Industry Interview with Gabby DaRienzo

An interview with Game Developer and Artist Gabby DaRienzo, originally scheduled for publication on the now defunct website, The Grind, in October of 2016.

The interview below was scheduled to be published on The Grind, a now defunct website, in October 2016, but never saw the light of day. Although some of the content covered shows its age today, the interview is finding a new home here for anyone interested in diving in to read what Gabby had to share! Since the interview was conducted, her project's name changed from its placeholder "Mortuary Simulator" to "A Mortician's Tale" and the interview has been updated to reflect this.

Gabby DaRienzo
At the Time of Interview (16-09-26)
: Game Developer & Artist
Project: A Mortician's Tale

01) What got you started in game development?
I kind of fell sideways into game development, to be honest. I was studying graphic design in college, and after graduating I was hired as a marketing artist at a local Toronto mobile game company: XMG Studio. After a year or so I was moved onto the game team, and started doing UI/UX design and a bit of game art for their game projects.

Around that time I was introduced to Dames Making Games: a Toronto based organization that supports women/nonbinary/queer folk who want to develop and make games. I met a ton of amazing game makers through DMG who encouraged me to learn some programming basics and start developing my own games.

At the beginning of 2015, I made the decision to leave my job and my pals at XMG and pursue a career as a freelance game artist and UI/UX designer, working on client’s projects and other interesting games, and developing my own games in my spare time.

02) How did Laundry Bear Games come to be?
My partner Andrew Carvalho – who’s also a freelance game developer – and I had been wanting to start our own studio for a little while. In March of this year, we officially founded Laundry Bear Games with the goal of collaborating with our friends to develop our own game projects.

Fun Fact: the name “Laundry Bear” actually came from our good friend and A Mortician's Tale's musician Halina Heron, who had previously lived in Sweden for a couple of years. She told us that the Swedish word for raccoon directly translates to “laundry bear” which is flippin’ adorable and felt pretty theme-appropriate for our Toronto-based studio.

03) How did the Play Dead podcast come to be?
A lot of my work has to do with the intersection of death and video games (see: A Mortician's Tale). There are a ton of game devs who are doing some really fascinating stuff with death in their games, and I wanted to talk with them about it: learn more about their games, their thoughts and feelings about death, and how their games have changed because of it.

I reached out to my friend Eric Weiss – the games editor at Dorkshelf, and a podcaster himself – who invited Play Dead to be a part of the Dorkshelf podcast family. I can’t say enough good things about them. They’ve been incredibly supportive of my weird little death podcast!

Play Dead is currently on a break right now while I finish up the Mortuary Sim demo, but we’re aiming to have new episodes out starting in the fall. I have some really cool guests lined up that I’m super excited to speak with!

04) What can you tell us about your current project, A Mortician's Tale?
A Mortician's Tale is a narrative-driven, death-positive video game where you play as a mortician tasked with running a funeral home: preparing the cadavers of the deceased via embalming or cremation, attending their funerals and consoling their loved ones, and running the business. It’s an informative – and sometimes humorous – look at the current state of, and the future of, the western death industry.

A Mortician's Tale is a project that’s close to my heart, and something I’ve been wanting to develop for a while. I received funding from Ontario Arts Council (who I am eternally grateful to) to make it into a full game, which allowed me to bring on other team members to do writing, music, sound effects, and proper programming for the game. I am so grateful to be able to work with some of my closest friends on Mortuary Sim! Not only are they incredibly talented, but they are putting personal bits of themselves into the project, which has made it so much stronger and so much lovelier than it was when the project started.

A Mortician's Tale will be available for PC/Mac “sometime soon.” I’m so excited to share our super personal little death game with the world!

05) What does death mean to you?
Death is such a personal thing for everyone. For me, it’s been a curiosity I’ve had since I was a little kid. When I was nine or ten, a girl in my class and her mother died in a super horrible, tragic way. I remember asking my mom a lot of questions about it, and her answering everything honestly. In hindsight, I appreciate that a lot. Death is such a hard thing to talk about for a lot of people, but it’s so important that we discuss it honestly, especially with children. I had a lot of death anxiety after my classmate and her mother were killed, and being able to talk about it in an open and non-judgmental environment was tremendously helpful.

I remember having a keen obsession in games and other media that explored death and mortality after that: Majora’s Mask was a big one for me. I think being able to explore my own thoughts and fears around death through video games helped me deal with my death anxiety. Death and games has been a topic I’ve been interested in since, but never really explored up until not that long ago.

I’m aware it’s a sensitive topic for many people, understandably so, but it’s so-so-so important to talk about and to come to terms with.

06) Who or what would you say are your greatest inspirations?
Lately I’ve been incredibly inspired by the work of Caitlin Doughty and the Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists who encourage people to explore their thoughts, feelings, and fears about death and mortality. They not only directly inspired A Mortician's Tale, but the Order has been incredibly supportive of it, too. The game has grown so much because of their feedback and support, and I’m really appreciative of that.

I also have a lot of love for the Toronto games community, particularly all the amazing friends I’ve made through DMG. The community is so supportive and there are so many devs here that are incredibly inspiring. I’m very proud to live in this city and be a part of it! <3

07) What kind of artwork do you enjoy making the most?
My background is in graphic design and I think that shows in my work quite a bit. Lots of flat, low detail shapes with hard edges and bright graphics: that’s definitely my jam. That being said, I do enjoy playing with new mediums and experimenting with different styles. Constantly learning new things pushes me to be better, and that challenge makes my work a lot more enjoyable!

08) What kind of artwork have you found most difficult to produce?
I find painterly styles to be pretty challenging for me. It’s very different than the work I normally do and my brain sometimes can’t wrap around it, but I’m practicing and working on it! I’m very fortunate to have many amazing and talented friends who patiently give me feedback and advice on how I can do better! <3

09) What do you do to overcome artist’s block?
I like to take a break and find other non-game related creative things to look at: architecture blogs, cooking videos, makeup tutorials, and what have you. Sometimes getting inspired by something outside of games gives my brain a nice break, and I can come back to my creative projects with fresh eyes.

10) What do you find most rewarding about freelancing as an artist and UI/UX designer?
Being able to work on multiple projects with multiple teams is so rewarding. It was the main reason why I left my full-time job and haven’t pursued FT work since. Most game studios have a non-compete contract or something similar, preventing you from working with other studios and sometimes on your own games. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some incredible teams on some fantastic projects and I so appreciate having the freedom to do that.

11) What have you found most challenging about freelancing as an artist and UI/UX designer?
The most challenging thing for me has been finding a balance between client work and personal projects. I feel very fortunate that I’m in a position where I rarely have to look for work, and pretty much always have people approaching me asking to work on their game projects, but I have a hard time saying no, and often my personal work suffers for it. I’ve been working to overcome that, say “no” to more things, and prioritize my own work alongside client work.

12) What software and tools do you use or recommend?
Most of our games are made in Unity, which I highly recommend if you’re interested in bringing your game project to multiple current-gen platforms. It’s also quite flexible in terms of what game you’re interested in making, too. Platformers, adventure, action, RPGs, puzzle: Unity can be used to make pretty much anything.

That being said, Andrew and I have been toying with the idea of switching to Unreal for a future 3D project. Unity has been great, but there’s a lot of visual issues with it that are a pain to deal with and don’t exist in Unreal.

As far as art goes, all of my 2D stuff is made in either Photoshop or Illustrator – although I always do my pixel art in Photoshop – and most of my 3D stuff is done in Blender: though I’ve been playing with Maya and have heard good things about Modo 3D lately! I may make the switch someday.

13) What do you do in your free time? Any hobbies?
Over the last year I’ve started really enjoying going to the gym, rock climbing, yoga, and cooking. I was really horrible to my body during my first year of freelancing. I was so focused on taking on as much work as I could that I neglected eating well and working out, and my body suffered for it so much. At the beginning of this year I resolved to take better care of myself, and I’ve subsequently become kind of a jock because of it!

I’ve also been really interested in learning Japanese and have been doing lessons and self-learning the language over the past year and a half or so: ありがとうございます!

14) If you had more time, what would you spend it on?
I have a huge list of personal, creative projects I’d like to work on: mainly 3D projects and learning new 3D tools. I’m fairly new to the 3D pipeline, but I’ve been enjoying working in it immensely. I’d love to do more projects and get better at it!

15) What would you buy if you had a million dollars?
The first thing I’d do is pay off me and my sister’s student loans! I’d probably also invest the majority of it back into Laundry Bear. Ultimately, my goal with Laundry Bear is to be successful enough that we can sustain ourselves, but also help other indies with their game projects, and careers or studios, too!

16) If you went into tomorrow knowing it would be your last, what would you do?
Go to a funeral home and plan and pay for everything myself so my parents wouldn’t have to worry about it once I’ve died…. That’s such a depressing answer but that’s exactly what I’d do! I’d probably also eat, like, a ton of donuts and re-watch Stranger Things for the billionth time.


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