BAFTA Crew Games member Alice Rendell is currently a Game Designer for concept, gameplay and narrative at Kobojo for their new game Zodiac. In 2015 she was included in both Develop’s 30 Under 30 and MCV’s 100 Women in Games lists. We caught up with her to discuss her career so far and her current project.
What was your first experience with video games?
When I was quite a young age, around 6, I was at a friend’s house and he had a Nintendo and Super Nintendo. I think the first thing I played was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and it’s safe to say I was addicted from then on. After that, I played the classics like Super Mario 3 and Duck Hunt and I became a sort of anti-social child! I’d go to peoples’ houses to play and ask “So where’s your Nintendo?” It wasn’t really until I was older that I had my own consoles, maybe around 10 or 11, and I got the first Playstation. Then I got Final Fantasy VII, which I’m a complete fan girl about.
When did you first decide you wanted to work in the games industry, and how did you decide what area you wanted to work in?
It was after playing Final Fantasy VII that I think I decided to work in video games. It was the storytelling stuff that made me want to be a designer. I don’t have a technical brain, I’ve always been more arty and creative, so programming was taken out of the equation straight away. Creative writing was always a strong point for me too, so it all added up to making sense that I go down the designer path.
I was quite limited in choice for game design courses when I went to University; they were all in the early days, so they were all kind of merged into one with animation, design etc.This is around 10 years ago so there wasn’t a lot outside of London either. I ended up going to the University of Wales at Newport, as it was close to where I lived and the course was a very creative concept side of game design.
As a game designer, what is your day to day work like?
Day to day is difficult to define in game design. At the beginning of a project, it’s really brainstorming with lots of meetings to plan out the initial ideas. I’m usually given quite a small brief; with Zodiac, for example, it was pretty much “We want to make a 2D side-scrolling role-playing game (PRG) with turn-based battles.” So I spent months on research and preproduction, brainstorming, doing initial idea pitches, mock-ups and initial high level game design. That’s what happens right at the beginning and eventually it’s narrowed down to the actual game we want to do.
Then you have to produce a large amount of game design documents. There’s one big master game design document which is huge, around 200 PowerPoint slides, almost Dungeons & Dragons manual size. I try to be super visual; I tend to do a big macro game design document to get the general idea across and then specific ones for artists, or developers etc. All the things you never really think about until you test the game are in there. You can’t predict all of the issues obviously but you build up a bank of knowledge from experience. All of this is in preproduction sort of flowing into production.
At the moment, I’m working more on content creation, mostly quests and puzzles in levels.
What would you say to someone considering game design as a profession?
Well firstly, go for it! There’s nothing stopping you. It’s much better these days; years ago when I was thinking about it, people laughed at you and thought it wasn’t a valid choice. No matter what gender you are.
For game design, make sure you research what it actually involves. It’s not just sitting thinking up ideas; it can be sometimes, which is great, but it includes a lot of other things too, such as specifications, thinking about every eventuality etc. The specs I do for programmers can be quite tedious because you have to think about so many minute boring details. Then there’s the other end that includes balancing, monetisation and all those kind of things. You do have to be prepared for all parts of game design. Make sure you get your hands dirty. Even if programming is a barrier, like it is for me, there are so many good tools now like Construct 2.
Do you have 3 top tips for people who want to work in the games industry?
Play everything. You really need to know about games because they change so much. Maybe not so much for artists and programmers due to the transferable skills but make sure you understand the gaming side of the craft. Play a bit of everything; everything has something it can teach you. You may have to sacrifice a part of your love for games, because you can’t play them without analysing them afterwards.
Try to get as much experience as possible. Make games yourself in your spare time with anything that comes naturally. Do game-jams, they are awesome experiences and I always learn loads from them. The other way for getting experience is internships, even if it’s just for a summer at University or before then if you can; anything you can put on your CV, even if it’s just quality assurance level.
Get involved in the industry. Go to events, networking is totally key and it’s a lovely part of it. The industry is so small, so if you don’t know the person you’re talking to, you probably know a friend of a friend. Just talk to people, don’t do the ‘networker’ thing of only giving your time to people who are useful. Everyone’s got something to teach you because the industry is so diverse.
Can you talk about your current projects?
Zodiac is what we’re working on at the moment. It’s a 2D side-scrolling RPG, with fantastic artists and seamless animations. We announced it last year at the Tokyo Game Show, and we’re working with two Final Fantasy veterans which is like a dream to me. We’re working with Kazushige Nojima who is the scenario writer of Final Fantasy 7-10 and Hitoshi Sakimoto, the composer of Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy 12. We’re working with those guys because we want to stay true to the traditional Japanese RPGs. It’s a free-to-play game so we want to blend in multiplayer online features such as crafting and looting to maintain the player’s interest throughout. It’s a big blend of Japanese and western RPGs. That should be out next year.
What does the rest of 2015 look like for you?
Zodiac, and more Zodiac! It’s interesting from a game designer perspective, now everything’s in place it’s all about delivering the content. Once we get into soft launch later this year, it will be balancing, testing, feedback from real players and acting on feedback from what they say.