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

My new game, Rakuen

October 16, 2013 at 12:27 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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Hi everyone!! I thought it was about time I filled you guys in on what I’ve been doing lately. I think some of you know that while spent most of my career as an indie video game composer/sound engineer, I was actually at EA for about 2 years as an Audio Director. I met a lot of wonderful new folks there (like the Pixelberry team for example). But after most of the original Plants vs. Zombies team was laid off, I ended up leaving the company, too.

Now that I was indie again, my goal was to finally finish up Melolune. However, after 2 years of not working on a 20 hour rpg (yes, I actually had 20 hours of playable content at that point), it was quite overwhelming picking up where I left off! I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to start anything new until Melolune was finished, but I realized that working on a smaller scale project (that I was very inspired to do) would be a great way to get back into game development. So I’m really excited to announce that for the past year, I’ve been working on a new game called Rakuen. I’m doing the programming, design, audio, and in-game pixel character art. My friend Emmy Toyonaga (an incredibly talented artist, and also a former EA employee turned indie) is creating the concept art.

Rakuen is a story-based adventure game about a little Boy who becomes bored with living in a hospital, and eventually asks his mother if she’ll escort him to the fantasy world from his favorite storybook. Throughout the game, the Boy begins to learn more about the patients who live around him. They each have their own secrets and struggles that are mysteriously tied to the strange hospital. In helping those around him, the Boy deals with questions about empathy, hope, and what it means to leave behind a legacy by coming to terms with his own story.

In terms of gameplay, Rakuen functions like a mix between Maniac Mansion, To the Moon, and The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (though without battles or fighting). The story and character design is influenced by Japanese mythology and children’s culture, as well as films like Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

We’re hoping to release the game early 2014 for PC initially (with possible ports afterwards). But for now, you can learn more about the game and follow its progress at the official website. The soundtrack is also available for Pre-Order at Bandcamp (you can also just listen to the tracks there for free if you’d like). I really hope you enjoy the music and art we have to share so far! And if you’d like to help us spread the news, please feel free to tell folks about Rakuen, we really appreciate your support ^_^/

p.s. There will be Leebles ^o^

Plants vs. Zombies piano versions #10: Ultimate Battle

August 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Posted in Plants vs. Zombies piano version series | 5 Comments
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Hi everyone! I’m excited to let you all know that I’ve finally posted a piano version of Ultimate Battle (the Conveyor Belt level) from Plants vs. Zombies! I’ve gotten a ton of requests for this one (more than any other PvZ track), so I really hope you enjoy it ^_^ Since a lot of the requests came from a while back, I’d really appreciate if you could let folks know that it’s online now!

Yes, it was laundry day when I recorded this.

Plants vs. Zombies piano versions #9: Zen Garden

August 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Posted in Plants vs. Zombies piano version series | 3 Comments
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I know it’s been a while, but I decided that I’d like to finish up the Plants vs. Zombies piano version series! So I’m gonna kick it off today with the Zen Garden theme:

Updates and Requests

January 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Posted in Melolune, Music Album, Plants vs. Zombies piano version series | 22 Comments
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Hi everyone, I just have a few quick music updates for you today!

First of all, Davixus and Q Flat Major (rad nickname!) realized that a lot of folks were asking for the “Zombies on Your Lawn” sheet music, so they kindly put together an arrangement that’s available for download here. Thanks guys! Also, several people have asked me to update the lyrics section of my website to include “Traces” and “The best it can be,” so I’ve added those in case anyone still wants them ^_^

Last but not least, one of my New Year’s goals is to come up with a good and consistent way to record piano and singing. Sadly, my webcam can’t handle either of these, so the audio is always incredibly distorted. A lot of folks have recommended recording the audio and video separately, which would be great except for the fact that my audio setup (which I use for work) is placed in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to record video (the Korg is right up against a wall and moving it would be difficult since it’s connected rather tightly to the Behringer and computer by a bunch of wires). I was about to rearrange my whole setup when I happened to read that most camcorders (even older ones) actually have pretty good audio (good enough to record piano supposedly)… so now I’m onto plan B: Find my old camcorder, charge it, and put it to the test!

Provided that it works, does anyone have any requests?

Melolune Facesets: Dolby’s Animation Test

January 14, 2011 at 1:04 am | Posted in Melolune | 14 Comments
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Got another one for ya! Here is the brave and enigmatic Dolby of the Mountain Melon Farms:

Melolune Dolby Animation Test

In other news… is anyone going to GDC this year? I’ll be giving a couple talks there. One is a panel on audio in casual games, and the other is a panel given by the Plants vs. Zombies team. I’ve got to work on slides for those this week; I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do for them yet but hopefully I’ll figure something out 😛

I always encourage people to attend to GDC if they’re interested in getting into the video game industry because it’s a great opportunity to learn and meet folks (and some of the talks are really interesting). Satoru Iwata (the president of Nintendo) is going to be the keynote speaker this year. The conference is pretty expensive, but if you apply early enough you can go for free as a volunteer, which I’ve been told is a fun and rewarding experience (you still get to attend a lot of talks and there’s plenty of free time to talk to people and browse the showroom floor).

Thug Santa Minecraft

January 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Video Games | 15 Comments
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A few weeks back Dylan introduced us to the wonderful world of private multi-player servers on Minecraft. It was the first time I’d played in months (I had previously sworn off Minecraft after losing several hours worth of goods to an untimely spider and skeleton related death deep in an unnavigable mine shaft). After deciding it was okay for me to play again, Dylan showed us around his private server (which was incredible, I can’t even imagine how long it took them to build that snow fortress), and then invited us to try out a separate server.

We start messing around and building random things when suddenly, in the midst of building a giant “Oooo Cocoon” statue, George starts getting attacked by some invisible force. It keeps harassing him while he’s trying to work, and finally manages to kill him and take all his items. Once George gets back from the spawn point, the invisible force then gives all his items back. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, so we started joking around in the chat window about how it was an invisible Thug Santa… he comes to kill you and then gives you presents. Dylan finally figured out that it was his brother Jordan, who was exploiting a bug that lets you come back as invisible once you die… So to keep him from attacking us, he imprisoned Jordan in an Obsidian jail.

Believing that we were now safe, I started building a house. But then I get the message from Dylan, “Jordan’s escaped, be careful!” At this point I’m a bit afraid because I’m expecting some invisible force to come and kill me in the dark… but when I turn around, I see this coming towards me (click to enlarge for full-effect):

Jordan actually went and found a Santa avatar so he could come and chase us with it. Believe me, getting chased by a freaky lego Santa Claus carrying a diamond sword in the dark is nothing short of frightening. When he finally caught up with me, he threw coal at me!!

And for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I strongly recommend checking out this game. Remember how as a kid you could play with legos or blocks or dollhouses, and it was endlessly fun and creative? Minecraft feels just like that. Despite looking like a blocky cube world, it somehow manages to touch upon some fundamental aspect of human nature… and the interesting thing is that it seems to engage people in an amazing variety of ways. My one piece of advice is to watch this video before playing, it teaches you how to survive the first night:

As for the first screenshot, Dylan gave me a bunch of gear which I thought was for the purpose of defending myself against Thug Santa Jordan… it was actually so he could hold a 1-on-1 arena match in the pit he had just built.

What happened to Mitsuwa?

December 28, 2010 at 12:39 am | Posted in Video Games | 11 Comments
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Hi everyone! This post is gonna be super random, but I figure, gotta jump back into posting somehow! Based on the title I’m either going to talk about Japanese supermarkets or a Troll NPC in World of Warcraft… if you guessed the latter you are correct! I should start by saying, I’m really enjoying Cataclysm. Anyone else out there playing? And if so… what do you think of the new content? George, Tod, Lindsey, my mom and I all made new characters and we’ve been slowly leveling them and enjoying the new content. Overall, the quests are pretty interesting and I think they’ve really improved the flow of the game. There’s a plethora of fun little additions all over the place; the new water is gorgeous, there are now realistic looking sea turtles swimming around Thousand Needles, the Spiny Lizard critters are adorable, and of course the Peacebloom vs. Ghouls quest is pretty rad ^_^

But one thing made me sad… my favorite place in the whole game was this beautiful little black sand beach in Ashenvale called Zoram’gar Outpost. It felt like a Troll fishing village, and the beach had the best view of the moon over the ocean. Also, fun fact: There were these two Trolls who gave you quests that were named after Japanese supermarkets (Mitsuwa and Marukai). I always thought they were a couple or something. So I go to Zoram’gar… and it’s TOTALLY DIFFERENT! There are burning ships everywhere, they erected all these big ugly towers and there’s half-built scaffolding all over the place blocking the beautiful moon and black sand. I actually felt kind of sad… it was like my go-to-place, and now it’s gone.

I couldn’t find any trolls at first either, but then I found Marukai ALONE in a building still offering the Naga BFD quest… but Mitsuwa was gone! Where did he go? Did stupid Garrosh come and kill him, too? *sigh* At least I have a lot of random screenshots of Zoram’gar when it was still a simple and serene black sand beach. And who knows… maybe someday after Death Wing is defeated and Thrall comes back they can tear all that down and Zoram will go back to being how it was before (one can hope right?)…

(Told you it was gonna be random :P)

♫ Plants vs. Zombies Official Soundtrack now online ♫

November 22, 2010 at 1:28 am | Posted in Video Games | 73 Comments
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After almost 2 years, I can finally announce that the official Plants vs. Zombies soundtrack is now online ^_^ If you’d like to help out, please help spread the news! And thank-you so much to everyone who has been supportive of my music… you are all so awesome.

George was kind enough to draw this wonderful cover art… I thought it would be cool if the Sunflower decided to teach music lessons and Digger Zombie joined the class, too (he has a softer side you know, if you couldn’t tell from his penchant for pink tricycles).

Videogame Music DVD and Darkspore

November 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Posted in Video Games | 2 Comments
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This is for all of you video game music fans out there: My friend Jeriaska (a journalist at Gamasutra who is known for his fantastic video game composer interviews) is putting together a DVD series filled with interviews of famous composers such as Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill), Hip Tanaka (Metroid), Daisuke Amaya (Cave Story) and many others.

I’m personally really excited about this because so many of these composers have been such great inspirations to me, so it’s fun to hear them talk about what inspires them and how they work. Jeriaska has set up a Kickstarter to help fund this DVD project, so if anyone is interested in checking that out, here is the link!

And for those folks who have been following Darkspore’s development: Our friends Dan Kline and Paul Sottosanti from EA Maxis did a fun co-op walkthrough of Cryos. The ice bridge that appears around 5 minutes into it looks so awesome!

Lastly… if for some reason you didn’t receive an add or invite to the Google Groups I started last week, here is a link to that ♫. Although anyone can sign up, due to Google restrictions I am unable to personally add all the people who contacted me over the last couple years about the PvZ soundtrack (but you can sign up yourself, there is no restriction for that). Unfortunately, I was only able to get a few hundred on there out of a few thousand, but I’ll keep adding to it as Google lets me. So if you get a chance, feel free to sign up — I’d love to have you on there!

I just learned the ASCII code for these connected eighth notes: ♫ Haha… I know it’s not that exciting, but for some reason I think it’s so cool. There are going to be musical notes everywhere now.

♫♫♫

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