designer” in my title, the first thing they ask is “so you design the whole game?” While I’d sure love to put that on my resume, that’s not the case. The content of the game brings the game’s features to life, but designing those features is spread out among different departments.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

After going to programming classes surrounded by men, and working in an industry where you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman in any position but a secretary, my experiences in the games industry have been quite uneventful. In my job I don’t feel as if I’m being treated any differently than any other member of my team, and I’m thankful for that. In general, the only thing that I have noticed is that sometimes people assume that I’m not as “hardcore” as other gamers. I think that’s mostly true, but in certain games I consider myself “better than average”.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I don’t consider myself “hardcore” — I prefer “avid gamer”. My attention span is very short, so I hop from game to game a lot. I get in a good 8 hours of gaming a week on a normal schedule. If I have a game I really like, it could even go up to 12 hours or so.

Dead BodyWhat settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

I don’t have a setting I’m partial to; my favorite genre is adventure games, even though there aren’t that many around anymore. I’m a riddle freak and an exploration zealot. I think the genre I like least is FPSes. I’m terrible at spatial estimations, even though I’m a pretty good shot with a pulse rifle. If I could just stand still and shoot you, I’d be all set.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

I’m sure everyone is saying this, but Oblivion is probably my favorite game I’ve played recently. If it hadn’t have melted my graphics card, I probably would have finished it as well. I would put it up for vote as the best game ever just for the immersion value, and all the neat things they did in their world. But Silent Hill 2 has found a special place in my heart, so I’d also have to put that up for vote as well, even though they are two completely different games. I’m indecisive!

If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

Better tutorials and more ways to “get right in the action”. That encompasses more save points or the ability to save whenever you want. The two things that turn me off to a new game is not explaining their system well enough, and not being able to save and go do something else for a while.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

I’m working on an up and coming MMORPG called “Pirates of the Burning Sea”. You’ll be able to play a seafaring adventurer hailing from a specific nation. I’m personally very excited about our concept of a single player storyline in a multiplayer game, and the player-driven economy.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

Find what you like to do and get a job doing it. I sat down and thought about what I liked to do the most and tried to find jobs that fit. Game industry or not, you should do something you love to do, because that’s how you’ll do your best work and be happy at the same time. But that doesn’t mean sitting around waiting for the perfect job — the more quantifiable experience you have doing what you want to be good at, the more job options open up. And don’t be afraid to move on from a job you only kind of like to a job you think you’ll love.

LabyrinthWhat are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

I like to play video games. 😉 I also like gardening, cooking, reading, drawing, writing, programming, pen-and paper games, board games, arguing, and doing my taxes. Lawrence Block is an author that hasn’t let me down with any of his books, and my favorite movies are Amelie and Labyrinth. I try to find inspiration in everything I read, watch, or play.

in Interviews

Killer Women: Jennifer Bullard

0
by on October 14, 2006 at 4:37 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Jennifer Bullard works for Aspyr Media, a company originally started to bring quality games to the Macintosh, but has recently branched into the PC market. She is a Producer working on an unnamed project. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Jennifer Bullard
Title: Producer
Company: Aspyr Media

Lode RunnerWhat’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

I was about 11 or 12 when my dad got a Commodore 64. I played Lode Runner to level 68 before my much younger sister used it as a Frisbee. Whenever there was a computer around I played games.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I have a BA in Psychology & Industrial Labor Relations. I believe both prepared me well for the management work that I now do.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

Before I was in the industry I worked as a Technical Recruiter. Inside the industry I worked starting in QA, moving to Design and eventually into Production.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

Definitely chance, sort of a lark really. My husband had just gotten a job at New World Computing in LA and we had moved from the Boston area. While looking for a ‘real job’ I took an opening in the QA department and became Lead within a month and Associate Designer in two months.

How long have you been working in the industry?

Since August 1998

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

My job entails managing and scheduling a team of around 20. I also get to dabble in contracts, negotiate between development needs and publishing requirements. There are peaks and valleys with Production. One week you are frantically putting out all of the fires and the next few days no one needs you and it’s quiet. Enjoy the quiet moments because they don’t last long.

Backyard WrestlingTell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

Most interesting was the press event for Backyard Wrestling. Not only had I never seen a wrestling match up close, but I got to see it ICP style. What an eye opener. Quite literally Babes, Blood and Barbed Wire in the ring, but the stark contrast was how nice those young men were outside of the ring. If you ever get a chance to meet me in real life ask to see the pictures.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Lack of management training and “not invented here” converge horrendously on our management and business landscapes. Too many companies fail because they lack basic management or business skills. No company can truly operate without legal, HR, accounting, sales & marketing. Even if that is outsourced, you still need those support services for your business to run. A two man operation is going to need an accountant at the end of the year, a lawyer to protect their intellectual property and someone to move their product.

There is this underlying belief that other industries have nothing of value to offer our industry, or that we’ll invent a better way. Fact is we could learn a lot from people who have been successfully managing companies, large and small. On the same note companies could look at success stories in our industry and pick and choose what has worked for them. Not every company is going to want to use every technique or style, but there is something out there for you.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

People believe just anyone can jump into the role of Producer, or that it only requires some limited on the job training. That isn’t true at all; you need to understand the basic management principles in order to do this job, and having a strong mentor for a couple of years is beyond value. There is a lot of training and education that goes into being a good Producer, and with the amount of authority a Producer has each company should carefully choose someone who can actually do the job.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

There was once when I felt disadvantaged as a woman. One employee obviously didn’t have a stellar opinion of women in general and he was in a position of authority. In the end it didn’t stunt my career because I simply worked around him, but it was a miserable time. Twice more it became obvious that my co-workers weren’t used to dealing with women, but in those situations it didn’t impact my job for any length of time.

Only one person had ever said they were ecstatic I was on the team because I was a woman. He pointed out that on all-male teams there was usually too much testosterone at the office, but with the addition of a few women the levels lowered and work proceeded smoothly. I was hired before he was, so it wasn’t a factor in my employment, but it certainly helped our working relationship.

The only story that really sticks out is this one time in QA. I can’t stand the smell of BO. So after a few weeks of OT at my first job in the QA department I started burning a scented candle. The lead designer walks in and asks, ‘what’s that smell?’ I answered with, ‘My candle, because it reeks like BO in here!’ at the top of my lungs. The guys were offended because they claimed to have bathed. I pointed out that they weren’t washing the jackets being worn day in and day out. Next Monday the entire QA room smelled like Downy.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I’m not hardcore anymore. After about 6 years of gaming 4-6 hours a day I realized that it was time to get off my duff and lose some weight and have a better balanced life. So now I only play about 4-6 hours a week.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most?

RPG, RTS, casual games, Adventure games

Least?

Can’t stand FPS or platformers

Diablo IIIf you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

Diablo II – I played it endlessly and Blizzard needs to get off their rear ends make me another dammit!

Special Nod:
Sims – I never played it as much but the concept is so freaking awesome, so it is a title to be respected for the sheer following and accomplishments. Spore is probably going to slot in above Sims and make me want to play it for hours too.

If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

It’s not so much put in as take out. Take out the boobs folks. I just don’t need to see some jiggling gyrating out of proportioned sex object. Never once played the Tomb Raider series because Lara Croft was all T&A and that bugged me to no end. I was playing Balder’s Gate for the PS2 and the bartender’s boobs jiggled while she talked, she massaged herself regularly and the night elf threatened me with a pole dance. It was vulgar and if it wasn’t the *only* game to play with my husband at the time I would have returned it.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?

I think women are starting to get notice, but we’re not a genre. Women are a demographic and need to be marketed to, but don’t need ‘special’ games. I don’t need a different RTS or FPS than the next guy, just please put reasonable clothing on the women characters and have them do something besides giggle and jiggle. Games like Neverwinter Nights and Icewind Dale had attractive female characters that were strong Paladins and powerful magic-users, without the vulgar sex approach. If you wouldn’t show your mother, sister or grandmother the art image without blushing then I probably don’t want to see it either.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

Unfortunately no, the title hasn’t been announced yet.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

Play games, get a degree and act professionally. High school and college level antics will not get you hired or help you keep a job. The demographics of the game industry are maturing, so unprofessional behavior is unwelcome in most companies. That’s not to say don’t have fun, but leave the fart jokes and crude humor at home.

XXXWhat are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

I am an action junkie. Anything where stuff gets blown up and the characters are having fun do it, like XXX or Block 13 has my attention. Every so often I like chick flicks, but more along the lines of Princess Bride. Horror movies are a great fun for me, but I prefer the suspense to the gory hack-n-slash. Fairly picky about comedies and don’t watch too many unless my husband is hyped to see it.

Anything by Terry Pratchett or Anne McCaffrey has always been a good read. I’m in the middle of a series by Lynn Fleweling. I’ve read a good portion of the usual like Dragonlance, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, etc. Mostly I find a series and go with it. In my experience most authors have a good idea once or even twice, so I tend to bounce from series of books vs. following authors.

My inspirations tend towards the natural side of life. I like to get out and walk in any natural setting to just stand and look all around. I’ll stare out windows at work and watch the world go by.

I paint Reaper Miniatures and molds that my husband casts. He creates dungeons and castles and I paint them and set up the dioramas. It’s a fun activity that we both do together and afterwards we have detailed scene to do table top RPG’s with.

When walking around or visiting I take lots and lots of pictures and then edit them in Photoshop. My father in law is a professional photographer, so he’s been teaching me some techniques. I also edit older family photos, repairing them of damage and making copies for family.

in Interviews

Killer Women: Jennifer Hepler

1
by on October 11, 2006 at 2:26 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA in 2006, 38% of game players are women. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Jennifer Hepler works for Bioware, a company well-known for making quality games with quality storylines that appeal to women as much as men. She is a Managing Editor and is currently working on the upcoming title, Dragon Age. Here’s what she had to say:

Name: Jennifer Brandes Hepler
Title: Managing Editor — Dragon Age
Company: Bioware Corporation

What’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

I guess my earliest memory is some time in the Atari era. My brother and I had a used Atari, slightly after its heyday, with a bunch of hand-me-down games with no boxes and no way to figure out the rules. I remember some Centipede, Ms. Pac Man, Joust and Ghostbusters, but neither of us ever got very into it.

I’d have to say that I found games later more than grew up on them. While as a child of the ’80s, I did have a Nintendo around during high school (and had a pet rabbit who would come running and grab the controller whenever he heard Tetris music), I generally saw it as something to do with my younger cousins, rather than something that was fun for me. I had a little more fun with the King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry games, but never really got hooked.

In college, I got into paper-and-pencil RPGs (particularly Vampire and Shadowrun), and that was really my entry into this career.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I’ve got a BA in Creative Writing, and am slightly bitter because I can no longer rail that it’s completely useless — it let me immigrate to Canada as a skilled worker under NAFTA — but I don’t think my work in college had any direct connection to the fact that I’m working as a writer now.

I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was in fifth grade (my teacher, Matt Costello, is actually the writer of the Seventh Guest CD-ROM game series, as well as some pretty cool horror novels, and was my first mentor in the field). I think that the work I did in other writing jobs, the writing I did on my own, and my extensive experience in the SF/gaming community (I’ve run a small convention and many, many game demos at the bigger conventions), was much more valuable than my formal education. On the other hand, my non-writing classes at college let me get interesting background information on a whole bunch of topics which later made their way into my writing.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

Pretty much all the jobs I count have been writing jobs of one sort or another. I began writing for paper-and-pencil roleplaying games while I was still in college, writing supplements for games including Shadowrun, Earthdawn, Legend of the Five Rings, and Paranoia. I was actually writing my “Cyberpirates” book for Shadowrun on the afternoon of my college graduation, because my deadline was the next day. I also got my first taste of computer game writing during this time, doing a few freelance bits of writing and editing for an online trading card game, Sanctum.

After that, I did some hard time in Hollywood, writing for CBS television’s CIA drama, The Agency, and developing many feature film scripts and TV pilots, including several based on both paper-and-pencil and computer RPGs. During this time, I was always interested in the convergence of games and traditional media, and was a founding member of the Writers Guild of America’s New Media Writers Caucus, which offered the Guild’s protections and associate membership to any working game writer.

My real entrance back to computer game design was through a job at Tomo Software, a start-up mobile phone game company, where I wrote and edited for their planned MMMG (massively multiplayer mobile game), SORA.

Then I joined Bioware this past October as a writer on Dragon Age and am having the time of my life.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

I guess I just answered some of that above. Since I started working in paper-and-pencil RPGs, I’ve loved the gaming audience and how passionate they are about their games. Through my whole time in Hollywood, I always gravitated toward game-related projects, and when I went to GDC in 2005, it was like coming home. When I realized how much more I liked the people in the games industry than in film and television…and how much more passionate they were about their jobs…I began to actively pursue a full-time career in gaming.

How long have you been working in the industry?

If you count the paper-and-pencil experience, I’ve been designing games since 1997. Otherwise, about two years now.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

While my official title is “Managing Editor,” my job is primarily as one of the senior writers on the game. This means that depending on what stage I’m at in the process, I spend my day either outlining stories for Dragon Age, or writing buckets and buckets of dialogue. I also take a role in helping less experienced writers, from evaluating job application submissions, to reading and critiquing dialogue, to ensuring that Bioware has a solid process for every writer to follow to take a story from initial concept to finished in-game module.

That sounds like so little to say about it…mostly because the process of writing dialogue is pretty boring from any vantage point but inside the writer’s head. It’s actually fantastically fun and complex to design a story for a 100,000-word chapter, which acknowledges several different possibilities of the PC’s background, and gives him two or three main paths through the story, plus dozens of smaller side quests, then make sure that each of the 96 speaking roles have distinct voices, with enough pathos and humor to keep the player involved, and never slip up and use a modern-day reference.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

This may not say a lot about the job, but the most exciting moment for me was how supportive my whole team was when I broke the news that I was pregnant. Even though I’d just recently been promoted to a pivotal position, and even though I was asking for special treatment (like being able to work at home on days where I was going to be face-down in the toilet), my boss and everyone on the team were tremendously supportive and excited for me.

I think Bioware is unusual in the industry because of how family-friendly it is. It seems like nearly everyone at the company is married and many of them have young kids — very different than the typical single-guys atmosphere you find at most game companies. Between that and being in Canada (where the laws are much more family-friendly), it really made a difference in how people reacted; even the single guys were supportive instead of resentful of having to work around my absence (which is not insignificant in a country with a full year of maternity leave guaranteed by the government).

Knowing that I could talk freely about being pregnant, make adjustments to my schedule if I needed, and not worry about any hidden (or not-so-hidden) resentment from my team was definitely the moment more than any other which won my die-hard loyalty to the company.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Playing the games. This is probably a terrible thing to admit, but it has definitely been the single most difficult thing for me. I came into the job out of a love of writing, not a love of playing games. While I enjoy the interactive aspects of gaming, if a game doesn’t have a good story, it’s very hard for me to get interested in playing it. Similarly, I’m really terrible at so many things which most games use incessantly — I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don’t like tactics, I don’t like fighting, I don’t like keeping track of inventory, and I can’t read a game map to save my life. This makes it very difficult for me to play to the myriad games I really should be keeping up on as our competition.

And with a baby on the way in a few months, my minimal free time (which makes it impossible for me to finish a big RPG in less than six months already), will disappear entirely. If there was a fast-forward feature on games which would let me easily review the writing and stories and skip the features that I find more frustrating than fun, I’d find it much easier to keep abreast of what’s happening in the field.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

The biggest misconception people have is wondering why a game needs a writer at all. Mostly you get this from older generations, who still imagine a game looking like Pac Man, but a surprising number of people who have played games still manage to forget all the dialogue and story that even very non-story-oriented games have in them, and just assume that somehow the words magically appear once the gameplay is programmed.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

Personally, I enjoy being a trend-setter. I find it a bit of an ego-boost to be the only woman at our senior writing meetings and still able to fully hold my own with men who have worked here much longer. It’s definitely something I’m aware of, though, and I like to make sure that my opinion is heard when we’re making design decisions, since I represent, I think, not only a good number of female players, but a lot of non-hardcore gamers in general. Since most people who go into the games industry are truly passionate gamers, it is hard for them to make a game for people who aren’t as into it. But I feel that there is a large untapped market of both men and women who enjoy genre stories in movies or books, but don’t game, either because of the violence, the difficulty, the huge time commitment, or other factors, and I think of myself as the lone voice speaking up for them. I’ve been lucky that the design department here seems to appreciate that input…whether or not they end up acting on it.

My favorite anecdote about being a woman at Bioware is actually from my job interview — I was in a meeting with three other writers, all men, and we’d been chatting and laughing for about half an hour already when one of the writers obviously felt he had to ask the obligatory question: “As a woman, would you feel comfortable working on a team with so many men…?” As he asked it, he took a look at me, sitting sprawled in a chair with my feet practically on the table and interrupted himself, “You look like you’d be comfortable.” We moved on and no one ever had to ask it again. Those writers are all now good friends of mine.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

As I’ve mentioned before, God no. I’ll usually play a few hours on the weekend, but not much beyond that unless I’m really pushing myself. To me, sitting at a computer will always feel like work, so it’s not something I tend to do on my own time.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

I love fantasy, though I prefer unusual magical settings which are less influenced by Tolkein and Dungeons and Dragons. I would love to see more Asian-inspired fantasy, and fantasy that draws on more obscure myths from Africa or the Pacific. I also enjoy horror, science fiction, and any kind of mix of science fiction and fantasy, but as a general rule, the more military it gets, the less interested I’ll be.

As for least, that would definitely be anything in the Grand Theft Auto milieu — I don’t particularly like modern settings with no fantasy elements, I don’t like playing criminals, and I really have zero interest in cars.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

Deus Ex was absolutely the game that made my husband and me realize that game stories had advanced to the point where they could do as much or more than any other kind of fiction. Every time we thought the story was wrapping up, we hit a new wrinkle, and both the gameplay and the dialogue were tight and fun and always kept moving. For me, the gameplay itself was a little difficult, though, and I really needed my husband to take the controls when the shooting started.

I think Bioware’s Jade Empire (which was done well before I started working here, so I’m not tooting my own horn) was one of the most satisfying game experiences I’ve had on my own. The story was good, the choices were cool, the setting was my favorite — Asian fantasy — and the gameplay was very easy to learn. I could play the game myself, appreciate it for the story, and get through the fighting with just a few buttons and very little technique. I only had to reload maybe twice during the entire game, which is key to my enjoyment, because if I have to reload and replay an area I’ve already done, I will almost always just turn the game off and never start it again.

If I were to recommend a game to a girl just starting out and looking for something beautiful, immersive and easy to learn (especially if she’s a
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fan), I would definitely put Jade at the top of the list.

If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

A fast-forward button. Games almost always include a way to “button through” dialogue without paying attention, because they understand that some players don’t enjoy listening to dialogue and they don’t want to stop their fun. Yet they persist in practically coming into your living room and forcing you to play through the combats even if you’re a player who only enjoys the dialogue. In a game with sufficient story to be interesting without the fighting, there is no reason on earth that you can’t have a little button at the corner of the screen that you can click to skip to the end of the fighting.

Companies have a lot of objections, such as how to calculate loot and experience points for a player who doesn’t actually play the combats, but these could be easily addressed by simply figuring out an average or minimum amount of experience for every fight and awarding that.

The biggest objection is usually that skipping the fight scenes would make the game so much shorter, but to me, that’s the biggest perk. If you’re a woman, especially a mother, with dinner to prepare, kids’ homework to help with, and a lot of other demands on your time, you don’t need a game to be 100 hours long to hold your interest — especially if those 100 hours are primarily doing things you don’t enjoy. A fast forward button would give all players — not just women — the same options that we have with books or DVDs — to skim past the parts we don’t like and savor the ones we do. Over and over, women complain that they don’t like violence, or they don’t enjoy difficult and vertigo-inducing gameplay, yet this simple feature hasn’t been tried on any game I know of.

Granted, many games would have very little left if you removed the combat, but for a game like Deus Ex or Bioware’s RPGs, you could take out every shred of combat and still have an entertainment experience that rivals anything you’d see in the theater or on TV.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?

I think that the biggest detriment to more varieties of games being made which appeal to women and casual gamers, is simply the fact that people who don’t love games don’t become game designers. A game company tends to be filled with people whose best memories come from the games they played, who spend all their time swapping war stories with other gamers, and it’s not too surprising that they end up wanting to make games that recaptures those experiences. A lot of ground has been broken in other media when someone who is dissatisfied with his existing choices decides to try something new (Samuel Beckett comes to mind, as the self-professed playwright who hated drama).

I think as games become more mainstream, more people of more varied tastes will join the field, and that will include women. I think right now, though, the biggest hurdle from the point of view of the companies is how to reach women once you have a product they would like. Most women, certainly all women who aren’t active gamers, can’t be targeted by the typical ads in game magazines or on gaming websites. It’s much, much harder to tell someone who doesn’t yet know that they want your product to go out and buy it, than to convince someone who is already looking for his next gaming fix that yours will be the best.

Again, I really believe Bioware’s Jade Empire would be a fantastic first RPG experience for most women, but I doubt many even saw it who weren’t already fans. And because of this, Bioware is unlikely to produce any games that streamlined again, since their more hardcore audience didn’t like the lack of inventory, easy combat and other features which made it so newcomer-friendly. I really believe that there is a large group of women who enjoy other genre products (from fantasy romance novels, to anime, to the Lord of the Rings movies), who would enjoy an interactive RPG story with some of the more logistical challenges removed, but I honestly don’t know how to let them know it’s out there.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

I am currently the Managing Editor of Dragon Age, which is Bioware’s “next-generation Baldur’s Gate in an evolving world.” Basically, I’m the number two writer on the project, out of a current staff of four writers, and have really enjoyed the chance to work on several of the largest chapters in the game. The game is a western fantasy epic, but in an original IP, with a very detailed world and darkly heroic storyline. To see more about it, go to http://dragonage.bioware.com.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

I would definitely recommend scrounging up the cash to check out GDC — it’s basically a meat market for people who want to work in games. Bring a professional resume and a portfolio if you’re an artist — there will be people there, probably dozens, who want to look at it. When I went, I was expecting something more like a science fiction convention, where most of the networking is done informally, but at GDC there is active recruitment going on throughout the show. That’s where I met Kevin Barrett from Bioware, and a few months and several writing samples later, moved up to Edmonton. I’d also recommend checking out the IGDA, and seeing if there’s a special interest group of theirs that’s relevant to you — there’s a lot of networking done through the various mailing lists, and it gives you people to hang out with when you do scrape together the dough for a ticket to GDC.

For writers specifically, though, I would say to make sure you have experience writing as many types of stories as possible. I personally think it would do every writer some good to write a few spec scripts for TV shows — whether or not you want to work in TV, you’ll learn a lot about how to structure drama in a small space and how to suit your voice to an existing world and characters. Don’t try to write exclusively for games — whatever opportunity you get to pad your resume with paid or produced/published works will help you in the long run.

On the other hand, make sure you know what’s out there in terms of games; you don’t have to be the biggest gamer in the world to be a great game writers, but you need to understand game fans and what they like in their gaming experiences. Make friends with hardcore gamers if you aren’t one yourself (marrying one works even better), and make sure you enjoy hanging out with them and hearing their war stories. If you can’t have fun talking about games, don’t bother to try to work in the industry, because the biggest perk about it is getting to hang out with some really smart, fun, opinionated creative folks and shoot the breeze about a topic you all love.

What are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?
As I think I’ve mentioned before, my favorite games are probably Deus Ex and Jade Empire. I’m also a huge pen-and-paper RPG fan, with particular love for Shadowrun (pre-third edition), Legend of the Five Rings, and the World of Darkness.

Favorite movies are a little harder question. I was blown away by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, especially because I’m not a huge Tolkein fan and he made me love them anyway. I absolutely adore Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies, which I think are possibly the best ensemble pieces ever made. I love Three Kings, Chicago, Galaxy Quest, Memento, The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride, Fight Club, Beauty and the Beast, and a whole bunch of others that range just as far over the map as those. I personally find television a lot more influential on my work (small surprise after working in the field), and I’d cite The West Wing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, House, Gilmore Girls, ER and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit as personal favorites and excellent examples for anyone studying character and dialogue.

I have a huge number of favorite authors, but most of my choices tend to be female writers writing science fiction or fantasy with strong romance elements. My top picks include Melanie Rawn, Catharine Asaro, Kate Elliott, Sharon Shinn and Jacqueline Carrey. I also enjoy Tom Deitz, Tad Williams (other than the Dragonbone Chair stuff) and George R.R. Martin.

My biggest inspiration though, is definitely my husband Chris. We started dating and writing together our freshman year of college and have been together every since. He’s the one who introduced me to roleplaying and the one I’ve giggled, argued and cried over every manuscript with. Now he’s also writing at Bioware, on a different project, and we still never get tired of talking endlessly about the theory of writing and how to make it fun, how to break it down to teach the best process to other writers, and how to break new ground in our games. He’s always pushed me to make my writing just a little bit better than I’m satisfied with, and I can’t wait to see what kind of dad he’ll be this November.

in Interviews

Killer Women: Cari Begle

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by on June 2, 2006 at 3:28 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA, in 2005 43% of game players are women, a number that has grown from 39% in prior years’ research. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Cari Begle works for Stardock Entertainment, which happens to be in my very cold neck of the woords. She is the lead developer on the much acclaimed Galactic Civilizations. How did she get started and what does she do? Read on to find out.

Galciv_Intro_sc1.jpgName: Cari Begle
Title: Lead Developer, Galactic Civilizations series
Company: Stardock Entertainment

What’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

I’ve had a computer since I was five, (since before there was such a thing as hard drives) and I always had games. When I was younger, they were mostly educational and puzzle games. When I was in my teens, I discovered role-playing games, which is still my favorite genre.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I have a B.S. in Computer Science. I learned C/C++ in college, and a lot of theory, but experience is really the best teacher. When you actually start working on real world projects, you find out what you’re capable of, and then exceed that capability. I would say that the best thing I learned in college was how to learn, and keep on learning.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

When I was in college, I worked on Microsoft Access databases as a temp for Media One’s Quality Assurance department. In the industry, I’ve been a game programmer.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

I got into programming because I wanted to make video games. I started out as a summer intern here at Stardock. When I graduated from college, they offered me a full time position.

How long have you been working in the industry?

It will be 6 years in June.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

I work on a lot of the underlying stuff in our games, like the interface, save games, object movement, etc.—things that make the game work. I also handle a lot of the second level support for our games, things that the support techs don’t know how to answer. On an average day, I check my e-mail first. If there are bug reports or forwarded support e-mails, I try to take care of those first. When I get done with support/bug fixing, I can start working on implementing or improving features.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

The most exciting moments are when we get a good review, or when someone comes in with the latest sales figures. My latest project, Galactic Civilizations 2, has been doing extremely well, so there’s been a lot of exciting moments lately.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

Hardware / Compatibility issues.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

Most people think that making video games is just fun, that you get to play video games all day. They don’t realize that it is hard work. Play testing is really a small part of the game development process.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

I haven’t ever felt advantaged or disadvantaged for being a female in the game industry. I probably get more attention for being female, but that’s really about it. It might be different at other companies, but here at Stardock it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I wouldn’t really call myself hardcore, although I’m not really a casual gamer either. I probably play 10-20 hours a week outside of work when I’m not really busy with other things.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

I like fantasy role-playing games the best. I don’t really care for FPS games other than Halo, or sports games.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

Neverwinter Nights, if I can include the expansion packs.

completecollection_sm.jpgIf you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

Customization. People really like being able to customize their character’s appearance, stats, etc, and they really like being able to customize their game world. Look at the Sims.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?

The industry is making a big deal about the lack of women gamers, and it is true that there are far fewer women gamers than men gamers, making them an untapped market. However, it’s not really that hard to make games that women would like; they don’t need pink frilly Barbie games to get them playing. It is, however, important to make games not turn women off.

For example, in role-playing games, it can’t be that hard to let the player choose their gender and customize the appearance of their character. At the very least, the women character does not have to look like Barbie or Lara Croft. A lot of in game text does not need to be gender specific, and the use of tags in the text can allow the game to dynamically parse together dialog that does make gender specific references. Games should also be easy to pick up again after saving and exiting: a well done journal is an excellent tool for gamers of any gender.

Really, just making games that appeal to a broader audience than 15-30 year old males will generate more sales. Sure, they might be buying most of the games now, but if there were more games with mass appeal like the Sims, that won’t be such a narrow statistic.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

I’m currently working on updates for Galactic Civilization 2. We’re not doing anything really major yet, but we plan on doing two expansion packs.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

You have to really want it, and you should enjoy coding, or making art, or whatever you want to do. The best thing that you can do is to make a demo CD with small games on it to demonstrate your skills. The demos should be polished, not just thrown together. This might mean that you have less free time to play video games or do other things, but the Demo CD will probably determine if you get an interview without experience in the industry.

module_kingmaker_02_680x530.jpgWhat are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

My favorite games are Neverwinter Nights and its expansion packs, World of Warcraft, and Mario Dance Dance Revolution Remix.

Serenity is one of my favorite movies.

My favorite author is Marion Zimmer Bradley, for her Darkover series.

My biggest inspiration in life is my faith. When I’m having a bad day, I take a deep breath and remind myself that God is always with us.

Other than play video games, I like to read and occasionally write, play acoustic guitar, watch movies, and spend time with friends and family.

in Interviews

Killer Women: Amanda Fitch

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by on May 17, 2006 at 2:51 pm

Women who are gainfully employed in the games industry are becoming more and more common. The assumption that video games are a man’s domain is finally becoming outdated. Women are playing and working with video games in astounding numbers. According to the ESA, in 2005 43% of game players are women, a number that has grown from 39% in prior years’ research. While the percentage of women working in the industry is still small, these women are paving the way for equality in this environment as well. More and more young women are going to technical schools and getting hired by game developers who see the value of a female perspective when creating video games.

So, how did these women get started and why do they do it? Those are the questions I want answers to, so I ask. This will be a continuing series of profiles of the women who have broken stereotypes and taken jobs in the video game industry.

Amanda Fitch started her own game development company, which she works on part-time while holding a full-time job. She released a 2D RPG, Aveyond, to much acclaim. How did she get started and what does she do? Read on to find out.

Name: Amanda Fitch
Title: Game Designer / Owner
Company: Amaranth Games

What’s your earliest memory of video games? Did you grow up on games or did you find them later in your life?

I was five years old and my father bought the family a Nintendo. I was addicted from the beginning.

What kind of education do you have and has it prepared you well for this industry?

I have an English BA. My degree has helped me in subtle ways. I apply many of the writing methods I learned in school to the games I create today.

What type of work did you do before you got into the industry and what jobs in the industry have you held?

I’m a technical writer at a small software company by day and a game designer by night. It’s a running joke at my company that the “technical writer” is going to leave and start a gaming empire.

Was your entry into working with video games planned or chance? What initiated your interest in working in this industry? How did you get started in the industry?

I entered the industry by chance. After college, I became a technical writer and was bored to death. To challenge myself, I learned how to program and paint. One day, I wanted to play a game but couldn’t find anything interesting, so I decided to create one. Since that fateful day, I have been creating games non-stop. I’m truly addicted.

I’d never planned to make games a career, but my last freeware game became very popular. It convinced me that my games might be good enough to sell. I’m extremely happy that I did and the decision has been lucrative.

How long have you been working in the industry?

I have been making games for four years; I have been selling games since January, 2006.

What does your job entail? What is an average day like?

I design each game from the ground up. I manage the contracts with artists, musicians, marketing, and glue it all together.

At the beginning of my day, I go to the Amaranth Games online community and tell my players hello, take care of any troubleshooting issues, and check in with my team. Then, I make a small plan that contains all of the goals that I need to fulfill before the end of the day. If I fulfill the plan early, I get off early. If it takes all night to fulfill the plan, then I work all night.

Tell us about the most interesting or exciting moment for you in your job.

Completing Aveyond was really exciting. It was the first game I’d ever released for sale.

What is your least favorite thing about working in the industry?

The sheep syndrome bothers me. I don’t like it when people in the industry tell me that things are the way they are because that’s the way they are. I’m a statistics girl, and when someone gives me an argument without statistics to back it up, they won’t convince me to change my opinion.

Of course, the sheep syndrome isn’t a completely bad thing. When there is a blind spot in the industry, it gives someone like me a chance to exploit it.

What is the one misconception you feel people have about working in the industry in your type of position?

There is a misconception that making games is easy. From my experience, about 90% of indies do not finish their games.

Do you feel you are advantaged or disadvantaged as a female in an industry so dominated by men? Do you have any examples of situations where you feel you had an advantage because you were female? Any where you think being a woman played against you? Any anecdotal stories where being female played a part?

I feel that I have the advantage. Because I’m not the norm, it makes it easier to be noticed. For example, last year when I attended a game development conference, only 5% of the attendees were women. It was hard not to be noticed. Many of the guy developers were curious to know how I got started.

I had one experience that I felt was a reflection of my gender. In a game magazine, a reviewer called me an ignorant idiot for having a female ruler in my game, Aveyond. That was quite a shocker, but amusing none the less.

Do you consider yourself a hardcore gamer? How many hours a week do you get to play (besides the title you are working on)?

I used to be a hardcore gamer when I was young, but I work so much now that I don’t get to play as much as I used to. I probably spend about five hours a week playing games. If Amaranth Games takes off, I hope to have more time to play. Hey! It is important to keep up with industry trends.

What settings and genres do you enjoy most? Least?

I like fantasy games that have puzzles to solve, monsters to fight, and lots of places to explore. My least favorite games are sports titles.

If you could pick one game as the best game ever, what would it be?

Kings Quest VI. It doesn’t have fighting but the story, environment, and quests are awesome.

If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?

I would suggest adding some colorful, curious environments to your games.

Do you have an opinion about the current state of the industry with regard to females and gaming? If so, what is it?

I think the industry is beginning to recognize that females play games. New statistics are coming out that challenge the out-dated notion that only 19-year old guys play games.
I think we will see the impact of the new studies in three years.

If you can talk about it, can you tell us some about the project you are currently working on?

My next project begins development this summer. The game is about a dwarfkin boy who must discover who poisoned his village spring. The quest will take the dwarfkin deep into the forest for answers, and this in turn will drive him toward a larger, more dangerous quest in the world of man. Unlike my previous projects, this one is going to be 3D.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into the industry?

Persistence. Plan carefully, avoid feature creep, and don’t stop until you’ve completed your game. Finishing is hard. Once you learn how to finish, you’re going to do fine.

What are your favorite games? Favorite movies? Favorite Authors? Inspirations? What do you like doing in your free time?

Games: Kings Quest, Final Fantasy
Movies: Napoleon Dynamite, Legend
Authors: Robert Jordan, Jane Austen
Inspirations: Roberta Williams, History
Free time: Painting, programming, running

Our many thanks to Amanda for taking the time to talk about herself with us. We also have a full review of Aveyond, so check that out.

in Interviews

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