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.
Olga U. is a freelance artist working in the video game industry here in Montreal. Her work has appeared in a variety of social games, including including projects for EA and Ludia. She is currently working on The Girl and The Robot, but was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat about her experience as an artist for hire. You can view her portfolio on Behance.
Gamerwife: Let’s start at the beginning, what was the first game you ever played?
Olga: I don’t exactly remember which I played first, it was either one of my weird neighbor’s Atari combat games or it was Super Mario Bros.
My sister and I were begging for a Nintendo console every day for so many months that our parents just had to give in. I still remember that magical moment when I picked up the controller for the first time and started playing!
GW: What made you decide on a career in games?
Olga: Well, it never really was a conscious decision. About ten years ago I was approached by a group of people who were creating a fan based sequel to the King’s Quest series. They liked my art gallery online and asked me to help out with the concept art and texturing of the game. It was a really fun project with amazing people. I also found it fascinating that all these people with so many different skill sets came together to work on such a big project, all while having a blast.
From then on, it was clear to me that there was no other place I’d rather be.
GW: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Olga: I attended the Illustration & Design program at Dawson College. It was a very general program to learn the basics of visual art with an emphasis on illustration. I went back to school later than most teenagers, so many of the basics and some software I had already learned by myself.
The real learning and magic happened in my free time, and with the help of online communities such as conceptart.org.
One thing I find awesome about being an artist is that your diploma doesn’t really mean anything, it’s your portfolio that speaks for itself. If you do the studying and the practice, your portfolio will shine for you!
I also find it extremely important to keep studying, practicing and getting feedback from other artists. I still feel like I have a million things left to learn, and whenever I think I’m getting closer to the finish line, it moves!
GW: What are the best/worst things about working in video games?
Olga: The best thing about working in video games are the people. Generally speaking, people working in video games are down-to-earth and the easiest to get along with.
Working on any project always pushes you to do even better and learn new tools and technologies. Most projects are like huge melting pots where you bring your best game designs, art styles, new game mechanics and technologies. And because the video game industry has reached such a high level competition, you cannot afford to not push new limits and innovate.
The worst thing about working in video games is getting out of bed in the morning and the fear of having a larger company copying your IP and releasing it faster with more resources.
GW: Have you ever had issues with harassment or discrimination as a women in video games?
Olga: I never had any issues with harassment.
First of all, I just want to say that I have a deep respect for all the guys I have ever worked with. The gaming industry is mostly dominated by men and being part of a minority, I unfortunately experienced some discrimination at work. Some of the most hurtful comments were always meant to appear as a joke about gender. It was easy to brush it off and pretend like it didn’t affect me, but not saying anything only gave it permission to continue. Comments or jokes about women are so unnecessary at work and can kill the team’s vibe.
At one point I decided to speak to a guy making the “women” comments. I told him very nicely how his words impacted me. Surprisingly, he never even thought that what he was saying was affecting anyone because they were jokes. So for me it was a great opportunity to tell him that it made me feel crappy and unappreciated, and it might also be the case for other ladies too. Speaking up was a great experience and it taught me to not just let things slide. And who knows, maybe this will also inspire other dames to speak up when they feel undermined by their co-workers.
GW: What advice do you have for other women who want to be involved in game development?
Olga: I say go for it! I cannot think of a more stimulating, creative and innovative environment. The hardest part is getting your foot in the door, so all you can do is keep honing your skills, getting feedback, and trying again.
Join online communities and fan based game projects and put yourself out there.
And most importantly, do not be intimidated by all the guys, I can promise you that they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.
GW: What games are you playing right now?
Olga: I am not much of a “hardcore” gamer. Right now I’m really enjoying Sword & Sworcery (have you seen the art?!), Tiny Thief (such a blast!), LIMBO (so creepy!) and Kingdom Rush (Reinfooorce!)
All of these games are so stunning visually! I really have a hard time playing ugly games even if they’re fun.
I know, first world problems…
Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me, Olga!