- Could you tell us a bit about how you started out in the games industry?
I don’t actually identify as being in the games industry. This is because my career began before, and I do stuff outside of it and will continue to do so. So I don’t have a stake in identifying with it in a strong way, because commissions come my way through the relationships and work I’ve done for the last decade or so. But as for working with games, my entrance was through ARGs (alternate reality games) in the early 2000s. For me, games came alive when social mechanics and the web (global players) got involved.
- What inspired you to join the industry? Was there a particular game you were obsessed with as a kid?
There is a long, long length of time between me being a kid and me making games professionally. There is a shorter gap for others, but not for me lol. I wasn’t inspired to join the industry, I was inspired to make interactive projects. In the beginning, it was a bringing my characters to life using soft AI (chatbots). As a kid, I loved my Bandai Electronic Pacman clone. I spent hours and hours playing that over and over again. I used to dream of having a portable TV like that too. Later on, I played games my brother had like Kings Quest and Leisure Suit Larry. But I got infinitely more joy out of making games. I use tiles and Smurfs on chess boards, I made my own pinball machines using an old cabinet door, nails, rubber bands, and marbles. I also used to write lots of books, and I would paste in “evidence” of the truth of the magic. For instance, my mum had some multi-coloured wool, and I put that into the book to show evidence that the multicoloured sheep I wrote about actually existed. For those that know ARGs, the attraction is clear.
- What project(s) are you currently working on?
I have a commissioned project that I have finished but which hasn’t launched yet. For that one I worked with a regional town to archive their stories in an app. But I wanted to create a justification for being in the space and for being physical in the space, and so I adding in archiving play through the generations. I loved what I discovered there and look forward to sharing some insights. I also have a work touring around Australia for Experimenta Biennial of Media Art, which is also available on the app store: Magister Ludi.
In development I have a few projects on the boil. I always do, and they rotate in terms of precedence in my schedule. I am currently developing a digital game and an animated short film about a blind spider and it’s guide fly. I am loving working out how to restructure the film so it works with the play design of the game. I have two card games that I am developing in the background: Boss Bluff, which is a social deduction game with shifting alliances. You’re at a tense dinner where Under Bosses give speeches professing their loyalty to each other. Be the best at determining who is betraying you and you’ll triumph as the Gang Boss; and DIY SPY in which you train to be spies at an underfunded spy academy, using whatever objects are around to fulfil the missions. It is a comedy MacGyver game. DIY SPY is almost there but is self-funded and so it just has to wait until my other self-funded projects with more time sensitivity are done. I am also developing a creation wizard for the my audio tours across the web technology. Based on what I developed for my project AUTHENTIC, I am making a free service so anyone can create web audio tours easily. I am also working on a book & card deck for writing and designing cross-media projects. I have tested the prototype with clients in educators in New Zealand, and am currently writing the book. I also co-founded and run with Lance Weiler a special lab for writers and designers called Forward Slash Story. We’re holding it again in Costa Rica this year, and I love designing the event for community and creative stretching.
- What particular types of games or aspects of interactive storytelling interest you?
I love games and interactive projects that actually deal with subject matter I find interesting. I’m not a big fan of teenage stories in film, and the same in games. I love games that are good emotional design, and design for intuitive use. I’m keen on games that enable the social in ways that bring out the best in people.
- Do you think approaches to interactive storytelling differ along gender lines? If so, how?
This is such a loaded question. On the one hand I have found some older studies on how women play games really helpful and insightful, such as the ones Sheri Graner Ray talks about in her book Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market. However, when talking about these studies with my game students, we often find many males also identify with the findings. So, I’m finding it more helpful to think about different kinds of preferences across gender than gender-specific ones.
- What are some of your favourite games created by a woman or featuring a female main character?
To be honest I find it hard to find games featuring a female main character that I relate to. I’m not interested in teenage girl stories. I follow Robin Hunicke’s work as I loved Journey and am really looking forward to Luna. Anna Anthropy has done a range of really interesting things with mechanics and subject many times over. I’m a fan of Sara Thacher and her work as she always does quality productions. She is now Lead Designer at Walt Disney Imagineering R&D. I’m also a fan of Holly Gramazio‘s live games and events, and Annette Mees‘ theatre and play experiments. There are many more of course.
- Which upcoming games are you most looking forward to being released and why?
I am looking forward to Cuphead because I cannot wait to dive into the stylistic animation they’re produced, for nostalgic value. I’m not that keen on the gameplay though. I’m keen to study The Dragon Cancer, to see how the emotional design is constructed. I’m looking forward to Push Me Pull You because it will be a game I can whip out and have fun with mates and I’ve been enjoying seeing their rise. I’m super keen on playing Fabulous Beasts because I love cross-media games and especially live and digital ones as a player and as a creator. It also looks fun and I’m keen to support Alex in his next creative chapter. I’m keen on The Last Guardian to study the emotion design. I’m keen on Oxenfree to study the emotion, character, narrative and dialogue design. I’m keen on Unravel once again to see the use of beautiful tactile art, the emotion design and narrative, but I’ll have to see if the gameplay is also what I will enjoy. I’m keen to study the emotion design of The Flame in the Flood, I’m keen to dive into Persona 5, to study how they handle their design. Also keen to see the Australian game Paradigm when it comes out as the surreal silliness of the world and the dialogue seem lots of fun. I’m super keen on Luna as it seems to be a game that interests me on art, subject, and gameplay levels. There aren’t many games that match gameplay AND subject interest for me.
- What are your tips for anyone wanting to break into the games industry?
Don’t try to break into it! Ha! What I mean is, for me, I don’t try and be in an existing industry. I follow where my creative curiosity takes me. That doesn’t mean I can ignore all the networking. You do need to network and be visible to be even considered part of something. But your creative work doesn’t begin once you’re seen as being part of a community. Do what drives you, and research hard to find people like you. There are lots of crusty layers to the game communities. You need to dig deep and around to find the non-mainstream and conservative ones.
- Are there any Twitter feeds, websites, Facebook pages, forums etc you could recommend for people who are interested in games and interactive storytelling?
I am less on Twitter these days unfortunately, and most of the ones I used to follow have stopped now. But if you’re just familiar with mainstream games, then explore itchio (and steam), game jams, games showcased and the talks at WordPlay, the talks at Practice, talks from GDC Vault, and the ELO collection (and I have my own small curated list) There is no one place I go to for articles and game recommendations, and so it is important you have a wide network to be exposed to different things.