Sunday, May 10, 2015

Nathalie Lawhead

Name: Nathalie Lawhead
Twitter: @alienmelon
Gender: Female
Nationality: USA / Slovenia 
Birth date: 20/10/1983
Title: Indie
Company: Tetrageddon Games
Some games that you have worked on: 

Tetrageddon Games

1-What did motivate you to become a game developer? 

I think I always had it in me. I started as a net-artist in the late 90's. Traditional art wasn't enough for me, and I basically grew up behind a computer, so tinkering with interactivity sort of happened naturally. I was absolutely fascinated by all the avenues of creative exploration computers, and later internet, opened up for artists. Things could move, react, act, and people could experience my art on a deeper more profound level. It's like creating world's, or alternate realities.
The way I saw it, the internet made it possible for artists to really be in charge of their work. Anyone could see it, and museums or galleries where no longer in charge of an artist's success.
Eventually people started calling what I did "games". At first I hated the label because it also enabled a lot of misunderstandings. If you say "game" then people expect a clear goal, mission, agenda. Players would often become confused, or outraged, because "What am I supposed to do? This is not a game!". Eventually I decided not to fight the label, and see what contributions I can make to "games". We're all making this together. It's a collective effort.
Thanks to this (our collective experimenting, and pushing the label), today I think people are a lot more liberal in what they expect from a game. This "boom" in experimental is what I find totally exciting about games today. People are wiling to experiment and create new labels.
So I'm totally thrilled to call myself a "game developer".

2-What does inspire you creatively? 

I think you can get inspired by the weirdest things. Usually I get a lot of inspiration by browsing the crappy places of the internet (no need for names), but lately I've been getting it from places like, gamejolt, or fun collections like Twitter's #screenshotsaturday has become one of my happy places. I love seeing what other devs are doing. Just to name a couple... I totally love Strangethink's generative art or ceMelusine's stuff.
I started out being pretty isolated (not really part of the meatspace indie community) then I started going to events because my work was being showcased there. Now I can't believe that I haven't done that before. There's so much amazing stuff, and so many amazing creative developers. Events like IndieCade, Fantastic Arcade, or Glitch City have been a treasure trove of inspiration for me. You might not think so (if you're like me), but it does make a big difference to actually physically meet other developers.

3-If you had unlimited resources to make any game you wanted, what kind of game would that be? 

Wow... I've thought of this often, but come up with something new everytime.
I would love to make a multiplayer FPS that's all about the bugs. Like the way you successfully play it is to try to get it to glitch out. Like fall through the floor, or rocket into the sky because you collided with something at the wrong angle.
I totally love the "bad" ideas. I had one before that would be called "The Crucifier" and you would play Jesus, as acted by Charlton Heston, armed with a nailgun and witty wiseguy one-liners. It would be horrible (in a good way), and all about meaningless over-the-top gore + shooting... There's also "Dude Simulator" which would be all about being a dude. You know, like brushing your teeth or walking around at home in underwear... I have notebooks full of ideas in the event something like this ever happens.

4-What was the biggest challenge of your career? In which game? How did you overcome it? 

I've tried working in the game industry before. Suffice it to say, it wasn't good. I understand that other people may have good experiences, but I got one of the bad ones. Now I think it served the wonderful purpose to kick my ass into going out and doing my own thing.
I think that's one of my takeaways from that experience. Every creative industry has its companies that thrive on draining desperate creative people. You see this with visual effects. Games are no exception. This is no reason to quit on dreams, but incentive to go out and pursue it on your own terms.
Looking back I see that I could be so much further along if I would have just invested all that time, commitment, and passion into my own work. It's what I'm doing now, and I totally encourage other people to do the same. The tools are there, the platforms to get funding are there, it couldn't be a better time.

5-What do you usually do for raising the possibility of success in your projects? 

Passion is one of the big ones. If you're working on something and the ideas keep coming, and you'd rather work than sleep, and just can't stop, then I think it's definitely going to succeed. If you make something you love, I think other people will love playing it.
Also, if there's an idea you just can't put down, and you love playing what you make. I think you end up with something great.
I love the projects that keep me laughing all through production. It's really something special when you just can't quit working on it.

But, in the end, I think success is a very relative term. It means different things to different people.
I don't think you can make a good game if you set out to make a game for the sake of success.
Success can be a trap. You'll sacrifice potentially amazing ideas for the sake of some tired formula that everyone else is using. It's really best not to bring that into the picture.

6-What is the most helpful piece of constructive criticism you ever received? 

Don't take the comments too seriously.
You need to have a concrete idea of what you want to make, and how you want it to turn out, then stick to it. People (more so online) are very quick to criticize. It can get VERY depressing. Sifting through that information (good criticism from bad) without letting it "kill" the passion/vision you have for your project is a skill in itself. Especially if you're making something new. I used to take what people said about my work to heart. If you're a perfectionist it can take a lot of practice not to do that.

7-What are the advantages/downsides to working in games?

The advantage is that you can completely express yourself. Games are sort of like the crossroads medium where all arts come together to make something. You can express yourself through music, and sound, and design the interactivity, and the artwork. It's very 100%. I absolutely love every aspect of development.

I'm currently working alone. I make everything on my own (music, art, programming, marketing, PR, etc...), which is fun, but can get incredibly lonely. It can seem a downside. To do this you do sacrifice your personal life, but seeing people play it when you're done is what makes it so amazing. My games are about humor, so when I see people laughing and "getting" the jokes, it's the best feeling in the world. I wouldn't trade that in for anything.

8-What is your best advice to a beginning game developer?

Just start making games. There's no one place to start. You can read all you want, and study about it all you want, but the best way is just to start making one. It doesn't have to be a good game, or playable, but once you get into it it sort of unfolds naturally. Get feedback from friends, keep tinkering, eventually you get better at it. It's also important to see what other indies are doing (like on or follow some devs on Twitter). This gives you a sense of what you can do.
I notice a lot of beginners often try to tackle the "epic" ideas first. It's not good to start with something huge, or that's "just like your favorite AAA game". For the beginning, it's best to start with something personal, and small. It's a great self-rewarding feeling to get your finished game out there, so it's important not to make it so complicated that you never finish it.
A great place to start would be to participate in gamejams.

9-Which skills are the most important for a game developer in your field/position?

All of them. You have to get good at everything. For example, music, sound, programming, art, and design. Then there is also marketing, and PR. It's good to understand your limitations, then build off that.
Not everyone is a great artist, so work with pixel art, or some retro style.
On the other hand, not everyone is great with programming, so focus on art and keep the interactivity simple.
If you keep pushing yourself then you eventually get good at what you are weak at.

10-If I want to become a great dev in your field, what games should I play, what books should I read, and whose work should I follow?

Nose-dive into and just get lost there. Also and are great starting points.
For those that are interested, I keep a youtube playlist of gamedev related talks:
Sort of my personal collection. Anything I find of interest, that helps me become a better dev, I put there.
It's also totally worth it to check out the GDC Vault!

11-What changes do you want to see in the game industry?

More tolerance. I wish we could all just get along.

Bonus: Tell us a funny story from your adventures in game development.

I have this game called FROGGY (It's Hungry) and people constantly think it is, or has something to do with, Frog Fractions 2. There have been a couple conspiracies about that (people speculating on forums about odd details in the game, "the honeypot", etc...). I ended up making this website about how it's NOT Frog Fractions 2 which didn't help.
I've had a lot of fun watching peoples confusion.
Had to hold myself back from messing with them too much. :)

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