A few weeks ago Matt and I made our way up to PAX:East. It was a great adventure to say the least, and while there we witnessed one of the best panels we’d ever seen, The “Other” Us. The panel focused on gender, community, and the world of gaming in general. “The ‘other’ us” inspired us to write some articles that hopefully you’ve had a chance to read (Ash and Matt) by now. The mastermind behind the panel was one Allison Thresher, former CM turned junior choreographer at Harmonix. I had the pleasure of talking with Allison about the panel, gender in gaming, PAX Pox, and other shenanigans. Enjoy!
For those that are unaware, up until this week Abbie Heppe held the coveted title of Senior Gaming Content Producer at G4TV. Days after we completed this interview Abbie announced that she would be leaving G4 for a job at Respawn Entertainment. Respawn Entertainment has the capacity to become an industry giant, with both the backing of EA and a pedigree like no other. While still in the early stages of their first IP, Respawn is pretty much guaranteed to come out swinging (or shooting).
Abbie was also a regular on one of our favorite podcasts, Feedback. If you haven’t gotten a chance to listen to or watch Feedback, do so immediately! Each week on Feedback, G4’s game gurus get together and discuss the inner workings of the video game industry. Their knowledge and insight is unparalleled. I promise that you won’t be disappointed. With Abbie leaving G4, it will be interesting to see who helps them fulfill their weekly f-bomb quota. Feedback on G4
I ran into Abbie last July at Comic Con 2010 and spilled my guts about my love of Feedback and gaming in general. She was nice enough to chat with me for a few minutes, and her words of wisdom actually played a big part in the creation Nerd Appropriate.com. Abbie was cool enough to keep the lines of communication open and took some time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions.
NA – Ash: So let’s get started, what does your typical work day consist of at G4? (I know dodging Nerf missiles has become a life skill)
Abbie Heppe: We’ve advanced to tiny flying helicopters that shoot tiny plastic missiles over here, so I have become adept at swatting those down. We do have a lot of fun, mostly in the form of intensely nerdy conversations about video game minutia, but really, I spend a lot of time in my cubicle sending emails or in meetings talking about upcoming ideas for the show. I wish I could make that sound more exciting, but even awesome jobs have more mundane responsibilities. Most of the time, when I’m playing a game for work, I do it at home. Best homework ever.
- “Most of the time, when I’m playing a game for work, I do it at home. Best homework ever.”
NA – Ash: I know that you’ve mentioned in other interviews that it was a challenge growing up nerdy; and that you were picked on as a kid for being different. Do you think the rising popularity of video games is making gamers more socially acceptable than they used to be?
Abbie Heppe: I’m not sure. I was never a cool kid but love of video games never seemed to define who was nerdy or not, at least in elementary and middle school. Kids would fight for the PC with the good games like Oregon Trail or Arkanoid on them in typing class and there was no stigma attached to playing video games. They seemed like neutral territory. So, anyway, I attached an old picture for you and I think its self explanatory why I wasn’t cool but on top of that, I just didn’t have the same interests as other little girls and as you progress through school and kids get clique-y, there’s no popularity reward for being weird and tomboyish. I’m not sure that’s changed at all.
- “I was never a cool kid but love of video games never seemed to define who was nerdy or not”
NA – Ash: If we stepped out of a time traveling phone booth into your living room in the year 1996, what would you be wearing, and what games would you be playing? (I sadly would probably have on some flannel. I was also probably plugging away at Resident Evil while eating Pizza Rolls)
Abbie Heppe: Wow. 1996. I was fourteen and starting high school. What I was playing is easy, Quake came out that year. What I was wearing is a better question. At the end of 8th grade I was still wearing leggings and giant awful colorful sweaters my mom bought for me. I took a brief (failed) attempt at looking cooler in high school which really just meant wearing Gap or something normal, but pretty quickly I was back to t-shirts and cargo pants, flannel, hoodies, Vans or Converse. Not too different from what I wear now, really, only I discovered Manic Panic hair dye around the same time and I still haven’t seen my natural hair color since 1996. Seriously. I don’t even know what color it is.
NA – Ash: If video games were banned by the U.S. Government what would be your backup career?
Abbie Heppe: Well, I studied print and photojournalism in college once I gave up on film, so I’d like to think I could transition into writing for a newspaper or covering another area of tech or popular culture. One of the things I really wanted to do from an early age was be an underwater documentary videographer and film sharks. I’m not sure if that fits into the realm of realistic possibilities, though I guess none of my “dream jobs” have been particularly realistic.
NA – Ash: As a high school history teacher I always find it interesting when games have elements of real history built into their narrative. Do you think it’s wise for developers to allow players to control “real life villains?” (IE: Nazis and the Taliban)
Abbie Heppe: I’m not sure if most gamers connect their experience playing those characters with their historical implications. Given the amount of racist user generated content I’ve seen in games over the years though, I’d rather not encourage certain individuals. The CoD controversy is especially interesting because whether one team carries the label of Nazi or Taliban or not, they’re still implicitly Nazis or the Taliban because there has to be good guys and bad guys. I never even think about the side I’m on when I play those games though. It’s not a question I can say “yes” or “no” to because so much of it is dependent on how tasteful and respectful the developer is of the content.
- “Given the amount of racist user generated content I’ve seen in games over the years though, I’d rather not encourage certain individuals”
NA – Ash: : There was a lot of controversy regarding your Metriod: Other M review (Which I though was awesome /high 5 ). Do you ever hold back while writing your reviews in order to contain potential community backlash?
Abbie Heppe: If I did, you wouldn’t have read that Metroid: Other M review. It’s tough. Of course I think about backlash when writing a review, but if you can’t write honestly, it’s not worth writing in the first place. The game got plenty of positive reviews from other critics and if a consumer agrees with them, well, they can go read those critics’ reviews from now on. Having read the reviews by most other outlets, I’d like to ask your question to many of them.
NA – Ash: You win five million dollars from the Publisher’s sweepstakes and the same day as that big Ed guy gives you the check, aliens land on the Earth and say they’re going to blow up the world in two days. What do you do? (okay I stole that question from Heathers)
Abbie Heppe: Well, two days is really going to cut down on my ability to travel. If you’re trying to get at what my fantasy is, I’d like to cage dive with great white sharks more than anything else in the world. The realistic answer to your question is that I’d use the money for bribes (I assume an alien invasion would be worse for airports than a blizzard in the north-east) and travel home to spend that time with my family.
- “…I’d like to cage dive with great white sharks more than anything else in the world.”
NA – Ash: What advice do you have for people looking to break into a career in the video game industry?
Abbie Heppe: I’m sort of wary of schools that offer video game curriculums. Most people I know in the industry have degrees that vary wildly in scope. It also depends what aspect of the industry you want to be a part of. There’s a lot more to this business than just the jobs that catch the public eye. I just stumbled in blindly…I had no idea how to be a part of the video game industry and wasn’t even trying. I was a freelance writer who answered a random ad off Craigslist that listed “video game knowledge” in the info and wound up working at a game magazine. At first, I didn’t even write, I scheduled demos and bugged PR people for screenshots. However, I had experience in applicable fields like writing, video and film. I know people that have translated their careers in animation or marketing or music into a video game career. I would definitely encourage people to learn their strong points and develop those skills first and worry about video games second.
NA – Ash: According to legend you are close to unstoppable when playing first person shooters. Were you as thrown off as we were shifting from mouse and keyboard to a control pad?
Abbie Heppe For one, I am not unstoppable. I will admit to being pretty good, but I’m not a natural; I’ve had years of experience and repetition to develop my skills and if I had an ounce of patience, I’d probably be better than I am now. As far as transitioning from mouse and keyboard to controller, it was awful at first. I remember playing Halo with my little brother and I wouldn’t stop complaining about the size of the controller and superiority of PC gaming. I was such a snob. And I didn’t transition with Halo. I didn’t transition till Gears of War. At the time, my PC had died, I was working in the games industry and needed to play everything and my community of gamer friends had shifted to console. At the very least, I had good reflexes and strategy which helped. Team Fortress 2 definitely made me rethink console gaming because the level of competition was so aggravatingly low, but COD4 kicked my butt into shape. I spent 18 days (game time) playing and never managed to recoup the deaths I accrued learning how to play properly. Now it’s just second nature.
“I remember playing Halo with my little brother and I wouldn’t stop complaining about the size of the controller and superiority of PC gaming. I was such a snob.”
On behalf of myself and the folks here at NerdAppropriate.com we’d like to thank Abbie Heppe for taking the time out of her crazy schedule to answer our random, yet hopefully amusing questions. Also a big shout out to Blain Howard at G4 for setting up this interview. You can catch Feedback each and every week on G4TV.com, and keep your eyes on Respawn Entertainment!
Follow Abbie on Twitter @AbbieHeppe
Follow NerdAppropriate on Twitter @NerdAppropriate
Follow Ash on Twitter @Legsarebroken
Note to Abbie: We’ll see you at PAX East and Comic Con 2011!