Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Forgotten Protagonist - Kate Walker

*Fair notice - While this post contains no direct spoilers, it does allude to the plot of Syberia*

I know that talk for strong female characters in games in a well worn topic by now. It gets to the point where you feel like you\re flogging a dead horse since we can kick and scream all we like, but the past shall remain the same and we will continue to see shallow female characters in games.

However I feel that there some really great games are forgotten. Games that already said, yeah we can have intelligent female characters in our games, they can even be the main protagonist, no bother. So I feel I should go ahead and mention them, since when I seem to talk about them with my friends, consisting of almost entirely other game developers, they've never even heard of them!

So first, Syberia. A point and click adventure game from 2002. Developed by Microïds for PS2, Xbox and of course the humble PC, home of the point and click. We follow the tribulations and transformation of our protagonist, Kate Walker. She is an American lawyer sent to a dying ghost town in the French countryside to seal a deal of  the purchase of a toy factory there, from owner Anna Voralberg, who's funeral Ms. Walker stumbles upon when she arrives in the village. Valailène and it's residents are in complete contrast to our modern "yuppie" lead. Kate is efficient and business focused, causing her to often be distant and dismissive of the slower paced villagers. While trying to stop her deal from going down the pan, she is often harassed by her boss: Edward Marson, fiance; Dan Foster and co-worker and close friend; Olivia via her cell phone. Her boss threatening her with "close the deal or don't bother coming back". Dan complaining about her putting her work before him while complaining that she is going to miss the Goldberg's dinner to improve his career and making general demands for change in her behaviour. Then there's Olivia, kind of annoying and someone who turns out to perhaps not have Kate's interests at heart. Needless to say this is a lady with a lot on her plate. It would be a lot for any person, regardless of gender. As a result we get to see Kate as a fully developed character.

As her adventure continues, Kate must go look for the heir of the Voralberg factory; Anna's brother Hans, in order to sign the factory over to it's new owners. A journey from which we see vast changes in our protagonist. Kate is trying to live that very typical dream of most modern women, the "woman who has it all" type if you will. High flyer with a great job, supportive friends and a loving partner. However, as Kate travels further into the depths of Europe, heading towards to more desolate and distant lands of Eastern Europe, the more she realises that perhaps these things aren't as important as she thought. She stops letting her boss walk all over. She sees Dan's selfish ways and him not being the man she thought. She even takes news of Olivia's poor judgement and it hardly leaves a scratch.

I feel that Kate's physical attributes should be mentioned here also. Mostly due to the fact she is very understated. A fixed white coat, fixed brown trousers and flat winter boots. A beautiful face and brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. Practical while still looking feminine and sophisticated. As a character artist, I personally like going for outlandish outfits in my own work. It takes a lot of restraint and respect for the character, their story and the game as a whole to make a character that is so "of this world". She is an aesthetically pleasing character, but she is never the victim of the male gaze. The camera doesn't leer nor is she animated in a provocative manner. Two things that can render a thoughtfully and well crafted female protagonist into a character that panders to the assumed "white, heterosexual male" audience of videogames.

At the beginning of Syberia, I wasn't Kate's biggest fan. I'm sure anyone has played Syberia will tell you the same. But the more we get to know her, the more we learn about the people in her life, we realise how that woman who seems to have it all together? She's just like the rest of us. We actively see her grow and change. See the changes in our she interacts with her environment and the rest of the characters. Something that we rarely see, regardless of the gender of our protagonists.

It's not a perfect game by any stretch, after all what game is, but it was certainly an experience that has stuck with me for a long time. So if you are a fan of games with unique and interesting stories, especially if you are an adventure game fan. I would very much recommend you give this forgotten gem a whirl.

Big News

Hey all,

I've got some big news....



Yeah so this was a big decision for me. I've really enjoyed my time at Traveller's Tales over the past year and a half. But with losing my dad at the beginning of this year. I've found that being so far away from my family really tough going. I also terrible for always wanting to be learning new things and experimenting with those new skills. However due to the way that AAA game development works, there just isn't the time for these types experimentation.

The final straw was being asked by one of my best friends, game designer Anna Harakopoulos if I wanted to accompany her on some travelling in 2013. And who was I to say no! So on the 1st of January I'm heading off to New Zealand, then onto Australia. I'm going to be back at the beginning of March so I'm not completely falling off the radar. But it'll be a great break and looking forward to a completely new experience very much outside of my comfort zone.

I slowly am getting various plans lined up for all the indie fun when I get back in March. But just in case you are making games and need a "Wielder of the sacred pen of Wacom" for 2D or 3D art based goodies for your project do get in touch. I'm planning on getting started on my dream of making an adventure game. I'm super excited and will keep you all updated as things progress.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

XX Game Jam

I feel some things really need to be said about XX Game Jam.

I was part of the winning team “People Who Make Games or Something” and made an action platformer called Donkey Kog Country. I was the sole artist on this team and I had never done a game jam before. Which is an important point, I’m generally terrible for feeling intimidated by others, Game Jams have always been something I would love to take part in, but was too worried about getting agro for not knowing certain tech things or not doing a good enough job and letting my team down. All very ridiculous but these are things I feared. I still felt this way about XX Game Jam (you can ask someone who around me for the MONTHS running up to it) but luckily the female game dev community is pretty small, I already knew a few of the people going, so I felt more at ease about it. And the point of this jam was never the competition aspect, it was about learning and connecting with others to create something.

For a long time I had convinced myself that I could never work in the games industry, despite it being my dream. Mostly for the fact, that as a member of the lady half of our species, I wouldn't be taken seriously or respected. This was a notion I carried through most of my teenage years and my mind only changed when I saw the developer diaries for The Sims 2. I remember how many women were featured and how they held roles such as Heads of Production, Animation Lead etc. That's when I realised that yeah, maybe I can follow my dream after all.

And I did.

I currently work as a Character Artist at Traveller’s Tales. The company consists of males forming over 90% of the roles, even higher in development roles. And being a girl in game development can be freaking lonely. Don’t get me wrong, I love having so many friends with the same interests as me, but why do so few of them need to be my gender? I can count my close female friends on one hand, which is ridiculous by anyone’s standards. Is it bad me wanting to equal out my social circle to be more balanced and like how the normal world operates???  

This event was about celebrating women (and men) who paved way for our current way of living. I wanted to take part in an event that was created to encourage other women to join the games industry as developers. The split of people playing games in split down the middle. But we don’t have to look too far for women being belittled and discriminated (either positively or negatively) against in these spaces. I wish this wasn’t the case. But because of working within this very supportive group I have much more confidence to join in with Game Jam's where I shall be out numbered, as is the norm in our industry. Which was a point stressed by the creators of this event.

In any case, we gathered some devs together, we had fun, we made games and we had a nice party at the end to celebrate. And there were men involved in running and funding this event. I look at it almost like Race for Life or Movember. It doesn’t mean that it’s an us and them situation over gender, but that we should support each other with issues that affect each other. So whether you agree with events like this or not, that’s your choice. But I like to think that everyone there came away feeling accepted, inspired and had a great time with lots of laughs. I'm sorry if that offends anyone, but I'm also not going to apologise for my having a good time making a ridiculous game, in a team with a ridiculous name and wearing a ridiculous woolly panda hat while I did it!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Games, their developers and their customers

A few things have really struck me over the past few months.

One: Making games is hard. Whether you are an indie working at home to AAA in a studio with thousands of people.

Two: Everyone who makes games are different. We all have flaws, weaknesses, strengths and motives. But we all love our craft. And we all have our own reason for wanting to make games

Three: You can work your ass off, pour your heart and soul into a game, but it doesn't mean everyone will get it.

This has all come mostly from watching Indie Game: The Movie, my past year working at a AAA studio and by extension; my lack of time for playing games.

Firstly, Indie Game: The Movie! For those who haven't seen it I recommend doing so as so as you can! It follows Team Meat on their final push and release of Super Meat Boy, Phil Fish and the development of Fez, then finally a retrospective look at the development and release of Braid from Jon Blow. All the devs come across very well in the documentary, mostly for the fact we see their very human selves. These people are far from perfect. Since they are just people like ourselves. But the one thing they all have in common is their incredible drive to communicate to the rest of the world through the medium of games. The desire to create worlds and experiences for people to enjoy and by doing so, they put not only their skills, but their entire being on show for everyone to see, experience and criticise. The internet is a scary place, where people can troll others, pick them to pieces for sport and doing so anonymously. Where people can hide behind screen names and avatars and tear down years of work and dedication with just a few choice words. As Fish says "an army of ass-holes" and it's totally true.

So why do it, when there are such big stakes to play with and lose? Well, as I'm sure any artist knows, it never feels like it's a choice. It's something you just have to do. That no matter what we may lose. That we need to give it our best shot or die trying. Since all we have in this world is to try and make a positive impact on other people's lives. This is the only way we can ever feel like we have achieved what we set out to do. Whether it be with pictures you paint. Models you sculpt. Code that you build. Worlds you create. Or a life affirming experience you craft.

My time in AAA has been an interesting time to say the least. In fact my life in general has been a mish-mash of some of the best and worst times of my entire life this past year. Stuff that I will never forget and will permanently shape me for the rest of my life. It's taught me that life is hard. But that following your dreams and passions is the most important thing. That no matter what life takes from us. That we can still control our dreams and make every effort to aim straight for them.

But working in a big(ish) studio means there's a lot of pressure and things that you can't change. So you have to learn to be flexible and work with how things are. With deadlines you need give all you can to get your work done. And the pressure can be quite exhilarating but also can be a strain on both your mind and body. So, with the little freetime I have. I like to make sure I'm using my time wisely. This will normally be trying to do art work outside of work. But also catching up on the media I love; GAMES! I'm mostly a PC gamer and am very keen on classic adventure games among other. I would love to play games that are 80+ hours long, but I do not have the time nor patience. Sad fact - gamers in full time employment often have a HUGE back catalogue of games to catch up on. It was with the disappearance of my freetime that I got more into indie games. Small passion projects created by a few individuals. Normally with no budget and no publishers. These experiences are unadulterated and are about you have a direct link into that developers head.

These experiences are often very cutting edge. But while gamers love to say they love the new and exciting. They can also be a breed that is commonly scared of change. This is why so much AAA is based on iterative  sequels of well known (and well received) IP. Now, these are great, well polished games that are epic and very shiny. But being someone who comes from a background of pixel goodness with amusing writing. These games tend to miss a trick for me personally, mostly due to their lack of personality and quirks. It's hard to get personality and quirk right, but when you do, my god it's good! And so many developers who go indie share this as their ethos for making games. And aren't afraid to show it.

So, in short, please support indie devs as well as AAA. Know that if you need to feel connected to something on a more personal level, experience a crafted experience, even if it's not perfect. It will be how someone else wanted you to experience it. So vote with your nerd dollars/pounds/yen/euros, since we often forget, these are people, individuals. So if you like them, let them know by buying their games and support them in being able to make more in the future.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

I'm not dead, just working

So it's been nearly two months since I posted anything. So just thought I would do a quick update.

So we left off with me getting a job as a character artist at Traveller's Tales. Since then I search high and low for a place to live and was seriously running out of time. But luckily I found a one bed flat about a 4 minute walk from work. Which I have to say is so helpful, considering the trains here are very infrequent and is like a 60's bus on rails! Bit of a change from London where I have lived for 2 years in various parts.

So I've started work and been there for a month now. And everything is in full swing for working on Lego Harry Potter 5-7. I'm mostly on costume change duty due to the sheer amount of character we have and the different outfits they wear. I'm also getting to design some minor characters from scratch too which is great considering I haven't been there long. We also have other stuff in the pipeline which we haven't started on yet which sounds (and looks) awesome.

But the number one thing I've discovered about the games industry since I've properly started in it? It's the people! I love people in general and the guys are work with are awesome. Being a company of 200+ people it's not too large that you get lost but big enough is that you can meet lots of different types of people. The feeling of camaraderie and team working is immense.

I'm so excited for our games release and I can see the fruits of our labour being enjoyed by people around the world!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Happy-awesome day to me!!!

Well firstly, this past month has been the most crazy/busy month I think I have ever had. Firstly I finished my elephant, which was actually ages ago, but when I first finished it and found time to sit down and blog it with pride, I found that blogger was down!!! So here it belatedly =)

Steampunk Elephant Turntable from Holly Pickering on Vimeo.

But perhaps 1000x more exciting than that is the fact I started sending out my work and got an interview at TT games, the folks behind the awesome Lego games. At the interview I had that awful feeling of being out of my depth, what with it being not only my first interview for a jobs games but my first job interview EVER!!! >_< But I took it as a good sign that I ended up laughing with them by the end of the interview.

So my interview was on a Wednesday and they said they would let me know by the end of the week. So I was sat on my dad's laptop constantly refreshing my email. Then in the late afternoon I got the job offer!! I'm going to be the latest addition to their character department and absolutely can't wait to start. Which should be 2 weeks, depending how the house hunt goes ^___^

Currently doing some character concepts at the moment as a side project to keep me busy. So will hopefully be able to post something soon!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Quick WIP update

I'm getting to final render stage with my elephant and building a themed turntable to place it on.

I've had SSOOOO much fun with this project and I've learnt a lot too which is even better. I feel a lot more confident in my abilities and feel I'm ready to start sending my stuff to companies. Hopefully I will catch a break and get an interview even in these hard times. But only time will tell.

In the mean time.... Here's some marmoset renders of the elephant. The material on the ears needs a bit of tweaking but all the the model and textures are there =)

I may rig it at a later date but that's going to take quite a while and I really just want to ride this wave and see if I can get into a company right now.

Let's change the world with games!