An Interview With Rooster Teeth Rigging Artist Gio Coutinho

Gio Coutinho

Gio Coutinho is a rigging artist at Rooster Teeth. She’s been involved in projects such as RWBY, RWBY Chibi, and Red vs. Blue, and somehow finds time to record Autodesk tutorials about the techniques she uses for people wanting to follow in her footsteps. I recently had the chance to talk to Gio about her work, and how she came to be one of the most prominent professionals in her field.

Alayna: Hi, Gio! It’s awesome to have a chance to chat with you. Tell us: what does a rigging artist do?

Gio: Hi, Alayna! It’s great to chat with you, too.

I like to think of a rig as a marionette. Imagine a stiff, motionless doll with no articulations — that is a 3D model. It’s a completely static figure that is made from a 2D concept. As a rigging artist, I take that doll or 3D model and give it strings, which allow it to move and articulate however it needs to, so I work closely with animators to ensure all their requirements are met.

That being said, not only do characters need rigging — anything that moves, including props, sets, and vehicles often need rigs in order to come to life. A good rig is easy and intuitive to use, taking work away from animators since they are the ones responsible for making them perform according to a script and/or storyboard. A bad rig, however, imposes limits on animators, which in turn decreases the overall aesthetic potential of whatever they try to produce.

In more technical terms, a rig is often composed of a skeleton, controls, constraints, and a number of other features that help something move the way it needs to. There is a lot of problem solving involved in order to find the optimum way for something to move, and you must have a very keen artistic and technical eye to reach creative solutions to specific problems and challenges.

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Autism & Empowerment: What Gaming Means to Me

pokemon

The word “empowerment” is thrown around quite frequently in discussions surrounding identity and representation in media. Seeing or reading a positive and respectful depiction of one’s identity can have a tremendously beneficial impact on an individual, especially if said individual is from a marginalized community.

That being said, what defines empowerment can mean different things to different people — especially within the medium of video games. This can include the ability to choose or, ideally, to customize the pronouns one is able to use when playing a game; the chance to accurately represent your skin tone and natural hair in a game’s character customization; or the option to romance characters who are the same gender as the player. All of these features can be deemed empowering, which results in an extremely satisfying gaming experience.

With this in mind, I cannot help but wonder, as an autistic woman, what images of empowerment come to mind when autistic people reflect on their favorite video games. For those of us on the autism spectrum, video games can be a tool to relax and break away from the stresses and anxieties that everyday life presents — be it sensory overload or the exhaustion associated with social interactions. I, myself, recognize the importance that video games have had in helping me cope during trying times, alongside enjoying them for their distinctive methods of storytelling and engrossing gameplay.  

Despite this reality, allistic (non-autistic) writers and developers fail to recognize that their works can be perceived as empowering to an autistic audience. While I cannot state exactly why this is, I believe a combination of ignorance and misinformation is why allistic writers are still far behind in providing positive experiences for their autistic fans. They showcase ignorance through their failure to realize that autistic audiences exist, and probably already enjoy their work, and they are misinformed by only being able to comprehend autistic identities from a stereotypical or ableist point of view.

I have decided to relate on what aspects of video games have been empowering to me as an autistic woman gamer.  I cannot guarantee that my experiences of empowerment will be exactly the same as all autistic gamers — especially since both the autistic spectrum and the category of “gamer” are extremely diverse even without the overlap between the two — but I can say that these experiences are important to me because I am autistic.

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Conversations From the ‘Final Fantasy XV’ Locker Room

Final Fantasy XV

Several months before Final Fantasy XV was released, I saw the arguments beginning: how could a video game franchise with such a long history of including women as playable characters release a game with a main cast of four men? I empathized with the outrage: women who grew up with the Final Fantasy franchise felt like it had been their safe haven for representation, and the reveal that this title would be all about Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus felt like a betrayal.

Still, I (perhaps foolishly) entered into debates where fans demanded we boycott the game, gently suggesting that we have a little faith in the Final Fantasy franchise. Although no one ‘earns the right’ to stop representing women in their games, I felt as though Final Fantasy’s history of featuring dynamic ladies (including Lightning as the protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII) meant that I should give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a video game franchise that — at least to some extent — understands the importance of gender representation. Maybe their story about a journey shared by four men was a narrative worth telling.

Although I wasn’t alone in this speculation, I felt like I was in the minority. However, when Final Fantasy XV was released, I was not disappointed.

Bear with me for a moment while I make a brief aside: it was only two months ago that we heard Donald Trump justify bragging about sexual assault by referring to it as “locker room talk.” The implication that men are permitted or expected to speak crudely about women when we are not around in order to impress their mates was a sentiment that outraged a lot of people — including athletes who are very familiar with actual locker rooms. But it’s a common narrative: in order to impress one another and be accepted, men are expected to objectify and insult women.

While some men behave in this way because it adheres to their genuine view of women, there are also followers and bystanders who engage in this narrative because it’s what they believe they must do after seeing it in every movie, on every television show, and — with people like Trump justifying it in the public political sphere — on every news program. This can lead to all sorts of strange situations, including groups of men who don’t really believe anything they’re saying, yet still make crude comments or ‘rate’ women in terms of appearance because they think that other men expect it.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s rape culture. So how do we dismantle the idea of what occurs in a boys’ locker room without first creating one?

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‘Even the Ocean’ Offers a Message of Hope When We Need It Most

Even the Ocean

[Author’s Note: I was generously given a key to the game by the developers.]

Three years in the making, Even the Ocean is the artistic successor of Anodyne, and the result of talented developers Joni Kittaka and Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan. The protagonist, Aliph, is a young power plant technician who is subjected to a mysterious event that places her on the frontlines of an energy and environmental crisis. It probably takes about ten to fifteen hours to complete both gameplay and narrative, but this estimate could vary wildly due to the multitude of features.

Checking the options against the moody backdrop of the opening menu offered settings to turn off flashing or shaking scenes, change controller mapping, player immortality, and more. In addition, there are narrative and gameplay style choices. Whether people prefer to just hear the story, want to speedrun, or give the default way a try, there’s a preference for all kinds of players. Personalization of playstyle is paramount.

Even the Ocean’s primary gameplay mechanic is a double-edged sword. To complete the levels, a balance of light and dark energies must be maintained and manipulated to access areas, up and down, left and right. Energy is radiated from mists, plants, and ghosts — to name but a few sources — and these energies permeate everything in the world. Everything has its place on the continuum, and the balance is Aliph’s life bar. Exceed too much light or dark energy, and she will die.

Undoubtedly, it’s a challenging platformer, and perfecting a particularly foxing puzzle is very satisfying. The levels are varied and constructed with an admirable attention to detail, and save points are sprinkled sufficiently. Some instances of leaping and sliding and timing are a little ornery, but there is an option to turn on helper blocks if you’re stuck. The fusion of platforming with the romantic and atmospheric soundtrack makes for an introspective playthrough.

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Sunday Loot: Check Out the Latest #GameJobs!

The Walking Dead

Happy Sunday, friends! We’re excited to bring you yet another round of our special series, one that will offer you a chance to get directly involved in the work that we do. Today, we’re sharing all the latest jobs that we came across in the games industry this past week, and we know that you’re a perfect fit for so many of them!

Some seriously big names cropped up — think Bioware, Naughty Dog, and Telltale — as well as a few other incredible opportunities that you might enjoy. All the details are below, so break out that cover letter and give your resume a last glance, because you’re so ready for this! The following teams are working hard to change the way we make and play games, and it’s only fitting that you help them do that.

As always, if you know of an inclusive gaming space or games project you’d love to see promoted on our Sunday Loot series, drop us a comment below or check out our contact list! We’d love to hear from you, especially about new and exciting spaces where all gamers can hang out.

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#CSForAll: Girls Make Games Just Made History at the White House

Girls Make Games
Ruthe Farmer, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion

In light of some deeply troubling times that have persisted in our neck of the woods, I’m absolutely delighted to share a bit of positive news with all of you. Did you hear that Girls Make Games — an international organization committed to providing young girls with access to game development workshops — just got to visit the White House? Heck yeah.

It’s part of the Obama Administration’s Computer Science For All initiative, which provides American students with the skills necessary to succeed in the rapidly expanding digital landscape. That includes game development, and who better to consult for assistance than the bright minds of young girls?

Twenty very lucky participants between the ages of 11 and 14 headed to the White House on December 7, 2016 for a two-hour intensive workshop. We’ve got a ton of uplifting pictures to share from the event, and even a super adorable tweet straight from Ruthe Farmer, the White House Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion.

We’ll not only be sharing more about this lovely story, but also the names of similar organizations that you might be interested in applying to or supporting! Let’s keep this message of positivity and inclusion going, shall we?

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Telltale’s Leading Men Are Trapped in the Closet, Bro

Batman

OSWALD: I have great affection for you, Bruce.

Telltale’s latest venture, Batman: The Telltale Series, is a wonderful little romp through familiar territory. I’m not even that much of a comics fan, and yet I found myself swept up in all the excitement of Gotham’s seedy dive bars and dimly lit alleyways. I desperately wanted to unravel the secrets lurking behind the Wayne family, and I was utterly delighted by the complex discussions regarding Harvey Dent’s health. Therapy option? Better mental health facilities? Hell yes. Telltale even subverted the time-honored tradition of fashioning Catwoman into a walking trope, offering her agency and motivation in spades.

And yet, it was the introduction of Oswald Cobblepot that gave me pause.

Since attending grade school with Bruce Wayne, Oswald has gotten himself into quite a bit of trouble — there’s a laundry list of illegal activity and jail-time, which visibly upsets Bruce. You see, the two used to be very close as children, and Oswald wants to meet up again after all these years. Their little reunion is sidetracked by a flurry of close combat, and you have to fight off a few criminals alongside your old flame. After, Oswald licks his thumb and reaches forward to tenderly wipe a bit of blood off Bruce’s face. The moment is undeniably charged, and Bruce doesn’t so much as flinch — as if he’s familiar with that kind of intimacy from Oswald.

But you never get the opportunity to seal the deal. Unlike with Selina Kyle, who you also fight alongside and share a romantic moment with, there isn’t any dialogue choice to close the distance between Bruce and Oswald. You’re not allowed to explore bisexuality in Batman: The Telltale Series, and as I reflected on all the games I’d played from them in the past, a distinct pattern began to emerge. Every time the leading men of Telltale edge closer to a revelation that challenges their heterosexuality, the narrative rushes to reassure us that the moment never took place. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Let’s take a look at what signals the characters are sending us, shall we? There will be some minor spoilers for Tales From the Borderlands, and a major spoiler for Telltale’s Game of Thrones.

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Sunday Loot: Jams, Jobs, & Getting to #GDC2017!

overwatch

Happy Sunday, friends! It’s time for another list of all the super exciting opportunities waiting for you in the games industry. Many of the following recommendations were kindly brought to us by Miss N and Imogen, so send them some love whenever you get the chance. ❤

In particular, we’ll be focusing our attention on boosting any and all efforts to provide folks with assistance in order to get to next year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC). If you know of any scholarships that we haven’t mentioned in this post, please reach out! We want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to attend one of the most anticipated events in the industry, and that means providing some much-needed help.

As always, if you know of an inclusive gaming space or games project you’d love to see promoted on our Sunday Loot series, drop us a comment below or check out our contact list! We’d love to hear from you, especially about new and exciting spaces where all gamers can hang out.

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The Game Isn’t Over: Picking Up My Controller After the Election

Dishonored 2

So: last week was a bit of a colossal trashfire. Like so many of us, I’m still shocked, scared, and angry. However much the optimist in me wants to believe that it’ll all be okay, that we’ll get through the next four years somehow, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that even in the single week since the election — even in the scant hours following the results — events have shown that we’re already entering an era of extreme hatred, ignorance, and backlash for all the social progress this nation has made in the past decade. This election wasn’t just about a woman not being elected president of the United States. It was about a man being elected on a platform of bigotry and hatred.

It’s very easy to say that, right now, playing and talking about video games isn’t going to do a damn thing to effect change. That escaping into fiction won’t fix a single one of the world’s problems. That representation and diversity in popular culture is the least of our worries right now.

I say it matters more now than it ever fucking did.

Video games — and popular culture in general — are more than just escapism or entertainment, though they are singularly valuable as both those things. Popular culture is, literally, the form of culture that is being consumed by the most people at a given time.

Linda Holmes, pop culture blogger for NPR, once wrote that pop culture might not be what people ideally should be consuming, but it is what they’re actually consuming. It doesn’t matter whether a piece of pop culture is created for love or for profit; it’s the medium through which, for better or for worse, so many of us see the world, and that can influence people in unknowable, far-reaching ways.

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Blanket Fort Chats: Game Making With Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan

Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan

Blanket Fort Chats” is a semi-regular column featuring women and nonbinary game makers talking about the craft of making games. In this week’s post, we feature Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan, a Berlin-based game maker who’s teaching herself how to make experimental games. She loves ideas, creative expression, and french fries.

Miss N: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into making games?

Marie: My path was not straight. My work is mostly in social enterprises. I’ve done work in alt-education with high-risk youth, created social arts experiences, and used my hands and hours on community building. I’ve led small, scrappy DIY organizations.

I founded Wyrd, a national non-profit dedicated to encouraging, documenting, and connecting creative expression across Canada. I am the Editor-in-Chief of Weird Canada, a website that celebrates and documents do-it-yourself, experimental, and emerging music, books, ideas, and art. I also made a day for the celebration of drone music.

A year ago, I felt like there was no more room in my life for me. I decided to move to Berlin and make experimental games. I had made one game, Þink, with DMG four years before, but otherwise had no exceptional background or experience playing or making games.

For a long time, I thought I hated games, but I was just playing the wrong games. I’m generally not very excited about competitive, complicated, disempowering, rule-heavy experiences where I am enacting a vision that fundamentally misaligns with my being. I’m into experimental narratives, soft experiences, deeply transformative ideas, ritual, and strange expressions of play.

In my very first days in Berlin, I signed up to volunteer at the Wikimedia Free Knowledge Game Jam, and they asked me, “Why not participate?” I said, “I have no idea what I am doing,” and they gave me a name tag that said “Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan: Game Designer.” That was that.

I pitched an idea at the jam, found a team, and made TexTiles, a paper prototype of a pattern-matching game using textile samples from the historical archives (and we actually won third place!).

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