[Trigger warning: mentions of death and drug use.]
“Blanket Fort Chats” is a weekly column featuring women and nonbinary game makers talking about the craft of making games. In this week’s post, we feature Noeul Kang, a Montreal-based designer known for The Bad Cat Trip. She enjoys the simple pleasures of life: silence, being alone, movies, old mangas, TV shows, debates, UFC, anthropomorphic animals/stuffs, relaxing, summer, and nighttime.
Miss N: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into making games?
Noeul: I like a lot of stuff, but one of the things I liked the most was doodling. So I did Illustration & Design (at Dawson College), which helped me find a passion for visual narration, colors, and world creation. I have been working non-stop since then in different industries in the arts and was feeling stifled at work and bored by the dull, corporate limitations.
Around the same time, I felt I needed to find a path that suited me better as my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This was distressing, to say the least, and I was trying to find a way to occupy myself. I have been a gamer since a very young age (I think first, Nintendo) and was looking to learn something new.
So I then applied to an awesome game making workshop organized by Pixelles (amazing people) and found out I was accepted. The goal of the workshop was to help and mentor the participants through the creation of their very first game. I learned a lot with the workshops and it kind of made me feel a new sense of wonder and boosted my creativity. So I participated diligently and designed and finished making The Bad Cat Trip. I loved it and would like to stay in the game industry.
Miss N: What’s your earliest memory of playing games?
Noeul: Duck Hunt. Paperboy. BurgerTime. ‘Nuff said. Haha no, for real. Best first games ever. It’s like future FPS, RPG/adventure, and the weird surreal games. I always played games, mostly consoles. I grew up in a city that had like three channels on TV and stuff, so gaming on consoles was an important activity. My first memories are really, really fun ones, obviously.
Miss N: Coming from an illustration/design background, do you think there are things inherent within the medium of games that change your creative process?
Noeul: Definitely. Because illustration is what I am comfortable with, I do think about art a lot as I design games. However, it doesn’t change the process much because I do still think about the gameplay (Is it fun? Is it relatable?), then the art.
I think my background becomes helpful once I have an idea because I will flip through mental cards of various illustration styles that could fit with the thematic of the gameplay. I usually have no specific idea of how I want my characters to look, but I do have to consider that my characters will be animated. Therefore, I have to think of a way to create an easy-to-animate character. If I have no time constraints, though, I’d love to try more complex and layered art throughout.
Miss N: Recently, we saw The Bad Cat Trip at the Pixelles Showcase. It was visually stunning! Can you tell us a bit about it?
Noeul: That’s very kind of you. I am glad you and others enjoyed playing/looking at it. The story is pretty simple; it’s a cat who is tired of corporate jobs, decides to take some old LSD lying around and ends up de-stressing by having a trip where they get to jump on square businessmen. There’s an unreliable narrator aspect to it too, which I personally really like. It’s a bit strange, but I guess I just wanted to make something that’s 100% me with no worries about if it’s marketable, if it’ll sell, and, of course, having no corporate mold to abide by.
Miss N: What was your creative process like?
Noeul: I can only do the art part better than other parts of the creative process, so [for The Bad Cat Trip], I first thought in terms of what’s possible visually in a short span of time. I quickly realized I wouldn’t be making anything too extreme, so I went with the simplified, round shapes.
One thing I do often is to concentrate on what I know. I know what it feels like to be exhausted from a seriously corporate job, coming home mentally burnt out and pondering the meaning of life and existence. I know sometimes you feel so frustrated by the faceless clients and people in business suits (which is fine) that you want … revenge, in a way?
So I started with a few ideas related to the question of “What do I know well that people could relate to?” I don’t try to have an extreme, unique concept immediately in the initial phases. I think some of us have this idea that all things you make must be perfect, unique, impressive … but that can be stressful for many. I wanted people to have fun. Just plain ol’ fun with a bit of a challenge. A game can be fun in many ways.
The look of the game is based heavily on my personal preferences of color (green/black/cold-ish reds) and mainstream LSD (or just drug) culture. I avoided an overtly colorful mood. I thought having flashy characters in a darker background would work better, and tried expressing, visually, how someone who is on LSD would see things.
Also, in my personal doodling time, I don’t like drawing people too much. I feel like there is too much baggage attached to either gender, color of skin, looks, hair, whatever. For the character, I decided to choose an animal, one that we as people are familiar with. So I chose a pink cyclops cat with no arms. I think it works well with the drug theme of the game.
Miss N: What drew you to making it?
Noeul: As I mentioned previously, I was in a bad place in life when I started making The Bad Cat Trip. Work was slow and stifling, my mother was sick—things weren’t looking good. I needed a project to “zone” on and to work through my current frustrations.
Miss N: What was the process like making it?
Noeul: In the beginning, it was honestly quite stressful. Mostly because I lacked the experience to know what I could achieve or couldn’t achieve in the time period given. However, the Pixelles moms (organizers and mentors) were extremely helpful in getting that stress in check.
If you have never coded before, it can also feel really intimidating to do even visual coding—just because you have no idea what’s happening and what to do. I used Construct 2 and did about four to five tutorials before actually even starting my game, and that was very, very helpful.
I think what took me the longest to figure out was how to organize your codes in order to correct mistakes and make adjustments faster and more efficiently. Planning what aspect of the game you will code would’ve been really helpful, but I figured that out as I went along. Also, whenever there was a bug, I definitely would have a mini breakdown. But if you take your time, ask around, ask on the forums, and Google a bit, I think most people would be able to find solutions.
Miss N: Is there one thing in the game that you’re really proud of?
Noeul: I am quite happy about the general look and feel of the game. I put in a few little details that I am happy about: Cat is polydactyl, there is a shop called Used But Expensive that I based on my neighborhood’s ridiculous gentrification and useless antique shops that only people making 100K could even walk into. There’s also the detail in the ending, which I won’t spoil, but I really like!
Miss N: Looking back, what’s been the most challenging aspect you’ve encountered?
Noeul: I’d say in order:
Miss N: On the flip side, what’s been the most fulfilling?
Noeul: I have worked for a long time, and never really in jobs I loved or even enjoyed, to be honest. I’ve always been choosing jobs to make ends meet. So, basically, for the first time in maybe 10 years, I was doing something I really felt was 100% me and I loved it.
Miss N: Do you think there are things that are inherently unique in games (as a medium) compared to other mediums?
Noeul: You know how VR is really “in” nowadays? I think the fact that you’re not a passive watcher, but rather an active participant is the unique aspect in games. That must be why we are just beginning to test POV action movies and VR games in order to test the boundary of making users feel like they really are in the situation.
As someone who does art, the fact that you can create this world and visualize it, then make it explorable is quite incredible. As a graphic designer, I am often limited to a static image. When you make a game, it’s quite a feat to make certain areas of your art an active part of the experience rather than just something nice to look at.
Miss N: Are there any games that you feel have pushed the boundaries of the medium?
Noeul: For me, Katamari Damacy and Hotline Miami (I & II). If you know these games, I think it’s obvious why. Katamari was a game made by a designer and the mechanic was extremely simple, yet the sheer amount of details in the game was mind-blowing. As for Hotline Miami, I think that aesthetically and musically, it is on another level. You can enjoy the feel of a vintage game, but with a complex array of weapons while strategizing on patterns of attack—a thinker’s game.
Miss N: Are there any women or nonbinary game makers who you really admire?
Noeul: Unfortunately, I am not familiar with any women or nonbinary game makers (to be fair, I don’t really know the names of [men who are] game makers, either). I tend to look at content. I usually look for an eye-catching icon/poster for a game, then play it without really checking to see who they are. However, I recall playing a text-based game on depression [Depression Quest] online made by Zoë Quinn who, herself, was familiar with depression. It was the first time I played a text-based game post-3D graphics era. It was incredibly eye-opening.
Miss N: If you could go back and give yourself advice when you were first starting out, what would it be?
Noeul: Don’t worry, don’t stress. Plan as much as you can, work really hard, and be open to feedback, reviews, and new ideas. Seriously, though, work hard and before you start making the game, do as many tutorials as you can. You are your best teacher and failing is the best way to learn.
Also, because I made this game while my mom was ill and passed away, I would tell myself to be kind to myself. That if you can go through this, nothing will be as difficult as this and that from now on, things will look better. 🙂
Miss N: Thank you, Noeul!
If you’re interested in following Noeul, visit her website, play The Bad Cat Trip or follow her on Instagram @nana_is_spooky. As always, if you know of any women or nonbinary game makers that you’d love for us to feature, drop us a comment or contact me.