Girls in the Video Game Industry #6: Alice Lo

May 20, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Posted in Girls in the Video Game Industry interview series | 10 Comments
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It’s been almost 4 years since my “Girls in the Video Game Industry” series. Since then, I’ve met so many wonderful ladies throughout the industry that do everything from programming to creating concept art to writing quests for World of Warcraft. So I thought it would be fun to do some more interviews highlighting these talented women and their contributions to the industry.

Girls in the Video Game Industry #6: Alice Lo
Developer and Composer at Sheado.net

AliceI met Alice through my forum a few years back. At the time she was juggling two full-time jobs: Programming and composing for her indie company’s first game, Furdiburb, and taking care of her mother who had been diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome (a rare disorder that left her mother paralyzed for 3 years). I was in awe of how she handled everything from physical therapy to battling insurance companies, all the while putting in the time to create a game. Alice is a great example of how being a Jack-of-all-trades (or in this case a “Jill”) is often necessary when running an indie studio and building a game from the ground up. She’s a programmer, composer, artist, and often tops the DPS charts when we raid together in WoW ^_^

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

Our company is really small – I work with Chad, the lead developer, and Danny, the artist. With just the three of us, we each have to wear many different hats. I am primarily a software developer; I program gameplay functionality, design/implement databases, etc. I am the composer of our team and am also the sound engineer. I also write press releases, blog posts, update the web site, and other miscellaneous tasks.

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

I’m probably dating myself *laughs*, but I was in pre-school when I learned to play with the Apple IIe. I didn’t even know how to read, and I was playing Lode Runner,lode runner Pacman, etc. As I got older, I begged my parents for a Nintendo, but they bought me a Sega Genesis instead. My dad said, “The only reason we even bought you the console is to get you interested in computers. You better like it!” As a side affect, I got addicted to video games too.

My parents also “forced” me to play piano for 9 years. I learned to play some video game music for fun, which my family didn’t appreciate. I practiced drawing video game characters and colored them with Photoshop, picking up tricks and tips along the way. I learned to create web sites to showcase my drawings.

I went to college and majored in computer science. After graduating, I worked in the financial industry for a while. On the side, I learned Flash and made some small games, but couldn’t focus on it regularly. I also dabbled a bit in Second Life learning Blender to create 3D animals and scripting to breathe life into it. Basically, I learned to do many different things “for fun”.

One day, in between jobs, my boyfriend suggested we make a game for Android (it was a very new OS at the time), and so we formed our company Sheado.net with his brother. We have been doing this since 2010. Most of the skills that I learned in the past, that I thought I would never need to use again, have proved useful at one point or another during our venture. Since I was the only person in the company that knew how to play an instrument, I was automatically the composer.

So kids, don’t be afraid of learning something, because you never know when you’ll need it!

3.) What are some of your favorite games?

I don’t like sports or fighting games – I’m really bad at making combos when I’m nervous and sweaty. That said, the ones that I remember fondly are Elemental Master, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Okami, Silent Hill, Shenmue, Left 4 Dead, Odin Sphere, Diablo II, Shadow of Colossus, Plants vs. Zombies, Ghost Trick, and World of Warcraft (I play a destruction warlock!)

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

In Eras of Alchemy, 98% of the sounds are my vocals with applied affects to make it sound like different animals. It was really fun researching each animal, watching the videos for their sounds, and then trying to mimic them. The sounds might be cheesy, but I think I did really well with limited resources. My favorite is the T-rex sound! It’s 4 different layers of my voice(s) smashed together.

But my favorite, and biggest, project was Furdiburb. It’s our first game – a virtual pet adventure game – and we put as many of our creative ideas into it as we could. After vacationing on Earth, his parents accidentally leave him behind, so players care for him by growing food, showering him, and caring for him if he’s sick. He slowly grows up over time, and you can buy him houses, furniture, as well as mutations to change his looks. There are holiday-themed items in the game, and it’s always fun to hear our fans discover them.

The adventure side of it comes with the introduction of a main quest line – discovering a broken spaceship and fixing it up so that Furdi can return to his home planet. The quests involve puzzles and mini-games which reward you different spaceship parts that you can use to repair the ship.

We had a lot of fun designing the puzzles and mini-games. You have to plant a flower, but the gopher keeps eating your seeds. Someone is stuck in a cave and can’t see, can you bring light? One of the mini-games requires the player to write songs using our in-game music editor that Chad wrote from scratch. Furdiburb is actually a very complex game that we’re proud of!

A lot of our fans were with us during the length of the 3-year development, so we received a couple of emails saying they cried when they were finally able to send him home. I guess that’s kind of messed up in a way; I’m glad we made our fans cry. =)

The project is far from perfect, but I think we did really well for our first game.

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

That we’re a minority, and female game programmers are even smaller in numbers, but the numbers are growing. Coming from a software developer point of view, it comes with the territory – I entered expecting that. The gaming industry was also a lot smaller back then, so it was mysterious to me.

In my first year of college, I saw very few females in the computer labs, but when I was graduating, I noticed that there were a lot more. Similarly, very very few girls in grade school played video games when I was young, but recently, I’ve heard a statistic that almost 50% of gamers are women, so that’s pretty heartening. We can nitpick the details about casual vs. hardcore gamers, but most importantly, there’s a potential for more females to enter the gaming industry now because there is more interest.

I think back to my childhood and am grateful that my parents didn’t hide the computer from me. I never thought I could work in the gaming industry; I didn’t know “how”. The internet was new and growing when I was in college, and gaming companies were these huge mysterious conglomerates that I learned little about in the back of instruction manuals. College counselors told me “they’re hiring people that know Maya”, and I thought that a game programmer also needed to know how to 3D model. *laughs* Ironically, I can do that now, but not back then.

These days, I think counselors have a better idea because the gaming industry has grown too big to be ignored. With the internet, anyone can find out more information about most of the game companies, what occurs behind the scenes, etc. There are a lot more young girls playing video games these days, and there are more female role models in the industry, which is great! The more female role models there are, the more likely a young girl will say “I want to work in the gaming industry when I grow up!”, and I will look forward to playing their games. =D

Girls in the Video Game Industry #5: Amanda Fitch

July 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Girls in the Video Game Industry interview series | 10 Comments
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I can’t believe there’s only 4 more days until Starcraft II is released. I feel like I’ve waited forever to find out what happens next in the story… will Kerrigan become human again? Will Mengsk ever get his comeuppance? I’m so excited! Tod has a bunch of Starcraft novels from when he worked at Blizzard, and I’ve already gone through all of them. I think I might replay the campaigns from the original Starcraft in order to refresh my memory of the story again, too… So many good games, so little time! I’m really hoping Ni no Kuni will be released in the states… and there’s the new Donkey Kong Country, Pokemon Silver, the WoW expansion, Spirit Tracks, the 2nd and 3rd Professor Layton… now is a great time to be a gamer.

Girls in the Video Game Industry #5: Amanda Fitch
Game Designer and founder of Amaranth Games

After spending 2.5 years working on an rpg of my own, I think I can better appreciate the sheer amount of dedication Amanda has for creating video games. In the past 5 years alone, Amanda has independently developed over 5 games (3 of which are rpgs… and for those of you who are familiar with the immense amount of work that goes into crafting an rpg, you’re probably just as amazed as I am). She also runs a small but successful video game portal at amaranthia.com. An active member of the community, Amanda has donated several free art and programming resources to the rpg community and has been a source of guidance for many budding game developers out there.

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

I manage the financial and creative direction for Amaranth Games.

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

It was an accident. I used to create freeware games for the fun of it. One of them did very well. I realized that I might be able to turn my hobby into my job. It was exciting when I finally took the leap and I’m glad I did. I love my job.

3.) What are some of your favorite games?

Fable 2 and Dire Grove are the two most recent games that I loved enough to finish. I’m also a big fan of the Zelda DS games.

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

In general, the Aveyond games are my favorite. Working with RPG Maker makes the whole game development process fun and I love RUBY scripting language. The part I love the best about Aveyond is making maps.

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

I wish we had more female game designers and programmers. The number of women in the games industry is growing, but in general, it seems like most women are choosing to take supporting roles in marketing and testing.

Girls in the Video Game Industry #4: Fryda Wolff

July 11, 2010 at 11:14 am | Posted in Girls in the Video Game Industry interview series | 7 Comments
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Hi everyone! Hope you’ve been enjoying the series so far… And if you got a chance to check out the M11 pre-release, hope you did better than I did. I had a weird and unexplained brain lapse that caused me to play the entire tournament as if my Fireball were a Blaze (both of those being cards I’m quite familiar with)… many board wipe opportunities were missed… onlookers facepalmed in disbelief…

Ahem… enough rambling, it’s time for the next interview… 🙂

Girls in the Video Game Industry #4: Fryda Wolff
Independent Sound Designer

People often ask me what they can do to become a video game musician or sound designer. Although there are a lot of steps you can take, being prepared to showcase your abilities at the right time and place will go a long way towards helping you meet your goal. Fryda’s story about breaking into the industry is a great example of this (and it was really fun to read). Currently working as an independent sound designer for Behemoth, Fryda has been active in the industry since 2001 when she landed a job at Sony Online working on such titles as Everquest II and Untold Legends. Her website can be found here.

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

I’m a Sound Designer, a voice over actor and have recently become brave enough to compose music for games. I’m current working on The Behemoth’s BattleBlock Theater.

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

As a Las Vegas native, I was super excited to hear the very first EverQuest fan convention, or Fan Faire, would be held in my hometown. As it turns out, the 2 day event hadn’t been gauged for the gamer turnout. While over a thousand people had registered, the first night’s event was held on the second floor of the Planet Hollywood in Caesar’s Palace, which could only hold about 200 people. Seeing this as an inconvenience for everyone who had already booked their travel and stay and would have nothing to do on the first night of the convention, I rallied on the Fan Faire forums for those who couldn’t make it to the first night’s event to hang out across the street at the megaplex arcade Gameworks. I made it my mission to let everyone at Planet Hollywood know to hop across the street whenever they wished to meet their guildmates and the rest of the fans that had made it out for the event. Word got to the Sony Online Staff, and the head of the Customer Service department located me and asked “Are you the one that got on the forums and asked people to come over here?” “Yep, that’s me!” “Do you want a job?”

I was hired as a Customer Service Representative, or Game Master, for Sony Online Entertainment in 2001. I spent 2 and a half years as a Game Master and 1 year as an Administrative Assistant. By that time, EverQuest II was in full swing development. It was a very ambitious project, and some 100,000 lines of dialogue from AAA actors were being recorded and implemented for the game. An Audio Department was created for the first time at Sony Online in San Diego because the audio requirements for the game were so demanding. The Audio team realized they needed help implementing the incoming voice over lines, and opened a position. As someone who wanted to become a Sound Engineer in high school (but gave up the dream because colleges required upper level credits of math and chemistry in order to receive the degree), I immediately went for it. I got the job and spent the rest of EverQuest II’s development implementing dialogue, eager to do more whenever I could.

After EverQuest II shipped, there was little for me to do, and I became very nervous. I asked one of the Lead Sound Designers to give me a chance and allow me to learn how to create audio. He graciously agreed, and because of him I was able to cut my teeth on several projects and received my first Sound Designer credits on Untold Legends, a PSP series of games, as well as Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, a PS3 launch game. I’ve been a Sound Designer for 6 years now, and in the video games industry for 9 years.

3.) What are some of your favorite games?

Warcraft II and III, Diablo I and II, World of Warcraft, Peggle, Plants vs Zombies, Castle Crashers, Left 4 Dead 1 and 2, Deadspace, Bioshock. Left 4 Dead and Deadspace are particularly good to take note of to see value of audio in gameplay when one can’t exist without the other. Both are beautifully executed games via sound!

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

I love anything that challenges me, particularly when it’s something I’ve never worked on before even when it makes me uncomfortable. Once you force yourself to do something new, with practice it always gets easier. There’s no scientific formula to creating audio, it’s a matter of taste and one particular animation could work well with any hundreds sounds. It’s even better when I’m presented with the challenge of creating audio for something that doesn’t exist, like fantasy or sci-fi games. Spell effects are play time and the hardest thing is knowing when to stop. You can turn a sound to mush if you tweak it enough, the way perfecting a haircut will result in a bald spot. Giant mechanical monsters is another love of mine because there are no rules to what they should sound like. Compare films like the Terminator, Matrix or Transformers series and you’ll notice sound designers went nuts with their personal interpretations. That’s beauty of audio, there’s no wrong answer. Only great sound design! (And when it’s bad, everyone will tell you so, so don’t worry.)

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

The only challenge I’ve had to face is the same as everyone else: Doing the best that I can and proving that I’m capable of whatever I set out to do. Women are outnumbered, but not outranked. Portal’s Kim Swift for example is a Cinderella story proving that any female with the right talent and work ethic can be noticed for being great and now the world is her oyster. Stick to your guns, and present yourself the way you feel women should be represented in games. Sometimes men don’t understand that women want to play basketball because they love basketball, not because the ball is pink. So bringing a female perspective to the table is sometimes awkward but helpful and I think necessary if game studios really wish to close the gender gap and attract all potential gamers, new or old school, male or female.

Girls in the Video Game Industry #3: Paula Wong

July 8, 2010 at 5:36 am | Posted in Girls in the Video Game Industry interview series | 19 Comments
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I’ve been hoping for a while now that PopCap would make more Plants vs. Zombies merchandise… after all, there are so many cute characters to choose from that would make for awesome figurines, stuffed animals, stickers, etc. Heck, even Crazy Dave and his Magic Taco would make a good plushie, don’t you think? And if it’s anywhere near as well-designed and creative as some of the swag that’s been coming out of Popcap’s Creative Labs, then rest assured I will be doing my best to collect a complete set.

Girls in the Video Game Industry #2: Paula Wong
Senior Director of Creative Labs at PopCap Games

If you’ve played around with the Zombatar, seen the eye-catching Plants vs. Zombies retail boxes, or gotten your hands on a can of “Brain Ooze,” then you already know a bit about the creative and interesting things Paula has worked on during her time at PopCap Games.

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

I lead the marketing creative team at PopCap Games. We bring the awesome games our studio creates to market. We’re a team of 20 print, web and video designers, copywriters and account managers. Most of us are based in Seattle; two are in Dublin and two in Shanghai. We develop all the retail packaging, marketing materials, ads, video and the creative for our partners and for PopCap.com, where we feature our games.

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

I was recruited by Dave Roberts, our CEO at PopCap, four years ago. I told him that I wasn’t a gamer and he just smiled and handed me some PopCap games to play…

3.) What are some of your favorite games?

Peggle, Bejeweled Blitz, Bookworm, and of course, Plants vs. Zombies!

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

I find it thrilling to go to a national retailer and see a whole line-up of our retail products, side by side. We have an amazing shelf presence and that has helped contribute to a successful retail business. Since this is a direct result of my group’s work, it makes me super proud! It was also outrageously fun to work on Plants vs. Zombies marketing projects. I was part of the team that suggested and promoted the idea of a Zombatar—a Zombie avatar creator. Everything that we did for Plants vs. Zombies was so full of personality and quirkiness. Irreverence and silliness went into everything we did for PvZ, from the “no zombies” stickers, to energy producing sunflower seed packets, a Brain Ooze drink, Zombie Temp Worker videos and creating a party invitation with Zombie handwriting that printers were instructed to fold “poorly” as if it came from Zombies.

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

When I first started at PopCap, there were perhaps 5 women, out of 75 total employees. Women are definitely in the minority, but our percentage has grown. PopCap’s casual games are immensely popular with women. I foresee our numbers increasing in the video game industry as well as customer base and believe there will be better gender balance in the future. I love that I’ve gotten to be a bit of a pioneer in this industry.

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.

Girls in the Video Game Industry #1: Tammy Tsuyuki

July 6, 2010 at 6:34 am | Posted in Girls in the Video Game Industry interview series | 14 Comments
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As promised, this week I’m going to be posting a short interview series on girls who work in the video game industry… it was fun interviewing these awesome ladies, and I’m happy to be able to share their responses with you.  I also want to say a big “thank-you” to everyone who checked out the live version of “Zombies on Your Lawn.”  I was absolutely amazed at the response (it’s up to 150,000 views now!), and I really appreciate everyone who subscribed, favorited it, or spread the word somehow.  You guys are great! Anyways, without further ado, here is the first interview:

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Girls in the Video Game Industry#1: Tammy Tsuyuki
Music Producer at Sony Playstation

If you’ve played Uncharted 2 and enjoyed its wonderful soundtrack, then you’re already familiar with some of Tammy’s contributions to the industry. A member of Sony Playstation since 1999, Tammy works as a Music Producer to help coordinate soundtrack distribution and manage projects. Besides organizing killer game soundtracks, she also works as a personal style consultant.

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

I’m a Music Producer for Sony PlayStation. I handle coordination and distribution of our soundtracks. What that means is that I help pull together the production, artwork, marketing support, and schedules for our game soundtracks that are released on the PSN, in stores and on iTunes. I also work closely with the Music team as a project manager on our products helping to support the team with budgets, risk, and project tracking.

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

My good friend actually submitted my resume for an opening position in the Audio Department. My first job was in 1999, I learned so much about the industry from the ground up. I was fortunate to witness the launch of the PS2, PSP, PS3, and the PSPgo and be part of that great experience of building a brand.

3.) What are some of your favorite games?

My favorite games are those that I can play with my daughter. Like LBP, can’t wait till the sequel hits the shelves soon. We also like playing SingStar, Buzz and LocoRoco.

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

I loved working on Uncharted 2 because Greg Edmonson is such a class act and the score was brilliant. Getting to witness how Amy Hennig worked and how her robust story line fused together with the music was phenomenal. When the awards started coming in for Uncharted 2 this past year, I was really proud to have been associated with that game.

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

I think that the game has changed a lot in the last ten years. I see women leading companies, driving innovation, and in greater leadership positions. I enjoy that as a younger industry, the rules were written a bit differently for us luckily. I think that we’re more open-minded than some more established ones and it’s worked in women’s favor. The women that I’ve met and known throughout the years are inspirational and supportive. I feel like as a woman in this industry, it would be something I would like to pay forward.

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