We interviewed our Sales Operations Manager, Maureen!
Her Interactive: How long have you worked at Her Interactive?
Maureen: I've been with the company since Sept. 2002
Her Interactive: What do you do as Sales Operations Manager?
The short answer is - I work with our distribution center, as well as other companies like Amazon and Interact!, to make sure the consumers who order our games receive their orders in the best manner possible. This year we also took a more active role in manufacturing and managing all the games you see in your local stores so I manage a lot of inventory. I also spend a lot of time gathering information and putting reports together.
Her Interactive: What do you like about working at Her Interactive?
My favorite part is the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing over the last nine years, which includes the incredibly smart and creative people I’ve gotten to work beside and the Nancy Drew fans.
Her Interactive: What is your favorite Nancy Drew game?
Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake, even though I got lost in the forest before the graveyard about a dozen times. = ^ )
Her Interactive: Could you describe one fun or interesting experience you have had since you’ve been here?
Our office is situated in a park-like setting surrounded by nature so we get to see a lot of animals. Several years ago, some of us were outside and we heard something coming through the vegetation near the slough, next thing we know… here comes an otter dashing across the grass. He crossed over the parking lot and headed for the water on the other side of the park… That was pretty interesting!
Her Interactive: What is your favorite movie?
At this time of year that's easy, It's a Wonderful Life.
Her Interactive: If you could travel anywhere and do anything, where would you go and what would you do?
There is no one place I would like to visit. If I could do anything, it would be to travel around the world and learn about other cultures and try to capture them with my camera.
Her Interactive: If confronted with one of the following options, which we you choose?
A) Expose and catch a criminal
B) Sleep in a haunted place
C) Hunt for treasure in a dangerous location
A. I like to figure out the what and the why…
Thank you Mo for taking the time to share with us a little about yourself, and thank you for all of your years of hard work at Her Interactive!
We interviewed our Character Designer, Van!
Her Interactive: How long have you worked at Her Interactive?
Van: "I have been here about a year now and am coming close to finishing my second Nancy Drew title."
Her Interactive: What do you like about working at Her Interactive?
I get to make video games along with many other talented and passionate people. How cool is that? I’ll just leave it with a short answer. Otherwise the list is long and could take a while.
Oh yeah, hacky breaks are great, too.
Her Interactive: Do you get to design all of the characters in the games?
Yes. I design all the characters you see in the games.
Her Interactive: Have you designed some non-animated characters that went into a game?
I designed the phone friend images for ASH which included Ned who is non-animated. I’m also designing a few non-animated characters in the next game but I’ll keep my lips sealed about that for now.
Her Interactive: What is your design process like?
I first read over the detailed description from the game designer and put together the pieces I’m given. Once I have a rough idea of what direction I’m going, I’ll go online to gather reference material and do a little research. Then I start drawing.
At this early stage of design, I think about it like I’m casting actors and actresses for a movie. My advantage is the entire population is at my disposal and I’m able to takes parts of one person and mix them with parts from another like Dr. Frankenstein except my creations look less scary.
I think a lot about what it is that makes actors and actresses playing similar roles so believable. Not only the physical traits but also unique characteristic traits considered. I try not to throw things in “just because”. I also make an effort to not have the characters look too much like any specific celebrity but familiar enough to relate to. It’s a bit of a balancing act.
My concepts are mainly drawn digitally because I can make changes very quickly. Now and then, I’ll scrap something and start over because no matter what I do, it’s just not working. A number of people in the office also see my progress at certain points and give great feedback. I spend a good amount of time on concept work so I have a real clear direction to go when it’s time for me to create the 3D model.
Her Interactive: What is your favorite step in the creation of a character?
I definitely love concept work. It feels like play time. I also really enjoy the final tweaks and finishing touches to 3D models. The last 2% really makes them shine.
Her Interactive: Were any of the characters in ASH hard to design? Any tough parts?
The toughest characters in any game for me are the ones who have a long history in the Nancy Drew world such as George and Bess. Characters like these have expectations and not everyone envisions them the same. I really have to be careful and respect the source material for these characters. Ned was also redrawn quite a few times.
Her Interactive: What was your favorite character in ASH that you enjoyed designing?
I would have to say Alexei Markovic. He’s such a kooky old guy. I was able to really let loose and go a bit crazy.
Her Interactive: Is there a character (genre/style, or specific person) that you would like to design in the future?
I have my fingers crossed for a monster like we saw in CAP.
Her Interactive: What happens to your character when you are finished with him or her?
They are handed over to the animators to be brought to life.
Her Interactive: Do you have any fun extra bits of info or fun facts about what you do? Any secrets or stories you’d like to share?
I know more about women’s clothing than I thought I ever would. Terms like “a-Line“ and “scoop neck” come to mind.
Sometimes, reference images of clothing I find online aren’t enough for me to accurately create a 3D model. I often can’t tell what the texture or pattern is like, how the material hangs or reflects light and other issues like that. I admittedly have been in the women’s clothing department more than once since working here, and no I have not tried anything on.
We interviewed our game designer Cathy, and writer Nik!
Her Interactive: How do you come up with the game ideas?
"We look at the recent games for the types of mysteries, characters and locations used in them and then start to brainstorm ideas that would be a nice contrast or haven’t been done before. We also try to alternate spooky/adventure/mystery among titles, so if the last one was spooky, we don’t tend to pick a spooky one again. Then we’ll pick our crime and start building from there."
"We have a lot of material to draw from, and so many great ideas floating around the office that it’s less “Oh no, quick we need an idea!” and more “Which one should we do next?” At any given time we know what the next few games are going to be, and I can tell you honestly that I am really excited about the next couple of games, and I think you will be too. But for now they’re totally top secret, my lips are sealed. I wouldn’t tell anyone, not even if he or she were to send a large box of chocolate addressed to “writer” to our offices. Not even then."
Her Interactive: As writer, what all do you write? (Characters, script, written assets, anything we wouldn’t expect?)
"As the writer I write all of the dialogue, and many of the written assets (the notes and letters you find while playing the game.) The overall story of the game is a collaborative process. I bring my knowledge of how stories work, Cathy brings her game design experience and together we hash out the overall game. Throughout the entire process we look to the office for input. If anyone has a good idea, it goes in!"
Her Interactive: How do you prepare in creating a new game? What are the early steps from inspiration?
"Once we have our basic plot and rough character guidelines, my first step is always research. I’ll start online to get general ideas, then head to the library for more in-depth reference material. During this time, I’ll come across lots of great ideas and inspiration, both written and visual, that help build the world and the mystery. Those elements are then used as building blocks for the mystery to keep things real. For example, in ASH the gas chromatograph was a direct result of researching arson investigation techniques. I’d never heard of such a technique before then. And, fun fact, kept mispronouncing it for ages since I didn’t realize chromatograph and chromatography aren’t said the same way (turns out they’re like photograph and photography)."
Her Interactive: What are the steps in the design process? For the story?
"We start with the high level concept (eg. Nancy’s framed for arson) and rough characters. We’ll then start adding major plot points and choose our villain. The design and story are then further flushed out with the minor steps needed to reach those milestone moments. Once the main outline is complete, puzzles start getting implemented and shortly thereafter script begins. To complete design, all the elements are combined in a logic document that maps out the entire game play."
"We usually start with a location, a theme, and one or two Nancy Drew books. Then we talk. And talk. And talk. And argue. And talk. And take hack breaks. And talk some more. Before we begin to flesh out the game, I like to spend a few weeks researching. Sometimes the research involves watching movies that have a similar feel to what we’re aiming for, sometimes I raid the giant stack of books on Cathy’s desk. Research can be the most fun part of the job, and it’s when I learn the most. For SAW, I spent a lot of time watching, Japanese horror movies since we wanted to have that same type of atmospheric scary feel in the game. But, since the game wasn’t just about the scare, the research didn’t stop there. I went to see a tea ceremony, read a ton about traditional arts in Japan, and got the chance to meet with a cultural consultant.
Once I’ve got all of the raw material for the story, it’s time to write. I know from peeking at the message boards from time to time, that many of our players love to write too, so I won’t go too far into something that most of you are very familiar with. In a nutshell, the process is best summarized as failing forward. The first draft is terrible and wrong. The second draft is hopefully less terrible, and less wrong. I keep this up until I end up with a draft that feels good. Writing is a lot like dying Easter eggs, if you quit after the first dunk, no one is going to respect your ugly egg. You’ve got to keep dunking and dunking until you’ve got a nice, richly colored egg that would be exciting to find hidden away on a bookshelf. This metaphor is not topical… okay, writing is like carving a pumpkin… it… umm, you put a candle… never mind, let’s just use that egg thing. I redraft often, and love getting feedback from around the office."
Her Interactive: What is your favorite step in the writing process or another task?
"Recording. The script isn’t done until it is recorded. The recording session is like a live, final polish on the script. We get to hear if the jokes work, and see if the story beats carry any emotional weight. When they don’t, we prod and poke at the material until it’s just right. We’re lucky to work with a pool of extraordinarily talented actors who are able to really make the lines come alive in ways that I sometimes don’t even expect. Recording Nancy is always a blast, as well. Lani, who plays Nancy, is hilarious and always full of great suggestions and Nancy-isms."
Her Interactive: What do you do when you hit a snag/error in the design?
"First I have to identify the type of problem (missing object, infinite logic loop, story plot hole, motivation, etc.), then decide if it’s a small or large fix. The small ones are easy, but the larger ones have occasionally resulted in massive redesigns. In the end, it’s all about identifying the issue and finding the best solution for everyone involved, including our players’ experience."
Her Interactive: Have there been any characters that you found difficult to bring to life? Is there a character you would like to bring back?
"Yes. Every game has one character that I end up rewriting again and again. Miwako, Lukas, and Alexei frustrated me to no end when I was writing the drafts, but now they’re my favorites.
I don’t know about bringing characters back, I’m more interested with discovering new villains and pranksters and scientists and deranged librarians and mad scientists and robots and agoraphobic house painters… That being said, my favorite reoccurring character is Bess. (Spoiler alert – she’s coming back. Often :D )"
Her Interactive: What has been your most favorite puzzle to design? Which was the hardest to design?
"My favorite was Bento. I love creating logic puzzles and Bento needed multiple levels using a really fun design. Plus, I got to look at a lot of amazing real-world animal bento while looking for reference images.
The hardest would be Raid. Not only did it have a computer opponent that needed the AI rules designed for how it played, but it was also supposed to be inspired by German board games/card games, which I’d never played before. Top that off with a deck of cards, and their balanced against each other power rankings, that also affected three other puzzles, and it meant one minor change to any element caused major trickle down problems. But it was a great learning experience and I was quite pleased with the end result."
Her Interactive: Do you have a favorite written in-game asset you have done? Second Chance note?
"One of my favorite non-dialogue writing assignments was actually Yumi’s blog. At first the idea of keeping up a blog for a fictional Japanese girl seemed like it was going to be a nightmare, it certainly was not something I’d ever imagined myself doing. But after a few entries, I started to have a lot of fun. I spent the month the blog was running keeping a camera ready in case I saw anything in the Seattle area that might pass for something you might see in Kyoto, I made bento in my kitchen (it was gross, but it looked… it looked gross, let’s face it.) By the time the blog ended, I was sad to wrap it up. My absolute favorite part of the blog was interacting with the fans. I was really surprised and excited that so many readers were willing to play along. Each day I found comments that showcased what a clever, fun-loving, and interesting group of fans we have."
Her Interactive: Have you read any Nancy Drew books? If so, do you have a favorite title or theme?
"Yes. I’ll read the book that each game is based on and I read the Mystery Files when I was younger, along with the occasional old yellow back when I could find one. I liked the older books for their prevalent use of the supernatural and gothic, but they often felt rather dated, which is another reason I read the Mystery Files more frequently instead."
Thanks Nik and Cathy for taking the time to answer these questions and for giving us insight to the making of the games!