Because making a “Top 10 games of 2014” list sounds too specific and hard, I decided to approach my list as a personal “Top 10 things that I saw, played, or did during 2014”.
Most of the items listed here aren’t games that were released in 2014 (honestly, most of these aren’t even games), but they’re all things that contributed to my 2014 in a significant way and affected who I am as a game developer – soooo, I think that still counts.
Steam Dev Days was an event that I wasn’t actually planning on attending at first.
It was the inaugural year for the event, it was fairly early in the year, and I just couldn’t decide whether a plane ticket from where I would be at the time (Pennsylvania) to Seattle would be worth it. Luckily, Delta’s website decided to glitch out at the exact moment that I absentmindedly decided to look for tickets, and I managed to snag a direct flight from Harrisburg to Seattle for $24.
Steam Dev Days ended up being one of the most enjoyable events I have ever attended. It was low key, had a wonderful atmosphere, and allowed me to befriend people in the industry who have gone on to become some of my closest friends. I’m not sure how much of my enjoyment of Steam Dev Days was the event itself, how much of it was the fact that it was the first event of the year (thus, I wasn’t burnt out on social interactions yet), and how much of it was simply a result of the people I met there – but what I DO know is that by the end of Steam Dev Days, my stomach hurt from laughing so hard, and that’s a pretty good feeling to have.
Because of the fact that I wasn’t living anywhere specific for the majority of 2014, I decided that I could easily spend a large chunk of time up in the mountains of Colorado snowboarding with my parents.
This is semi-related to video games as I convinced a friend of mine, Eric Robinson, to spend some time out there with me on a business trip. We were currently working together on the prototype version of a tool that is now known as Koreographer (which you can sign up to try out here), and I figured as we were both avid skiers/snowaborders, that we might as well combine the snow activities and the programming activities and have a working retreat to the mountains. I’ve since stopped working on Koreographer, but you should 100% check it out if you have any desire to easily integrate an event driven system that syncs to any audio file of your choosing in Unity.
Okay, so, why am I mentioning this here?
Honestly, because it was some of the best snowboarding I’ve ever experienced in my life, and that makes me happy. The entire time I was out in Colorado, it snowed – and not just a little bit – this was A LOT of snow. In addition to the sheer magnitude of snow that was falling out of the skies, it was the kind of light fluffy snow that anyone who has ever done back country snowboarding dreams about. Most days, the snow would be halfway up my thighs, and I would just glide through it like butter. I can’t really describe the feeling that boarding through that kind of snow feels like, so here’s a video of me being really cool and then falling on my face
Train Jam was my crowning achievement of the year, as it was an event that I dreamed up and made happen from start to finish.
I, honestly, could not be prouder of how it turned out. I’ve never planned an event before, so most of the planning consisted of me flailing around worried that I was forgetting something important, fretting that Amtrak would say “No! You can’t do this!”, or generally just being concerned about whether a game jam on a 52 hour train ride was something that could even work, logistically. Seriously, there was a lot of worry that went into the planning of Train Jam (Just ask Keith from Playvue, we BROKE gmail because I emailed him with all of my worries).
Once Train Jam was up and running, however, everything was amazing. I had never ridden that specific railway before, and it was BEAUTIFUL. You can see some of the scenes here in the sneak peek of Gameloading: Rise of the Indies, but even video has a hard time capturing just how gorgeous everything was. There was something amazing about working on games, being creative, and having this type of scenery and environment surrounding you that just felt incredible.
One of my favorite write ups of the entire event is Kris Graft’s three part series that he wrote while riding along (read here, here, and here). He captured the eseence of the jam very eloquently, and I would definitely recommend checking it out.
I want to stress here that GAME_JAM, itself, is DEFINITELY NOT in my top 10 list.
I’m not going to spend time reiterating was was so terrible about GAME_JAM (you can read that here, here, and here), because what I want to talk about instead, is what the few days after GAME_JAM were like.
When Zoë and I decided to quit the show because of the sexist environment, our fellow developers supported us and stood behind us completely. There was talk of how the environment could be improved and questioning of wether we could salvage the train wreck that was GAME_JAM – but ultimately, when it came down to it, they were all behind us 100%. It was an amazing feeling to be supported in a decision that was, quite frankly, a little terrifying to act on, and it truly solidified the appreciation I have just how much developers will band together and support one another.
Even more heartwarming was the support that we all received from the community at large once the story broke.
Though I like to think that I’m a “good feminist” and can stand up for myself, I had never made myself quite so vulnerable on the internet before. I was terrified to press “Publish” on my post and was extremely appreciative of the fact that I immediately had to hop on an 11 hour trans-Atlantic flight with no access to internet afterwards. When I landed at my destination and checked the response to our stories, I had received literally nothing other than support and encouragement. I received so so sooo many personal stories from other women in the industry – words of gratitude for responding the way that I did, appreciation for sticking to our principles, and even a few emails letting me know that I inspired other women to finally push back against uncomfortable, sexist working conditions.
Basically, I’m proud of how myself and the other developers on GAME_JAM responded, I’m proud of how the industry responded, and I’m proud to have been able to show everyone that we don’t have to put up with the sexism in this industry <3
Every game I played on my Vita This Year
The Playstation Vita is one of the most under-appreciated consoles out there – it’s solid, portable, has an amazing battery life, and is home to a bunch of amazing games.
To be totally fair, I’ve probably played more old Playstation 1 games than new releases on my Vita, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Vita has given me a convenient platform to play new and old games alike.
As someone who spent the majority of this year not actually living anywhere, a home console was definitely out of the question for me. My Vita became my main gaming device during, and even now when I have an apartment and a home base again, I constantly find myself curling up and working through an old favorite from my childhood. The fact that I was able to purchase and play Tomba! (one of my all time favorite games), which is a game that is so rare it routinely sells for around $100USD is enough to give the Vita a special place in my heart. And then, the fact that I can continue on to play through Calstevania: SotN, Final Fantasy 9, Chrono Cross, and countless other games that shaped me as a gamer during my formulate gaming years makes my Vita invaluable to me.
Destiny is a game that is just super fun to play. My partner and I both had access to the Beta back in July, and it quickly became apparent that this would be the game to finally cause us to give in and have a two tv gaming setup.
It came out just before we moved in with each other, and we basically built our entire gaming setup based on the fact that we knew we would require two televisions and two consoles thanks to Destiny. I know that the game, itself, has recieved a lot of flack for not having as much story as many had wanted (and honestly, I can see that), but for me, this is the perfect game for me to sit down and shoot some aliens with friends and have it feel super fun. Basically, any game that allows me to work together with someone I love to accomlish some goal makes me happy.
This was my second year attending Game City. Game City is a wonderful event that occurs annually in Nottingham, England and is one of the only large game events that I can think of that truly focuses on games for all ages. The event’s purpose is to celebrates games themselves – it doesn’t focus on gamers or developers – simply *games*. It’s one of the most warm and welcoming events I’ve ever attended, and am very excited to see what they do with the permanent installation that they announced in October.
I had the pleasure, this year at Game City, of being able to teach a daily workshop which focused on introducing children to game development. I had never done anything like that before, and it was super inspiring to show these young kids the basic concepts of game development. Many of the kids came in thinking that they’d be able to make Minecraft during the two hour session, but after showing them how much work went into simply making a character move, they quickly moved onto newer and more original ideas. There’s nothing quite like seeing the look on a kid’s face when you say yes to the question “Can I put an octopus in here and then the octopus catches the fish you want to catch and then there’s a wizard and the wizard stuns you and also there’s a shark and if the shark touches you you get eaten?”
Moved to a New Country
I spent the better part of 2014 and half of 2013 not really living anywhere.
I let my apartment lease in Boston expire in August 2013, sold most of my stuff, put the rest of the large stuff in storage, and started traveling around with a suitcase and a laptop bag. It was incredibly freeing and amazing, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who even slightly wants to do something like that.
I spent most of that time staying with friends, family and fellow developers, however, due to various ~*reasons*~ (love), I started spending more and more time in the Netherlands.
Eventually, the inevitable conclusion was reached: “hey, this apartment is too small for two people to spend so much time together in and also hey we should live together”.
Now, I’m living in a country outside of the United States for the first time in my life, in a wonderful apartment in the Netherlands.
As I mentioned above, this apartment has a killer gaming setup and not too much outside of that in terms of material possessions. It’s wonderful, and we’re currently in the middle of programming every single electronic thing we have in here to interface with a voice command modules (because apparently when two giant nerds live together, they spend their days sitting in silence fighting with python and linux while packet sniffing their various systems to figure out the correct protocols to sendto their television’s remote control).
Game a Week
Game a Week was something that become such an integral part of my life this year that I originally forgot to include it in this list. It’s not that it wasn’t a huge part of my life – it’s more that it was SUCH a huge part of my life this year that it stopped feeling like an extra part of my life.
I’ve already written extensively about what Game a Week meant to me this past year, but I’ll try to summarize it again here. Game a Week was a project intended to help me find my motivation which proceeded to encompass my life and taught me much much more about game design, myself, and the industry that I ever could have imagined. It’s a project that allowed me to grow tremendously over the last year and has left a little empty place inide of me now that it’s over.
Yes, I’m pulling a Time magazine person of the year 2006, but it’s really hard to think of 10 things to write about.
Also, I really really do mean it.
A lot of my work is based on helping others, facilitating welcoming and creative environments, and generally just trying to better myself so that I can be better to and for all of *you*.
Seriously, most of the things I did this year would have meant absolutely nothing without the people around me – the people I interacted with, the people I taught, the people I worked with, the people I inspired, the people who inspired me. I hope that I get to meet more of you in 2015 <3