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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