Blanket Fort Chats: Game Making With Elaine Gusella

Photo courtesy of Julie-Chantal Boulanger
Photo courtesy of Julie-Chantal Boulanger

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 Elaine Gusella, a game designer and storyteller currently working as an indie dev in Montréal. She is the co-founder of a startup studio specializing in gamification and life-size video game installations. When she isn’t making games, she enjoys playing RPGs and spending time with her partner and beautiful baby girl.

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

ElaineI studied classical music for years, and then went on to get my BA and master’s in ancient languages and literature. Nothing that would bring me to game making, although it’s now proving very useful. After that, I worked in book publishing where I had the chance to participate in some very interesting digital publishing projects. As fulfilling as that was, the book industry is hard, and I eventually decided that I wanted to go in another direction. I had been writing scenarios for LARP games for about ten years by that time. I decided to make the transition into game making as a career. That’s when I heard about Pixelles for the first time.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making some kind of game, to be honest. It’s always been a huge part of my life. I met most of my friends and even my husband in LARP games, but I had never thought of it as a career path before being selected for the Pixelles Game Incubator. I gained a lot of confidence through it. After that, I went back to school to do a postgraduate certificate in Game Design where I met my friend and now business partner Véronique Bouffard.

Miss N: What’s your earliest memory of playing games?

Elaine: My mom used to make games out of everything to help me learn. I remember that she had made cardboard squares with different syllables on them to teach me how to read and had me match them to form words. I must have been three or four. Soon after that, we got a NES and I started playing Super Mario, but the real hook was when I played Final Fantasy the very first one. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Miss N: What’s your creative process like? Where do you get your ideas?

Elaine: From everywhere. I try always to stay alert to new ideas. I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. I stopped doing that for a while actually, using only my computer, but I went back to paper. There’s something more direct in writing things out that I enjoy. I find that the more I spend in an iterative process, the easier ideas come to me. Often, game jamming is part of that, too. It keeps me in that creative mindset.

Like everyone, I do get creative blocks. When that happens, I’ll go have a walk, change my environment or talk with other people about what I want to do. It’s usually enough to get me back on track.

I often hear people say that creativity is a talent that some people have and others don’t. I can’t disagree more. Creativity is something that can be cultivated through exercises and changes in perspective. I use many tools not only to get ideas, but also to test them and make them better. I like to use design patterns, for example, to break down ideas to their simplest expression. It helps me see if there are ways to improve the game design and the experience of my games.

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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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#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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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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Blanket Fort Chats: Boosting the Games We Love

Analogue: A Hate Story
Analogue: A Hate Story

Blanket Fort Chats” is a semi-regular column featuring women and nonbinary game makers talking about the craft of making games. As “Blanket Fort Chats” nears its one-year anniversary, we’re doing a bit of a retrospective. In past Q&As, we’ve asked folks which games they think have pushed the boundaries of the medium. In this week’s post, we’re going back into our archives and highlighting these very games.

Analogue: A Hate Story & Hate Plus by Christine Love

Tanya Kan: “In visual novels, there’s nothing that captures my imagination as much as [these games]. Christine Love has woven political intrigue with heartfelt stories in a wonderful mystery. She has also managed to include some comedic turns in a broader melodramatic story, which is no easy balance of tone and pacing.”

Antichamber by Alexander Bruce

Diane Mueller: “I have an appreciation for games that have come out lately that force the player to un-learn typical game conventions. Antichamber attempted to do this in the same way — changing areas when the player looked away, making the player walk backwards to progress, and such.”

Bastion by Supergiant Games

Tanya Kan: “[This] hit all the right notes: a resounding sense of adventure, a tinge of regret lost to the passage of time, and a lore that is intensely and uniquely its own.”

The Beginner’s Guide by Everything Unlimited

Vaida Plankyte: “I absolutely love The Beginner’s Guide. It has a completely unexpected structure — a bundle of games with an overarching narrator — but it works perfectly. I love the fact that its creator focused on telling the story in a way that worked best without feeling like he needed to comply to what a traditional game is.”

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