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Influential Women in the Gaming Industry: Brianna Wu

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Brianna Wu is a game developer. She is also the head of Giant Spacekat which is a female lead gaming development team. She is also often a speaker on the subject of women in the tech industry.

Brianna found a love of technology early in her life. This would serve her well as that love helped her to pave her own way. She was adopted into a conservative family that she would not always feel like she belonged in. Learning to program and work on computers are some of her happiest memories as a child. Thankfully her family supported her in her love of technology and provided her with resources that have helped her to become a successful woman in the field of gaming.

That support helped her to start her first business as a teenager. From her parents’ garage she would modify cars and computers. By the time she was in college, she had saved up a nice nest egg, which enabled her to leave the program she was not happy in. Brianna went through many changes and challenges that helped her find her own views and voice in the world during this time. This journey would help her discover what she wanted out of life, and gaming.

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Brianna started Giant Spacekat in 2010. The company was not started with a strong feminist stance in mind. Brianna simply wanted to make things that she liked and wanted to see in games. It turns out that what she wanted was a more inclusive gaming space. This tone led to Revolution 60, the first game from Giant Spacekat, that featured all female operatives and strong feminist overtones in the game.

As she spoke with more women in the gaming industry, Brianna found that many of them were having similar experiences to herself. This led her to changing the culture of her studio. It also led Brianna to taking on more speaking appearances and writing about women in the gaming industry.

Brianna Wu is an example of how life takes us on paths we may not expect. Everything is a learning experience and we are meant to grow on this journey we call life.

Always keep sparkling!

 

Indie Spotlight: Forgotten Anne

Tell us about your game: Valdemar Schultz Andreasen (Lead Game Designer):

Forgotton Anne is an untraditional 2D platforming adventure, with a heavy focus on the narrative and an interest in telling a very human story. We’ve done what we can to make it feel as if you’re playing inside an anime-movie, with a cinematography that swoops and zooms around.

The story centers around Anne, one of two human beings trapped in the world of lost and forgotten things – the Forgotten Lands. The inhabitants are socks, scarfs and other objects that people forget, animated into life as citizens of this world.

Anne and her Master Bonku are trying to get back to the human world, but as the story begins, an explosion occurs – somebody is trying to destroy their plans of returning home.

Since Anne has the role of Enforcer of these lands, she is sent out to locate and find the cause of the rebellion.

You play the game as you would a platformer: Anne can walk, run, jump – and then she has two tools in her belt: Her wings give her a boosted jump. Her Arca-glove on her hand can draw and transfer energy – called Anima – between cylinders and power up machines. It can even draw the Anima out of Forgotlings.

Through the story told, Anne interacts with a lot of Forgotlings, not just drawing life, in fact, mostly speaking to them. Anne encounters a lot of different situations that ask something of her situation as the Enforcer, but also moral situations for the player to contemplate.

The decisions Anne and the player makes impact aspects of the story, and it is not always clear what action leads to what reaction or consequence, which might just make it worthwhile to go through the game for a second run.

Situations of identity, loyalty and choice weave in and out of a beautifully aesthetic and engaging experience, that has a constant drive forward with new areas and situations.

The human story emerges as the story becomes an investigation of Anne – not just of her past, but also of who she is as a human being. We have done what we can to avoid turning her into a caricature or a superhero, rather trying for a naturalistic description of a complicated person full of contradictions and emotions, like any of us. While Anne is athletic and cool, she is also sometimes slightly clumsy. Our lead animator, Debbie Ekberg, was really great in portraying Anne’s movements with 2D animation. The game contains more than 5000 individual drawings, frames, of Anne. She would add these subtle touches of animation that showed Anne from a more vulnerable and naturalistic side that really rounded off her character.

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What was your inspiration to create the game

Alfred Nguyen (Creative Director): It came about after a soul-searching period after I quit my job as a creative lead at a mobile games company. I was reaching a point in my life where I wanted to make use of all the skills I had accumulated throughout the years as an animation film director and artist to express something meaningful. I think there is a space for fun addictive mobile games in our lives, but it did not allow me to go deep with crafting imaginary worlds of wonder and tell stories that affected people in a meaningful way. The same way certain games, books and movies had a lingering effect on me growing up. So the first thing I did was to reflect on themes I kept returning to as an artist and topics that kept being there on the back of my mind throughout my life. My parents were refugees from the Vietnam war and I grew up in Denmark, and so had two very different cultures vying for my identity growing up. So the search for an identity, the feeling of being lost, ‘forgotten’ I could see was a recurring theme in my life. Making a game can be a sisyphean task and so I knew it had to have a personal core that guided the project through tough times, and so this world of the forgotten began to form in my mind. From there it’s just been an incredible journey, starting a company, assembling my great and loving team who is responsible for making Forgotton Anne into what it is, and bet that years of work will feel worth it, as long as we focused on a meaningful creative process instead of calculating what will be ‘hot’ in the future to play or current trends.

Forgotten Anne is availble on Steam, Xbox and PS4 May 15th

 

Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

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The heroes from the Final Fantasy series cannot catch a break. Having been sent to a paradise world to rest from their battles, they discover that monsters have infiltrated said paradise. It’s up to them to band together and fight…again.

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is a game for iOS and Android devices, recently launched in the United States. (It’s been running in Japan since early 2017.) Dissidia has become a crossover subseries of the larger Final Fantasy franchise. It started out with two games on the PSP, followed by the Theatrhythm music games on the Nintendo 3DS, and now an arcade version on the PlayStation 4, titled Dissida NT. They essentially exist to throw the major Final Fantasy heroes and villains together in one universe to battle it out.

In the first two PSP games, the heroes and villains wake up in a strange world with no memories of their previous adventures.  They have a vague idea of who they used to be, and they know that they have homes they want to see again, but that’s it.  The goddess of harmony, Cosmos, and the god of discord, Chaos, enlist them to fight in a great battle for control of the universe.  The characters strike alliances with one another and grapple with various personal issues while trying to end the conflict for good.

Theatrhythm pretty much kicked the plot out the door from the get-go. Technically, the heroes are fighting Chaos again, but there’s no dialogue between them. You just pick a song from the series and try to keep up with the beats. They’re fun rhythm games and probably my favorite entries in the series, even though they don’t contribute anything to the story.

Now, we have Opera Omnia on mobile phones. This game changes things up by having the characters clearly remember their previous adventures in their home worlds, but have no recollection of their Dissidia battles. If you enjoyed Zidane and Squall’s odd friendship or Vaan saving Terra from Kefka, you’re out of luck.

In this way, Opera Omnia comes off as a soft reboot of the Dissidia series. The game doesn’t solely stick to major heroes and villains. You begin the adventure with Warrior of Light, from the original Final Fantasy, Rem from Type 0, Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII, and Vivi from Final Fantasy IX. As you progress through each chapter of the game, you gain more and more allies in the fight. And there are lots of allies from the entire series. Other characters can be unlocked for a limited time through special event quests. As of this writing, we’ve gotten Squall, Vanille, Setzer, Balthier, Eiko, Tidus, and Prishe in this manner.

Just to give you an idea, my current roster of fighters consists of twenty-eight characters. And I’m still on Chapter 4.

While playing this game, I got the impression that Square-Enix might’ve finally noticed that they’ve been giving Final Fantasy VII a little too much love compared to other entries in the series. While you pick up Cloud, Tifa, and Yuffie early on, they don’t appear as often in cutscenes as Zidane and Vivi from IX. And Final Fantasy VI has started to receive more attention at last. The Japanese version of Opera Omnia already has Terra, Shadow, Setzer, Cyan, Edgar, Sabin, Celes, and Kefka. Considering that the first two games only ever gave us Terra and Kefka as playable characters, that’s impressive.

So, what goal do the heroes need to accomplish this time around? It turns out that the paradise world they inhabit has become infected by “Torsions.” Torsions are basically dark wormholes that spew out monsters. The goddess Materia summons Mog the Moogle to collect warriors who possess the ability to seal the Torsions. Then the worlds can finally be at peace.

Did you understand all of that? Well, don’t worry if you didn’t. Mog and co. will repeat this information many, many, many times. It reminds me of The Room, the greatest bad movie of all time, where characters would often repeat dialogue and have the same conversations. But at least in The Room, the writing was so bad that it was funny. With these games, the writing’s just competent enough that it’s more annoying than funny.

And that’s always been a problem with the Dissidia series. I remember playing Duodecim for the first time and loving it. Yet as I got further and further into the story, I groaned every time someone brought up the manikins- the game’s enemies- which was often. “These manikins are everywhere!” “How do we stop the manikins?” “Oh no, here come more manikins!” “If we don’t stop the manikins, we’re all going to die!” “BUT HOW DO WE STOP THE MANIKINS???” Replace “manikins” with “Torsions” and you get the same problem in Opera Omnia.

It’s not all bad though. There’s a mini-arc of trying to catch and recruit Yuffie after she steals some of the party’s weapons- and then Zidane, who has acted very upset about losing his dagger, decides he’s going to flirt with her anyway. There’s another cutscene that consists of nothing but Zidane trying cheesy pickup lines on every female member in the party, with no success. And Chapter 3 has the heroes grappling with whether or not to join forces with Seifer and his friends. On the one hand, they seem to be fighting a common enemy. On the other hand, the two groups can’t stand each other and eventually decide to go their separate ways. This has always been the strongest aspect of Dissdia: when the writers indulge in the appeal of the crossover and have fun letting the characters bounce off of each other.

While the strength of the writing fluctuates, the battle system is a fun throwback to older Final Fantasy games that successfully mixes in some of Dissidia’s style as well. You get three party members who face off against enemies in turn-based combat. There are two types of attacks that can be used: Bravery and HP. The amount of Bravery that your character obtains determines how powerful your HP attacks will be. So, if your character has 0 Bravery, and you hit an enemy with an HP attack, the enemy will take no damage. This leaves some room for strategizing how you will attack enemies.

That said, as much as I love having so many characters at my disposal, it does make leveling up more of a pain. The game developers made an attempt to fix the problem by giving out extra rewards on certain quests if you use a particular character. You can also gain more experience on quests by using certain characters. Still, it’s a struggle, and it would help if the new characters you acquire throughout the story didn’t always start at Level 1, no matter where you are. It would make more sense to have them at different levels depending on when you acquire them, like other Final Fantasy games have done in the past.

Since this is a free-to-play game, Opera Omnia does rely on microtransactions to some degree. The quickest way to acquire the best weapons and armor comes from the Weekly Draws and Event Draws. You can either pull for one weapon using a Draw Ticket or eleven weapons using 5,000 gems. You earn gems and tickets by logging into the game and completing various tasks. Or you can go to the Gem Shop and buy them.

The game gives you different purchase options, from a Bronze Chest that gives you 120 gems for $0.99, to an Adamant Chest that gives you 12,000 gems for $74.99. I can’t imagine spending $75 in one transaction for fake money, and for a deal that only allows you two pulls from one of the draws, it doesn’t seem worth it. But I’ve found the game to be playable without drawing for weapons very much. Time will tell if that changes as I get farther and farther into the story and the difficulty increases. It’s also worth noting that you can enhance your weapons yourself with materials that you find. But if you want good weapons fast, the draws are your best bet.

So far, Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia has been a fun experience and I enjoy playing it. I can’t wait to see what other characters get added to the lineup. (Locke? Rinoa? Where are you?) While the plot is still a little weak, I love watching the characters play off of each other and setting up a party for turn-based combat. If you’re a fan of any of the Final Fantasy games, it’s most likely that you will enjoy it too.

Initial Thoughts on “Hogwarts Mystery”

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It took almost two decades, but I finally received my letter from Hogwarts. And if you download the app for Hogwarts Mystery, you can get yours too!

Hogwarts Mystery is one of two mobile games set in the Harry Potter universe. The other, Wizards Unite, has not yet been released. While the latter appears to be similar to Pokémon Go, the former focuses more on the story and the chance to see yourself as a wizard in whatever House you choose.

After selecting a look for your avatar, you set off for Diagon Alley, as Harry did, make new friends and enemies, practice spells, and brew potions. You get to choose what rewards you earn for completing certain objectives in class. Every avatar has opportunities to level up in three ways: Courage, Empathy, and Knowledge. How you respond to various questions determines how fast you level up in each category, and sometimes an answer will be locked because you don’t have enough Courage/Empathy/Knowledge to say it.

You’ll also discover that your avatar has a mysterious family past: his/her brother got expelled from Hogwarts and disappeared. It looks like this will be the story arc that carries over for all seven years at Hogwarts. Luckily, your avatar finds a best friend in Rowan Khanna, who supports you in your quest for answers and defends you from anyone who tries to mess with you.

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I love her.

Rowan has been my favorite part of Hogwarts Mystery (outside of the wish fulfillment of going to Hogwarts). His/her gender changes depending on what gender you select, but I’ll refer to her as “she” for this review since that’s what I picked. She’s kind, funny, and loyal, and there’s something about her that just reminds me so much of the friends that I have in real life.

Unfortunately, I can’t hang out with my friends in real life while playing Hogwarts Mystery. I’d hoped that there would be some kind of multiplayer feature that allowed my avatar to interact with others. But so far, that doesn’t appear to be an option. Hopefully, it will come with an upgrade somewhere down the line, because I don’t want to imagine going to Hogwarts without my real friends by my side.

Hogwarts Mystery looks great, with fun, colorful graphics that remind me of the old Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets games that I used to play on my GameCube. There are times when my avatar’s facial expressions look awkward, but it’s not a deal breaker.

And speaking of those other video games, Hogwarts Mystery has some nice shout-outs to them as well. Your avatar will eventually learn the Flipendo spell, which never appeared in the books or movies, but was the go-to spell for just about everything in the video games. You’ll also learn how to brew Wiggenweld Potion, which Harry used to heal himself. It makes for a nice blend of the canon established by the books, movies, and video games, with something for every fan to love, regardless of how they were introduced to Harry Potter’s world. (Now, if they could just throw in a reference to A Very Potter Musical, I’ll be set.)

I’m enjoying the story so far. At first, I felt disappointed by the choice in setting because I wanted my avatar to be a random Hufflepuff having adventures during Harry’s years at Hogwarts. Now that I’ve actually started playing the game, I can admit that it was a good idea to place it in the time period between Voldemort’s initial defeat and Harry’s school years. This choice allows for an original story about your avatar and their friends, and we still get to interact with most of the teachers from the books, i.e. Professor Snape and Flitwick. Our avatar’s backstory has only been revealed in bits and pieces so far, but it’s intriguing.

I also like how we get to choose our House, rather than take another quiz. Granted, I never had a preference until Pottermore’s quiz put me in Hufflepuff. And if you like taking quizzes, you’ll find the Sorting Ceremony a little anticlimactic. But then again, doesn’t this tie into one of the themes from the books?  As Professor Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

So, the story’s great, the characters are wonderful, and the visuals look good. It’s a Hogwarts fan’s dream!

Except when it isn’t.

With a free-to-play mobile app, there will always be issues with micro transactions. After all, the developers have to make money somehow, and I don’t take issue with that. I do take issue with how the game prevents you from doing very much at any given time before you either wait for your energy bar to refill, or start paying.

Your avatar has an energy bar, and mine currently has a maximum of 25 points. Whenever you take lessons, your character spends energy doing things like studying, talking to Rowan, collecting potions ingredients, etc. And these are all things that you have to do in order to complete the lesson and move forward. More than once, I have run out of energy mid-lesson and needed to put the game on hold until the bar refilled. It’s also not very exciting or fun to tap away at your phone while your character “does” things and nothing’s really happening.

The game becomes more fun when you get to do things that don’t cost energy, like bonding with Rowan over a game of Gobstones and trying to guess the right responses to heighten your friendship. I’ve only just learned how to duel, but that looks promising as well. You need to pick whether to assume an Aggressive, Sneaky, or Defensive stance against your opponent, and then select spells or healing potions to use.

There’s one other major issue that I have with Hogwarts Mystery: the lack of customizable options for your avatar. Although you can adjust the shape of the face, nose, and eyes, all avatars have the same body type. You only get a handful of options for hairstyles and such when you first start the game, and everything else needs to be unlocked by spending gems and coins. This includes glasses. Why do we need to pay money to unlock glasses? Lots of people wear glasses. Harry Freakin’ Potter wears glasses. It’s not going to matter to most people, but it’s one of my pet peeves when a game doesn’t give you that option right from the start.

Given time, I’m hoping that the developers of Hogwarts Mystery will iron out the issues with the gameplay and find other ways to profit off of micro transactions. The game has a lot of promise with good characters, an interesting story, and shout outs to the Harry Potter franchise in all of its forms. If you’re a diehard fan, you will have fun here. But it requires either a lot of patience or a lot of Galleons to get the most out of the experience.

Why I Came Back to Overwatch

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Vel got Overwatch on Xbox One to play with his friends. I spent one night going through the tutorial and playing different characters against the computer. I enjoyed it, it was fun, but I was too nervous to talk to my teammates. I may have said “Hi” once, but two very important things were swimming through my head:

  1. Every time I’ve talked to a bunch of people I didn’t know over Xbox, it ended badly. Usually in trolling through the entire match, mostly because I am female. I am used to harassment, but that doesn’t mean that I want to put myself in a situation with the potential for harassment when I’m not streaming.
  2. Overwatch is considered one of the most toxic gaming communities. To me, that just screams that the above-mentioned harassment is bound to happen. Plus, I’ve left several games ( League of Legends is one of them ) due to that elitist attitude.

So I finished playing, put my controller down and didn’t pick it up again. At the time, I didn’t really have a problem with this because I didn’t know anyone who had it and played it often. Why bother with it? Plus, there is always Paladins, and that’s free-to-play.

Years went by and I didn’t think about it. I occasionally saw a streamer I follow playing it, but that was about it. That was until I started to make friends with the people who played it. Now it was more than just streamers I followed playing, it was my friends. Of course, I’m going to go into their streams, even if I’m not 100% interested in the game because that is what friends do. We hang out, show love and support and never miss an opportunity to watch them get sniped from across the map.

They looked like they were having SO MUCH FUN. I was even having fun watching them play. They would tell me about what characters they liked and why. I noticed that the outfits are amazing and they’ve added new characters. There is so much to see and many events to be had. I wanted to give it a go, play with friends and see if that makes a difference. Pro Tip: friends typically make any game way better. Big problem: all of my friend’s play PC and I have it on Xbox One. I was going to have to wait.

When I started to talk about it, though, an amazing friend sent me a copy. I call it an early birthday present. I installed it and played with them the very next day. I had so much fun! Much more than I had by myself. I played for nearly 4 hours and then came back later that night and played for another hour or more. Right now I have the itch to play, but I have work and no one is on. That also helps me from getting burned out on a game.

The game is nicknamed Oversalt, so of course there were some salty people. I turned off the general chat. After the match, people were a bit salty but mostly they just said “GG” and moved on. I was more concerned with talking with my friends in group chat and opening my loot boxes.

My take away from this is this: form your own opinion. Don’t avoid a game just because of the community, especially if you can play with friends. I feel the same way about Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th, both are games that I love to play but often have to deal with annoying people, just like Overwatch. I’m glad that I had an opportunity to play a great game with amazing people.

Guest Post: The Number of Female Gamers is Rising, Studies Show, so What’s the Problem?

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Gaming research studies for several years have been dealing major blows to the stereotypical view of the typical gamer as a white guy in his mom’s basement. In 2014, a paper by the Internet Advertising Bureau showed that a shocking 52 percent of the total gaming audience is actually women. It indicated a rise from the 49 percent in 2012. By 2017, the most recent research shows that this number had risen to an incredible 65 percent. The 2017 Google Play and Newzoo study revealed that women are now more than half of the gamer population.

The rising number of female gamers should be a positive sign for women in gaming, who have been long marginalized, discriminated against, and openly harassed by fellow male gamers. The million-dollar question now is, is it really? While women are boosting the multibillion-dollar gaming industry, largely by playing various mobile games, the sector is still struggling to accommodate female gamers. Many women gamers, it turns out, largely feel underrepresented in the gaming sector. Let’s consider some of the contributing reasons:

Persistent Stigma
Female gamers may have the numbers on their side, but the general attitudes in the industry largely stigmatize them. Veteran female gamers complain of bias female gamers still have to face. The stigma can be pervasive enough to drive women to pretend to be men when playing. Researchers have noted that a considerable number of female gamers do not disclose their gender because of fear of being alienated by male players. The “gamergate” scandal brought to light the level of misogyny hardcore female gamers have to face. There are also more subtle hints of misogyny indicated in surveys. Another Google Play survey found that male gamers are more likely to spend time playing with others if they know those other players are also male.

Lack of Female Game Developers
While the female percentage in the player sector is on the rise, the same is not true for women game developers, designers, or creators. Women players may be owning it in mobile games or building their own gaming PCs, but according to the International Game Developers Association, only less than 30 percent of developers in the gaming industry are either female or transgender. This affects how women are depicted in games, obviously. The traditional mold of the female characters in games being over-exaggerated sex symbols is still prominent, which discourages female gamers from trying out some of the top ranking titles. It should be noted though that some activist developers are trying to include more diverse and wholesome female characters in games.

Male Toons are Still Prominent
Women are getting into the gaming scene largely thanks to the rise of gaming apps. Women of all ages and from nearly all walks of life can play games while on the move. Some women, like new mothers, report that mobile gaming is a pleasant distraction. Naturally, these female gamers prefer to adopt female avatars and toons for in-game experiences. However, a majority of games still feature male personas rather than female ones. Google found out that the 44 percent of game app icons on Google
Play feature male faces rather than female ones, despite the majority of women consuming these products. A survey found that over 60 percent of female gamers think no more than one-third of mobile games are made for women.

The fact that the number of female gamers is on the rise should be a pleasant and welcoming development for aspiring female gamers and developers everywhere. But as the points above indicate, gender parity is still far from reality in gaming. Hopefully in the future, with more female gamers and developers, these unequal factors may change for the better.

Written By: Tracy Plunkett, Kiwi writer with a love for gadgets, games, and music. I also have an unhealthy obsession with cats.

Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Jessica Chobot

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Jessica Chobot gained exposure in the gaming world when a picture of her licking a Sony PSP surfaced in 2005. That photo has been parodied heavily since and has been attempted by many as an example of the “fake gamer girl” stereotype. Little did anyone know what Chobot would acomplish. Instead of letting that break her. Chobot used it to fuel her career. Since, she has worked for IGN, become a writer, a voice actress for games, and also works for the Nerdist.

There is always a risk of being mocked when a person is un-apologetically excited and open about loving “geeky” things. For women, it is even more so. That is why it is important to share the stories of people who have taken that passion and turned it into a career.

Chobot was hired by IGN full time in 2006. She quickly won over fans with her fun personality and knowledge of video games. As her popularity grew so did her role in IGN. Chobot was able to foray into The Daily Fix, IGN Strategize and IGN GameBreaks for FOX Television.

nerdist-jessicaChobot has been able to traveled for IGN and represent them in multiple forums. She has also gotten to write for; FHM UK, Mania.com and MAXIM print. She has also appeared on many shows such as but not limited to; Attack of the Show, ABC World News, EXTRA!, FOX News Live and CBS News as an industry expert. Chobot has been a weekly commentator on multiple radio shows and has also had guest star appearances on the Syfy channel’s Sci vs Fi.  The Nerdist also currently benefits from Chobot adding her talents to their roster.

Chobot is a very passionate fan of anime. She has been able to use her fame to appear on commercials for ADV’s Anime Network. Chobot continues to find new forums to live her passions. She has also gotten to show her love of gaming by guest staring on Geek and Sundry, including a one shot D&D game with Vin Diesel.  

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Jessica Chobot has shown how important it is to geek out and follow your passion. If you work hard and let your personality shine you will be able to achieve anything you set your mind to. 

Always keep sparkling!