Friday, 26 September 2014

A Vignette of my Visit to Ubisoft Montreal

A couple of hours ago, I walked up to a beautifully restored red brick building on Boul St. Laurent. I had been up since five, so I was hoping I looked a little less disheveled than I felt. It had become an impromptu road trip with my dad, since I'd decided I could use some moral support (and more than one camera angle) for my interviews at Ubisoft Montreal.

I was admiring the industrial-chic vibe of the lobby when I was presented with a long video release form. Ok, I don’t have the energy to decode this right now, but as long as I can still make the documentary, we’re good, I thought. I tried to mask the scuttling of my suitcase on the hardwood floors as we wound our way through the endless departments of people hard at work. Lots of screens. Giant gaming figurines. Awards all over the wall. Everything had its place. Everything was cool. Everything was perfectly branded.

When I arrived at the interview room it was bright and spacious, if a little dull and corporate. No problem—all the more incentive to focus on the interviews instead of the scenery, right? I go through the usual ritual: talking to myself at various volumes, testing, testing, fiddling with the lights, fiddling with buttons, trying not to leave anything unhooked, unplugged.

I think I’m ready. After 10 months of filming—bussing across the city, flying across the ocean, juggling odd-looking bags of equipmentI'm ready. After the electric highs and lows of so many interviews I am ready for the boss. Well, bosses.

Ok by boss, I don't mean the kind you talk to at a meeting or the kind you fight in a dungeon. I mean those people who totally own at what they do. In this case, three incredibly chill, bright young women who are part of the biggest video game dev branch in the world.

On my right: Anouk Bachman, Bio Jade Adam Granger and Stephanie Harvey. The minute they walk in the door they break the ice with open smiles. Instead of getting straight down to business, they want to hear about the project. I don’t feel the need to plead my case for She Got Game. I don't have to stand up and defend my personal gaming history or offer solutions to all of the industry’s gender issues. These women get it. I I’m ready to dive in, because this is the last chapter of something that has completely consumed my life for the past year.

After Saturday my interviews for the documentary will be done. Wait, what? I can't believe it. I’m not always the best interviewer. I have the horrible habit of getting excited about certain topics and interjecting. I have a tendency to be more casual and personal than objective, if that’s considered a virtue in documentary filmmaking. But at the very least I do my best to represent the messages of these women with accuracy, humility and artistry. This is where I’m at with She Got Game right now.

As I see it, my responsibility is to make people feel comfortable so that they're able to discover something new in the process of talking. There's nothing more gratifying than seeing someone wake up inside as they get carried away with the conversation. Something great happens who you see people forget about the reserved, well-arbitrated answers they'd prepared and start to learn something about themselves through our interaction.

You're like, "Ok that's nice, but what about the interview!?" I know I know I know! I'll be posting it soon, I promise. I just wanted to capture the feeling before it disappeared completely. I can tell you, I've almost never had such a good time and learned so much in one sitting. I can’t wait to share these segments with you. Anouk, Bio and Stephanie are absolutely kickass.

So what’s next? As October ushers in the cool winds of hibernation I’ll be madly working away at my editing station. Somehow I'll weave together the dozens of stories I’ve collected and figure out how to make them make sense to you.

Thank you so much to each and every single one of you who has made a contribution to the production, content or my motivation for this project. I needed you all in order to get this far, and I hope I will give you something that you will be proud to be a part of.



Thursday, 18 September 2014

Freeman+Szabo+Lollipop+Love: Get 'em on Your Radar!

Hey peeps, 

One of the biggest challenges of maintaining a blog, website, podcast, vlog series or any other form of media is that metaphorically, you're a grain of sand on the beach. You have to think, "Ok...what is it about me and my ramblings that could be important to people?" 

As a viewer or reader, you also have to grab the sifter every morning and go hunting for the grains of sand that are most important to you. To be honest, I don't follow a ton of bigwigs on social media. Not because I think they're unimportant, but because I eventually hear about them by osmosis anyway. 

I might be biased, but I also prefer to follow people who still have time to connect with their fans personally and who have worked hard to carve out their own niche. I love to get into quirky, personal, nitty-gritty conversations with people. And I love it when people share that kind of thing through their own writing, videos, games, music and so on.

This week I'm introducing you to 4 women who I want you to know about. Not only are they bold entrepreneurs, but they address a lot of topics with integrity, style, humor and passion. Between the 4 of them, there's a little bit of everything, so grab your morning coffee and play, watch, listen!

Nina Freeman

(Photocred: from Embed with Games)

Nina is an independent game dev whose work often focuses on sex, women's bodies and body image, family relationships, and childhood curiosity. For me, her work evokes some of the intimate excitement and discomfort we go through growing up, but she leaves coming-of-age cliches behind. Her games are simple, poignant and poetic.

She is also the co-founder and instructor at Code Liberation which was created for women who want to dive in to the world of game-making. 

Click here play Nina's games. (If you think Barbies are nostalgic but kind of weird play this one now!)

To learn more about her work, I also recommend reading this great interview she did for Sex Magazine (don't be scared away).

Erika Szabo
(Photocred: Our good friend Sam Motala over at MixTapePhotos. Recognize the character??)

Erika's one of those people who instantly makes you feel comfortable. Not because she sugar-coats things, but because you're bound to have something in common. Her YouTube Channel is down-to-earth and thought-provoking while still being pretty darn adorable. Not only does she have a vast wealth of gaming, comics, and anime knowledge, but she shares it with you in a way which makes you feel like you're hanging out together. Erika is a great person to follow or get in touch with for anyone who feels like they're lacking a geek community to relate to.

He's a sample just to whet your appetite:

Lollipop Geek

(Image cred: Mighty Ink Comics)

Ok so Lollipop Geek is not just one woman but actually three! Jennifer, Danielle and Kelly are a collective of geektastic friends who get together to discuss everything from gaming to books, movies, TV, comics and tech. Click here to listen to the podcast on iTunes (free). If you're the kind of person who'd rather spend Friday nights hanging out with the crew where you're free to let it all out, this is for you. If you're interested in hearing multiple perspectives and in-depth analysis on your favorite geeky things, this is for you. They're witty, hilarious and very real

I recommend the latest episode on female characters in gaming--something which I'm sure we all have a lot to say about! 

Christine Love
The title of Christine's site pretty much sums up her work: Lover Conquers AllAs an indie game developer, Christine writes narratives that delve into our secret desires and break apart conventional thinking about gender, technology, desire, privacy and romance.

It's rare that someone puts this much love and thought into their text and dialogues. I adore Christine's work because it proves that cuteness and controversy can go hand-in-hand; we can say the hard things we want to say and still make them beautiful.

Last winter, I had a chance to steal Christine away from her duties for an interview at the Fancy Video Game Party held at the Art Gallery of Ontario. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the video below should give an idea of the event (through our eyes anyway).

(Photocred: From Love's site, photos by Paul Hillier)

Fancy Video Game Party:

...and now for the interview with Christine:

Now my question to you is, who else should be on my radar? Feel free to post on the She Got Game FB page or to comment below if there are more amazing women in gaming who we should be following. Cheers.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Amnesia Followup: Why We Crave Fear

Leah's post last week on creating her own Amnesia Custom Story really got my brain percolating. It had been a long time since I'd played any horror survival games and in the midst of a breezy summer day while everyone else was out on a patio, I felt the strong urge to hole up in my woman cave and dive back into the creepy world of Amnesia

There are lots of definitions of fear, but the kind that Amnesia inspires is one of those that slowly seeps in and leaves you feeling strange for a long time after you've already quit playing. Every time I jump back into the game, I'm good for about 15 minutes and then it starts: I start to feel a bit sick to my stomach and I can feel that I've stopped breathing deeply. I start pausing the game to go get random snacks or to check FB (argh!), desperate to release the tension...but ultimately I can't tear myself away from it...

Now I swear if anything in my daily life made me feel that way, I'd be working overtime to put an end to it. I'd probably be consulting someone about my intense psychological stress fits. But nope, somehow it feels good to enter the mind of someone who's just on the edge on insanity. It feels good to make decisions that go completely against your instincts. It puts you in the realm of dreams where you fulfill the urges of your psyche that don't have a chance to be exercised in real life. 

I was talking about this while I was in Japan with a friend of mine who had actually been recruited for a pro Call of Duty team. She said that she used to end a session shaking, covered in sweat and with her heart beating so fast it was like she had just finished sprinting. It was a mental workout that brings you to a state that you hope never to experience in real life. But that's exactly what kept her playing for so long. Not only that, but she said that playing video games helped her move away from some more self destructive activities, because they fulfilled the need for extreme experiences.

About 6 months ago a friend of mine gave me a copy of Dead Rising II. The premise is that there's a game show where contestants slaughter zombies for cash, and you're competing in it cause you need cash to buy the zombie antidote for your daughter. Unlike in Amnesia, where you're mainly exploring spaces and hiding from things, in this one you're mostly on a killing spree. To be completely honest, I didn't get very far in this game cause it made me kind of nauseous and I wasn't a big fan of Chuck. But that's not a criticism. It means the atmosphere and situations they made were as effective as hell.  

In our every day lives, we've tried to eliminate every possible form of inconvenience, let alone danger. There is an undeniable appeal to things which make us feel a little bit sick, but which have built in security measures; we can press a button and wake up from the nightmare in a flash. Ok well it's even more fun sometimes when you can't wake up right away and have to wait it out, like when you're half way up a roller coaster.

There is something deeply ingrained in us as animals that I think needs that kind of fear and anxiousness to be present to maintain equilibrium. At some subconscious level, we need to feel a sense of threat to ensure us that we are in fact alive and are really surviving, not just aimlessly existing. In my opinion, it doesn't need to be something as violent and disturbing as the Saw series to have an impact. It can be something much simpler. 

As a final thought, for any of you who are into this kind of thing and live anywhere near NYC, you have to go see Sleep No More. Without giving too much away, you enter a mysterious hotel where you are free to explore any place of your own will. Every room is an elaborate masterpiece done in an eerie 1920s style--like the apothecary, the speakeasy, the tailor's, the taxidermist's and so on. As you explore, you encounter strange scenes and interactions and an elaborate plot unfolds; each person will experience the story differently depending on his or her actions. The immersive quality and the sheer power of the performances is somewhat terrifying, but completely unforgettable. It was enough to keep me dreaming about it for months. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Re-writing Our Favorite Games: Leah's Amnesia Custom Story

I will never stop being impressed by people who manage to work all day and then continue working all night on creative projects. As a super creative person myself, I know how easy it is to make "TIME" into a big excuse not to start something I've been wanting to do for a while.

Today's guest post is by Leah, who's decided that being a busy high school student won't stop her from writing, designing and coding her own Amnesia Custom Story. Here are some screenshots from the original Amnesia series to give you an idea of the fantastically creepy vibe:

For any of you who are interested in writing your own version of an Amnesia horror adventure game, Leah's a great one to ask. Her are her thoughts on the process along with some original scans of her plans and sketches. I'll make sure to get a followup post later on, so we can check up on her progress! 

(PS. Leah, I think you're super cool. I couldn't have done this at 15.)


Everyone’s had moments of unexplainable inspiration, right? Pretty much that’s how this all started. I’m Leah, I’m 15 and I am currently writing, designing and coding my own Amnesia Custom Story.

On a usual day, I’m going to school, maybe doing leftover homework, working with the band and stuff like that. But a huge part of my life is my gaming. I personally work more with PC games, but I’ve played a couple console and handheld system games too. Let’s just say games have gotten me through a lot in life (well, as much of a “life” a 15-year-old has had), especially horror games. I’ll never be able to explain why or how, but I have an UNDYING love for the Amnesia and Outlast series (which is surprising, since I’m naturally a timid person). Games like the Slender series, SCP etc. have never really caught my eye. To me, they’re just jump-scares and overly extensive mazes all mixed in one. The Amnesia and Outlast series hold storylines. Intense storylines. They were the first jumping point to my game’s idea.

           First you have to learn the difference between modding a game and creating your own, which varies from game to game. When you’re making an Amnesia Custom Story like I am, even though you’re using the main games as a base, you have to code, write and create a lot of things which mimic creating a game all on your own.
The title was fun to write for me. I decided to go with something traditional. My story takes place in France, roughly around the 1750's. I picked France because I’m currently in my third year of French, so I felt I could put some of the language into the game without the worries of going through Google Translate!. Also, like any good story from the Amnesia series, I used two plot devices: memory loss and mental illness. The first one is easy. The main, playable character wakes up in a seemingly unknown place, not knowing who they are or why they're there. See? easy.

The second one is very difficult and can/should only be done after months of research. After months of research, you should have a basic grasp of that illness. My example was one that I learned about in English class, so I was able to research less. Plus, you always make the story first. The story and the tropes have to easily be played up by the scares. For my story, I'm using the more psychological scares, where I use the story and memories from before the story to make the player go "Whaaaaaa?" I think jump-scare games can usually skimp out on storyline.

If you’re ever thinking about making a game of your own, you have one major choice that will pretty much determine EVERYTHING. Is it going to be a jump-scare-based game or a story-driven game? In my case, it was an easy choice. I personally knew I could write better scares than I could code. That also helped me pick what I was going to make the game with. The Amnesia Custom Stories always had a certain beauty to them and they never seem to be copies of the original game or other custom stories. Other games have limited textures, so you end up with a lot of the same ideas over and over again. That’s the easy part.

The next part--and probably one of the hardest--is creating and developing an idea. I was lucky that it took me under six months to get the basics of my story worked out (as I go along, I edit little things here and there). But you have to constantly be checking if you have to ability to make you story a reality. One of the most upsetting things that can happen is when you have the perfect idea for a game, but the platform you use can't support it.

The next part is my personal favorite. After months of planning, you can finally start designing. That includes voice acting, the coding and the graphic design of the game. Next to developing the story, this will likely take the longest. I've just started this stage (the tryout scripts for my voice actors went out on Tuesday and Wednesday). This part has the most human interaction, unless your game doesn't have voice actors, then you don't have to worry. It's one of most final parts, too.

As of this point, I only have two regrets. That would be the fact that the sister-game/sequel to this one never got much thought and that I didn't incorporate stronger female characters into the one I am currently working on. The sister game to this one might be worked on once this one is done.

That was just a super basic timeline of coding a game. I have had so much fun just getting to put my ideas into reality! With the voice acting tryout scripts being sent out in the last couple of days, I can easily say this is one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had, and I would recommend it to anyone!