Welcome to Dames Who Make Games, Gamerwife’s interview series with the lovely ladies who make our video games. Whether you’re a QA tester or a company VP, we want to hear what you have to say. And remember to click “Continue reading” for the whole story.
Sherida Halatoe is an independent game developer from Hilversum, the Netherlands. Under the name of tiger & squid, Sherida is a one lady studio currently developing her first game, Beyond eyes. While her recent Indiegogo campaign did not reach its funding goal, she has resolved to keep going, which is great news for anyone who has seen the beautiful art and gameplay conceived for the game.
Sherida was kind enough to take time out of her busy development schedule to answer some questions about her path to game development and her advice to aspiring game makers.
Gamerwife: What was the first game you ever played?
Sherida: I can’t really remember which one to be honest. It’s probably something like Duck Hunt or Mario, but the first one I can actually remember finishing was Leisure Suit Larry. I know.. a bit raunchy but I do have fond memories of me and my friend giggling with an English dictionary, looking up words. For the longest of times I thought that ‘lubber’ was the accurate translation for ‘condom’ (turns out it was just an Asian storekeeper who couldn’t pronounce the R).
I know it sounds really weird, but that game always had a special place in my heart because it introduced me to the immersive qualities that games can have. It felt like such an adventure, especially because you had to answer certain questions to prove that you were old enough to play it. Once you passed that threshold, you were in another world where anything could happen. Until that moment only books had that special quality for me.
GW: Why did you want to make games?
Sherida: Well, unlike most of the people I know who work in games, for me it wasn’t a lifelong dream to work in the game industry. I liked playing games, but it was just one of many hobbies. I always thought I would end up doing something in performance arts, both as a performer and as a creator. I loved musical theatre, singing, storytelling, and fashion. My ultimate secret dream was (maybe still is) to create a Cirque du Soleil show with beautiful costumes, special FX, and a beautiful story that leaves the audience flabbergasted.
I decided to apply for the photography program at the Utrecht School of Arts to learn more about composing interesting images, uses of color and telling stories in a single frame. Although I got accepted the commission advised me to reconsider if this program would be right for me since it focussed more on documentary photography. In the end I didn’t enter the program but really loved the atmosphere of the school so I grabbed a copy of their brochure and searched for a program that would fit me better. When I read the description of the game design program I got really excited, it seemed like a fantastic way to combine many of my interests. So the year after that I enrolled.
GW: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Sherida: I studied Game Design & Development at the HKU, also known as Utrecht School of Arts. It’s a very general program that teaches most disciplines although there is a focus on game design.
GW: What are the best/worst things about working in video games?
Sherida: Where to start? I’ll start with the worst thing and then slowly move towards the happy moments. The first thing that comes to mind is the very unhealthy dedication that I (and many of the people that I know) have to my work. The burnout rate in the industry is insanely high. I used to think that this was just the case for people who work for large game companies, but it’s just the same for indies!
It starts with this great love of making games, but you slowly start making for more and more hours until it takes every free second of your life away. I recently decided to take a few steps back because I was too overwhelmed with everything. Working on a game by yourself takes a little more time than working in a team, but I constantly felt like I was behind schedule and not living up to my maximum potential.
I don’t know if you are familiar with the 80/20 principle? In short, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In this case 80% of the stuff that makes it into Beyond eyes is done in 20% of the time. So I thought to myself, |well, if you can create all of this in such a short amount of time why not do that all the time?| Which is impossible, of course, so I ended up compensating for the non-productive hours by working even more.. Not very clever, I know, so I took a few steps back.
I currently only work around 40 hours a week and I have no idea what to do with all the free time but I feel so much better. Many people I know are faced with the same issues. We love making games, but they make us feel like we fail all the time. We can spend weeks working on something that doesn’t turn out as we would like it to be. It sucks.. I know really talented people who burned out way too soon, under the age of 25, and leave the industry to do something less harmful. Such a shame.
The best thing about making games is that it’s such a lovely medium with mountains of untapped potential. There are so many great things that I want to explore and create that nobody has dreamed of– and it can be done.. by me! I don’t need a huge team or a big pile of resources. The tools nowadays are amazing and affordable, people are interested in unusual and quirky games and I can work in my pyjamas.
GW: Have you ever had issues with harassment or discrimination as a woman in video games?
Sherida: Never. I hardly talk about this subject with other women so I don’t know how big the issue is here in the Netherlands compared to the USA for example. Of course, sometimes someone makes a dumb comment in a room, but never anything personal.
GW: What advice do you have for other women who want to be involved in game development?
Sherida: Pfew, that’s a difficult question to answer because I don’t really think of myself as a girl in game development, just someone who makes games. I would say, be yourself and don’t be afraid to take the spotlight.
Many people outside of the industry tend to have a certain idea what the industry is like and I can imagine that it can be intimidating if you don’t see yourself fitting that image. The truth is that you don’t have to, there is room for everyone! Some of us come from a background in games, others theatre, literature, fine arts or economics and we all bring something fresh to the table that will make the industry a little better.
GW: What are your biggest challenges as an independent game maker?
Sherida: Definitely all the non-creating stuff. Things like marketing, PR, handling e-mails need a certain skillset that I don’t fully posses.There are so many developers out there who want to get noticed and it’s difficult to stand out. Unfortunately, having a unique concept isn’t enough, you need to be visible everywhere and all the time. A good example is my Indiegogo campaign for Beyond eyes: it got a decent amount of coverage but getting attention from websites was a huge amount of work. Many editors have their mailboxes flooded with emails everyday and it’s difficult to stand out. I spammed Kotaku for 2 or 3 weeks, but they only noticed my game when they saw a feature on Indiegames.com.
Luckily I recently met my new PR guy Dan who knows and loves that stuff.
GW: What games are you playing right now?
I was sick last week and had to stay in bed with my PS3 so I got myself a month of Playstation Plus to entertain myself. I’m currently playing Remember Me, which has a great story but very boring gameplay and Dragon’s Dogma which has a crappy story and amazing gameplay!
Thanks again, Sherida!