Just booked my train tickets to Stockholm. I’ll be going to the capital of Sweden in a few weeks, during the 13th-17th of September. I would be very happy if someone wants to share a lunch on the 13th, 14th or 17th with me? Drop me an e-mail to sara.casen(at)gmail(dot)com if you feel like meeting up. Other than that I’ll attend the Rovio-party and hopefully have a beer or two with some friends.
This weekend was spent near Göteborg, Sweden’s 2nd biggest city. Learned a bit about how to change the mother board on a stationary computer and attended a meet-up with creative people. It was great fun to get to know some new folks, mostly programmers, and to see some familiar faces again! Think I got enough energy now for a new week full of challenges. Need to set up my new stationary tomorrow and install all needed programs. For the first time in 5 years I will have my own fully functional computer (I hope). My current one can’t even get Photoshop to work, show movies or Youtube any more, without lag. And it’s only 20 minutes left of the original 2 hour battery time…And the other laptop I had…don’t even get me started about that pile of failure…
Oh my god! I almost died of laughter today when I re-discovered my programmer friend Simon’s home page (don’t worry Simon, I wasn’t laughing at the page in itself!)! Simon’s page featured the very first video game I was part of making; Pick a Pig! It’s a simple 2D game; you catch falling pigs on a plate and bring them to a “converter”, that turns them into sausages. Yes. Totally normal. (I apologize now already if anyone feel offended by this game. We were young and just wanted to make a fun game. Sorry.).
And there’s more. You can catch zombie pigs, or demon pigs, and rats give you extra lives. If you want to, you can play as a pimp, a zombie or a butcher. The concept was mine, the result of an assignment we had at University, to write a design document. Gosh, I have no idea why I made it about screaming pigs, zombies and sausages…So many people asked me “but where did you get the idea?”. The truth is I don’t remember anymore. I just tried to write a concept that could be translated into a game in 10 weeks. There was no time to make an epic post-apocalyptic steam punk mmo saga about space marines and ninjas. So let’s take a walk down the memory lane and I’ll explain to you how this silly game from the past came to shape my future.
I was the manager for the team, and I still stay in touch with some of the team members. Pick A Pig ended up on the arcade system board at the University of Skövde the same year. People laughed so hard they cried during the presentation of the game in 2008. Most of those who played it still remember it! Hey, I’m sure it would be a hit if we converted it for iphone/ipad! But be warned if you try it, it’s not balanced and the game gets impossible to beat after a few levels. The purpose behind this game making course was to learn about everything that can and will go wrong when you make a game and have small or no experience. It provided a great learning experience!
During this game project at University, when I was studying my first year as game developer, I had Ola Holmdahl as a teacher. He went on to hire me as a community manager for his company later on in 2010. And this year when Junebud sadly closed it’s doors, I was the associate producer. I think that Pick a Pig, even if it’s a ridiculous game made a long time ago, has played an important part in shaping my future. I held an improvised presentation about the game for the guest teacher Ernest W Adams. He visited the school and held a couple of lectures when we were making PaP. I’m sure that if I could go back in time and hear my presentation today I would be embarrassed about how weak my English must have been back then, but I really did my best. And Mr Adams even came to talk with me after the lecture, wishing me good luck in the future, saying some nice and intelligent things. It made me very happy, and he made me believe in myself as a game maker.
It’s all a long time ago, but I still remember it. And as I said before I eventually god hired by Ola, even before I was done with school. He was also very encouraging and supportive. Ola is one of those leaders who challenge people and make them grow in a good way. Sometimes it hurts to grow, or it’s scary. But that’s because you are out of your comfort zone, and you need to be out of your comfort zone to learn new things & evolve. (I’m not even gonna mention that the Chinese sign for crisis is the same as the one for opportunity, because that’s such a predictable cliche, so let’s not).
Sadly Junebud don’t exist any more (or legally it actually does a few more weeks or so). It’s a new chance for me to push myself out of my comfort zone and learn new things. Just like that time at University when I stepped up and held the PaP presentation when no one else wanted/dare to. I put myself out of my comfort zone. The thing is, it’s time for new adventures. The last couple of weeks have been so exciting. I can’t go into details, but I’ve talked to some very interesting companies about the future. Nothing is decided yet, and I’m still trying to decide what I want my future to look like. It’s my chance to shape it. I want to put all the XP I gained at Junebud to a good use!
Yesterday I collected my last stuff from the Junebud office and headed for a beer with some of the old crew members. I don’t know when I’ll see them again, so it was nice to sit down at the local pub and talk war stories and the future. Some will move away from Malmö, while others already have a new job. It was nice to see them one last time. I’m pretty sure no one from the crew will stay without a job too long.
- To download the game Pick a Pig for free, click here (PC). You unpack the game using 7zip for example (get it here), then click the file named “Pick a Pig”. Use space bar as your “enter” and to make the converter accept the pigs, click Ctrl. I’m sure you’ll figure it out!
- Ola’s blog can be found here.
- Ernest W Adams web page is here.
- Simon’s page is over here.
P.S I hope you like the Pick a Pig game over screen!
Right now I’m working on a piece about the different kinds of video games educations you can attend in Sweden. There are several schools across Sweden offering courses and programs in how to make video games. Since this will be a big post, it’s going to take a while before I can put it out there. In the meanwhile, feel free to read this post here I wrote for Junebud on studying video games.
I’ve came to realize, the hardest thing about working with games is not to find a job, it’s not to make a really cool game, to get along with your colleagues or to keep a deadline. The hardest thing for me is to find a work/free time balance. It’s very easy to work too much when you really like what you are doing. You might not feel you need to take a break, and end up sitting hours in front of the computer without a break. You neglect sleep, friends or lovers. In the games industry there’s a word for working overtime in order to deliver a milestone/deadline. It’s called “to crunch”. Now luckily I haven’t had any monster crunches, but I know it’s way more common at some studios.
In Sweden (and the other Nordic countries), employees are protected by many laws, or at least if you compare them to some of the laws about employment in England or the US. A normal work week is around 40 hours, and people usually work from 8-17 or 9-18. If you get sick and can’t work you get money from the state, and the health care is almost free in the Nordics. You can’t be fired over nothing (like showing up late one single day or if your manager decides he just don’t want you anymore). If you get a full time contract, you are quite safe. You can’t get fired for becoming pregnant, and if you get laid off, usually you have between 1-3 months of time before you need to find a new job. All in all, many people are part of the Union (but not in the games industry), and once you got yourself a job it’s hard to just loose it, compared to standards in many other countries. However this also makes it hard to get hired in the first place, or to land your first job.
OK, let’s say you landed your first job in the games industry, you work really hard and want to see this awesome new game getting made. How do you relax when you are not at work? Scientist have found out it’s as dangerous for your health to smoke, as it is for you to just sit still all day long, so I try to so something physical in my spare time. Some of my best ideas ever came to me at the gym! Now, when it’s summer in Sweden, I try to be outside as much as possible before the waters freeze and the snow starts to fall. I try to spend my spare time by the Ocean in some way. It’s my way of trying to sustain a balance between work and free time. What’s yours?
Feel free to let me know if you have any idea from what anime/manga this picture is. I just love it! It reminds me of my childhood, of the long and hot summer vacations, when we visited my relatives in Norway or Finland. Lazy days at the beach, hunting crab fish with net and a bucket. White sand and clear, deep fjords. The clouds almost like mountains of ice.
Today I really missed my friends from the Junebud Crew. I have never worked on a place with the same family spirit! People really cared about each other. I remember when the lead animator Karrey bought me a liquorice cupcake as a surprise, “just because she wanted to” <3 Anyway, I’m sure there are many awesome adventures out there. There’s nothing bad that wont bring anything good with it, so I’m trying to relax and catch the last days of summer before I go back to sitting in front of a computer screen.
Yesterday I left my phone at home, took a long walk on the beach in central Malmö, watched the sun set over Denmark (you can almost see Copenhagen from the tip of Malmö). Took a swim in the crystal clear water, read a book and felt pure happiness.
Before I say anything att all I would like to tell you I know many talented artists that draw awesome video game art, and might be featured in magazines like this, without supporting the fact that many female characters are depicted as flat sex dolls. I usually don’t write about stuff like this, but lately I just feel I need to get it off my chest.
My mum is a very talented irl artist. I have been trying my best to explain to her what I’m doing for a living (video games). I have tried to prove her wrong, that video games does not need to create violent kids, that it’s not a “boys only club”, that things are changing. I even got her interested when I told her there are plenty of super talented artist working in the industry, drawing stuff on computers (my mum likes to do oil paintings).
And then, when we are visiting a book store and I want to show her all the amazing stuff digital artist are producing, I pick one of the magazines specialized on showing off digital artist. She gets a bit suspicious when she sees the cover (similar to the photo at the top of this post). Its mostly naked girls in weird poses. I try to find an example of a painting of an animal (without boobs), or a landscape (without half naked ferries in it), or a space warrior (without a huge ass cleavage). It’s hard. And my mum gets more and more suspicious. She asks me if there are any women at all working in this industry, or why are all the females so super sexualized?
By now I’m a bit embarrassed after showing tons of pages of half naked girls to my mum, trying to convince her there are serious artist just like her in the video games industry. I just wish it wasn’t always about the boobs, the ass and the S/M clothes. It’s cheap, it’s boring, and it makes me feel like video game art is mostly for heterosexual males. Sight.
As I said in my previous post it’s important to have role models to look up to, and since there haven’t been all to many brave, smart women to look up to in visual media for me, I have often turned to books. I won’t give you a name, but when I was around 15 I read about the main character in a book about animals and aliens. This girl was brave, humorous, never gave up, cared about her looks without focusing on them to much, and dared to be a leader. She really inspired me, and now 10 years later I feel have inherited many of her good traits. She inspired me to believe in myself, but to be humble at the same time.
When I look at digital media it’s hard to find good role models. Even the girls that kick ass are usually wearing clothes that are focusing on their bews and ass, making her a sex symbol. In the end they usually need to be saved by a hero, or never get to play the main character.
The Booth Babes
I could write a whole essay about booth babes, but I won’t do that. I have seen plenty of them when visiting all those game developer conferences. I know they need to make a living like you and me. But here’s one particular memory I would like to share with you. I was visiting Casual Connect 2012 in Germany. Casual Connect is a “developer only” conference. This means it’s only for the devs, not the gamers. Anywho, when I was standing in line to enter the web lecture held by Google, there was a half naked booth babe dressed in a leather skirt, standing next to the entrance, handing out free cookies. When it was my time to get a cookie things got really awkward. We were both smiling politely towards each other, while she gave me my cookie. I was sort of a mutual agreement between us.
Her smile was saying: Look, I know I’m almost naked, but since we both are women you surely know it’s not you that I’m trying to attract with my body, I’m not lesbian. And we both know women are rare in this video games industry, so you are the exception at this conference. If there were more women around here I could not be dressed like this, it would be to awkward, but now you are in a minority. So let’s be grown ups and not make a big deal out of this.
My smile was saying: Hey, I don’t look down on you just because you are almost naked and this room is filled with men wearing suits. And I know you are here to attract men with your body, since the company that hired you assume that those with power and money will be men at this conference. If there’s any female bosses with money or power it’s OK to scare them away, cuz they are so few. Thanks for the cookie!
Last year me and my boss were standing next to a company that had a naked girl getting a body paint, in the booth. And it was still a “developers only” conference. At Gamescom you can see women hired to walk around in a string bikini with a Storm Trouper helmet. That is to attract young males to the booth. That’s one thing. To use half naked women to attract CEOs and other powerful individuals to your booth on a “devs only” event is not OK. It says: we only care about your money and game if you are a male.
Once, at Gamescom a business man from Thailand approached me and asked if he could talk with someone about MilMo (the game I was then working on). I presented him to our (back then) producer Irene. Irene smiled and reached out her hand to shake hands. “I’m the producer of MilMo, nice to meet you!” The Thai business man just stared at her and said loudly: “But, you?! You are a…a woman?!” Irene laughed and nodded. “Yes, I am. It must be something in our genes, we women are good at managing and taking care of small children, and game developers”.
Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of friends that are male (I often feel I can act more myself in a group of mostly males or girls that don’t go all “tihi tihi I love makeup”), and my experience tells me a team will often perform better if it consists of a mix between women and men. I don’t hate men (like some trolls seems to suggest as soon as you talk about stuff like this). I don’t think all men are bastards. I don’t hate everything that has to do with sex. I’m just tired of the feeling that when I visit a game event male visitors come in one version: professionals there to make business, and women come in two versions: the female version that is there to make business, or the naked version that is there to sell something with her body.
This week I flew to Stockholm, staying just for a day, meeting up with some old palls and new contacts. I must say I was very excited when Mojang’s community manager Lydia Winters invited me on Twitter, to the office for a cup of coffee. Meeting with her was such a nice experience! She really is the same lovely, smart and talented Lydia as on Twitter. It’s not often people turn out to be the same IRL. Many ppl create an alter ego online that possesses all those characteristics they wished they had in real life, but not Lydia.
So I had a quick cup of coffee (or glass of juice for me since my stomach was still rioting after the flight), and I must say it was so sweet to meet old friends such as Tobias and Johan (also hired by Mojang now)! We went to school together, and they are both very bright and fascinating gentlemen.
But the coolest moment was when I opened the door to the office and an unknown family behind me tried to look over my shoulder to get a sneak peek of the Mojang office. It turned out they had traveled all the way from Israel, to see the place where Minecraft was made! The young gentleman in the Israeli family got to take a photo with one of the Minecraft devs “Jeb”. I have never ever seen anyone that starstruck, he almost fainted! His mouth was moving, but he could not make a sound, and his eyes were almost popping out of the sockets. It’s amazing he got to meet his big idol, and I’m sure he will remember that moment for the rest of his life. My previous boss at Junebud, Ola Holmdahl, was the lead designer for Battlefield 1942, and sometimes when he mentions this fact to developers at game conferences, they react a bit like this young Israeli kid. But they usually like to shake his hand and thank him for making such a great game (then they want to talk war stories from inside the game). All in all, it’s amazing to be part of something that actually means something to people, that changes them, that makes them have fun and connects with other humans.
It’s important to have someone to look up to, when you are young. To have some sort of role model, someone who inspires you and brings out the best in you. It can be your mum, your cousin, a teacher, a singer or a game developer. I admired Bono from U2 when I was a teen. And if I got to choose, I think he is still one of the most inspirational people I know. One day I would love to sit down with him and have a beer, talk about the world, and how strange place it really is.
This photo is taken by a photographer that stayed on an airport during one day, shooting all air crafts that took off that day. Or so I’we heard. My life feels kinda like this photo right now. There’s so much going on at the moment. So many different paths I could choose to walk down. And for every path I ignore, there’s one adventure I will not experience.
All in all it’s a great feeling. To be able to push your destiny in any direction you wish. To have the privilege to shape your own future. There’s no guaranties anything will work out the way I would prefer it to do, but isn’t that even more exiting?
This week has been quite the rollercoaster. On the 1st of August Junebud, the company I have worked for the past years, filed for bankruptcy. The news even made it to Develop Online, Games Industry International and some Swedish newspapers.
I’m still very, very sad about this. No one wanted it to end like this, and whatever happens from now on I want to thank all the brave MilMonauts. Thank you for investing so much in MilMo, for supporting the The Junebud Crew and for always believing in us. I will never look at MilMo as a failure. A game that rich, beautiful, fun and adventurous is as far away from a failure you can possibly come. I will always be happy and thankful I had the chance to work with the talented crew, and to be part of something bigger than I could ever achieve by myself. This post servers as recap of my time at Junebud and a big “thank you” to the whole Junebud Crew, as well as to the lovely MilMo community! Since there is no way I can organize this post in a better way, I’m just throwing myself down the memory lane and sharing photos I really like. Enjoy!
Most photos are available at Junebud’s developer blog: http://milmogame.blogspot.se/
It’s still not yet decided what will happen to MilMo in the future. Hopefully Junebud will find a way to keep the game online. For me it’s now time to look for new adventures.