Thursday, 31 July 2014

Red Sun: The Early Life of an Indie Game

Last weekend at ConBravo in Hamilton, I had the chance to meet some pretty awesome people after our interviews and panel called "Crowdfunding and the Independent Artist." There are so many of you out there doing rad creative things that deserve people's attention, so I was glad I could offer some tips that might save you a headache or two.

On that note, I want to introduce you to one of the indie artists I met, Richelle Rueda, who's spent the past several months on the dev team for a game called Red Sun (which looks like an exciting dark twist on the classic Bo-Peep.) I've always wondered what it's like to build a game from scratch and trying to co-ordinate a team of people who might have competing visions for the final product. SO here's a behind-the-scenes look at the process and some of the challenges of starting your own project:

A Little Information

My name is Richelle Rueda. I graduated from Texas A&M with a B.Sc. in biology. I worked in oncology research for three years, but I have always been an avid gamer. During school I worked as a freelance 2D artist under the pen name FireCatRich on deviantart. While my freelance work is primarily digital, I’ve had formal training in 2D and 3D traditional art at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada, receiving high honors upon completion of my studies. This past year I've been in the post-graduate game design program at Sheridan. There I led a small development team through their capstone project from concept to completion in the summer of 2014. 

Red Sun is a vertical slice - a small, polished sample or demo that is representative of a larger game - a 2-D puzzle platformer that was built in Unity 4. Ideally this can be used in a presentation to potential employers or investors as a sample of our work even if the larger game is never finished. The developer’s blog for Red Sun can be found here.

The Pitch

In December of 2013, all the designers in my cohort were tasked with making a short game pitch for our peers and the programming students. There were two main goals to this pitch. The first was to illustrate a clear vision for a game, highlighting its unique characteristics and project risks. The second goal was to demonstrate our personal skills and what we could offer to the team. The sculpture below was made to do both. I was the only traditional sculptor in the class and while it did not directly contribute to the digital game, it did demonstrate my clear vision of the main character and my dedication to the project.

The games pitches with the most votes were then able to form teams in January. Red Sun had a total of four members when the entire process was completed, with two designers and two programmers.

The original game proposal was then mapped out. The GDD (game design document) was written as though we had unlimited time and manpower on the project. This helped us to get all of our widely ranging ideas and goals for the project on paper. All of our team members had the opportunity to add their own ideas into the game, though not all of them chose to do so. While it was frustrating to not receive that much input from the other members of the team, my personal goal was to have the main characters--Bo, her sheep, and the gooey wolf antagonists-- fully realized within the gameBelow is some very early concept work I did for the wolves.

The most difficult part of the development process that I’ve had to go through so far was re-evaluating the original proposal once a group was put together. The original proposal was, intentionally, very grand and far more than could possibly be done in the 4 months of production we were given. We had to take into consideration the group’s strengths and specialties and realistically evaluate our own weaknesses. I find self-evaluation quite difficult, as did the rest of the people in the team.

When the dust settled and meetings among the team and with our advisers had concluded, the final proposal was cut down to the vertical slice of the much larger game that we are currently working on now. We had to showcase Bo and all her unique abilities in her world in one tutorial level and one fully realized level of game play. The story elements and large cast of NPCs that inhabited the world were stripped down to their bare minimum to accommodate our small team size and limited production time.

One of the hardest parts of getting started came down to setting short term goals that were manageable. In any large project it can often seem daunting to look at it as a whole, so chopping it into much smaller goals helps get things off the ground. We found that these very simple block diagrams were helpful to communicate ideas between team members even though the actually numerical values ended up changing several times during the project.

These diagrams also helped with the next step for our team. While the four of us were handling the game from a mechanically end, we asked additional people to join our team to make some improvements. At this point we brought on an animator to handle the lion’s share of the 2D sprites and a composer to make some original scores for the game. While the project could have continued without these additions, the quality of the project greatly improved from their expertise. This presented a new difficulty along with the benefits though; the interactions between team members often had to be facilitated. Below is Bo’s turn-around that I, as the primary 2D artist made, and then handed off to the animator. This job order required time to organize and made a timeline pivotal to the project.

Final Thoughts:
For anyone that would like to start their own project, be it a game or other creative project, there are a few helpful hints to keep in mind:
  1. Research your topic. If it’s a game play lots of games and examine them critically.
  2. Be creative with your ideas and solutions.
  3. Get those ideas down on paper and prepare to explain them to other people.
  4. Don’t be afraid to talk problems through with your team.
  5. Be clear about your goals and your team members' goals for the project. Check to be sure they don’t conflict.
  6. Be realistic with your time and resources.
  7. Reevaluate your project at set intervals.
The team also benefited from the time invested in project management and timeline building to keep everyone working efficiently. There were regular check points so that we could clearly see our progress and end goals.

Good luck and happy hunting on all your creative endeavors!
-Richelle “FireCatRich” Rueda

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Survey! Your Ideal Online Playground for Girl Gamers?

Some days my brain operates on two competing levels and it goes something like this:

"Yes but, um, I've been thinking--"

"--You've been THINKING!? Now look here, I warned you about thinking. I've got a knob for this job, now let's get on with it!"

(sorry I just had to throw that reference in)

We all have those days right? Where your brain is going in circles and you end up totally stalled? Well, today I did some thinking, and I concluded that it was time to get your input on a big idea that I have. 

When I'm not doing interviews for the doc, the majority of my work for She Got Game involves solitary things like organizing, researching, and planning. The same sites and big names always pop up, and frankly I get frustrated with some of the gaming resources out there. Not because they're not good, but because they rarely include diverse content continually created by new people.

You know what I really want? I want to discover some funky obscure projects+blogs+videos+reviews+podcasts+concept/fan art+games that so often get lost in the ooooooos of Google searches. A LOT OF YOU ARE ALREADY DOING THIS. Why not connect us all somehow?

Back to the big idea, I've been dreaming up a collaborative website for us

Think Kotaku meets YouTube meets Reddit meets GameSpot, except that it will include you and your friends and any other woman who's into gaming in a curated, fun, visually exciting way. Ok fine, that's one hell of an aspiration, but let's dream about it anyway.

If you knew a webwizard (which I do) who wanted to build you that perfect online niche you've always wanted, what would that look like? I seriously want to know!

I've been looking at women and gaming websites for a long time now and here are some examples of what's already out there:

Women in Games

Reddit: GirlGamers 

Casual Girl Gamer

Girl Gamer Vogue

So after taking a look at these, we want to know: What do you want!? Is there something lacking in the online communities and sites that are already out there? How can we build you the ideal online gaming playground for YOU? Fill out the survey if you want to have some input!

...And as always, feel free to email me personally at if you have any other thoughts or ideas. 

Peace, love and happy Thursday.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

No Thanks, I'll Just Watch: Why We're Content to Play the Spectator

One of the people who deserves credit for my interest in computer games is my uncle Darrell who I visited in Texas every couple of years as a kid. He'd whip out (kid)inappropriate games like Unreal Tournament which was a big relief from Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (thanks dad). But one thing I regret is that I didn't get to spend much time with my cousins. Take Ginger, for instance. Turns out we actually share some common geek interests:

When she's not curled up with her poodle, she's probably chipping away at her PhD...or watching a few friends battle it out on the PS2. WHOOPS did I say "watch"? I did! Funny, it turns out this is something we actually really love to do...

Consider this Major League Gaming headline (and check out the article):

When you look at the facts, there's no doubt that the eSports audience is huge--so huge that the live game streaming site TwitchTV is reportedly worth around 1 billion dollars. Bloggers have spouted a ton of theories about why: we want to learn top player's secrets, we love to watch just about anything that's pro, we want the interactive thrill of watching online...

...But why do so many of us also love watching average Janes+Joes play video games? Why would I want to sit for hours and watch my brother play Tony Hawk Pro with his friends? Why would he be glued to my game of Portal? And why the hell do people assume that girls would rather watch cause they "can't play"? 


Some of my best memories are of hours spent sitting, pajama clad, with a bowl of pop-corn at hand, night after night watching some extremely sophisticated and intricate narratives unfold through the touch of one skilled gamer and a Sony PlayStation 2 Duel Shock Controller. It was during these long nights that my appreciation for the complexity of the character development and epic story arcs in video games grew from passing curiosity to utter fascination. It was not until years later, when I was studying for my M.A. in Literature that I began to reexamine the games I had grown so fond of and ask myself, “What is the function of video games in shaping and portraying society and what is the role of the spectator in such function?” Furthermore, are roles of gamer/spectator gendered, and if so, what social constructs enforce these roles?

If you don’t play video games, there is much to be gained from watching the stories unfold, and the role of spectator cannot be undervalued as people often crowd around champion gamers in conference halls, arcades, and recently, for the first time, during the X-Games in Austin, Texas. Is there gender stratification between gamers and spectators? Are girls more likely to be spectators of games because the role of spectator is passive, and girls are supposed to be passive? It seems that there is a common perception that girls just watch video games because they don’t think they are good enough to play, or that they simply feign interest in gaming just to seem more interesting themselves. This could be true of some people, but as a girl spectator of gaming, I have to say that watching people play video games is one of the most relaxing, interesting, and entertaining things that I could do in my spare time. In fact, I often nag some of my gamer friends to buy and play a certain game that I want to watch. Why don’t I play the game myself then? Because I find watching more relaxing.

One could also argue that a spectator can’t really be into games if they are only watching. I disagree. I know more about certain games that I have watched than some others who have played the games themselves. Girls will probably never represent the majority of certain activities such as pro-football or sumo wrestling, but that does not diminish the magnitude of their genuine interest and expertise in activities that they are passionate about. Video games are no different, and I say if you are a girl spectator, embrace it because video games profoundly address issues that affect everyone.

One of my friends wrote her Master’s thesis about female characters in Final Fantasy VII. Through a discussion with her, I began to understand that video games are, like other genres of entertainment such as science fiction and horror films, able to present rich social criticisms because they are not meant to be taken seriously. My friend argued that female characters in FFVII worked to reinforce stereotypes about women. Whether I agreed with this argument or not, I started to think about video games differently. They were like a new form of folk tale, designed by people with vested interests, portraying certain ideals to a specific audience. I thought about how FFVII was rich with eco-criticism, and how Resident Evil mirrored George A. Romero’s zombie metaphor, with a particular jab at pharmaceutical consumption. So, whether gamer, or observer, video games offer a unique medium through which to tell modern day folk tales and offer an entertaining lens through which to view society. Gamer, spectator, male or female, everyone has something to gain by understanding video games as something more than just mindless entertainment. Anyone who sees the parallels between Michel Foucault’s social theories and the closing dialogue in Metal Gear Solid would agree. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Convention tips for first-time Cosplayers (Part III)

Hurray! Final installation of our 3-Part series on tips for new cosplayers by Magdalena Auditore. This final segment touches on a very important, sensitive topic which not everyone is willing to talk about, so props to her for speaking her mind. Here we go:

8. Make a list of everything you need to bring with you!
    This is important, so make sure you plan it ahead (especially if you are staying at the hotel). Make a list, not only of the things you need for your costumes, but for the essential things you need for the room. It'll be a bad time if you forget to pack your tooth brush or soap or shaving needs, extra batteries, etc. Make sure you have enough with you to keep you fed and well groomed for the duration of your time there. And make sure to shower every day! Nobody likes stinky cosplayers!

    Also, it wouldn't hurt if you put aside money specifically for the convention’s dealer's rooms. Conventions tend to be pretty expensive, so don't invest all your money into just the costume and the badge. You'll definitely want to come home with some souvenirs! In regards to medication, it wouldn't hurt to bring some Motrin or painkillers, since you will be on your feet all this time. If it's possible, taking some cold medicine or a first aid kit couldn't hurt either in the event where you end up getting sick at the convention. Nothing is worse than rooming with someone who coughs and hacks all night long (I speak as the person who has done the coughing and hacking!) If you think you might get sick during the convention, or are currently sick and still want to attend, make sure you come prepared.

9. It doesn't hurt to let others know that you love their costume.
    As long as you are respectful with your approach and ALWAYS ask for permission for a picture or a hug, people do appreciate the feedback. They love knowing that their hard work has paid off, they love to know what they did right, and they like knowing that you love their whole look. Don't be afraid to tell them they look great! There's nothing wrong with putting a lot of love and support out there and showing your appreciation.

Now that we've got the more lighthearted stuff out of the way, I do feel the need to add this to the list. This is perhaps the most important advice one can give first time con-goers, especially if they plan on attending more conventions in the future:

10. Sexual Harassment should be taken very seriously.
    This is especially important because conventions do have a huge sexual harassment problem. Nobody at the convention has the right to verbally or physically degrade you because of the costume you're wearing. As such, you have no right to do that to other people for what they are wearing, what character they're dressed up as, or how much of their body is on display. You also have no right to make lewd comments about someone's body or "what you'd like to do to it." You are talking to complete strangers who are meeting you for the first time. They might not share your same sense of humor and probably will not appreciate someone who is not their friend making comments or jokes like this to them. To put it bluntly, just act like you have some goddamned sense.
Following people around the convention, stalking them, taking pictures of them without their consent, and/or not leaving them alone when they're walking away from you is going to give that person serious creep vibes. Again, you are a complete stranger and they know nothing about you. Even if you have been talking to this person online prior to meeting them in person, you are still a stranger. Even if your intentions might be good (and I am saying this lightly), you need to consider that your actions are still very disrespectful. There is no need to make someone else uncomfortable at a convention and ruin their time.

    I must also add that just as you have no right to verbally or physically degrade someone, you also do not have any right to coerce or pressure another person into sexual acts. This is sexual assault and rape. If a cosplayer has not consented to sex and you have constantly disrespected his/her wishes and decisions to get what you want out of them, you are a sexual predator. I don't care if this person did not verbally express "no," because the absence of a "no" does not mean "yes." They shouldn't need to verbally express themselves if they're actively avoiding you, and you cannot convince me that you are completely oblivious to their message.

Before I conclude this, there is one crucial topic that needs to be made clear at the request of many of my cosplayer friends: you have no right to take advantage of young cosplayers, especially if you are several years older than they are. I know the age of consent in the United States is generally 18, but as far as I'm concerned, 18 is still a baby. I'm 24 and I want absolutely nothing to do with an 18-year-old and it confuses and baffles me that not everybody shares this mindset. For me, I don't care how attractive or "older" they look, or even if they are able to consent legally. You need to understand that even if they are 18, a year ago they were still too young to consent and very little about a person's mental and emotional state changes in just one year. As for the con-goers who are younger than 18, I've heard too many people try to say that the "jailbait cosplayers get innocent people in trouble" and I personally do not buy that. You are an adult and you are fully responsible for your decisions. You have no right to take advantage of younger cosplayers who may or may not be socially awkward or have self-esteem issues. You should be protecting them and looking out for them.

    In the event where you feel disrespected or uncomfortable, try to be as vocal about it as you can. This is not saying that it is your fault if you are not. This is stressing the fact that you have the right to be firm and angry when you are disrespected, so do not feel embarrassed or that you're being too hard on the person who is harassing you. Assume that they know exactly what they are doing when they are disrespecting you and do not feel guilty for putting them in their place. If you feel like it's becoming dangerous, try to find a security guard. If you hear someone sexually harassing another cosplayer, sometimes all it takes is one person to shut that person down, even if it's a simple, "Dude, don't be fucking weird." This should be a fun experience for everybody and to keep the community safe, we need to look out for each other and put a stop to this sort of thing when it happens in front of us.

    I understand that there are those who would prefer it if sexual harassment was not called out or made aware of at conventions out of fear that the convention will shut down or people won't go to them. That being said, I would argue that if you are not safe at a convention and the people running them aren't going to do anything to make the environment safer, that convention doesn't deserve your money. Your safety and health comes first. Seek out the conventions that have no-tolerance policies for sexual harassment. Ignoring the problem only creates more problems.

(Further discussion of these issues can be found at Feminspire, GeeksAreSexyhere and here.)

Final Thoughts 

    Like all things, conventions have both good and bad things about them. There are a lot of positives and a lot of negatives, but for every one I've ever attended, there has always been a togetherness and a sense of community and friendship. Once you're there and you're around like-minded people who love all the same things you do, it is very easy to cut loose and have as much fun as possible. Hopefully these tips will help you when attending your first convention!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Convention tips for first-time Cosplayers (Part II)

As promised, this week we're continuing with Part II of Magdalena Auditore's advice for first time cosplayers! This reminds me, did you know that we're starting an official SGG photography series? For one thing, all of us working on this project are artists, so we want to work in as many media as possible. For another thing, we want to get started on the calendar for all of our Kickstarter backers. We'll be working with the amazing Saajid Motala from Mix Tape Photos to do a series featuring gamers, developers and cosplayers. More on that coming up soon!

Anyway, to get back to the post, remember last week's points?

1. Make sure you go with the right people.
2. The cosplay community is very diverse.
3. Do not expect your first costume to be perfect. It might be rough at first, but if you stick with it, you will improve over time.
4. There are no rules for cosplaying.

Up next...

5. Don't be overbearing with your "geek credentials."
    There will be a lot of people who will make snide comments about how "that person shouldn't even be here, they're not a real fan of [insert game/anime/comic/etc here]." It's a sad fact, and if you've been on any number of geek communities online, you know what I'm talking about. When you attend a convention, there are going to be people dressed up as characters you don't know or at least know very little about.

    When I attended Youmacon 2012, I didn't know anything about Assassin's Creed except from what my friend would tell me about it. When I saw Assassin's Creed cosplayers and the detail and work that went into every aspect of their robes and weapons, I became interested in checking out the game. Again, everybody starts from somewhere and a good way to be introduced to a series can be to really appreciate someone else's love and hard work they put into bringing a character to life. It's also a great place to get back in touch with some old favorites, especially if you run into cosplayers who decided to dress up anything from Disney Princesses and obscure Final Fantasy characters to Static Shock and Angemon. Nostalgia runs strong in this community!

    That being said, do not come to a convention or approach someone if you're just going to pick a fight. It's unnecessary and just rude and there's really no need for it at all. I personally don't feel the need to approach people in costume and ask them if they're actually a fan of the game or the character. I just take a picture, say a few nice things about their costume, then go someplace else. People cosplay for different reasons: if they don't know the character, maybe they're doing it because they feel comfortable portraying that character because that character actually looks like them. Maybe someone asked them to cosplay that character so they could follow a theme for a group. Or maybe they're expressing themselves as fans of the character by dressing up as them. Whatever the reason is, there's no reason to be rude about it.

6. Keep the drama away from the convention.
    As you keep attending conventions, you are going to see people you do not like. As a biracial feminist, I already know that by the end of the year, I'm going to unfriend at least half of the people I've met at conventions for posting racist and misogynistic things on Facebook. Some people have a higher tolerance for such things, but I'm not one of them. It's a sad fact that people who seem really awesome in person show how ugly they can be online and I tend to just cut those people off for my own benefit.

    That being said, conventions are generally huge. If you see someone you do not get along with, you can easily make it so you do not run into them. It's very easy to get lost in the crowd and you have several distractions at your disposal: a gaming room, panels, a dealer's room, or just running around taking pictures. There is no reason why your time here should be ruined because of personal grudges, and there's no reason why you should ruin someone's time at the convention because of personal grudges.

7. Remember that this is a vacation.
    Do not forget that you put in the time and money for this convention. You took time off from school or work, you invested money into a costume, a room, gas money or airline tickets (if you're coming from out of state) and a badge. You have every right in the world to be here and to enjoy yourself while you're here. The worst thing you could do at a convention is to attend one and have a bad time. I have heard many cosplayers lament about dressing up as certain characters because they felt obligated to take pictures and attend photoshoots with people they didn't like, and that is absolutely silly to me. Do not associate with people who are going to bring you down and make you feel bad about yourself. You deserve to enjoy your time off as much as the next person.

On a personal note, I've discovered that I usually have more fun at conventions when alcohol is not present. This is my own personal preference, because when I get to conventions I already feel relaxed, pumped up, and am so excited to have as much fun as possible that consuming alcohol just seems unnecessary for me. Obviously a few social drinks can be nice, but for me, it is not a necessity. But if you feel that a few drinks on your vacation might make things more fun, just be sure to do it responsibly!


The final installment will be coming up in 2 weeks :)