Presented as a retro gaming experience conveniently packaged for your internet browser, Regicide: The Tale of the Forgotten Thief is a deceptively charming turn-based RPG currently up on Indiegogo. Its concept may at first seem like a playful throwback to games of the early ’90s, but at its core lies a complex narrative featuring a woman who not only has to fight for her freedom, but must also work to regain the memory of her very identity. No small task for someone behind bars with their clone as a jailer. If that doesn’t hook you, perhaps the creative pitch on the gameplay video will:
“Are you a bad enough person to rescue yourself from a cavern?”
Let me tell you, the team putting Regicide together sure are. Punchdrunk Games may be new to the gaming development scene, but these women and non-binary folks sure do pack a hell of a punch. With ambition, perseverance, and inventive ideas for the future, it’s teams like these we should be exploring and wholeheartedly supporting. I highly recommend you check out the Regicide site and consider following their Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram. They’re pretty damn rad.
I was fortunate enough to chat with the major players behind the team at Punchdrunk Games: Lucia Hill-Rains, Jelly Locklin-Rains, and Gillian Ring. They provide insight into Regicide, dig deep into the “strong female character” debate, and lay down some serious wisdom for other women looking to break into an industry still largely dominated by men. If I were you? I’d be keeping an eye on this foolproof team.
J: Can you give us a little rundown of the team working on Regicide? Who’s who?
Lucia: I am the founder of Punchdrunk Games, the director of Regicide, and the primary game developer for Regicide and Portals in Perr. I am a transwoman and becoming a game developer has been my lifelong dream. Founding Punchdrunk Games has been the realization of that dream and I am hoping it will have great success.
Jelly Rains is my life partner and she also acts as story consultant and executive producer for Regicide. Gillian Ring is our software developer and assistant writer. Brooke Arnold is our publicist and social media marketer. We also have two artists: Iona Riveria and Meg Bowman. Roggen Wolf also contributed to our story during a rough draft of the game.
Jelly: Lucia is my life partner and I’ve been at her side as she’s been working on Regicide for over two years. Additionally, I serve as story consultant and executive producer for Regicide.
Gillian: I recently joined the Punchdrunk Games team as a software developer and as assistant writer. My last official work related to gaming was heading a news team for a Dota 2 coverage site. Unofficially, I eat, sleep, and breathe gaming. Or, rather, I miss meals, skip sleep, and talk excessively about gaming!
J: How did your team come together? Did you initially set out to form an all-women / non-binary group, or did that naturally happen?
Lucia: I didn’t set out to create an all-women or a non-binary group. But, I did think that it would be nice if it worked out that way. Part of my dream for Punchdrunk was to create innovative games and I knew that having an innovative team would be necessary to do that. To create games you don’t see enough in the gaming industry, we would have to be a group of people you don’t see in the gaming industry that often—such as all women or at least something besides a team with 75% men.
Jelly: It kind of happened naturally. It was a bonus when we realized, “Oh, hey! This is awesome!” It’s a great added bonus to the work we’re doing.
Gillian: I came to be on the team through Lucia, whom I met at college. It feels very much like it’s not an intentional thing to create a diverse group but that a welcoming and accepting environment just naturally leads to a diverse group.
J: What’s it like working with such a diverse community? How do you think that has positively effected Regicide’s development?
Lucia: It’s just like working within any other community, which is why it’s entirely bullshit that there aren’t more teams that are women-dominated or that include more than a few token women. The creation of the team and the community that came with it has made a bigger impact on Regicide’s development than the gender of our teammates—Brooke was able to get some eyes and ears on us, Gillian has worked on the code, Jelly thinks of the story, and I work on the design and direction. Everything just fell right into place.
Jelly: The passion that our team brings to the table has always been the driving force behind this project. We are just getting off the ground, but the incredible progress we’ve made and the incredible products we’re developing are the direct result of our passion about this mission. Having people excited about their jobs because they believe in what they are doing has definitely made this worthwhile.
Gillian: It makes work reflect life a little more accurately. Since the world is a diverse place, it feels very natural to work with a diverse group of people. The atmosphere is positive and accepting and that makes all the difference. My hope for how it affects Regicide is that every person who plays the game will find something that resonates with them. I think we have a greater chance of accomplishing that with a diverse set of perspectives contributing ideas and thoughts.
Lucia: I had been working on Regicide for a while when I lost my memory. It was dissociative amnesia from an ongoing mental illness. I was right in the middle of getting lunch when suddenly I couldn’t remember anything. I didn’t know where I was or even who I was. I was so confused and disoriented that I fell down and was rushed to the hospital. My memories came back piece by piece. And even though I’ve recovered all of them now, it was such a terrifying experience. It probably had the biggest impact of anything on the game, because I was able to draw on it for inspiration. Regicide went from a fairly uninventive plot about rescuing family to the much more complex plot it has today.
The central narrative of the gameplay is collecting the memories of The Forgotten Thief. The story of Regicide reflects my personal experience, but it also explores more universal themes of identity and memory. Not everyone might have experienced amnesia, but everyone has wondered at some point in their life: Who am I? How do I know who I am? How do I define myself? How much of my identity is bound to my memories?
The second thing is that Jelly and I are absolutely fascinated with horror stories. We wanted the story of Regicide to trigger the imagination in the way the best horror stories do. The idea of waking up with no memories and your clone chasing you is a pretty horrifying scenario. The fact that it’s a clone connects perfectly into the themes of memory and identity that are so central to the story.
Jelly: When Lucia was going through therapy after her temporary memory loss, I told her to write what she knew and incorporate her own life into the game. She had already put so much of herself into Regicide labor-wise that it seemed very natural to put herself into it story-wise. And, honestly, that’s what really made the story come together.
J: Regicide looks and feels like a classic RPG. You say it “allows you to remember the golden age of gaming.” What retro games inspired yours?
Lucia: I’ve always been a game fanatic. I went through a period where I wanted to play all twelve of the main Final Fantasy games. I made it to number five. So, I’d say Final Fantasy I–IV were inspirations. I’m also going to say the Mother video game series and the original NES Dragon Warrior games.
Since Regicide will be played online and available across devices, I also thought the classic game design would make it easily playable from anywhere. If your friend is running a few minutes late to meet you for lunch, just whip out your smartphone or tablet and Regicide is at your fingers.
Jelly: One of the things I like about the retro design is that it’s a lot easier to get started. It doesn’t require 80 different buttons or a long learning curve. The ‘golden age of gaming’ is when I quit gaming, so it doesn’t make it difficult for someone like me to pick up and play. It also feels that way with the strong female player, and we can kind of rewrite game history from when it started.
As the story consultant, it’s also important because Regicide has a heavy concept and a complex story that’s balanced out by it not being a difficult game to play. We want the universe to be immersive, and leaving some space for the imagination like a classic game does is the perfect way to do that.
Gillian: The games that inspire me are probably somewhat different from those that inspire Lucia. But, there are some overlaps, at least in style. Final Fantasy is a big inspiration, especially Final Fantasy IV. Rydia is one of my all-time favorite characters in gaming.
In my writing contributions, however, my inspiration is much more modern. The emotion, storytelling, and atmosphere of games like Bastion and Sunless Sea are major influences for me. I also think that Regicide won’t be derivative, but will actually be better than the ‘golden age of gaming’ because we have an extra couple of decades of games to draw inspiration from.
In a weird way, games that handle female characters poorly are also inspirations for me. If I play a game and see characters that are poorly developed, difficult to relate to, or generally absurd, it makes me want to get in there and make something better.
J: For women reading this right now who might be interested in developing a game of their own, what would you tell them? What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started pursuing a career in the games industry?
Lucia: Just do it. Get your story out there. You are your own toughest critic and your own worst one. If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it.
Jelly: I’m new to the gaming industry. But one of the big reasons that I got involved is that our daughter likes video games. When I heard about GG, I realized that there was a need to make the gaming industry safe for my daughter and all other young women. The only way I can make sure that happens is by me being in the game industry myself.
Gillian: Go for it! Consider what is holding you back. Be able to analyze why you’re not jumping in with both feet. There are resources out there for you and the more gamers that band together to make our world more accepting and positive, the more comfortable your place in it will be. Most importantly: never, ever doubt that you deserve a place in it. You most certainly do.
J: Do you have any suggestions for someone about writing a fully-realized woman in a game? What are some of the challenges you and your team have overcome with everyone weighing in on what makes a “strong female character?”
Lucia: It helps to be a woman. It also helps to design the character in a vacuum away from all of the other leading ladies of video games that usually end up being damsels in distress or male sexual fantasies.
My primary suggestion is do what I did: design her as a human being first, and then you design her as a woman. I’ve had countless conversations with Jelly and Gillian about how we can stay away from simple feminization of male tropes—like what “Tropes vs. Women” calls the ‘Smurfette principle.’
Since the narrative is closely tied to my personal experience, I was also careful that she didn’t become a Mary Sue and made sure she had her own issues. So, while there are a lot of things that I identify with in The Thief, there are also things I don’t identify with.
Jelly: We really didn’t have any challenges like that. I think that’s a testament to how well the story came together.
Gillian: We’re writing people—that inevitably means a female character with depth and realism, because that’s what happens when you make your characters people instead of prizes or decoration. I think there’s a challenge in creating strongly-written characters of any type or gender because you’re building something from the ground up, and there is only a slightly greater challenge with a female character simply because there are fewer examples of well-thought out female characters to look at.
That said, we are a team that is highly aware of how mainstream media contributes to sexism in our society. We are a team that has a variety of perspectives and experiences. That makes it rather easy to write a female character. Lucia’s number one rule is, “She’s a human being first.” My ideal is a world in which the phrases “fully-realized woman” and “strong female character” don’t exist because it’s just what always happens.
With regard to suggestions, I would say talk to all sorts of different people in your life. Talk to different women, every one of which will have different perspectives. Reach out and get the information you need. Find someone who will give constructive criticism on your work. Try out games with strong female characters. There is so little media that shows deep female characters that it’s easy to have a warped impression of what a female character should be.
Acknowledging that there is an issue and being willing to seek out ways to improve it is the first big step. For me, the biggest challenge is the fear that what’s inside my head won’t translate. I think everyone on the team has a great image, but laying that image out in a way in which everyone that plays the game can understand and relate to it is a very different and challenging thing.
J: On your Indiegogo, you state: “We are starting a movement to revolutionize the gaming industry one game at a time.” Any hints as to what projects your team is looking to develop? Where do you hope to see Punchdrunk Games in the near future?
Lucia: We are about to release a downloadable card game called Portals in Perr. In Portals in Perr, players must rescue their missing classmates from a portal that appears in the middle of their university campus. It takes place in the same universe as Regicide and will serve as an introduction to the world. It came out of some game ideas that I created during college.
I want Punchdrunk Games to create games that tell amazing stories, are incredibly fun to play, that challenge social issues, and push the technological envelope. My long-term goal is to become a full-fledged gaming empire, like Bethesda or BioWare. Hmm … maybe we should rename ourselves to something that starts with ‘B.’
Jelly: We have a lot of ideas. Some that will expand on the Regicide storyline to make it a more fully encompassing universe and some that will be a complete departure.
J: Perhaps most importantly, how can our community help your team?
Lucia: I like this question! Since we are a new startup and such a personal and political passion project, we are grateful and happy for any support from your community. You can donate to our Indiegogo campaign, donate, and buy Portals in Perr when it is released. And, if you can’t do that, then please share our links or follow us on social media to help us increase our fanbase.
Jelly: Support our Indiegogo! Buy our games! Tell your friends about us!
Gillian: Try out the game! We are excited about it and we want to do whatever it takes to get you excited about it too!
J: Since it’s a bit of a tradition here at FemHype, I’ll pose the question to you, too: What’s your ideal breakfast food? 🙂
Lucia: I’m a fan of pancakes bigger than my face.
Jelly: I’m a sucker for corn beef hash. I hate saying it. I try to eat it only once a year. Note: I said try.
Gillian: During the holidays, my parents make a Swedish cardamom bread with orange icing and cherries. It may have claimed the spot of forever favorite for me. Coffee is a necessity. Oh dear, I appear to be drooling!