I have a wonderful interview for you today. This interview has been weeks in the making, but I wanted to make sure I did it justice. The person I have interviewed is a Multi-Tasker in the world of NERDom. You may know her as Mistress Zelda from her many cosplays, of which I have interviewed her for, as well as her modeling career. She also goes by the name Alyssa Mogil. When I first heard of Zelda, I had just started my blogging career on my very own blog Derf’s Domain. Well, in the time that it took to do the interview, I feel we connected as friends. It is a friendship that still goes on to this day. We are frequently sharing ideas with each other as well as just nerding out over new trends, games, etc… It is during these discussions that I found out Alyssa aka Zelda has a career in the gaming business. I told her that our readers would love to hear about her career in the field and she was more than happy to share. So here we are. You are about to read what I believe is one of my best interviews yet. So, without further ado…Game On!
SWN: In the past, I have interviewed you about your cosplay, but I understand you have another kick ass role in the world of NERDom. Care to elaborate?
Alyssa: Well, I actually do lots of other things in NERDom – I am a historical re-enactor and armored combatant with the SCA, shadowcaster, post-apocalyptic pre-enactor, pinballer, web developer…but of course you mean that I work in video game development!
SWN: How did you get in the gaming biz?
Alyssa: I’ve been a gamer for my entire life, almost before I could walk – almost 30 years now. When I was in high school, I had a boyfriend that I met through Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he and his friends were game testers for SCEE. A couple years later I moved up to Los Angeles and was looking for work, so I looked into game testing. It was a little easier to get into back then – less outsourcing – and I began working at THQ. That was in 2007, and I’ve worked in the industry off and on (mostly on) since then. :)
SWN: What are your responsibilities in the gaming world?
Alyssa: I began in QA (quality assurance, also known as game testing) but have since moved onto community management, marketing, PR, and web development with some design and graphic art responsibilities. Community management is my favorite, though! I get to work directly with our players and make sure both our games and company deliver the best possible experience. I love working directly with players and coming up with strategies to make our games fun :) I work closely with our producers and leads to determine what we should be focusing our development time on, and what helps with player acquisition, retention and overall experience.
SWN: What games have you worked with?
Alyssa: My first was Ratatouille for the 360 XD I’ve also worked on Screwjumper, Stuntman: Ignition, Frontlines: Fuel of War, Resistance 3, Ratchet and Clank, Graywalkers: Purgatory, and most recently, WARMACHINE: Tactics. I’m also working on a couple secret projects!
SWN: Do you have a favorite?
Alyssa: Resistance and Frontlines were both fun as a tester because I am a very competitive gamer in the FPS genre. It always brought me joy to be one of the top ranked players in those games, even among a mostly male, hardcore gaming QA team. Testing games in a genre you enjoy does help improve the experience (testing is really not just “getting to play games all day” like a lot of people think – it’s repetitive, the hours are LONG, the game is broken more often than not, and most companies do not actually value your contribution or listen to design suggestions as to what would make the game more fun and not just less broken). But WARMACHINE: Tactics has definitely been the most enjoyable experience from start to finish, because of my amazing company, incredibly dedicated, creative, intelligent and skilled coworkers, the kick ass IP from Privateer Press, the outstandingly supportive and wonderful community, and the game itself. It’s incredibly pretty, and the game is really deep and a lot of fun to play if you are into tactics.
SWN: While we are on the subject of gaming, how are games normally developed? I mean, what is the process from idea to production?
Alyssa: An idea can come from anywhere. It varies from company to company due to size, structure/hierarchy, gaming platform and first party restrictions, genre, etc. At WhiteMoon Dreams, we generally have different teams responsible for different aspects of development, but there are meetings where anyone can discuss any kind of concept they have in mind. It can start with a big picture “Wouldn’t this be a cool world to explore?” a mechanic “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could use the current technology in this manner?” a story, a currently released franchise, etc. Most of the ideas at our company come from our designers – it is their job specifically to create everything from gameplay to story to the overall universe, but we’ve also got some cool stuff rolling that came from our producers and our concept artist, and anyone is able to give input on where the game is going. Good ideas come from everywhere. The hardest part is nailing down which ones to focus on and coming up with a production schedule that is ambitious while maintaining realistic expectations on time and money. It gets more complicated the more people you involve because everyone has to manage their own expectations, deadlines, promises, and there are a lot of unknowns.
After there is a solid idea, the producers will work with the artists and engineers to develop a GDD (game design document) that works in much the same way as a business plan. It will outline all the mechanics of the game and how they will function together. The producers are responsible for coming up with a timeline and keeping everyone on track. Concept art is drawn for characters as well as environments, then it is built digitally. After the models are built, they will go on to riggers and animators. Level design begins in a grey box which looks very much like architectural blueprints. The 3D levels will then also be built in grey box, without any art assets – if it’s not fun in this stage, it will get scrapped and redesigned. Coders build the game AI and mechanics incrementally, art assets and VFX are plugged into the world, UI is developed, and QA tests the process the entire time to make sure nothing is broken. When something is broken, engineering or art will fix it, and QA will test to make sure it has been fixed correctly and nothing new has broken. Audio in the form of music, voiceovers and sound effects generally comes toward the end. Ideally you’ll get some cushion to make sure everything is polished. Then you market the hell out of it! (Ideally, you started marketing as it was being built!)
Nowadays with stuff like Kickstarter and Early Access, players get to be a part of a lot more of the creative process than before. WARMACHINE: Tactics utilized Early Access to great effect – the feedback from our players was instrumental in creating the best possible product! But sometimes you will hear a lot of negativity from people because they are involved well before the game is to it’s finished stage. Games are distributed in a really different way than they were 20 or 10 or even 5 years ago, so the industry has had to go through a lot of changes to keep up with the technology. There are still some growing pains.
SWN: What was your first video game that you played from beginning to end?
Alyssa: Oh my gosh, I have no idea. The NES was the first system I owned. I played a lot of Zelda, Mario, Castlevania, Wrecking Crew, Boulderdash, Gauntlet, etc, but the SNES was really where I spent the majority of my early gaming years. I played a lot from about the age of 4, so I have no idea what the first game I ever beat was.
SWN: Do you have anything that you would like to promote at this moment?
Alyssa: Of course I’d always suggest WARMACHINE: Tactics store.steampowered.com/app/253510/ to anyone who is interested in tabletop, Steampunk, big ass robots, or turn based tactics :) We’re ramping up the competitive aspect of it right now, and we even have a tournament coming up just between demo users (Oh, did I mention we have a free demo that gives you full multiplayer access with limited squad construction and 3 levels of single player campaign?)
Also, even though you missed your chance at the Kickstarter, follow graywalkers.com/ – another turn based tactical game, although this one set in a magical post-apocalypse! It’s scheduled to come out sometime in late 2016.
And also, just because I like it and want to round it out, check out Shadowrun: Hong Kong, a turn based tactical game set in a magical cyberpunk future! I have nothing to do with them other than a rabid fangirl obsession with their product and company.
SWN: Where can our readers see more of your work?
www.geekyfreaky.com (Editor in Chief, Writer)
www.warmachinetactics.com (Community Manager, Social Networking, Marketing)
www.facebook.com/mistresszeldamodel (Cosplay, Modeling)
mistress-zelda.deviantart.com/ (Cosplay, Modeling)
www.graywalkers.com (PR, Social Networking)
www.meetup.com/Alt-Error-LA/ (Model, Photo Producer)
SWN: What advice do you have for “newbies” in the gaming world?
Alyssa: Tenacity! Do as much as possible as you can on your own. The hardest part is getting your foot in the door and it helps if companies can see that you’re capable (beyond just desire and education). Be willing to take criticism, and willing and able to fail – and to not give up if you do. Failure is part of learning, and forever part of the game development process. Go to events to mingle and network – check out IGDA or local game dev drinkups in your area, and Facebook game development groups. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also use sites like www.gamedevmap.com to find game developers in your area. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of sites like LinkedIn and other social networking outlets. You might be able to find work with a smaller company and get a lot of experience there (plus, honestly, the indie companies are usually better to work for unless you are somewhere like Riot Games or Blizzard). Never stop learning. Never stop doing. Passion above all things! Set realistic goals and expectations. Be willing to put in the work. Don’t expect others to do the work for you. Do your research – all the time. Keep up to date on the industry, both online and at trade shows. Make games as much as possible! Do it for yourself as if it was your day job and eventually it will be.