Making beautifully personal games with Nina Freeman - GDC Podcast ep. 3

Nina Freeman is a designer at Tacoma developer Fullbright, and is also known for making intensely personal games like Cibele. She joined us to talk about how she takes autobiographical topics and turning those into brilliantly evocative games.

When it comes to making autobiographical, highly personal games, there are few game developers as prolific as Nina Freeman.

She recently joined Gamasutra's Kris Graft and Alissa McAloon on the GDC Podcast to talk about her process in making games like Cibele, which is about falling in love in an online game, and the recently-released We Met in May, a game about the early days of a real-life romantic relationship.

Listen now on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify. Register for GDC 2020 here.

GDC Podcast music by Mike Meehan.

Nina on the two most important things when making personal games

"I think familiarizing oneself with other personal games that have been done, like [Anna Anthropy's] Dys4ria, for example, was a really big inspiration for me when I was getting started. Playing a lot of other games and keeping up with that stuff can really help, and seeing what's been done, and making sure to not only do that but also look to other mediums, because poetry, for example, has a long history of personal writing. You can say the same about film or painting or anything else that has that kind of history.

"People do personal work all the time, and I think it's important to engage with that work, just to give yourself ideas and to find inspiration, and when you do have those ideas, write them down and try to act on them. Try to make something really small and finish it, and actually really sit and show it to people.

"Those two things -- the act of engaging with other mediums and looking at other games and making something small and releasing it are two of the most important things, at least in my experience."

We Met in May

Nina on the appeal of game jams

"Honestly, almost all of the games I've worked on have started at jams, just because I like working that way...I actually don't even know [how many game jam games I've made]...Game jams are really good because I think people can get caught up too much in the details of implementation when working on a game, when sometimes the best game design can come out of spontaneity, and just hacking something together and taking the shortest road to something playable.

"So I've always tried to have that approach, where I don't worry too much about the technicalities and just try to make something that people either enjoy or understand the story I'm trying to tell. What matters the most to me is that I can put it in front of someone, and come away with whatever I intend.

"And game jams are a really good way to be quickly iterative, because iteration I think is one of the most important things to game design. Making something, putting it front of a player, seeing how they react, and then tailoring the game further based on on that feedback you get. And doing that over and over and over until your game works. Usually, the game jam is the first iteration of that, and gives me a base to work with. Sometimes I'll refactor it, but not always!"

Listen to the full episode on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify

Register now GDC 2020, which takes place March 16-20 in San Francisco. Subscribe to regular updates via Facebook, Twitter, or RSS.

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