Tell us about your experience in the course.
My experience as a student in Sande’s Playcrafting course, was as fun as it was intensive, a perfect balance of the two! It was extremely important to me to be able to take a class led by an inspirational female in this field. Sande exudes enthusiasm for experimentation in narrative providing thoughtful and constructive feedback. It is as life changing as it gets; there is nothing like this course out there in New York. It is so accessible and that means everyone and anyone will be able to take their passion and put it into action. Writing for games is very specific and there are so many ways that your vision could get lost in translation. Sande provided the tools for clarity.
I was in the process of making my thesis at SVA when I decided to take this class so I could polish the game dialogue and the story progression. The way I approached story structure in the past was using the classic three-act structure, however that’s absolutely not the case for most games. While some of this may even be obvious to die-hard gamers and enthusiasts there are always things you may have not considered and other ways to improve. I have no doubt someone can benefit at every level of experience from the subjects we covered and the questions that were posed.
Honestly, starting in this field as a female artist and writer with no previous programming experience, I was very paranoid of working with people with years of experiance on me for fear that I might not be taken seriously or worse that I made absolutely no sense at all. I really wanted to be able to present a professional level pitch to be able to try for incubators or crowdfunding later on in my career.
My favorite part of this class was just coming in and knowing that the space was a safe place to talk about whatever crazy idea was on your mind and then finding the right structure and game mechanics for your world, so it worked for your story. I loved that everyone in the class with me came from diverse career fields and education because that made for engaging conversations and plenty of laughs.
Tell us about your game.
My game, Spice of Life, is a narrative arcade cabinet about Unit 25, an AI cutting assistant, who wants to become human in order to be promoted to a Chef but is in many ways impeded by his optimism of the human race. In this not so distant future, humanity still fears artificial intelligence even if it has been proven that humans are actually the cause of every problem. After a scuffle in the streets, Unit 25 is left broken and is picked up by his recently laid-off creator, Dol, and his childhood friend Godan who owns the worst restaurant in the city. A deal is struck between the two friends and Unit 25 awakens to a new opportunity to finally embrace humanity or run away, at the risk of going insane from not being able to control the emotions program Dol has awakened in him. In the image above, I made the opening dialogue the start screen so that going into the game you are immediately aware of the stakes against you.
I tried my hardest to not look at the contemporary shows based on this relationship we have with AI like Westworld out of pure fear that somehow the story came too close, but I came to realize that it can never happen if you stay true to the character, and Unit 25 has a very clear breaking point. His love of humanity is my own love of humanity and despite his growing confusion he has this inner drive to try and make the best of each conversation without inflicting his emotions onto his customers. In the image above, Unit 25 has a conversation with his reflection in his knife whom he has affectionately turned into a person by calling the knife by it’s brand name Roxanne. These opening scenes to each day came very late in development as I was trying to come up with a clean way to give the player a sense of your mental state while maintaining that foreboding sense that …it is an armed robot and if it did snap, it’s no stretch of imagination what Roxanne could be used for.
The one thing that remains of our world is twitter and boy do these humans have something to say about Unit 25 replacing a human’s position. You have to balance having these conversations while actually still running the restaurant and making enough for each day’s rent. One feature of the customers is that they start to lose patience and will walk away before you get a chance to serve them if it takes too long. The rating system is another glimpse into how society, as a whole, is fast paced and has no time to waste and will not tolerate a slow robot.
For the characters in the game, I kept most people in silhouette to really focus on the smallest movements to suggest emotions. As you progress, the characters you speak more often too will become more and more vibrant as you become more human to show that relationship you are forging with these “strangers.” Throughout the game you will encounter some recurring characters that come back to challenge your position over and over again. For most of the script, I drew inspiration from my time as a barista and the things people would say without really thinking of how it would come across. Unit 25’s challenge is really deciding for itself if humanity and being human is worth all the drama. The dialogue begins optimistic in tone and becomes more sarcastic as you mutate forms into a human and have gone through enough conversations.
As you start to make the transition from a small robot form to a more organic, human-like form you start to see the way characters treat you better. The game suggests that humans will not have evolved in the future and we will still desire to make replicas in our image and we will still treat everything that looks differently beneath us. You will have to discover for yourself the true nature of the people around you and decide at the end to stick up for either your creator or this shady restaurant owner who has gone missing, but seems to be the only person who has truly given you autonomy and a certain level of respect. It was really important to me that you had 1 recurring character that was always your greatest fan for absolutely no reason, and 1 character that just hates you for absolutely no reason. As you engage in dialogue if you answer rudely, you actually trigger more customers to come in that have a dramatically shorter wait time than a fan would have.
For this project I worked with Jack Zackowitz and Visager Music and my mentor was Nikita Mikros. I was obsessed with Nikita’s cabinet Killer Queen, but I haven’t been able to play it because it’s always so packed. That’s the kind of community I wish I could create around the work I do in the future. I wrote the story, created the artwork and directed the game mechanics and Jack helped me code the game in game maker studio. This was also the first project I have ever collaborated on and it was an amazing experience to be able to work with two very talented individuals. Josh, of Visager Music, was really incredible at composing melodies that gave the story so much soul, I gave him some sound bites and story details and allowed him to jam out without too many edits. I really wanted to deliver a script that felt real and Sande helped me push it to the next level. I am extremely excited for the future of New York game developers and the stories that will come to life through Playcrafting dedication to individual creators and small teams alike.
The Spice of Life cabinet, in the form of Unit 25 itself, is currently available to play at SVA’s Main gallery till the end of July and then it will make a secondary appearance at Play NYC as part of the MFA Visual Narrative group. My hope is to polish the game by the end of the summer and possibly publish it through steam for windows. I hope this is the first of many custom cabinet stories in my future.
1. How did you get into games?
I decided to dive into game development through an online course, I was already thinking of making my thesis project an interactive story and it kind of clicked after seeing death by audio arcade at maker faire back 2 years ago that I wanted a really custom experience. After playing Papers Please, I became obsessed with the playfulness and highly sophisticated way of telling someone’s story through dark humour while keeping the mechanics as simple as possible. I think the subtle animations, emotions and thoughts, you can get out of pixel art is just so satisfying and I really wanted to be a part of its resurgence.
2. You’re part of the first manned mission to Mars! You’ll be gone for 5 years and can only bring 3 games to play alone or with your 3 fellow astronauts. What are they?
I would have to bring Spaceteam, Paranoia, and Rick and Morty, the android game.
3. What would be your dream game to build?
I would want to build a narrative game that is interactive and multiplayer like the old battletech mech pods I was obsessed with as a kid. Maybe I actually just want to make a functional robot with a game inside it, I’m not sure, but something wildly playful along those lines.
4. What do you love best about the game community in NYC?
The game developer community has been very welcoming and helpful and I feel much better about it now that I have met so many young developers at Playcrafting who have the same principles and values of inclusivity, respect, and experimentation that I have. In the same vein as game development we have a burgeoning maker community where art and coding and fabrication has been bleeding into each other. I love that we have Babycastles, Pioneer Works, the School for Poetic Computation, Sva’s Visible Future’s Lab, ITP, Fost and so many more galleries and organizations that are starting to take things like gifs seriously because that kind of nonsense has always felt like a natural form of visual communication. Contemporary storytelling is mutating, it’s natural and beautiful. We have so many freelancers in tremendous student debt that are still looking to work on a project that they are truly passionate about and that gives me hope that even though we will be going through this disaster, we are in it together and something amazing will come out of all of this misery. Stories can still be told and should be told, and Playcrafting is one of these institutions that recognizes the financial afflictions of creators and provides high quality supplemental education at affordable prices. Unheard of and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.
5. Choose 5 words to describe your experience making games so far.
Intoxicating, Exhilarating, Surprising, Collaborative, Satisfying