After having a wonderful time, making new friends, and exploring Seattle last October, I decided to once again make the trek back this year for the second Geek Girl Con. I wasn’t the only one returning to GGC, the delightful ladies of Bioware joined me as well. This year there were two panels, the first of which was a presentation on the life cycle of a level. Moderated by Jessica Merizan, panelists included, Mary Kirby (writer), Raylene Deck (level designer), Sarah Hayward (cinematic designer), Karin Weekes (senior editor), and Melanie Fleming (localization producer).
The first annual Geek Girl Con was held on October 8th and 9th in Seattle, WA. This was the first con I’d been to in years and I met some great people (check out these awesome Dragon Age cosplayers) and snagged a couple of autographs. For purposes of this piece I’m focusing on two panels I sat in on: the Designing Women of Bioware and “No, I am not a Booth Babe:” Sexism in the Video Game Industry (Weds!).
Designing Women of Bioware
Like many folks, I’m a Bioware junkie. If they make it, I’ll play it. Our panelists were a mix of game developers and designers from Bioware: Raylene Deck, Melanie Fleming, Cori May, Kris Schoneberg, and Karin Weekes. The moderator, Mark Baxter, started the discussion by inquiring about what goes into making a Bioware game. The writers and level designers collaborate closely when working on a level in terms of hashing out out the design and narrative. For example, in Mass Effect 2 teams were assigned to each squad mate to work on the introduction of the character and the loyalty mission. It was their piece of the game and they had, based on the comments, quite a bit of ownership over it. The reason we see quite a few heavy mechs when Shepard goes recruit Jack on the prison ship? A designer really, really liked them (thanks for that, by the way).
Working For Bioware: When asked what it was like to work at Bioware, the panelists indicated that there is a very strong sense of community at the company. These are people who not only work together, sometimes 60 plus hours during the crunch periods, but also play together attending happy hours and the occasional snowboarding trip. An audience member asked a question about what, if any, sexism the panelists had come across in their time in the video game industry. The collective response seemed to be they hadn’t faced much in their experiences. It was noted that they, as women, are called upon to offer their perspectives on elements of the games being worked on. They’ve been asked to offer opinions on character appearances (Thane apparently was supposed to be white with a red stripe down his face) or apparel choices (in Dragon Age: Origins there were almost diaper styled under garments).
How To Work For Bioware: Of course lots of people wanted to know what Bioware was looking for in potential employees. Passion for one, but there are a few other things to keep in mind. Play the games you aspire to make, but also make sure to expose yourself to other properties and games within the genre as well. And as you’re playing, look at the game critically, what makes it work for the player? Is it the narrative? The combat? Ask yourself what you would do to improve it. Also, learn how the game engines work, take things apart, try and rebuild them. Critical thinking, regardless of whether you want to write or design levels, was emphasized.
Natalie currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where she tries to balance full-time work and various nerdy hobbies. While being a huge Bioware fangirl, she also enjoys other video games (i.e. Arkam City, the Fable series) as well as comic books set in the DC universe