Anna Irwin-Schutze

Anna Irwin-Schutze

  1. Could you tell us a bit about how you started out in the games industry?

I kind of slipped in sideways. My other half, Stephan, has been working in games for over 16 years, and a few years ago we decided to form our own company, based around his sound design work. I was the business development side. Then we added education, which brought in my professional skills as an instructional designer and technical writer. Finally, I decided to stretch my own creative chops and expand into game narrative and writing myself.  Sound design and narrative design have very interesting parallels, so it was a natural step for me.  I still handle most of the business and education side of our business.

  1. What inspired you to join the industry? Was there a particular game you were obsessed with as a kid?

I’ve loved games since I first got my hands on one. It never occurred to me back then that you could actually have a job making them!  Then as I got involved from the business development side, and studying creative writing on my own, it occurred to me that I could actually do it!

My earliest game was Bubble Bobble, which didn’t exactly have a strong narrative structure, but later on I really enjoyed the text-based adventure (OMG, trying to get the Babel fish in Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy drove me nuts).  I’ve always enjoyed good stories and wanted to write since I was young. Discovering that game narrative was a thing you could actually do, and that I could do was a bit of a revelation.

  1. What project(s) are you currently working on?

Our company has recently been working on Armello and Defect: SDK, and we’re doing sound, music and quest design for a new game that’s still secret squirrel business.

  1. What particular types of games or aspects of interactive storytelling interest you?

I’m a bit of a game omnivore. For narrative, I have really enjoyed the Mass Effect games and Dragon Age, as well as the Witcher and Fallout 4 (to a lesser degree). I love games that let you build relationships with other characters around the action. They blend my love of action with a bit of romance and friendship.  I do like games with more linear narrative if they’re well-told stories. The latest Tomb Raider, the Last of Us stand out for me, and I am first in line when any Uncharted games come out.

  1. Do you think approaches to interactive storytelling differ along gender lines? If so, how?

I tend to think of gender as more of a spectrum than a dichotomy, but I do see some trends. At the feminine end, I see more of a focus on exploring relationships between people. Not just romantic ones, but relationships overall, so enjoying negotiation, problem solving with fewer bullets, finding the middle ground.  Games like the Walking Dead series are good examples of this kind of storytelling.

At the masculine end, I see a more competitive approach, focused on winners and losers, so we see narratives are around defeating the enemy, or becoming the best at something.  There also seems to be more of a trend towards puzzles or physical problem-solving challenges.  Like what you see in most FPS games, racing games and more than a few RPGs as well.

I don’t think it’s a hard and fast rule, though.

  1. What are some of your favourite games created by a woman or featuring a female main character?

Portal 1 and 2 are standout favourites, but mainly because of the puzzle solving approach.  Tomb Raider (some early and the most recent versions), Mass Effect again (femshep FTW), Dragon Age: Inquisition.  Halo 3.

  1. Which upcoming games are you most looking forward to being released and why?

Uncharted 4, I love the great adventure of these games and the strong narrative (and interesting female characters).  Mass Effect: Andromeda, mixed feelings, I loved the earlier games but I’m not sure quite where they’re going to go, I have hope.  Doom, I love a good FPS but not really expecting much from the narrative there J. I’ll probably have a longer list after GDC in March.

  1. What are your tips for anyone wanting to break into the games industry?

Hmm, here are my top three tips.

Firstly, practice your skills. Even if you’re making your own little games on the side, the more you practice your creative skills, the better you will get.  As a bonus, you’ll have more things to show off.

Second, get to know people.  Networking can be done well or badly. Badly is meeting people and going to events for the sole purpose of snagging a job. Done well, it’s about getting to know people, asking what they’re working on and interested in. Have something to say about what you are passionate about and interested in. Passion goes a long way, even if you’ve not got any titles under your belt yet. Do your best to be interested, not interesting.

Finally, diversify a bit. If you want to be a good writer or narrative designer, study how good stories are written in all media. Go see movies, watch TV shows with good stories, read books and comics and short stories.  Then write them!
Good stories come in all forms, and if you write in different formats, it improves your flexibility and creativity and also opens up potentially diverse sources of income. Short stories are particularly good for practicing getting your story across economically, which is important when writing for games.

  1. Are there any Twitter feeds, websites, Facebook pages, forums etc you could recommend for people who are interested in games and interactive storytelling?

Hmm, I’m not all that helpful there.  I mostly interact with game developers across the board on sites like IGDA and other groups on Facebook.  However, do look at different places where people are sharing interactive stories using tools like Twine. Look for reviews of games that talk about the narrative, that’s a great way to see how games are received and look for narrative done well and done poorly. Gamasutra is a great place for finding interesting conversations.