Friday, March 11, 2016

Gamer Girl - Damsel

Not too long ago, I saw a tweet from the excellent Giselle Rosman, whom I was lucky enough to meet while visiting Australia a couple of years ago, raving about a new game looking for votes for on Steam Greenlight. That in itself is not all that unusual, since it's pretty much her mission to promote awesome Aussie game developers. And, to be honest, I almost always check out the games she recommends because there have been so many really great games coming out of Australia lately (see Ninja Pizza Girl) so it's a pretty good gamble. And, again, she was right. Damsel look like an awesome game.
In this arcade platformer, play as agent Damsel as she races across the world keeping humanity safe from the forces of evil. Complete dozens of missions, rescue hostages, gather intel, and eliminate the vampire hordes with an ever expanding arsenal of upgradable weapons and equipment.
OK, so it's got a kickass female protagonist fighting vampire hordes with awesome weapons and saving the world from evil? Yes, please!

Over the last couple of weeks, I managed to strike up a great conversation with Megan Summers, the producer of Damsel. She shared with me a bit about herself as a female game developer and her work.

SRPS: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? What's your background? What are some of your goals?

MS: My Name is Megan Summers and I'm am currently the Producer and co-owner of Screwtape Studios. As most people of my age (30) I never could have dreamt of making games for a living, even though while growing up games were a major part of my life (even if I didn't tell anyone about it). The Game Commander Keen 4 is still one of my favorite games of all time. For you youngins it's a great Platformer from Tom Hall and ID Software released in 1991. Growing up with tight parents meant I played the same games constantly! As I got older I began playing more and more different games it's always been a hobby.

I Studied a year of a Bachelor of Theatre Majoring in Acting straight out of highschool and then continued to deffer, or quit another 2 degrees after that for the next 3 years. During the last Degree I was studying (Drama) I decided to take some time off and look at what really wanted to do. I found a Dimploma of Multimedia Majoring in Game development, and I have never looked back. Before the end of the year Diploma I applied for and got my first Job in the games Industry. I started in Quality Assurance at Pandemic Australia on an unreleased and unannounced game. The first Day I walked into that Studio my life changed. Unfortunately the game was cancelled 18 months into my stint at Pandemic and I was so lucky to be kept at the company after the first round of redundancies. I worked then on a second unannounced and unrealeased title that was unfortunatly cancelled as well after the GFC of 2009. The inevitable redundancy happened as the company looked like closing and I moved to Local Australian company Krome Studios. Again the inevitable redundancy came as the Studio began to suffer in the economic climate and I moved to THQ Oz. Oh yes we all know how that story ended. Once again the Studio closed.

SRPS: What inspired you to start Screwtape Studios?

MS: During this time at Pandemic, Krome and THQ my best friend Anthony Wood (who I met in theatre school years earlier) was working on his Programming Degree. As he was finishing his degree the local industry was falling down around us. It was at this moment that we decided it was now or never, the mobile market was booming, and it seemed like there were no other choices. And thus Screwtape Studios was born.

We were a very small company of two for a number of years working on our mobile games and bringing in people to help with roles as we needed them. I have always been the Producer, tester and a designer of our games and the part I love most is seeing someone playing a game that we have worked on.

SRPS: I have been seeing so many excellent games coming from Australian devs. What is the game development community like in Brisbane?

MS: Australia has been releasing some amazing games recently and in Brisbane we have a number of companies and solo devs making great games too. Assault Android Cactus by Witchbeam Studios, Satillite Reign by 5 Lives Studios, and the Amazing Hand of Fate by Defiant Development have all been created in Brisbane by amazing people who couldn't be lured to Melbourne with the promise of government funding. This has made development in Brisbane slightly harder but I don't want to leave until the Brisbane industry is doing as well as Melbourne.

SRPS: What is Damsel? What kind of game is it?

MS: Damsel is arcade platformer, you play as agent Damsel as she races across the world keeping humanity safe from the forces of evil. Complete dozens of missions, rescue hostages, gather intel, and eliminate the vampire hordes with an ever expanding arsenal of upgradable weapons and equipment.

Immerse yourself in a beautifully detailed cartoon world, spanning locations across the globe, from the rooftops of New York City to the slums of urban China. With the help of Swan, Damsel's friend and handler, unravel a massive conspiracy that goes up to the top of a vampire corporation which has one goal; the systematic control and utilisation of the human population for the advancement of vampires everywhere.

We are aiming for the end of Q2 2016 so in other words we are on the home stretch to release.

SRPS: What inspired Damsel?

MS: This is a biggy! I became very involved with the Women in Games Movement a number of years ago. I didn't realise it was an issue when I began in the industry I , I was one of 2 women on a team when I started and I was already seeing things change. I believe mentoring will change the landscape. Then the internet got angry and Women in Games panels and talks became a thing. Two years ago I reluctantly sat on a Women in Games Panel at GCAP. I was able to have my voice no matter how frustrating the conversation can be. When we returned to the hotel, Anthony came to me and said he didn't feel comfortable in the audience of the panel and didn't feel like he was able to speak without being shut down. So he came up with Damsel. He wanted to create a strong female character that could inspire other young girls to play games.

The idea has always been what if when I was a young girl playing games there had been an awesome character that I wanted to be. We don't want to preach at people we just want people to understand that they can enjoy playing a game as a female character. In my eyes Damsel is a Secret Agent, she doesn't have to prove herself throughout the game because as a secret agent she has already proven herself. The game it's self is just a fun game.

SRPS: When you say that Anthony felt uncomfortable in the audience at GCAP, was that because he was speaking as a man? Did that experience at all color your feeling about being on future Women in Gaming panels? Do you think there is value in these kinds of panels for women in the gaming industry?

MS: I only said yes to the WiG panel if they couldn't find anyone else. I was very reluctant to be a part of it (gamer gate had recently happened). I honestly don't believe we need to continue have these panels! I believe we are past figuring out what can be done and we need to start doing. Every group or panel I've been a part of narrows it down to education and mentoring.

SRPS: What aspects of game dev do you love?

MS: My favourite part of game development is a little bit weird. I test all of our games and I started as a tester, and my fav thing is narrowing down a weird bug and finally finding what's wrong!

SRPS: Do you have any advice for other young women looking to get into game development and design?

MS: So my advice for young women coming in is find a women in games group in your area. Go to events and meet people. And make things. Continue to hone your skills constantly!

SRPS: Screwtape Studio's other games are all mobile games. Is this your first PC/Console game? What precipitated this change?

MS: I love playing mobile games myself. I enjoy any kind of puzzle game as long as it's designed well. The main problem for us was the way the mobile market was moving. Data-driven game design had become the norm, also needing to drive IAPs (in-app purchases) was hard for me on an ethical level. The main reasons for moving over to PC were the size of game we could create and the fact that the average Steam game will sell approx 32,000 copies, which at only $9.99 a game still pays off a lot better than mobile, where the average income from a game was $0.

SPRS: What has been the most interesting aspect of moving from the mobile platform to desktop/console?

MS: The best part about moving to PC is the size of game we can create. We can create a more immersive world and tell longer stories! Which has always been an aim of Screwtape Studios.

SRPS: What do you do when you're not working on Damsel -- hobbies, interests, etc.?

MS: Honestly I don't do much other than playing games and hanging out with friends. I've been quite sick over the last couple of years and hopefully will get back into more hobbies when Damsel is done!

SRPS: I first saw a mention of Damsel in a twitter post when it was first launched on Steam Greenlight. I see that you've already met your 100% goal. You must be very excited! What are the next steps for Damsel?

MS: So Damsel has now been Greenlit which means we can now release the game on Steam when it is finished. We should be ready to release by the end of April.

I can't wait to play it! For more information about the release of Damsel, you can check out the Screwtape Studios website, or find them on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

If you like the work I do here on SRPS, please support me!

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