“When you first start learning to code, you’ll very quickly run up against this particular experience: you think you’ve set up everything the way you’re supposed to, you’ve checked and re-checked it, and it still. doesn’t. work. You don’t have a clue where to begin trying to fix it, and the error message (if you’re lucky enough to have one at all) might as well say “fuck you.” You might be tempted to give up that this point, thinking that you’ll never figure it out, that you’re not cut out for this. I had that feeling the first time I tried to write a program in C++, tried to run it, and got only the words “segmentation fault” for my trouble.”—
Last week I wrote up some thoughts about coding culture, how it feels to learn code as a newcomer or outsider, and what kind of mindset is needed to get through the inevitable difficulties. It was informed by my own experience, but also by teaching new coders through Dames Making Games and observing where they tend to slip up and what kinds of beliefs are holding them back.
The response has been well beyond what I expected, and I’m so glad it’s resonating with people at all stages of the process, from very experienced programmers to people just starting out. If you haven’t yet, have a read!
I got a notification from tumblr the other day that this blog is now two years old. I remember the initial flurry of setting it up amid the excitement of the Difference Engine Initiative, wanting someplace to house Adeline’s Elopement, my first game, and talk about how and why I made it.
I had a feeling back then that my life was about to change, but I didn’t know quite how much. In the last two years…
Dames Making Games Toronto was founded roughly two years ago and has run three multi-week game-making programs, a workshop series, 19 speaker socials, three popular game jams, and a two-weekend “short program,” with some amazing results.
I’ve made six small video games on my own and collaborated on several more. I’ve learned how to use a host of game-making tools and hope to be able to teach them to others.
I’ve given talks and spoken on panels at GameON, Feminists in Games, GRAND, FanExpo, DigiFest, and the Global Game Jam Arcade in Toronto. I’m about to add IndieCade to the list. DMG itself has been covered in the Globe and Mail, NOW Magazine, Comics and Gaming Monthly, InnerSPACE, and the Canadian Press.
The most incredible thing of all has been seeing how many women around me have started making their own games and finding their voices after participating in a DMG program. I really believe that Jennie and I have built something special in Toronto.
In May of 2013 I was both an organizer and a participant of Dames Making Games’ game jam, "Mother, May I?"
One of my favourite games is Ancient Domains of Mystery (or ADOM), a sprawling roguelike. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a “traditional” roguelike, so during the jam I followed along with this tutorial to make “The Playground.”
I’m in some very distinguished company on this panel at the IndieCade Festival of Independent Games:
//Game Design’s Dark Matter
We know it’s out there, but we haven’t found it yet. This group of researchers, academics and seekers are looking for the dark matter of games – trying to find answers to the hard problems in game design. Hear them describe what they’ve discovered over years of research and design in their laboratories of play on the margins of the game scene.
Over the past month I’ve been working on this bit of interactivity for the always-innovative SummerWorks Theatre Festival, which showcases new theatrical works every summer in Toronto. The game will suggest things for you to see, let you think about how to respond to various festival-related quandaries, and introduce the fest’s many venues via art by the talented Gillian Blekkenhorst. Much thanks to Jennie Faber (who made the whole thing look clean and pretty) and Maggie McLean (who made it sound pretty).
Zack Kotzer at NOW Magazine interviews me and Junicorn participants Kara Stone and Izzie Colpitts-Campbell! I’m very proud to have led this incubator alongside DMG co-director Jennie Faber, the best collaborator anyone could ask for.
A Toronto organization is helping women break into the male-dominated world of video game creation. Dames Making Games co-founder Cecily Carver says more diversity in developers will lead to a wider variety of video games
Here’s me talking to the Canadian Press about DMG! The games shown in the video are “Oh, My Dog!” by Jenn Harrison (developed during No-Jam) and Bitmap by Christine Kim (developed during Jeuxly).
The conference was full of standout presentations. I was especially excited to see a demonstration of PsXXYborg by DMG’s own Hannah Epstein, Alex Leitch, and Sagan Yee, as well as Alison Harvey’s recap of the Pixelles incubator in Montreal. There were also brilliant talks by Samantha Allen, Katherine Cross, and Anita Sarkeesian, among many others.
“Along with Pratchett and Hunicke, Abe belongs to a new generation of game designers who not only mash different fields like art, fashion, storytelling and technology to create their games but most importantly, they actively empower people who don’t necessarily identify as gamers to start experimenting with making games themselves. If playing games is incredible, making them is even more incredible. And the good news is that ANYONE can do it. Below are three ways you can get started.”—The super-cool Chloe Varelidi talks about how to get started making games (with a shout-out to DMG)
Jennie: I think it’s really important to emphasize that hard skills like programming and design aren’t even the most important skills for making a game. Patience and problem solving are much more important.
Cecily: Yeah, there’s definitely this attitude that says that to make a game first you have to learn programming, so you sign up for a programming course, and then you say, “OK, now I have to learn illustration,” so you go and learn illustration, and then once you’ve amassed all these skills you can apply yourself to making a game. But game making is really be more of a “learn as you go” kind of endeavour. It’s definitely a lot easier to pick up a skill like programming when you’re applying it to something like a making a game.
It’s perhaps a bit late for a Year in Review post, but I’m going to do one anyway. Here’s what my 2012 looked like.
My role at the COC changed up a bit, from “Social and Interactive Media Co-ordinator” to “Associate Manager, Digital Marketing.” Moving into the digital marketing/managment side of things has been a tremendous learning experience for me, and I’ve added a lot of new tools to my toolbox.
Against the Grain Theatre had a fantastic year, particularly with its production of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw.
Adeline’s Elopement got a facelift, along with a major rework of the mechanics and level design. If you played it before and enjoyed it, you should play it again. It was showcased at the TIFF Nexus Arcade in September.
When I count up all the books I logged on Goodreads last year, they total 29 (there are a couple more than that, but they’re the kind I won’t admit to reading). The ones that stood out the most to me were Les Liasons Dangereuses,The Devil in the White City, Middlesex, Lolita, and A Visit From the Goon Squad.
Things I Saw On Stage:
Opera-wise, the productions I’ll probably remember the most were Love From Afar (COC), Salome (ROH), Semele (COC), and The Turn of the Screw (AtG).
This wasn’t a good year for non-operatic theatregoing. I didn’t get out to much. I will be remedying that in 2013.
The major event this year was a week-long solo trip to London. It wasn’t kind to my bank balance but it was the perfect trip and it was good to see some old friends.
It’s been a very busy few months for me and Jennie Faber at Dames Making Games in Toronto. We introduced the first speaker social (or “show and tell social”) at the end of March and have been holding them monthly since, we accomplished some modest fundraising goals, and most importantly, we held DMG Toronto’s second incubator, Jeuxly.
This was the most ambitious project we’ve undertaken as a team. Jennie and I took the format of previous incubators and, with a group of amazing volunteer mentors, built one-on-one skills-based mentoring directly into the structure to help the participants learn the skills they needed quickly. The participants brought a ton of skill, creativity, and hard work to their projects and there was a packed house at Bento Miso for the final showcase.
You can learn all about the talented participants and their games over at jeuxly.com. Each and every game is bursting with creativity. We will have them available for you to download or play online by September 1st!
In the future we’re looking at tweaking the incubator structure to increase its reach and inclusiveness. We’re also hoping to introduce new programming so that previous incubator participants can take their games to the next level (as JAMuary participant Kyra Kendall did with her workshop game, Shop or Die). Stay tuned!
My newest game, “Minor Celebrity on the Red Carpet”, was made in about 7 hours over the course of a single weekend for Pirate Kart V.
The idea is, you’re a low-level celebrity at an awards ceremony. Raise your status by talking to the other celebrities passing by on the red carpet and hoping they don’t ignore you. A-listers will gain you more status points than C-listers, but they’re also more likely to reject you. Choose your targets carefully and keep an eye on the clock - the awards show is starting soon!
Me and my two theatre-related games are in today’s Globe and Mail! The piece covers my game for Praxis Theatre’s Jesus Chrysler, my game for Ride the Cyclone, the interactive web experience for Canadian Stage’s Red, and the Royal Opera House’s opera-themed iPhone game. The author notes that “in video games, as seldom in life or theatre, you can always repair your mistakes by starting again.”
Had a lot of fun and met a lot of cool people at yesterday’s TIFF Nexus Women in Film, Games, and New Media Day (the title is a bit of a mouthful; the conference topics leaned heavily towards games and visual art). Fellow DEI panelist Alex Leitch totally commanded the room with the Facial Hair of Authority (and some pointed/inspiring rhetoric), and Pearl Chen’s excellent talk on why everyone should learn to code had me nodding my head vigorously.
On the Difference Engine panel, I was glad to be able to say the main thing I wanted to say. A lot of the talks, starting from the probably-correct assumption that most of the women in the room were non-coders, focused on the idea that technology/programming need not be intimidating, that artists and other creatives shouldn’t shy away from learning how to do it and letting it enrich their work.
All of this is 100% true and necessary - coding is a skill that has served me very well in life, and knowing how to do it can be very empowering. But as someone who is formally educated in programming but not in art and design, I wanted to remind the artists/designers in the audience not to undervalue their own skills. Art/design is every bit as important, and every bit as difficult - if not more so - as learning how to code!
Tom Jokinen’s feature about the Canadian Opera Company in the December issue of The Walrus, Adventures of a Supernumerary, included a brief interview with me. If you’re interested in the ideas I expressed - which boiled down to “opera is weird/wonderful” - you might be interested in this blog post I wrote on the subject in my days before working at the COC. The subject of whether opera can ever really be broadly “accessible” is something I still think about a lot.
I took on the role of co-coordinator (with my fellow Difference Engine Initiative alum Zoe Quinn) for Dames Making Games. After a few very fun and very well-attended socials, I’m looking forward to taking on some bigger challenges (and hopefully, seeing some very cool games) with this project.
I also spent the last several months as the “social media person” for Ride the Cyclone, a Canadian musical, as it toured to Vancouver, Whitehorse, and Toronto. Everywhere it went there were sold-out houses and ecstatic reviews, and when I finally met the cast and creative team they turned out to be a truly wonderful bunch of people - and so social-media-savvy that working with them was a breeze and a joy. As part of the promotion I made a video game for the show, Space Age Bachelor Man.
I was also approached by Praxis Theatre to make a video game along the same lines for their play Jesus Chrysler, this time titled Save a Pinko. The mechanics are somewhat more sophisticated (and the game is considerably more difficult) than Space Age Bachelor Man - check it out!
As an alum of the Difference Engine Initiative, today I’ll be speaking on a panel at the TIFF Nexus Women in Film, Games, and New Media Day. I’m looking forward to chatting about our experiences with this program, which has already shaped my life in so many positive ways.
The games made by the six participants in the first round of the Difference Engine Initiative, plus those made by founders Mare Sheppard and Jim Munroe, have been officially released! My own contribution, the Victorian-themed stealth game Adeline’s Elopement, can be found here, but it’s the other games made by my fellow participants (who are amazing and whom I feel grateful to have met) that I’d like to highlight here.
Icarus by Sagan Yee
Description: Loosely based on the Greek myth of Icarus, if Icarus was a 20-something slacker trying to cope with the genius of his inventor father. Also, instead of building wax wings to escape an island, you make a jet pack!
Why you should play it: Beautiful, playful, lovingly-drawn visuals; interesting story; really entertaining parodies of genre novel writing; lonely robots.
Description: Salsa Loco is an anxiety-inducing top-down action game about harvesting vegetables for salsa. Unlike other farming games out there, this one is not played at a leisurely pace, unless you want to lose your crop to pests!
Why you should play it: twitchy, attention-consuming, and fun. Bunny rabbits. Comes with salsa recipes.
Unicorn Justice Fighter/Unicorn Robber Baron by Una Lee
Description: Part action game, part political economy simulation. Using your beautifully coloured droppings, you fight off the evil horses who can’t stand the awesomeness you bring into the universe. You can get other awesome unicorns to help you, or you can just knock them over and steal their stuff.
Why you should play it: Unicorns (lots of them). Unicorn droppings as a game mechanic/weapon. Deceptively difficult and twitchy. Makes you feel capitalist guilt when you steal stuff from the other unicorns (look at their sad, broken bodies!)
Ride the Cyclone, a funny, dark, and touching musical, is coming to Toronto on Nov. 10. I’m working with Ride the Cyclone on their social media, and also created this game featuring the character Ricky Potts from the show! Ricky is an awkward, nerdy type who dreams of a much sexier life on another planet; in his mind he’s the Swingin’ Space Age Bachelor Man (complete with shiny cape, revealing outfit, and dance moves) who rescues the Cat People of Zolar.
During work hours, I’m a social media professional: the person who does the tweeting/Facebooking/blogging for the Canadian Opera Company. Outside of work hours, when I’m not working on my freelance projects, I am the developer behind such exciting titles as Adeline’s Elopement and The Escape of Queen Victoria.
After graduating with a degree in Computer Science from the University of Alberta, I worked in the software/development industry for several years in Toronto and NYC, mostly as a .NET consultant on an assortment of projects.
One of my biggest passions (and greatest comforts) is opera. Last year I switched gears dramatically to work as a social media co-ordinator for the Canadian Opera Company. I am thrilled to be working so close to the art that I love, not to mention writing about it on a daily basis. Before working for the COC, I maintained a blog, “All Time Coloratura," that chronicled my experiences as a Toronto opera-goer.
This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the Difference Engine Initiative, a program founded by Mare Sheppard and Jim Monroe of the Hand Eye Society to encourage more women to become game developers. My first game, Adeline’s Elopement, launched at a Hand Eye Society social on Oct. 3, 2011.
While I’ve never really self-identified as a “gamer”, a number of games have been important to me at various points in my life, especially ADOM, Monkey Island 1 and 2, Grim Fandango, and Baldur’s Gate I and II.
I hope to make the kinds of games that speak to my nerdy girl friends, with an emphasis on literary references, witty asides, and unusual (especially if female-focused) subject matter. Adeline’s Elopement, inspired partially by the Thief games and partly by an early 19th-century novel titled Adeline Mowbray, was my first effort in the “2D stealth games inspired by novels” genre.
Aside from opera, games, and social media, I enjoy literature, dancing, and playing the piano. While I was born in British Columbia and raised mostly in Alberta, I’ve been a proud Torontonian for several years. I live in the Annex with my partner, Dave.