Thursday, July 9, 2015

Heidi McDonald

Name: Heidi McDonald
Twitter: @Death_Bow
Gender: Female
Nationality: USA
Birth date: 15/05/1970
Title: Game Designer
Company: Schell Games
Some games that you have worked on: 

PlayForward: Elm City Stories
Lionel Battle Train
Tunnel Tail
The World of Lexica


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

I came to games accidentally, in an unusual way. It wasn't until I was shown that this is a viable career option that I realized I would be a good fit for it, because I've been a lifelong gamer and have always found ways to make things more fun (I toilet-trained two boys by throwing Cheerios into the potty and giving them points for how many they could hit). I love bringing joy to others, particularly my own children. It seemed like a natural progression. Communications to events to games. Pow.

2-What does inspire you creatively? 

My kids, and things that happen in daily life. I'll experience or see or hear something and think, that would make such a great game...just like as a writer, I observe things and say, that would make such a great character or a great story. Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to be observant. Next time something makes you laugh or feel good, think about specifically why, and how you can bring that with you into your game.

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

I'd make that game George Lucas was talking about in 2013 when he said "“The big game of the next five years will be a game where you empathize very strongly with the characters and it’s aimed at women and girls. They like empathetic games. That will be a huge hit and as a result that will be the ‘Titanic’ of the game industry, where suddenly you’ve done an actual love story or something and everybody will be like ‘where did that come from?’ Because you’ve got actual relationships instead of shooting people.” 

THAT GAME. I want to make that game.

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

The biggest challenge has been having to go from knowing no tech, to learning Unity3d, Twine, scripting, some code. That is not my strength at all, but it's not enough anymore to "just be a writer" because the bar is steadily going up in terms of how technical one has to be in order to get hired. In my case, I just bit the bullet and started getting my hands dirty. You have to break things a lot in order to learn how they work. The key is persistence.

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

Good communication: asking a ton of questions to make sure you understand what's required, and everyone is on the same page. Playtesting: making sure you expose your work to many people and opinions before it goes into the world. Teamwork: finding out ways to work with people even when you don't like them, personally...everyone has strengths and things you can learn from, even if what you learn from them is "here is the kind of person I prefer to not ever be."

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

Stop fearing the technology. If you put forth the effort to learn new things, you'll find respect and support from people who are glad to see you do it.

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

Advantages: Getting to have nerf gun fights and have blue hair. Having your kids think you're a rock star. Downsides: If you are someone other than a straight white male in your 20s, you will experience difficulty in this industry, both getting hired and after you're in. It's getting easier, slowly, but this industry does have a problem with ageism, sexism, homophobia etc. and you need to be prepared to face that with persistence and grace. Only you can decide whether there's a point when it's not worth it anymore.

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

What are you willing to give up to be in games? Think very hard about that. Because this is a brutal, unstable industry. You may find yourself fired tons of times for reasons that weren't your fault, moving a lot, working 14-hour days for days at a time. If you're okay with that, then go forward, but watch your money, and have a savings account in case the unexpected happens. That, and be nice to everyone, and help anyone you can. You have no idea when getting your next job may come down to who you know and who you've done favors for. 

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

Communicating effectively is #1, whether that's describing something an artist has to draw, or explaining to a programmer how a feature should work, or tutorializing the game for players, or bringing across story and dialog. Listening effectively is also incredibly important.

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?

I'm a writer/designer, so: read Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design. The Narrative Design Toolbox by Heussner, Lemay, Hepler and Finley, Evan Skolnicks' book, Lee Sheldon's book. Play anything BioWare makes, Telltale's games, and indies such as Gone Home and To The Moon. 

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

I want more than lipservice to diversity, both in the developer ranks and in game portrayals. I want VR to stop making me throw up. I want YouTubers to elevate their content, making actual analyses and intelligent commentaries about games that make people want to participate and investigate, not just spectate. 

I want gamer trolls to be held accountable for their behavior, by game and social media companies, and where appropriate, law enforcement. Games are for everyone, and we need to create respectful places where everyone is welcome. 

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

I was on a three hour client conference call about what we should call breasts. "Breasts" was too clinical a word, and not something that would typically be said by young teenagers. Other words on the table were felt to be too disrespectful or too sexualized. So, we have a game about HIV prevention and sexuality that has no mention of breasts in it, because we couldn't agree on what they should be called.

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