Tags: Alice Lo, Eras of Alchemy, Furdiburb, Sheado.net, video games
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
I 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, 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