Development, Interviews

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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Development, Interviews

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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Development, Reviews

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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Development, Interviews, LGBTQA

Blanket Fort Chats: Game Making With Philip Jones

philip-jones

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 Philip Jones, a nonbinary games professional best known as the editor of the queer cyberpunk adventure 2064: Read Only Memories and the expo hall director for the LGBTQIA+ games convention GaymerX.

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

Philip: I’ve known I wanted to be in games since I was very young; I’d been writing and podcasting for fan and news sites since I was twelve. I first launched my own podcast project at 16 and went on to have the subject of the game’s creative director on for three exclusive interviews. Kept a couple contacts and soon met Toni Rocca [GaymerX Convention President] online.

I was barely 18 and just came out as gay, and was fascinated by the potential of queerness in games, especially professional work. She enlisted me and I haven’t looked back since. Before that, I was a theater kid dealing with a sad queer life in Texas, doing whatever I could to put off the “grow up and get a real job” future staring me down that I knew I’d never survive in.

Miss N: Can you describe your your earliest memory of playing games?

Philip: Plenty of them. Playing the Ms. Pac-Man machine they had at the laundromat. Random babysitters that had N64s or computer games, mostly car racing or Disney. Lots of educational games. The SEGA Pico. All the late ’90s PC games. Fuzion Frenzy on Xbox. Tony Hawk and Mario Tennis on the N64 they had at McDonald’s.

By the time I was six or seven, I got a computer and was playing pretty excellent games, Roller Coaster Tycoon and Need for Speed, lots of LEGO games haha. Eventually, my best friend got a Gamecube and introduced me to games like SSX Tricky, Pikmin, Super Monkey Ball, and XG3. When I was nine, I finally got my own Gamecube with SSX 3 and Mario Kart Double Dash. Then, a Gameboy Advance SP with Golden Sun, Pokémon FireRed, Yoshi’s Island, and Sonic Advance. Soon, Harvest Moon, Smash Brothers, Mario Sunshine, and Animal Crossing.

Most of what I’ve mentioned remains on my favorite games list. Then I got a Wii, found the internet, and I was in deep. Some of favorite memories are the late ’90s/early ’00s SEGA arcade machines they had at Chuck E. Cheese. Crazy Taxi, Emergency Call Ambulance, Jambo Safari, Magical Truck Adventure, and Wild Riders. All very influential.

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Development, Interviews

Blanket Fort Chats: Game Making With Camila Gormaz

Image courtesy of Camila Gormaz
Image courtesy of Camila Gormaz

Blanket Fort Chats” is a semi-regular column featuring women and nonbinary game makers talking about the craft otf making games. In this week’s post, we feature Camila Gormaz, an indie developer best known for developing Long Gone Days, a 2D character-driven modern day military RPG that combines elements from visual novels and dystopian fiction.

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

Camila: I’ve always wanted to make games. Since I was 11 or 12, I started trying out Flash and other software to make my first games. It was so rewarding to tell these stories to your friends, having them play, and [seeing] how much fun they had. I wanted to keep doing that forever.

[As I grew older], I worked on commercial projects, but they were mostly visual novels. I was in charge of the visual aspects of those games like character design, UI, and stuff like that. And I also made some games during game jams, during college too, and personal projects. But [Long Gone Days] is probably the biggest project I’ve made so far.

Miss N: What were your first games like?

Camila: They were really short games. I made a lot of dress up games, platformers, and stuff that wasn’t too hard to make. Also, I had learned to code in HTML so I made some kind of visual novels where you kind of click on links and it was like a story.

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Development, Interviews

Blanket Fort Chats: Game Making With Julie Huynh

Image courtesy of Julie Huynh
Image courtesy of Julie Huynh

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 Julie Huynh, an artist and interaction designer specializing in play and virtual spaces. Her work aims to make playful spaces using technology to create another level of interaction for users.

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

Julie: When I was seven, I made a Monopoly-like board game with a KeroKeroppi (the frog from Sanrio) theme. I grew up in Sonoma County, California and I studied Studio Art and English during my undergrad at UC Santa Barbara, originally wanting to be an artist/writer or work in advertising. However, during my final year, I experimented with projected animations on my abstract landscape paintings and I haven’t turned back from art and technology since.

While I was working and looking for a graduate program, Parsons was the only design and technology program I applied to. All the other applications were for animation schools. So, instead of waiting on the waiting list for USC’s animation program, I decided to try out Parsons—known for their art and design interdisciplinary academics. I’ve played video games through my childhood growing up with console systems, and my favorites were puzzle, fighting, and adventure games. However, it wasn’t until graduate school through great teachers such as Kyle Li, Nick Fortugno, and Robert Yang that all those years of video games could direct me into telling stories through games.

Miss N: Can you describe your earliest memory of playing games?

Julie: The original NES 1985 edition. I think later that year my dad went to Japan and came back with 100 in one games, I was so stoked. Our original NES set also came with the original Mario and Duck Hunt with the zapper. I also got my first Game Boy a few years later, and still have it.

Shooting games stuck out because I felt so immersed playing Duck Hunt, Wild Gunman, and then Time Crisis.

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