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1/25/2002 -- The Making of Candy Cruncher

This week we're going to hand the mike to Rosie Cosgrove, Brian's business partner and the lead (and only) artist over at Pyrogon. Desperate to avoid letting Pyrogon become "Hook's company" in the public perception, she's taken some time to talk about the game industry from a chick's perspective and to make her claim on the Pyrogon Dev Diary.

Thoughts from a Girl Making Boys Games in a Man’s World: Relationships
This half of my life seems to be payback time for growing up with all sisters and going to Catholic girl’s school. These nine years in the games industry I made my way from naive, unpaid intern to naive Art Director at a major corporation. Working with men has been pretty enjoyable, even though I still don't get a few things, like why men refer to each other by their last names, consider a sneeze and a belch socially equivalent, and like to see things explode. And it is nice to make my first game that has female appeal. Now my mom and sisters can relate to what I am doing. They actually played Candy Cruncher before Christmas dinner! Then they had a bunch of suggestions for improving it. That’s a far cry from when I showed them EverQuest and they sort of looked blank and asked, “What’s the point?”

I think that being a lone woman has helped the work relationship process in many ways. I’m not forced to act manly in work relationships, yet I can also “be one of the guys” and it’s still ok. Trust is a crucial element in a functional relationship and, as a female, I think I was more likely to come into work relationships with trust and then either get it confirmed or torn down. Most men enter a relationship at a neutral level of trust and see how it plays out. And the occasional pessimist comes along and expects you to constantly “earn” their trust -- very annoying. Earning trust is something like a bank account, you have to make your deposits and withdrawals. Understanding these deposits and withdrawals is pretty straight forward for the average honest person. It’s the dishonest types that get into trouble, whether they are dishonest to themselves or others- (damn it, this schedule IS realistic!)

The relationship between the leads ( Programmer, Artist and Designer) is critical. Their respective relationships are frequently more important than their relationships with the producer. In fact, a mutual distrust of the producer can be a bonding agent in their relationship- something to talk about at lunch, since they obviously have no other life to discuss. However, if these relationships are bad, the product will at best fall short of its potential, and at worst fail entirely. This is why I quivered in dread when a few years ago I found out that I would be working with newly hired programmer, Brian Hook (who was said to be quite the hot head). To my further dismay the producer pulled me aside to “warn” me about Brian, since we were extremely different. However, just the opposite happened. Well, I mean we didn't fall in love and get married, but we did something pretty similar, start a company together.

During research, the programmer-artist relationship can be pretty interesting. Ideally, the artist supplies the programmer with ideas and the programmer, in turn, directs the flow of ideas into something possible. At the same time, the programmer will hopefully add his or her own ideas, soliciting feedback from the artist. More than once I've heard a programmer say to an artist “When I was driving home I thought of a different way to do what you were asking about yesterday.” Unfortunately, not all programmer-artist relationships are good. In bad ones, the programmer or artist shuts down any dialogue, thinking that they have all the answers by themselves.

Something else I've discovered is that programmers really hate it when artists do ugly stuff with what they consider to be beautiful code, which you can't blame them for. A one way ticket to a good relationship with a lead programmer is to do good art. It goes both ways though, a crappy programmer makes it really hard for an artist to look good. Sometimes management can't understand this at all and starts thinking that you suck because your stuff looks too old school. (Management tends to think the artists suck before the programmers, undoubtedly because they are paying the programmers more and think it’s harder to replace them.) This attitude can cause artists to defend themselves by driving up polygon counts and texture sizes. When an artist makes something horribly off budget but the immediate response from everyone is “Wow! That looks so cool!!” (except from the programmer, who sighs), then of course the artist feels rewarded and doesn't want to revert to the practical (but uglier) way of doing things. I've seen entire projects go this way until nothing runs and you have no game. Instead you just have a bunch of cool looking stuff in a 3D program and a producer who repeats the mantra “we'll optimize it…really”. Until one day the project is canceled.

Speaking of which, an important relationship in game development is between the leads and the producer. Ideally the producer knows enough code, art and game design to help the leads do their jobs, while still trusting the leads to be the experts and to do their jobs (and replacing them if they don't). The problem is that most producers are former testers ­ game fans that couldn't do art, write code or get a job as a designer, but still wanted to “be in the industry”. Sad fact, but true (and any producers reading this ­ you know it’s true, so shut up). So whatever strengths the producer has need to be utilized and the weaknesses should be filled by someone else.

The reason I left to start a company was so I could take responsibility for all the things I felt I could handle better, rather than sitting around bitching about it and eating Tums for the rest of my career. Even though it plunged me and family into financial uncertainty, I think it’s more important for my children to know that I have a good life, and for them to see me happy rather than supplying them with cars and trust funds while I toil away unhappily. Heck that’s what college loans are for. Also now that Brian and I are partners I am free to do all the annoying things I tried not to do before, like burst into tears during an argument, blatantly be in a bad mood from dieting, or adjust my bra straps while discussing game play. Hah, it really is like being married.

Next Installment: Being an Indie Developer Doesn't Always Suck


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