GUI To Meet You Two: Free UI Resources for Game Developers

game dev, resources

guiheaderSome time back, I wrote a long list of free user interface resources for indie developers for – user interface design, of course, being a particular and ardent love of mine having worked for a UI artist for a while now. Since that version isn’t cached anymore, I’ve decided to rewrite the list with a bunch of new additions to spread that love of sleek, easy user interface design. Some of these newcomers are things that I’ve been using quite a lot myself and others that are just ‘hey, that’s neat’. So, without further ado, go forth and interface!


















(TIP – open ‘search’, filter to 100% free & public domain)
1001 FONTS










If you liked this, consider checking out some of the other resources on this blog or follow for more.


2014 In Review: The Year Of Things Happening


What’s funny is that I’ve been repeatedly making jokes about not doing a review like this, but after being specifically asked to do a review of my professional year, I figured: why the hell not. Let’s be nostalgic. My personal life in 2014 was very tumultuous with the bereavement of two family members within a very short period of time, and in general the year itself was extremely up-and-down with a mix of amazing opportunities and incredibly difficult challenges. However, I’m looking forward to 2015 to be a great year – also with a lot of expected change – and I’m excited to see what it brings.

  • I wrote for IndieStatik for the majority of the year, mostly covering interesting developments in the #screenshotsaturday hashtag and indie visual novels in separate weekly columns.
  • I was listed as an Honourable Mention in Develop’s 30 Under 30 in the games industry, which was a huge honour.
  • I started to stream my game art asset work on Twitch regularly, which has become a ritual for me (especially since the introduction of the Game Development category) – and I hit over 500+ followers.
  • I organised and ran a conference from scratch called RhineDev in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. It focused on interesting/unique topics within three tracks (design, technical and advocacy) and for a first time conference AND a conference during which the entire German railway went on strike, it went incredibly well. Wide variety of topics, 120+ attendees. We’ll be doing this again.
  • I attended Casual Connect Amsterdam with the Hammer Labs team, which in itself was an amazing experience. I then wrote a scathing article about the associated industry parties afterwards which generated some interesting discussion (using baby tigers, etc).
  • Through the generosity of an amazing friend, I was able to attend GDC San Francisco and make a huge amount of connections with others, as well as learn a huge deal. This was one of the best experiences of my life, actually! Apart from being punched by a person who really wanted a hot dog.
  • I gave talks/was on panels at:
    • The Sheffield International Documentary Festival – ‘Do Games Tell It Better?’ w/ Leigh Alexander, Ste Curran, Ed Stern & Darren Garrett
    • AMAZE Berlin 2014 – German Indie Arena Microtalks & the Gaming Press Panel (w/ Cara Ellison, Chris Priestman, Dennis Kogel & Anjin Anhut)
    • RhineDev 2014 – ‘The Real Evil Within: the struggle with portrayal of mental health in games’
    • Free to Play Antwerp – ‘Local and Remote Play: building community up close and from a distance’
    • Cologne Game Lab (lecture) – ‘Indie Gaming Press and You’
    • Respawn 2014 – ‘That Jam We‘re In – a discussion on potentials and limits of Game Jams’ – w/ Anna Kipnis, Martin Nerurkar, Alexander Zacherl & Michael Indyk,
  • I attended GDC Europe and Gamescom, which was both tiring and amazing.
  • I participated in a loooot of game jams:
  • I ran a loooot of game jams:
  • Actually, running Asylum Jam again this year (its second year) meant a lot to me and I’m glad that a lot of the participants both enjoyed themselves, and got a lot of exposure from the media playing their games afterwards. As my stepsister took her own life in September, just weeks before the jam started, raising awareness for negative stereotypes/harmful stereotypes of mental health because a lot more intimately important for me.
  • I released probably the world’s first mermaid bra simulator game, Bras and Balls. While the game isn’t the world’s most fun game for a number of reasons, it was an interesting exercise in a.) finishing a project and b.) creating a game about an issue that was intimately female, but still enjoyable by other genders.
  • Started Group Pug, my indie studio.
  • I kinda helped out with the Screenshake IndieGoGo! Yay!
  • I started a Patreon halfway through the year, which has enabled me to keep organising stuff and plodding along as it covers my health insurance (the biggest bill that I have, and consequently where all my money goes).
  • Started Women in Games NZ with two great colleagues, Mike Porter (Media Design School) and Tara Brannigan (PikPok). Already neat things are happening there!
  • I made the Indie Whipping Bot, which people either love or hate for his unconditional dislike for lack of productivity. Should probably update that.
  • Started a Youtube channel called ‘The Velvet Throne‘, to fill the hole I have in my soul for highlighting small, neat indie games the way they deserve. Need to figure out how to make video editing take less time.
  • I met a load of amazing people, new friends, new colleagues, travelled a bunch, plotted heaps, and wow. I’m excited to face the new year with all of you by my side. Thank you, as always, for all your support and encouragement.

– Lucy

Skin Deep: An exercise in making an empathetic game about racial stereotyping


I’ve been thinking a lot about how games are great for awareness of issues because they’re so flexible, empathetic and immersive – part of the reason why I arranged Asylum Jam last year, because games are such a flexible medium for us to tell our stories. I’ve lived all over the world in numerous countries with a bunch of different cultures, and there’s a true beauty in learning from people different from you. However, racial stereotyping from others towards friends/colleagues/strangers is something I encountered a lot and is something I would at least like to contribute even the tiniest change to. It’s a huge barrier to great intercultural communication and sharing, and it sucks big time. This is still a basic barrier we need to overcome, and that’s why I thought about Skin Deep.

How it works is that you select a difficulty at first – you can play from a privileged (Caucasian) perspective, or you can play from the perspective of someone who may not always receive the ‘easy’ conversation choices from people who racially stereotype. Each round will be a different conversation or scenario, and depending on what difficulty you pick, the dialogue will be different. Bubbles will pop up around your character’s head of things they could possibly say – things that have become normal for people of colour to hear while being racially stereotyped, or perhaps the conversations we who are privileged are more accustomed to.

(there used to be sketches here, but there’s things I already want to change– the instigator of the conversation to the player will be a grey figure, as profiling can come from anyone)

While I don’t want there to be a score, I’ve been trying to come up with some metric that will incorporate both game play and awareness of the topic, which has not been easy as I don’t want to cheapen the issue at hand. My first idea was, to emphasize how frustrating it often is for POCs to have to justify themselves or correct racial stereotyping, there will be a stopwatch counting up until you reach the cessation of the conversation. Naturally, by the end of the ‘difficult’ stage you will have a much higher time score than the ‘easy’ route. I’m perhaps thinking of even forcing the player to play through the ‘easy’ mode first and then the difficult one so they can see the comparison, and (hopefully) empathize with some of the stuff POCs have to put up with. I’m still going to think about this, though. Another suggestion from someone I consulted with was to somehow display microaggressions, but that’ll take some pondering.

As I want this to be as accurate and honest an experience as possible, I want Skin Deep’s conversations and scenarios to be totally extrapolated from real life situations and conversations POCs have been privy to where they’ve been racially stereotyped by someone else, should anyone wish to challenge the legitimacy of the issue. There are (sadly) an inexhaustible stockpile of these, and they need to be shared to help bring light to the fact we need to change. I’m also working with people of colour that are involved in the independent gaming scene as well, and will continue to consult with them closely to make sure the game reflects an accurate picture (as I am aware I am developing it from a position of privilege myself). Even before writing all this, I wanted to check to see if this game would be welcome or constructive, and thanks to their feedback (positive!) I’m going to go ahead with it.

So, as a first step towards developing Skin Deep, I’m putting out a call to all people of colour who have a story, conversation or situation of their own that they want to share. You don’t have to share your name, or anything else personal apart from your ethnicity and your story, so if you want to stay completely anonymous, that’s totally fine. However, if you’d like to be credited at the end of the game, you can submit a moniker if you’re comfortable with that.

You can submit them here, and if you do end up contributing, you have a great deal of my appreciation for being willing to share your experiences for the game.

(As for my terrible drawings, the game is in it’s development infancy, so please bear with me!)

How to ‘get into’ indie game freelancing (as told by hilariously fat cats)


I’ve been asked a lot of questions about how to wriggle into freelancing in video game related pursuits recently – mostly artwork, because that’s my specialty – and as I had such a rocky road trying to figure everything out when I was starting out, I figured I’d write a blog post about things that I did that worked, and things I did that didn’t. As a foreigner in Germany, everything when I started was infinitely more complicated than it would’ve been if I were living in a country I was fluent in the language of (mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut), so that amplified the stress, physical taxation, and, well, everything. I don’t want others to endure the same struggle, so I’m going to give my advice out in the form of really fat cats, because there’s not a single time a pudgy feline doesn’t put a smile on your face.



I cannot stress how important this is. Probably the biggest and best piece of advice I received when I started freelancing was one that I didn’t believe at the time as I scoured oDesk for nuggets of a job.

“The best freelance contracts won’t be ones you apply for – they’ll be the ones from people who find you.”

It’s true. Down the track and looking back at half a year freelancing, the best contracts I’ve had haven’t been the ones I’ve desperately applied to on oDesk, hoping for a job that will pay me a measly $100 for an entire game worth of assets, but ones from people I’ve networked with. People who had seen my portfolio, saw the works in progress I posted, people that I follow on social media and interact with.

  • Get a social media presence if you don’t already have one, and be active in the community if you want to work with them and for them. Someone you befriend today could be a client in the future.
  • Post stuff you’re working on regularly. Remind people of your skill-set.
  • Don’t be afraid to advertise the fact you’re looking for work on social media, but do so with restraint. It’s okay to tweet once in a while you’re looking for work, but wouldn’t it be effective to add it to your bio too?


This is another huge thing. I know it’s really tough when you’re starting out as a freelancer and it seems like you have to undercut what you’d like to be paid by heaps because you’re thinking, ‘if I don’t get this contract, I’m fucked’ – but don’t. If you don’t ask for a decent living wage or ask for very little, people aren’t going to think that you’re proud and confident in your work. This is also why I feel that freelance websites like oDesk are very dodgy unless the job is a short one. There are a bunch of international people on oDesk – and most freelancing websites – that live in countries with a lower cost of living than you, so they’re going to charge way less. Don’t make this fact make you undercharge yourself, though.

I talked to a good friend of mine recently who is in the tech business and works with an investor who contracts out a lot of development/design/UI work and he told me:

“Actually, yeah. We ignore all bids from freelancers on jobs we offer that are below a certain amount. People deserve to be paid.”

Dude, dudette, whoever is reading this – you need to charge enough to live on. Freelancing is not the most stable of jobs, so you need to be able to charge enough for a decent living wage for what your profession is, and then account for the possible time you’ll be between contracts. There’s a bunch of good websites out there for calculating how much you should charge as a freelancer, and it was something I struggled with a lot when I started. Here’s roughly how I did mine (and I work mostly with per hour payment, unless otherwise discussed with clients):

  • Figure out how much your bills are costing you per month. This is your overhead and your business related expenses are tax deductible in most countries as a freelancer.
  • ‘Shop around’ and see what others are charging for the same services. It’s good to see what people of a relative skill level are asking for your work, but again, don’t undersell yourself.
  • Add a profit margin of 20-30% to tide you over between contracts, or add enough to get a decent wage per hour that you would expect someone in your field/profession/skill level to have.
  • GET A TAX ADVISOR. Mine does all my taxes, deductions and everything, saves heaps of stress and I don’t have to worry about one more thing.

Obviously, as you freelance for a while, you will be able to tweak this figure. But seriously, don’t feel bad if someone inquires about your rate, you give it and they don’t reply. Working for less than you’re worth will make you feel like shit, most of the time.


When I first started freelancing, I was like a moth to a flame when someone would said, ‘hey, this project will be great exposure for you, and you can build up your portfolio at the same time!’. NO. DON’T. PLEASE. READ THIS, IF YOU’RE STILL UNDECIDED.  There are some very few exceptions to this rule, which is why I only wrote 9/10, but don’t let yourself get exploited. You waste time you could be using to do actual, paying freelance contracts, and a lot of these ‘unpaid’ projects often don’t get seen to fruition anyway. You will not feel motivated to work on this, and you will not feel committed (9/10 times). You are worth more than exposure, unless it’s a project you’re sure you a.) have the time to handle, b.) have the stress capacity to handle and c.) you know you’re not being exploited by whoever you’re being asked by. Tread very carefully here.


This is one of the biggest issues I had after going from full-time, corporate work to self-directed freelancing. So much of your environment changes, sometimes it’s hard to handle. My nutrition went to absolute shit, I stressed heaps (I still do!), I didn’t leave my apartment for one to two weeks at a time, and I generally felt terrible. It’s hard. You no longer see people every day at work, you just have yourself and 9/10 times, your home will be your office. You feel like you never leave work. I really don’t want this to happen to anyone else the way it happened to me, because it was a turd of a time. Here’s some things I learned that helped, though:

  • Work 9 to 5 and give yourself breaks. Don’t let yourself work on contract stuff past these hours unless you have a particularly tough deadline, because this helps separate your work and leisure life.
  • Eat regularly. This sounds dumb, but when you’re home all the time, it’s easy to snack constantly OR not eat at all. I’ve done both and my health has gone to shit – make sure you eat good, eat regularly and eat right.
  • Find an excuse to leave your house each day if it’s your office. Go for a walk.
  • Schedule stuff with friends and your social circle and go to events to make sure you leave the house often and get your social injection. This is so important.
  • Make sure you have a support figure in the picture, whether it’s a best friend, your SO or a colleague in the same field. You’re going to need to vent, and there’s usually no-one else in your workspace at the time.
  • Install productivity software, like StayFocusd. If you’re just starting freelancing, especially from home, your mind will automatically have profiled the home space to be your fun-happy-time-place and you’re going to waste a bunch of time on Facebook/Reddit/Twitter/whatever. You will probably need the extra force to help you stay on the job.

These are the main points that were big for me, so now I’m going to list some resources that really helped me get into game freelancing.

  • /r/gamedevclassifieds – A great place to advertise yourself and see job offers that are going for freelancers or even permanent team members.
  • PeoplePerHour – There’s sometimes game stuff posted here and I admit I haven’t used PPH a lot, but it runs on testimonials which seems like a good way of putting yourself ahead of the pack.
  • oDesk – Game stuff is posted here, but beware of taking jobs that pay you nothing. I often see jobs on oDesk that give maybe $100 for a full game of assets. Only take jobs that pay you what you’re worth.
  • TIGForum’s Offering Paid Work subforum – The TIG Forums are well known and respected in the indie dev community and can be a good place to look every now and then.
  • IndieDB’s job page – A bunch of indie companies looking for +1’s, but be careful of whether it’s paid or not.
  • IndieGamer’s Paid Work subforum – Like TIGForum’s. Also good, reliable place most of the time.
  • Pixel Prospector’s Big List of Freelancer Things – Self explanatory, and Pixel Prospector is the best thing ever.

Ludum Dare & How It Taught Me It’s Okay to SUCK

game jams

I’m a perfectionist and I’ve always been pretty competitive. I like to prove myself at things, and I love a challenge. However, I always feel that I have to be good at everything to have any real merit, which makes me unnecessarily upset with myself at times. When introducing myself at GDC as a game designer who was primarily an artist rather than a programmer, I always felt insecure and rushed to follow up my introduction with, ‘but I program too! Kinda!’. This is how I still felt when I went headfirst into Ludum Dare 29, and now that’s changed.

I’d been looking forward to LD29 for some time, inviting some friends over who were also going to join the compo because, hey, it’s nice to work apart-but-together. It’s also nice to have people to eat horrible pommes-doner with at awful hours of the night while you’re desperately hoping the grease will seep into your brain and give you some kind of fatty second wind. Since I live in Germany, the theme was announced at 3AM our time, so my boyfriend (who was also doing compo) opted for sleep rather than zombification the next day, which was definitely the right choice. We did, however, play through DOOM 1 to hype up for the jam (Lu-DOOM Dare) and it was a pretty great way to raise morale the night before.

There is no game I love more than DOOM, even if I’m terrible at it.

At 8AM, I woke up, hurriedly checked for the theme on my tablet and immediately had a bunch of ideas. I’m not a stranger to game jams by any means, but I’ve always competed before in teams – usually duo’ing with a programmer – so this was the first time I was attempting to go from start to finish on my own. Like I said before, I’m primarily a 2D artist/designer, so this was going to be huge task for me. In my naivety, I wasn’t worried at all.

I picked an idea really early on – perhaps an hour or two after I read the theme – while cleaning the apartment and waiting for our friends to arrive. I even started on the game, working on a prototype in Construct 2. By 12pm, I had things moving on the screen and thought that the worst was over. Birds were singing, the sun was shining, we went out for food and I laughed at ever thinking that Ludum Dare was going to be difficult for me.

Ludum Dare

Then, I came back and everything broke. Everything went downhill super fast – I couldn’t find the parts of the code where the bugs were coming from, everything was shit and it looked like what I had thought was a simple concept wouldn’t be able to be implemented by the end of the jam. It was 15 hours in and I was still coding as I forced myself to do that first – as an artist, I wanted everything to be pretty so I knew if I started on assets, I’d never stop. What I was making looked like dog shit and I suddenly felt incredibly upset at myself – why couldn’t I do it? Was I even a game developer if I couldn’t execute something so simple with a deadline?

I teared up. I felt like an imposter. I felt like I was a worthless indie because I couldn’t make things work the way I wanted to the way people with more programming logic could, even though I could see the finished product in my mind. I almost gave up and had a breakdown, nicely documented on Twitter. Thanks, Twitter!

Ludum Dare

To be honest, if it hadn’t been for the unfailing support from my friends, boyfriend and all the bros on Twitter, I probably would’ve given up. I was weak and defeated. But I continued, because if anything, I just wanted to submit something at least half-finished in the end. Even if it sucked. Even if it played like a donkey’s butthole.

My boyfriend suggested I draw for a while instead, because it was something I was good at and it could distract me from the rage of everything breaking. I started to sketch out animations for the player, did the background environment, started implementing them into the game. Suddenly, it didn’t look like dog shit. I felt a little better and gained the strength to carry on.

Sneak Easy

I finished my game at 2AM on Monday morning while Mike slept a meter away from me, bags under my eyes and my inventory of fucks to give dangerously low. Collisions were broken, but I didn’t care. There was no pacing, but I couldn’t give a shit. All I wanted was that fucking game to be uploaded, submitted and DONE. By 2AM, I had gotten what I wanted. I had finished something, and at that point, it was all that mattered. Crawling into bed, I accidentally woke Mike up, so I whispered to him: ‘I finished it.’

He replied: ‘I’m so proud. Good job.’

I felt fucking awesome.

Looking back on the weekend, Ludum Dare 29 taught me, finally, the most important lesson of all. I don’t have to be good at everything, I don’t have to make something revolutionary every time I make a game and I certainly don’t have to be a good programmer to feel validated in my field. Yeah, I can program pretty well in a couple of basic languages, but I don’t need to have my finger in every fucking pie.

1.) It’s okay to fail.

2.) It’s okay to not be great at something if you’re an indie, whether it’s marketing, audio, programming, art – fuck it. You can’t be eight dudes at once.

3.) It’s okay for your game to not meet your expectations, as long as you gave it your best effort.


Sneak Easy

If you’re interested in the game I made, the Ludum Dare compo entry is hereSneak Easy is a time management game where you play a devious bartender in the 1920′s prohibition era. You’ve got a reputable resturant, but you’re secretly sneaking boozehounds some tiddly in the backroom. Cops come in and eat at your restaurant & you’ve gotta keep the food coming, otherwise they’re gonna get angry and start pokin’ around in your business. 

It’s buggy. I warned you.

Indie Gaming Press and You: A Primer

game dev, games writing

You can view the presentation slides here – included are tips on how to get press contacts, how to write a good press release, recommendations for press kits and some silly activity we had fun with. You can ignore that. 

Recently, I had the honour of being invited to Cologne to give a lecture to the Masters of Game Development students at the Cologne Games Lab about indie gaming press. I mulled over what would be good information to tell them that could be an actual takeaway from the class, rather than a long-winded rant and ramble with no real substance – something I often dreaded about lectures back in my university days – and after a day or two of putting together aptly informative (and hopefully cute) slides, I’d finished. I took a late Deutsche Bahn train from Duesseldorf to Cologne with a good friend of mine, managed to make it to the Lab with minutes to spare and gave my lecture.

The students and professor gave me really nice feedback, which made me want to share my presentation here today, in case there’s some use to anyone else. Having written for Indie Statik for a while, there is a wee bit about the website and what I do in there as it was a preface for the lecture – but hopefully, if you’re thinking about promoting your game and interacting with indie games press, this may help you out a little.

This is by no means an exhaustive lesson and is told from my perspective as an indie games writer myself, so please don’t take it as gospel! I don’t consider myself an oracle on the subject, just someone who wants to help shed some light on the process.  However, there’s some good etiquette in there and may be a good starting point for you.

Pixel controller images used in the presentation are by kevinvanderven.

Advice before you recruit an artist for your game project– love, an artist. ♥

game dev

The great thing about the indie developer community these days is that it’s so easy to recruit people with similar interests for your projects. With the growing popularity of boards like /r/GameDevClassifieds and ‘wanted’ sections of forums like TIGSource, there are more professionals and amateurs at your fingertips now than ever. Great, huh?

However, with so many other people looking for others to help make their game dev dream come true (as well as the pool being widened by many unpaid and hobby/potential revenue-share projects), it’s best to be as prepared as possible when it comes to finally searching for that +1 for your team.

Scenario time. You’re looking to hire an artist to help you bring your game project to fruition. Awesome. But, here’s some things you should think about, or do, before you send out your tendrils to search for this person.

1.) Looking to recruit an artist to create in-game assets should not be the very first thing you do on your project.

It’s exciting to get the project into motion as quickly as possible by getting your team together in the same fashion, but sometimes this may be more detrimental than helpful. Recruiting an artist to make in-game assets before you have a solid idea of what you envision the game to be before your idea has gone through the inevitable revisions during the design teething, you will probably end up with assets being created you no longer envision fitting in with your game.

If you’re paying the artist, this will waste you money. Especially since indie groups are usually few in number and so the workload is higher on the individual, it’s best to be as crystal clear as possible from the outset so time can be managed most efficiently. Which brings us to…

2.) If you know it’s time to recruit an artist, give us lists. Lots of lists.

Great! It’s time for you to hire/recruit an artist for your project. The game design is done and you know exactly what you want your game to look like. Your next priority should then be creating a detailed list of the assets you want this artist to create, which should include:

  • rough dimensions, if not vector
  • a description of each asset (yes, even that one) and what it will be used for in game
  • if you already have an idea yourself of what it will look like, or have a reference of style etc., link the reference or sketch


  • a deadline and priority for each asset, especially if it’s a paid gig and/or you’re on a tight timeframe

You may look at these points and think– hey, that’s a lot of work and time that it’d take to put into that, and yeah– it kinda is. However, the clearer you are about what you want and how you want it to look, honestly, the quicker your project will get done! If we know what you want, how you want it and when you want it, we’re extremely prepared as the artist on your project, and it’s only a good thing to be as informed and prepared as possible.

A great example is a spreadsheet like this (made on Google Docs, which is incidentally a great place for this sort of organizational mayhem):


(NB: The estimated time here was discussed between the artist and the project lead to make sure that the artist would be billed for the right amount of time spent when it came to payment. Numbers on the top right are dates of the month.)

All this said, sometimes the odd extra asset pops up with new feature implementation that you can’t foresee and such– this is okay! My point is just that you should have the large majority of assets, dimensions etc. figured out before you get your artist. The better you know your project, the better off your whole team will be.

3.) Set aside time to give OK’s and revisions on a regular basis.

This seems fairly standard, but I figured I’d say it anyway. If the artist has to correct something, it’s going to take time on their behalf and that time is only multiplied if you’re not around to give the feedback. A regular meeting face to face (or Skype call if the artist is remote) is wondrous.

Good communication OP.

4.) Keeping an artist interested in your hobby project.

I read recently some complaints from project leads about keeping artists interested in their hobby/rev-share project, and I totally agree, it’s tough keeping someone interested in giving you their skills for free (or ‘promised’ money) if it’s not their idea. As is often said, ideas in the game dev scene are a dime a dozen– everyone has them, it’s no secret. So, regarding keeping someone interested in your project there’s a few pieces of advice/hard truths I can give you:

  • the artist will almost always pass up your project for something paid, even if they’re partway through it
  • if you’re not very passionate about your project, investing the same time and effort in it as they are and are often very absent, they will probably lose their interest
  • if you can pay them, you should (though to be honest, this goes for anyone with a professional skill-set you’re recruiting into your project).
  • if your project is unpaid and they’re the only artist + it’s a huge game with a load of assets, chances are they’re going to lose interest (I recommend starting small)

Of course, this won’t always be the case 100% of the time– but this is just what I’ve seen from my own observations.

In summary:


Organizing Asylum Jam – a retrospective analysis

game jams


If there’s something that my game development friends and colleagues know about me, it’s that I’m mad about game jams. I honestly cannot get enough of them, and I can’t preach fervently enough to anyone who listens about what a great tool they are for professional development, networking, removing creative blockers in your brain and… well, I could obviously go on. You learn time management, you learn to cut that one feature that, shit, would be really awesome in-game but you don’t have the twenty coders and artists you need to make it happen, you learn to work with new people with new skill-sets, and you learn to think outside the box. Thinking outside the box is probably the thing I love the most about game jams– an opportunity for us game developers, usually fatigued and overworked from slaving away on the same project for months on end, to explore the limits of games outside of our day jobs.

I organize game jams regularly in the area of Germany that I live in, North-Rhine Westphalia. When I came to Germany in January, my German was terrible (still is, really) and I didn’t know a soul here, but it was apparent there was no ‘organized’ indie community in the area I lived in. Europe has an extremely vibrant indie scene comparatively to where I had come from (New Zealand), as well as Berlin and Munich having very active communities– so I did what I figured was natural and made our game jam group. Now at over 70 developers in the area, we’ve participated in Molyjam as an official location, had an amazing 12-hour jam (phew), gotten the devs interested in #1GAM and some members are currently organizing an Oculus Rift jam. My mission was definitely accomplished, and I have met so many amazing people through the group’s expansion so far. So, organizing game jams themselves wasn’t that new to me, but I never thought I would end up organizing something as huge and international as Asylum Jam became.

Why did I organize Asylum Jam in particular? I’ve been asked this question a lot, though I haven’t really given a straight answer as to why the jam was so personally important to me, either because I didn’t want an immediate window into my personal life (indicative of how afraid I am of the stigma myself) or because being put so starkly into the spotlight made me feel far too naked and exposed. I’ve been around various types of mental illness most of my life, both personally experienced and that which I’ve seen friends or family go through. A difficult divorce and family situation in my childhood sent me into depression for the longest time, where I often contemplated whether or not the world would benefit from my non-existence (and that depression, while mostly conquered, still comes back to haunt me from time to time in my adult years). I also suffered from extremely acute agoraphobia while I completed my university studies, rendering me incapable of sitting exams in the same room as my peers, or even tolerating lectures that lasted longer than about an hour and a half without suffocating myself with panic. I couldn’t even sleep over at a friend’s or boyfriend’s place in the same room, which drove me to tears more than once. I just wanted it to go away.

I never wanted to answer my university classmates as to why I wasn’t in the examination rooms with them– how could I explain it in a way that didn’t make me sound irrational? It’s just because the fear was so irrational, and I knew it, that I just sort of covered it over. I didn’t want my classmates to think any less of me or to think that I was abnormal. I didn’t want to think that wasn’t ‘normal’, listed on the disability register at university. Really, I just wanted to enjoy learning and do the best that I could at university, like anyone that was serious about their studies would. However, I couldn’t explain this fear, why it affected me or what caused it, and it ruled me for three years until I overcame it through sheer force of will and some sessions with a clinical psychologist. I’m proud that I defeated it and that it no longer controls my life, but I look back at that time and how afraid I was that anyone would find out, which brings me to the question– why did I feel afraid?

Stigmatization is a real issue, whether or not we want to admit it out loud. When it’s okay for society to throw around words like ‘retarded’, it’s obvious stigmatization is an issue. When it’s okay to snigger behind the back of someone that has a mental disability at their struggles, it’s obvious stigmatization is an issue. When I feel afraid to reveal that I suffered from a mental illness to even the closest of my peers, it’s obvious stigmatization is an issue.

Asylum Jam wasn’t born out of a desire to head a social crusade on the internet. It was born from an article that spoke particularly close to me about several issues (which you can read here), and that made me want to create positive action and awareness on the issue in the best way I knew how, in the format that I love the most. Complaining about a perceived issue is likely to bring you a negative reaction– negativity breeds negativity. That’s why I knew a game jam was a great format for me– and other people and peers like me, in the same industry– to express what we would like to change, and make games that had an absence of the stigmatization that is so commonplace, but yet has the power to make us feel so uncomfortable about ourselves. Stigmatization isn’t by any means limited to the gaming industry in particular– god, no– but games are what I live and breathe, they’re a beautifully interactive and flexible media, and they have so much freedom to express that I wanted to organize Asylum Jam to give us a chance to explore a different direction.

When I began to organize Asylum Jam, I didn’t think it would grow to the lengths that it did by the end of the event. I started planning it in July, wrote most of the press releases in September and in October, it was just a whirlwind of emails and organizational madness. At the conclusion of the event, we had 57 games submitted with over 319 registered users. We also had two physical locations, one in Rome and one in Colorado, which I never imagined would happen when I was absorbed in the planning stage. When I saw the submission count growing, the updates that the developers were posting and the general enjoyment that people had garnered from the jam, I was so incredibly happy. With the support of many people, including Brett Chalupa (programming genius behind the BMO game jam engine), the reporters who talked to me and wrote fantastic articles about the jam and its aims, the friends and colleagues that surround me and a handful of other special people, Asylum Jam became a resounding success.

The games themselves submitted to Asylum Jam are obviously very diverse and interpret the jam’s theme differently– some of which deal with extremely sensitive topics– but they’re there for freedom of expression and personal interpretation. I received mails from people who suffered from a mental illness and wanted to use the game they were making to show to those who didn’t understand just how it was to live with their illness. I also saw a tweet from a developer who wanted to dedicate the jam to their colleague, who had committed suicide the year before. These stories are so important and it’s so crucial that they’re heard– and to fight stigmatization and tell them, gaming is a perfect medium for that.

To everyone who participated in Asylum Jam, thank you so much for making this event a reality. Thank you for giving your time and creativity to journey through this topic with us, your support to the cause and your enthusiasm to exploring the horror genre. I do believe we made a difference and started (or joined?) a really important discussion, not just limited to our passion of game development.