Nina Freeman is a game developer and designer known for Cibele. She is currently one of the most relevant indie devs and she recently hosted the GDC awards. We asked her some questions about videogames, level design and learning how to code.
The Spanish translation of this interview is available here.
TodasGamers: When did you start making your own videogames?
Nina Freeman: I started making video games shortly after I graduated from college. I was working at a job that wasn’t really what I wanted as a career, so I was looking for something fun to do after work. I met some game developers and they introduced me to indie games and game jams. I started going to game jams with them, had a lot of fun, and started to teach myself how to program so that I could help out more. I’ve been making games ever since!
TG: You have developed a lot of games, what’s your source of inspiration?
NF: I’m inspired the most by ordinary life stories. So, I often draw from my own experiences, or interview other people about their lives and things that they have experienced. I like to tell stories that feel honest and human. I also am always thinking about these stories and how I can help the player embody the character through the game’s mechanics. So, I think my main interests as a game designer are stories about human lives and helping players perform via game mechanics.
TG: We have a lot of readers interested in working on videogames. What would you advise girls who want to start learning how to code?
NF: There’s lots of resources on the internet and free platforms–Unity, Game Maker, Twine, etc. I’d recommend a young woman starting out should download one of these platforms and do some tutorials, maybe even modifying them as they become more familiar with these tools. I think that the biggest challenge can just be getting something on the screen… so if you keep your big ideas written down, be sure to save them when you have a tool you’re comfortable with. Programming, learning tools, making assets etc are all big challenges, but with practice you can definitely overcome these challenges and make the games that you want to make.
TG: You are currently working for Fullbright designing levels for Tacoma. What is the funniest part of your job? And the most challenging?
NF: Working at Fullbright is really amazing! I’m happy to be with a studio that cares so much about telling stories that are full of details and complex characters. It has been really fun to learn more about environmental storytelling in 3D games, since Tacoma is the first 3D game I have ever worked on. My coworkers in level design all have a lot of experience with this kind of design, so I’m learning a ton from them. I suppose the most challenging part has been learning how to make games in 3D, and learning about the technical aspects of designing this kind of first person game. As I mentioned, I haven’t worked in 3D before this, so it’s been super interesting to learn how to make that kind of game well.
TG: How is your workplace like?
NF: It’s great! As I mentioned, we’re all really passionate about making narrative driven games, so it’s a really good environment for me to be working in. I’ve learned more from working on Tacoma in three years than I could have ever learned working by myself. I really enjoy working on teams, so I learn best when I have lots of mentors around… and that’s definitely what it’s like at Fullbright!
TG: Which games are your main influences when it comes to level design?
NF: For 3D level design specifically, I’ve looked very closely at the System Shock and Bioshock games. Many of my coworkers worked on Bioshock 2, so it was helpful to look at that as a reference. I also looked at games like Dishonored, The Last of Us and Half Life 2 when I started working on Tacoma, because those games all have really interesting level layouts and architecture. Nowadays, I try to play most first-person games that come out, just to see what other people in this space are trying out.
TG: Both Cibele and Kimmy, have a (kind of) an autobiographical tone, how do you think these experiences add something to videogames as a medium?
NF: My background is originally in poetry. I was really interested in personal and autobiographical work when I was writing more poetry. I tried to carry that interest and practice over into games. I hope that my personal games can inspire others to draw on their own life experiences, no matter how ordinary or mundane. I think everyday life stories are super interesting, whether they’re my own or someone else’s.
TG: I’ve seen that you really liked the Hakouki series. What is your opinion about dating sims/otome games? Would you like to design one? (besides Bum Rush)
NF: I’m a huge fan of Hakuoki, and of otome games in general. I think that games about dating, whether they’re visual novels or something else, are really important. I find that many games incorporate love and relationships, but usually not in a mechanical way. However, the mechanics of otome games are designed specifically around the players experience of a relationship with a character. I like thinking about designing games that incorporate love and relationships in an active way, so I find otome games really inspiring. I actually released a game called Kimmy recently, which is about a friendship between two young girls in the 60s. It’s not an otome game, but it’s heavily inspired by visual novels.
TG: 2016 has been an awesome year for videogames, which ones were your favorites?
NF: I played a ton of Overwatch over the last year! I adore the characters in that game, and I love seeing Blizzard explore their stories both in the game, and in comics and in other kinds of media. It’s a very interesting approach. I also recently played and enjoyed Horizon: Zero Dawn, which has a super cool lady protagonist and a super fun combat system. I also have been having a lot of fun playing co-op Tales of Berseria with some of my friends. The story is fun and all of the characters are really cool!
TG: Last but not least, we can see from Cibele and your Twitter account that you are a huge anime fan, did you enjoy Yuri on Ice?
NF: I loved Yuri on Ice! It has to be one of the most memorable anime I’ve seen over the last year. I have been really into sports anime… so Yuri on Ice definitely caught my eye because of that, and then all of the characters and their nuanced relationships really captured my heart.