Girls in the Video Game Industry #2: Rachel Reynolds

July 7, 2010 at 8:19 am | Posted in Girls in the Video Game Industry interview series | 9 Comments
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For anyone who is pumped about the release of the new Magic the Gathering Core Set (otherwise known as M11), you’ll be happy to know that the complete Magic 2011 Visual Spoiler is now online. If I could open any rare during the pre-release it would definitely be Leyline of Anticipation. You might even say that I’m anticipating opening a Leyline of Anticipation. Sorry. I know that was awful. /feign death

Girls in the Video Game Industry #2: Rachel Reynolds
Senior Flash Developer at Zynga

On the topic of Magic, for part two of the series I’ve interviewed a girl who spent over three years working at Wizards of the Coast before going on to develop games for Zynga. Rachel has done everything from programming cards for Magic Online to implementing Flash features for Mafia Wars.

1.) Can you tell us a bit about your job?

I am currently working in social games. I’m a Senior Flash Developer at Zynga, and have been implementing Flash features for Mafia Wars while establishing a library of common code to use in our game. It has been an interesting experience so far. Since so many millions of people play our games, we always have to be concerned with implementing our features in a way that doesn’t bring down our servers. We also get some great perks like massages, a culinary department that cooks us meals every day, and spontaneous trips to Vegas.

Before my current job I was at a small company in Seattle called Cricket Moon Media for 2 years, where we took on contracts to make Flash games and activities for major media clients. And before that I worked at Wizards of the coast for 3 ½ years, first programming cards rules and working on the client for Magic Online, and then prototyping new games.

2.) How did you get into the video game industry?

I avoided going into computer programming for a long time even though I enjoyed it. When I was in high school I knew guys who programmed in their free time, and I felt like I would be behind because I never did. I preferred reading books, and also thought I needed to have a brilliant new idea for a game in order to program and never had anything I was particularly inspired to make on my own. I started out college majoring in Chemical Engineering, but the logic problems I saw friends working on looked a lot more interesting. I switched majors and loved all of my classes, but ended up drifting more towards programming than hardware.

I went to graduate school for Language Technology, and found that I didn’t enjoy research as much as the rewarding experience of completing a programming project and having something to show for it. Someone had gotten me into playing Magic: the Gathering around when I started graduate school. I saw a couple openings for programming positions working on Magic Online and applied. I ended up getting a job doing card rules and client programming at Wizards of the Coast and finished the last couple classes I
needed for my Masters degree out in Seattle.

Even after working in the industry and doing great at my job, it took me a while to get past thinking I didn’t know as much as those who had programmed games in their free time and studied Computer Science instead of Computer Engineering. I eventually ended up programming a Game Boy Advance game and later working as a prototyper where I had to quickly create games from scratch. Those experiences helped increase my self confidence and made me realize that I knew what I was doing and it wasn’t as big of a deal as I had thought. While prototyping, I experimented with Flash, and found it to be a lot of fun and a nice change of pace. I ended up getting a job programming Flash games and have been doing that for the past few years.

3.) What are some of your favorite games?

I tend to be partial to turn-based strategy games on handhelds. My favorite games are those in the Fire Emblem series, closely followed by Jeanne d’Arc, the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series, and Professor Layton. I am currently playing Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, and am having a lot of fun with it.

4.) What were some of your favorite projects to work on and why?

I really enjoyed the work I did programming cards for Magic Online. Every few months there were a couple hundred new cards that I had to make work properly. It was rewarding being able to constantly see my progress checking items off my to-do list and every card was a unique puzzle to figure out. My prototyping projects were also a lot of fun, although none of them have turned into released games that I can talk about. My favorite flash project was probably a Mahjong game I worked on for Disney Channel. I liked it both because Mahjong is a game that I’ve enjoyed playing in the past and it was interesting to think about the best way to program it.

5.) What are your thoughts on being a female in the video game industry?

I’ve been working in games since college, so I don’t know too much about other industries to compare it to. At this point I’m used to being in an environment where there aren’t many women. I’ve found I’m usually the only female programmer, although there have been times at each of my jobs when there’s been one other woman. Being surrounded by guys all day makes me want to be more girly – I never used to like pink, but recently it’s grown on me a bit. I bought a pink DS and other pink gaming accessories and it makes me feel less like another one of the guys. In general, I haven’t noticed being treated differently for being a woman except for a couple of awkward situations (being told I needed to be filmed immediately for a University Relations video so they could show there are women in technical positions at the company and being told that it was good I was going to a conference because I’m a woman). I’m also a bit amused every time I hear the guys at work complain about having to wait to use the restroom.


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  1. I don’t think I know any female programmers to be honest, so I really enjoyed reading this interview 🙂 I’m totally addicted to Mafia Wars, and while I’ve never played Magic before, my husband loves the game.

    And to Laura from a fellow hunter: I also hope they make Blood Elf Druids 😛

    • Yeah, I don’t know too many female programmers either… I think Rachel is a rare case 🙂

      And about the BED thing, yay! I get really happy when I hear that there are other Blood Elf Druid proponents out there! Here’s to hoping Blood Elf Druids will appear sometime soon in WoW 😛

      • I’ve known several female programmers throughout college and post-grad studies. But the majority of them (that I kept in contact with) never actually went into programing jobs or if they did, they got out of it after a few years. It’s awesome to hear that there are those who actually stay in.

  2. Man this is awesome, it pretty cool to get to learn more about the girls within the gaming industry! Since, most of the people in the gaming industry are usually guys, it’s great to see you Laura, interviewing other girls about their position in the gaming industry, since I don’t really know a lot of girls who are interested within video games . . I haven’t heard of Magic, but the way it’s described since pretty interesting! Kudos to you Rachel!

  3. Oh cool, you play Magic. Are you going to the Regional Pre-release in Concord? It would be amazing to meet and play against one of my favorite best videogame music composers.

    Reading this interview made me question my choice of major. I’m entering college this Fall as an engineering student, but videogames and videogame development has always awed and intrigued me, despite never learning how to program or anything. But maybe, with the rising popularity of physically interactive controls, like the Wii or Microsoft’s Kinect, there will be more opportunities to actually become a videogame “engineer,” distinct from a videogame programmer. Ahh, that would be a dream job.

    • I’m actually not going to that one… but someday I might check out the big regional pre-release. I’m sure it would be fun to see so many Magic players all at the same venue. You’ll have to let me know how it goes!

      I’m sure that with the advent of all of these new interactive consoles there will be a lot more opportunities to be a video game “engineer” as you mentioned… that reminds me of Disney and all the interesting work the “imagineers” do 🙂

  4. Cool interview Rachel! Thanks for telling us your stories!

  5. Rachel and I have so much in common. I was working towards a Zoology major (I love animals), but all the Chemistry, memorization, and weird terminologies really turned me off. I switched to Computer Engineering, because of all the fun logic and pressure and expectations of becoming an Engineer from families and teachers (becoming a doctor or preferably a veterinarian was another expectation of me, but turned it away due to personal reasons). I always had an interest on how these inanimate objects come to life. Realizing that, I focused more on software, rather than hardware. I switched to Computer Science.

    I am quite disappointed that there are so few women in Engineering, especially in Computing, but I am glad those who are in the field are making quite a remarkable difference. To be honest, I believe women are far superior than men. Thank you Ms. Shigihara for sharing these interviews with us.

  6. Great interview! Since there are a lot of women who play casual and Facebook games, I think it’s good that there is some female perspective going into making them as well. I don’t play Magic, but some of our friends do… maybe I’ll check it out sometime.

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