Renee Gittins is more than just an engineer, programmer and game developer, she also sits as a board member of IGDA Seattle (coordinating local meetups, speakers, panels and networking events) advocating for and connecting other developers and fighting for fair representation in video games. A young gamer turned developer and self-taught programmer, her life hasn’t always been easy. Against the challenges and struggles of forming her own studio and developing, she is continuing to prove that she can hold her own.
GP- Developing games in this industry has always seemed rather like a dog eat dog world, what has your experience been developing games?
Renee- Certainly, it’s really hard to be successful in the game industry. Many companies who have had previous smash-hits still end up bankrupt after productions troubles or an underperforming title. That can be intimidating, knowing the failure is so common and that even a momentary success doesn’t secure your future.
Luckily, the people within the industry are extremely supportive and there is very little direct competition between companies. After all, games aren’t like cars, you can own more than one!
I have made some of my best friends within the game industry and being located within Seattle, where there is a large tech and game development scene has been very beneficial to my development. It really helps to be surrounded by intelligent, passionate people who are willing to lend a hand. With the mentorship of those with more significant industry experience, I feel like I have avoided many pitfalls that I would have stumbled into otherwise.
Game development itself is also so fun hand challenging. It’s really wonderful to be able to combine my love for art, design, story, technology and logic all into one product that I can share with others. I feel very lucky to be working in such a versatile and popular medium.
I definitely have my ups and downs. It’s easy to be discouraged when you know the chance of failure is so high, but there is nothing else I’d rather be doing and I have never felt so passionate towards my work as I do now.
GP- What was your big break into the gaming industry? How has that experience been when you began to suffer from Imposter Syndrome. In your own words how would you describe what Imposter Syndrome is?
Renee- I’ve had many events that I would consider significant steps on my way into the gaming industry: Networking at my first developer-focused convention, Steam Dev Days; The moment I decided that the prototype for Potions: A Curious Tale proved that it could be a fun game and I began to build my team around me; My team winning first place in my first game jam, which gave me faith in my ability as a designer; Receiving a scholarship to attend D.I.C.E. from Intel and AIAS; and simply having the people who I look up to in the industry acknowledge me and my accomplishments.
Each of these achievements both combat Impostor Syndrome and are events which my Impostor Syndrome rises to the surface about.
Impostor Syndrome is when you face doubt that you are deserving of your achievements, where you feel you have somehow gotten lucky or accidentally tricked people into thinking that you are better than you really are.
While I am proud of my achievements, it is also easy for me to dismiss them. My mind has all kinds of excuses and reasons as to why my achievements are unwarranted or simply based on luck or pity. In general, I can realize that isn’t the case, because I have worked hard and accomplished a lot to be where I am now, but, sometimes it creeps up on me and holds me down.
GP- How did Stumbling Cat come about? What drew the inspiration and how did you end up forming your team?
Renee- I first formed Stumbling Cat so that I could work on games under my own company while still working in biotech. When I formed the company, I had no idea the half a year later, I would decide to set out as a full-time developer for the studio.
When I did leave biotech, I couldn’t find a position for myself in the game industry that seemed to fit my range of skills. I thought that working on my own game would not only help hone my abilities, but would also help me prove to others that I could be a successful game developer.
Potions: A Curious Tale had first been designed over a year before I began work on it. It was a game idea that kept coming back to my mind and it got more and more refined each time I thought about it, while my passion for it grew.
I told myself that I would try to flesh out Potions and see where that led me, not expecting anything. Three months into the development, I knew I had found a diamond in the rough and it was up to me to figure out how to polish it. Half a year into development, I finally had a game that needed the work and efforts of experts in fields where I am less adept, such as art and music.
I found my teammates everywhere, from old friends to job advertisements online, but all of them have come together to create a wonderful team and an enchanting game.
GP- What is the communication process like serving as the CEO and Creative Director of a team of six at your studio, Stumbling Cat? How do you express your vision and idea of the game to the different developers?
Renee- I try to make sure that we have a really open communication set-up. All of us use Slack, a communication platform, to talk constantly and keep everyone up to date with what the various teams and members are currently working on.
We also have a weekly team meeting in which we go over details of what’s coming up for the next week and any design ideas that need to be addressed. While I am responsible for most of the game’s design, I greatly appreciate and respect the input of my team.
Luckily, we all tend to operate on similar wavelengths and it has been a breeze to communicate even very complex ideas between each other.
GP- Speaking of your vision, let’s talk about Potions: A Curious Tale. How did this Adventure-Crafting game come about and what inspired the different stories and characters found within it?
Renee- While I’ve been playing games my whole life, I found myself frustrated that almost every one rewards you for killing every fluffy bunny or goblin that you run across. I was inspired to make a game where combat wasn’t always the answer and you had to think about whether it would be more advantageous to fight or if you should run away, even if killing the critter would be easy. I designed Potions: A Curious Tale’s resourced limited combat as an answer to that, where every spell you cast is from a potion that you’ve had to gather ingredients for and craft yourself.
That system further developed into having non-combat solutions as well, such as tricking, scaring and charming creatures into parting with the items you need to progress on in the game.
As for the stories and characters, they are drawn from fairytales and folklore from around the world. We’ve done a lot of research into myths and legends from dozens of cultures and we’re working on bringing them together and to life within Potions. Two of my favorite characters that we currently have are Baba Yaga, an old witch from Slavic legend that lives in a hut on chicken legs, and Sun Wukong, the monkey king from Journey to the West.
GP- In a world of RPG’s, FPS and other different combinations of genres, what separates Potions: A Curious Tale from the rest? With combat not always being the answer it sparks a sense of ingenuity not met in many games, what was your inspiration behind that idea?
Renee- The resource limited combat and alternative creature interactions gives Potions: A
Curious Tale very unique gameplay. Most resource limited combat games have ammo for guns or other weapons, where you find more of them as you progress. In Potions, since you have the craft your spells from specific ingredients, you have to approach your combat decisions in a completely different way, because you need specific ingredients to replace the potions you use or you will have to change your play style to match the ingredients you find.
Not knowing whether you should fight, trick or charm a monster when you approach it makes each creature its own puzzle, only the puzzle may grant you a rare ingredient or simply try to eat you!
For more about Renee’s upcoming game be sure to visit http://www.potionsacurioustale.com/