INTERVIEW: Adriel Wallick

One of the things I notice as I’ve been getting my feet wet in the indie scene is how open, accepting, and kind developers are. Risking over-sweetening her persona, I have to say that Adriel Wallick seems to be one of the kindest, most genuinely happy people I follow in indie. Adriel started out as a programmer on the next generation of weather satellites, but decided that wasn’t exciting enough and started looking fora job in video games. After working on some AAA stuff, she went indie full-time. When I asked her for a quick bio she said simply, “I travel around, don’t live anywhere, and make games :)” She was kind enough to answer some questions for Jam Herald, giving us some insight into her game jam love and experiences, including (and especially) her successes and lessons from doing Game-A-Week.

 

INTERVIEW WITH ADRIEL WALLICK

Q: You’re a pretty big champion of game jams, did they play a role in your getting into games full-time?:

Actually, not as much as they should have. I was always too scared to go to game jams when starting out – but I did jam a lot on my own to learn all of the various tools. Funny enough though, the very first game that I ever worked on with a team was the result of a game jam (Global Game Jam 2011, I think), but I was brought on after the jam as a programmer to help those on the team who wanted to take the game a bit further.

The jamming that I did on my own (plus the projects I did with friends like the one mentioned above) definitely helped me get into the industry full time. By making little games (no matter how small they were), I started amassing a portfolio to show to potential employers – which was invaluable as a way to show that I was interested in and dedicated to making games.

Q: What have been some of your best experiences?:

In terms of jams, I would say MolyJam 2013 was a wonderful experience for me. It was actually my very first organized jam that I attended and I worked with an amazing team – there was one artist, one musician, and myself. We all worked very well together and the overall environment of the jam was super friendly and inclusive. Our game (http://msminotaur.com/games/sdprison/index.html) ended up being written about on a few sites and I’m super proud of what we were able to accomplish. In addition, it’s the only jam I’ve been a part of where our programmers were made up of 50% females 😀

I was going through a really rough time personally in 2013, and around the time of MolyJam is when things really started to turn around for me. I wouldn’t say it was solely because of MolyJam, but it was definitely the start of a new beginning.

In addition to MolyJam, Train Jam was obviously a very wonderful experience for me. The environment of Train Jam was warm and friendly, people seemed to enjoy themselves, and way more games were made than I predicted. To me, Train Jam encompassed everything that I hold dear about game jams and game development – the feeling of togetherness, collaboration, and creativity.

Also, because Train Jam took place in a completely public place, we were able to inadvertently teach a lot of people about how games are made. Other train passengers (ranging from small children to the elderly) showed an interest and curiosity towards what we were all doing and really engaged with the jam participants – it was wonderful to see.

(Full disclosure, this answer is mostly stolen from an answer I gave on my ask.fm – but I summarized it so well there that I wanted to stick with that wording. http://ask.fm/MsMinotaur/answer/111177674618).

Q: With the whole GAME_JAM junk happening, you’ve been the focus of a lot of people’s attention lately. How have you been handling that?:

It’s been interesting. For example, when I go to tweet something, I now find myself worrying about what 3,000 people will think of it. 

It was also incredibly overwhelming to read the messages of love, support, and thanks from strangers around the world. I had people emailing me to let me know that, because of me, they were able to finally stand up to sexist behavior at their workplace. I had a father send me a message telling me about how their daughter was harassed by her team mates in her FOURTH GRADE robotics competition because she was a girl. I went through a lot of emotional highs and lows the week after GAME_JAM and it was rough. 

I also feel like I now have more of a responsibility to talk about the issues that people have in the industry. When I first started working in games, I told myself that I would *never* get into an argument about sexism on the internet. I just want to make games, and that’s it. I don’t want to have to stand for something, and I don’t want to touch that subject. However, by beginning to stand up for myself when someone is being harassing or creating a toxic environment, I’ve realized that it’s not about me ‘arguing on the internet’, it’s about me standing up (when I can) to help create a more welcoming environment for those who will be entering the industry next and those who are here now and feel they don’t have a voice.

Q: Did going through that experience make you want to do games more or less?:

Definitely more. When the production team tried to turn us against one another for entertainment value, we all banded together to form a stronger force. When I, and the other woman involved, decided to leave the set of GAME_JAM, we received 100% support from the other developers around us. Then, the days following the whole event (especially after we all published our thoughts on the event), was just a complete outpouring of love and support.  Even those who didn’t understand why we were all so upset were able to have reasonable discussions with me via email to better understand the issue. Even though we, as an industry, suffer from a lot of the same issues that a technology industry suffers from, it’s amazing to see that we are an industry that is open to discussion on these topics – and are willing to make changes to be a more welcoming environment.

Q: You’ve had the opportunity to work on some pretty technical programming stuff with Lockheed Martin and projects for NASA and NOAA, how have those experiences influenced you as a programmer and game jammer? Any examples?:

Honestly, not as much as you’d think. Because of working in those environments, I started my games career off with a very deep understanding of code quality and strict processes for development, but other than that, there’s been very little crossover. At this point, it’s more of a cool story about how I have code in space.

Q: On your website, you try to release a game each week. What kinds of lessons/techniques have you gathered from doing that?:

Game a Week was a project that was conceived by Rami Ismail (of Vlambeer) as a way to help me escape what I was calling “Game Developer’s Block”. You can read a lot more about it here (http://msminotaur.com/blog/?p=108) where I talk about a lot of the motivation behind why I started doing this.

I can’t speak enough about how much this project has helped me. Every week I have a goal and every week I can try something new. It keeps me constantly thinking about new ideas and new ways to approach design problems.  It has allowed me to become a very rapid prototyper which is invaluable when it comes to quickly realizing whether or not an idea or a mechanic works.

On the emotional side, it also has given me a lot of experience with going through the emotional states of ‘releasing’ a game. Sure, I’m only putting them on my website and tweeting about them, but there’s always a very strange mental state that you go through when you put something out there that you’ve worked on for the world to see. Every single week I’m making myself vulnerable and allowing people to see something that isn’t as good as I’d want it to be. It’s been a very educational experience on how to deal with that.

Q: I think you’re up to #18 or something like that, how do you keep generating cool ideas each week?(!):

Since it took me so long to respond to this email, I’m actually on week 24 now (just completed week 23). I’m not going to lie, some weeks it’s HARD to come up with a new idea. There have been weeks where I get to Sunday afternoon and not only have I not started a game – I’m just completely out of ideas. For the most part if I do something NOT related to games (e.g. running or showering) I get a spark of an idea, but if that fails, what I like to do is just talk to other developers. A lot of times when you get into a discussion with another developer, that other person will say something, which will spark something in your mind, which will spark something in their mind – and this goes back and forth until you’ve come up with an idea. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why working towards having a diverse environment is so important. By having more and more differing perspectives surrounding you, you expose yourself to so many new ideas that you never would have thought of before.

Q: Some people make music and audio a very late after-thought in game-making, but each of your Game-a-Week’s has really awesome audio. WHAT’S YOUR SECRET?!

Teehee – honestly, music is almost always an afterthought for me too. I grew up as a very musical person, but I have a very hard time actually composing music. I can hear what I want in my head, but transposing that to an actual musical score is impossible for me. Most weeks I just browse freesound.org until I find the music that fits the feel of my game. I also use Bfxr for a lot of my sound effects. This past week (week 23), a friend of mine, Martijn Frazer, actually reached out and said that he’d love to make music for one of my games – so we worked together to create the music and the feel for that game.

Q: ADVICE FOR FIRST-TIME GAME JAMMERS:

Don’t be scared. Even if you’ve never done a jam before or think that you’re not skilled enough to participate in a jam, YOU WILL BE FINE. Like I’ve said before – this is an amazingly inclusive and supporting industry, and we ALL started from somewhere. Everyone knows what it’s like to show up to your first jam and not know how to do anything. The most important part here is attitude. If you come into the jam wanting to help and contribute, you will be able to help and contribute – no matter what skills you have (or lack). A lot of people look at jams and say “Well, I can’t program or do art – I’ll be useless” – which simply isn’t true. There’s so much more that goes into a game than code, art, and music. I reiterate – if you want to contribute, there will always be something for you to do.

Favorite restaurant: When you’re hungry and want something cheap, nothing beats a good double-double with grilled onions from In-N-Out.

Favorite novel/book: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

You’re banished to a deserted island, what video game do you bring with you?: Oh gosh – I somehow smuggle Chrono Cross, Castlevania: SOTN, FF9, and Spelunky all with me.

Play Adriel’s Games: here

Follow her on twitter: @msminotaur

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