Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Parenting and Gaming: Entertainment and Technology Badge

Entertainment Technology Badge!
For the first time, Frogdice hosted an Entertainment Technology Badge event for Junior Girl Scout Troop 847 this year. Our studio strongly believes in encouraging women and girl to pick up gaming as a learning tool and a means to empowerment, and where better to start than with our own daughters? Here's a guide to what we did and the amazing results that followed.

A Quick Discussion on Gaming

We started with a quick discussion on what games the girls played, who they played with, and how they picked the games they played. Of course, we used our own game, Tower of Elements, as one of the games we demonstrated. All the girls talked about what games they played, who they played with, and also, what makes them like or dislike playing.

I'd like to report that every single one of our girls gamed quite a bit, but very few had been exposed to playing games on anything other than phones or mini-tablets. We had four PC gamers out of the eleven who attended the meeting and a handful of console gamers. Temple Run was the game that most everyone shared in common.

Learning about Stop Motion Animation

Part of obtaining the Entertainment Technology badge consisted of the girls learning about animation and how we created animation. We showed them sprite sheets and examples of 3D animation done in Maya. Now all Girl Scout badges insist on hands-on experience, so we did a segment on stop-motion animation. We used the following supplies:
  1. A camera
  2. Paper
  3. Markers
  4. Lego people and props
  5. A computer
First, the girls wrote a script knowing that they had only 16 frames in which to tell their story. Then, with the help of a leader, they positioned the lego people in the scene and snapped a picture of the scene. Next, the girls would re-position the characters in the next step of the animation, and we would take another picture. When we were done, we loaded all the pictures onto a computer and simply used Window Photo Viewer to quickly scroll through the pictures. Thus, we made a very simple, but effective, animated short.

Game Design and Development as a Team

As another part of earning our badge, we split the girls up into development teams. Everyone role-played their part in creating a game and learned how programming, art, music, design, and writing all went together. We tried different tactics with creating as a team with one person in charge, and then we tried a democratic method of design. We also experimented with salaries, pitching to VCs and meeting deadlines. The girls also drew concept art, hummed various tunes they created for sound tracks, and used other video games for inspiration for their creation.

We created achievements, leveling systems, reward systems, and bosses. More importantly, the girls learned that not every idea works and not every idea is the best one. They learned about discarding ideas, implementing each others' ideas, and adjusting their ideas to fit their overall game design.

Girls Aren't that Different

Some readers may remember me mentioning my "World of Dolls" incident where it became obvious that some designers believe girls will only play games with dolls, rainbows and horses. Those beliefs contain a hint of truth but only on the surface. One of the games that the girls designed, Cloud Castle, can only be described as an RPG. Cloud Castle starts each character with a small cottage that they build into a great castle in the cloud by defending Cloudland against horrible monsters. Characters join up in the Cloud Academy to learn new skills and form groups to fight the really hard bosses or to build up their castles. They could also use the items they earned to make clothing and costumes, and the girls even built in a micro-transaction system to sell players color. They got down to the point of arguing whether or not they wanted people to buy extras or if they just wanted to sell the game right from the beginning for $10. (These are issues that current developers are discussing and debating.)

Ultimately, the girls wanted to create a deep game where they could progress and earn things for their avatars. That's really not so different from what the boys I've taught in various programs wanted. It just goes to show how gamers, male or female, simply want good games.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You're making video games where?! (Part II)

As I said before, I get two reactions when I say we are making video games in Lexington, Kentucky.
  1. In Kentucky? Why Kentucky? There's nothing in Kentucky.
  2. I had no idea that we had that in Kentucky! My son/daughter/nephew/corgi would love to visit your studio!
I had no idea we had that in Kentucky!

Kentucky actually has a very active indie gaming scene. RunJumpDev serves as our indie studio organization where we come to share ideas, run events, and have amazing game jams. John Meister of Super Soul, another indie studio in the Lexington area, heads up all the organization and planning for our group on top of making games and drinking bourbon. We're a mix of all different levels and expertise in the gaming industry, and yep, we're doing it all in the heart of the Bluegrass.

Chillin' with Amumu at PAX
Moreover, we're doing this with the support of the local government, Commerce Lexington, the ICC, and the BBDP. This year, Shobu Games, Super Soul and my own company, Frogdice, went to PAX East for the very first time, and we went together as RunJumpDev with the support of our local government. That's right, Commerce Lexington helped us obtain our booth. We loved being a collection of indie developers in the Indie Mega Booth. (A booth within a booth of a collection of booths. Mind blown!) 

Why is this important? PAX East isn't cheap for any studio let alone an indie studio. It also happens in a city known for its expensive conventions, and it's so very, very easy for a studio to spend money in all the wrong places for something like PAX. Because Commerce Lexington helped us go financially and we all went together as a team, the risks involved in attending something like this were spread out pretty thin. We were able to go with minimal staff, and thus, we were able to put our funds towards swag, codes, and presentation. In addition, we now have a better idea how to prepare for these conventions. I absolutely can't wait to go again, and I'm glad to know that studios in Kentucky will always have the ability to do a "test run" before they decide to do something like this on their own. The experience we gained this year can only be described as invaluable.

So if you have a budding studio and spend a lot of time wondering how to get to the next step, make sure that you plan a trip to Lexington, Kentucky. We just might BE the next step you need to take to turn your hobby into a full-time job.

My son/daughter/nephew/corgi would love to visit your studio!

We get a LOT of visitors, so you'd be welcome. Players of our 17 year old game, Threshold RPG, have visited a total of 47 times since we opened our doors in May 2012, including players from as far away as England. 

I get tons of calls from friends and friends of friends asking to visit our studio. As long as I'm in, I'm happy to have them visit. We also have young artists who come in and learn what it is to create concept art and how we deal begin creating most of the art in our game. We also encourage Junior Girl Scout troops who are working on their Entertainment and Technology badges to contact us. We did this badge for the first time this year for my daughter's troop, and the girls had a blast making video games, playing with animation tools, and learning about the industry. (I'll tell you more about that event later!)

Last but not least, if you have a corgi who wants to visit the studio and learn how to be an awesome mascot for a gaming company, let me know. Our own resident mascot, Tehpig, a Welsh Pembroke corgi born in Paris, Kentucky, spends a great deal of time here, and she's a very patient teacher as long as we keep giving her treats.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

You're making video games where?! (Part I)

I get two reactions frequently when I tell people that we make video games out of Lexington, Kentucky and that, yes, we have a full development studio minus a sound guy (or girl) presently.
  1. In Kentucky? Why Kentucky? There's nothing in Kentucky.
  2. I had no idea that we had that in Kentucky! My son/daughter/nephew/corgi would love to visit your studio!
Why Kentucky?

Yep, I see this everywhere.
I moved to Kentucky in late 1981 after immigrating to Boston, MA from Thailand. Let me tell you that the culture shock between Boston,  MA to Campbellsville, KY felt almost as much as a culture shock as moving from Thailand to the U.S. I went from a bustling metropolitan city with an aquarium, an elementary school within walking distance, a children's museum, and a pro baseball team to a sleepy little farming community in the heart of Kentucky. We were one of two Asian families in the entire community.

Kentucky grew on me over the years. The people are loyal, the countryside is beautiful, and the pace of life is gentle, allowing people to appreciate all the earth has to offer if only one wishes to look. I left for law school in Vermont, then moved to Georgia with my fiance, and ended up in Washington, D.C. with my husband and new baby. It took me a while, but I finally got us back to Kentucky to be near my family. I chose a bigger city than Campbellsville, but I'm still in Kentucky.

By the time I knew how difficult it would be to grow a gaming company in the Bluegrass state, we already had a child in an accelerated cluster program offered by the public school system in Fayette County and another child well on her way to entering the same program. We also had our kids in competitive gymnastics, piano, art, Girl Scouts, and several other activities. I loved all that city had to offer our family and at such reasonable prices.

So, as my husband was preparing to move us to Austin, TX, I asked him to please look around here one more time to see if we could stay.

Our studio!
We met with Commerce Lexington, and they proceeded to get us in touch with the ICC and BBDP. (It's like alphabet soup just spilled onto my blog!) We met Warren, Dean, Chris, and a number of people who were extremely interested in helping our business grow despite the many obstacles that faced us. (That's something that requires its own blog post.) Needless to say, they convinced us to stay and make it work here where nothing like this has worked before in the past.

There's nothing in Kentucky!

You would be right and wrong at the same time. There really is very little infrastructure for a developing video game studio. We don't have a pool of artists and sound studios to pick through for our talent, though we've got a great group of programmers. The internet access here, to put it nicely, makes me long for a 2400 baud modem every now and then, and often, explaining exactly what we do involves a white board, three artists, and a three hundred page manual. (I'm just kidding about that last one. It only takes one artist.)

This is on our wall.
What makes it worth doing in Kentucky is that I often feel that the entire state is behind what we're doing. When we opened the doors to our new studio in May of 2012, the mayor of Lexington and the governor of the state were scheduled to be there. The mayor spoke wonderful words of encouragement, and about six TV studios showed up to film. Over forty people showed up for our ribbon cutting, and we ended up a beautiful mint julep cup from the governor's office that sits in our lobby.

People from the state stop by our Facebook page to drop words of encouragement frequently, and we end up on TV talking about our studio quite frequently. So because there's not that much competition here gaming-wise, we get the benefit of being unique, interesting, and something to be treasured.

There's also not a ton of opportunity to invest in a local gaming company in Kentucky, yet several smart investors live in the area. It's a good position to be in for a small indie studio. Many, many people are happy to see us succeed, and they do everything they can to help us do so. Kentucky's really good at promoting the things that the people feel are "their own" like UK, bourbon and horses. I'm really glad to have ended up back here and being a part of that unbridled spirit.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Women in Games: Why no naked parties?

With the recent controversies surrounding women in games, especially the IGDA party incident, I have fears of what the backlash will bring to the gaming industry as a whole. I guess that's why I waited until the furor died down a little bit before voicing (very quietly) my opinion.

I believe you.

First, I know that I've posted that I've been very lucky not to experience the misogyny and sexism that occurs in the gaming industry. I don't really have any horror stories to share, and I've been lucky in gaming as well. I play heavy PvP games with a group of really great people, and I simply don't end up dealing with people abusing me for my gender. They might abuse me for my playing skills, but that's just about it.

Having said that, I BELIEVE the stories that many women have shared. I feel for them, and I'm incredibly thankful that I've never had to experience it. I find myself worrying and, at times, being hypersensitive because I know it's out there. Just because I've posted that I haven't experienced it does NOT mean that I don't believe that it happens, and it does not mean that it's not a problem.

I point out my experiences because I believe that healthy environments exist within the gaming industry, and I strongly encourage women to seek out those environments if they cannot make the ones they already exist in better. Those companies don't deserve you, and there are so many out there that would cherish you for being who you are, not because you're a woman but because you're a good game designer, artist, musician, etc.

Just because my experience differs from yours does not mean that I am on the "wrong side" or that I should be ashamed of myself. I'm not ashamed that I've never had to face the indignities that others have. I'm blessed.

It's okay to be hot... or not!

I want to point out that the people who objected to certain GDC parties being hosted by half-clothes girls do not "hate themselves" and are not all "dumpy geeky women who hate beautiful women". Please be aware that  the fashion magazine and celebrity tabloid industries (both filled with beautiful women) make billions of dollars a year. Guess who buys those magazines? Yep, it's women. Women absolutely love beautiful women. We like to be friends with them. We like to look at them. We like to be them. So then what's the problem with the party?

Technically, there's nothing wrong with those parties. I rarely attend parties without my colleagues, friends or husband anymore, especially if I'm attending an out of town convention. I'm there to meet up with friends or colleagues, and a mutual party is a great place to meet up. The problem with having women there purely as decoration is that you absolutely have no idea what to do with your eyes if they happen to accidentally land on one of those decorative pieces because that "piece of decoration" is a living, breathing person and shouldn't be decoration. What if that decoration meets your eyes? Do you say hi? Do you ignore them? Oh, my goodness, what if your eyes just happen to land on the wrong part of the decoration? What if your friends notice you looking? Do you acknowledge it? Do you talk about it? So much stress!

It gets even worse if you attend a party like that with a husband. I have no problems with my husband looking at beautiful women, but man, I can't help but hate it when he catches me looking at beautiful men. That's why I absolutely refuse to go to a male review with him. Even if he comes with me, I don't want him watching me watch stuff. I don't want anyone I know watching me watch stuff. So, if we flipped it around, and there were guys walking around a game development party with skimpy loincloths on, I would have to leave simply because I wouldn't know where to put my eyes. I'd know where they'd land eventually, and then I'd have to be gone. Why? Because I can hang out with my friends somewhere less stressful; somewhere I can put my eyes wherever I want without thinking about it.

(And as it is, if models are topless, they just about poke me in the eye with their stuff since I'm 4'11". Talk about uncomfortable!)

I left out pictures.

I decided to leave out pictures for this. You've all seen the party pictures, the cosplay pictures, the objectifying (or not) pictures. I think my words serve my purpose here.