Game Culture, Game Industry, Play

The Charm of Charmixy: An Interview with Tess Young

I had the pleasure to chat briefly via email with the art director for a fantastic Kickstarter game, Charmixy.

Tess Young took some time to answer my questions about this unique, puzzle-based combat game. It’s rare that I promote Kickstarter campaigns but I think this game has great vision, diverse characters, an intriguing game play concept, and lots of content for an entirely free game. Pretty much everything you could ask for in a game!

REGINA:  What inspired you to become a game art designer?

TESS:  I grew up loving art and drawing, and was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged me. I studied traditional art for many years, and then in high school I discovered video games. The ability to create and design worlds of my own was so appealing to me—video game art and design just seemed like the perfect thing to do!

What is your favorite thing about being a game designer? What is the biggest challenge?

The best part of being a game designer is brainstorming. It’s really satisfying to work your creative muscles to construct an entire experience for someone else. The possibilities really are endless. I love just closing my eyes and going “oh, wouldn’t it be cool if you could fly upside down during this part?” or, “Here, the music is going to pick up and a light beam will guide the player to the next level” or,  “And then, the bad guy comes down, and he’s three times the size of the screen!”
The challenge of course, is putting in the plan and effort to execute your ideas. Once you have everything down, you have to sit down at the computer and grind it out. It’s a very intense and draining process to create every moving piece in a video game. Most people who play the game may not realize just how much STUFF needs to be put together. But then, when you’re done, and you get to SEE this thing that was in your head on the screen, alive…. It’s awesome again! Game development is very much a roller coaster of emotions, haha.

What advice would you give young women wanting to get a start in the game industry?

charmixity-2It’s a great time to be a game developer! Our predecessors have been fighting to open the door for all of us to enter and share our projects, and consumers are getting hungry for something new. Getting started is also very easy—everything you could possibly want to know about developing games is available online. The two skills you want for independent development are programming and art. Many game engines like Unity, Unreal, and Gamemaker are completely free AND they offer sample projects that you can follow step by step that’ll teach you the basics of programming and using the engine, so you can install one you like, pick a tutorial, and teach yourself to code.
If you want to be a game artist, you have to draw, draw, draw! It’s especially important to draw from life. Take a sketchbook with you and draw objects you see around you. When you’re at home, get a digital painting program like Photoshop or Paint Tool SAI and learn to use all of the tools it has. Get an understanding of perspective. Lastly, keep your creative muscles loose. It will be hard at first, but you have to teach yourself the importance of letting go of an idea. You might think the first thing that comes into your head is brilliant, but 9 times out of 10 if you iterate and try to look at several ideas, you’ll find a much better solution. In the industry when a game artist is asked to design a battleaxe for a character, they never draw just one and turn it in. They’ll literally spit out 15 different designs in an hour, tweaking, trying different shapes and features, until they arrive at the best one.

How did you decide the game should be free?

There are lots of reasons why Charmixy is free. As a multiplayer game, the fun of the experience increases the more friends a player has who also own the game, so if the game is free, no one has an excuse not to play. In addition, players can sometimes be hesitant to risk money on a genre or developer who hasn’t proven themselves as successful. But most importantly, I want to make a fun game that is accessible to as many people as possible.

When I was younger, I grew up very poor. My family has never owned the latest generation of console, and I always bought my games out of the bargain bin or from a good sale. It was always very embarrassing for me when every kid in class was playing the newest Pokemon or Mario Kart and I couldn’t join in on the fun. I don’t want to create that barrier for anyone else–I hope that if everyone has fun games that they can play, there will be more people who express an interest in game development, art, and programming. If there is some way to financially support myself externally, I don’t think I will ever charge money for a game.

The game play looks very creative and inspired, a nice mix of chance and strategy. You mention this is the type of game you would like to play, but how did you come up with this mix of characters and game play?

It certainly would have been easier to simply make the core gameplay of puzzle combat, have a bunch of levels the player works through, and leave it at that, but I sadistically chose to put a ton more content in the game. I just happen to be a real sucker for a good story, especially the kinds that video games provide that suck you into this world that you can interact with and influence. Once we started using charms as a game mechanic, I imagined a charmixity-3fantasy world were there were these very cute witches learning how to duel with magic, and it was such a cool idea that I started building the external gameplay.

The first thing to get put in was the romance and friendship subplots. If the game takes place in this school environment with all these students interacting and such, I knew I had to allow players to develop relationships with these characters (I ADORE dating sims after all). One of the things I hate the most about dating sims is I’m usually very limited in the kinds of characters I can date. So I made as wide a range of personalities and backgrounds as I could think of, that way players can find at least one person who is interesting to them.

The art style looks anime inspired and has a host of diverse characters (go you!). What kinds of games or other media inspired your choices?

I’m a huge fan of the magical girl genre, primarily because it taught me that I could be a strong individual without having to hide or downplay my femininity. For a long time I have been looking for more video games that reflect the kind of aesthetic and attitude of Sailor Moon and Saint Tail or Little Witch Academia, but have been disappointed to discover that most games with lots of pink, glitter, and cuteness are marketed as things for children. I wanted to create something rich and challenging that wasn’t afraid to show off its frills!

What is your favorite game? (Other than Charmixy, of course!)

Ooh, there are so many. I have to give props to Journey for being one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played — it was also the first one that showed me just how different games can be. Although no words were spoken, I was moved to tears during the very last level. It is an experience that I highly recommend. The only game that beats it in terms of raw, jaw dropping visual beauty is Trine 2. charmixity-4There will be moments in that game where you have to stop playing (although it is very fun to play, especially with friends) and just look around you at all the breathtaking detail.

I also have to give props to two games made by Double Fine: Brutal Legend and Psychonauts. Those games were made almost a decade ago and to this day I can’t find a game with better story and character development—I’ll often go back and watch pieces of them to remind myself of how to craft a good narrative in Charmixy. I don’t think I can put my finger on why I like it so much, but FEZ is probably one of my all time favorites as well. Many people will tell you its boring, but they were the ones who just went through the motions without actually thinking about their environment.  The whole point of FEZ is to discover the way an archaeologist discovers a hidden civilization (I’m not kidding, either, I had pads and pencils with me as I played, and I would decode little things on walls and draw diagrams and everything)!

Lastly, I’ve never had more fun that when I played the recently released Freedom Planet. It’s a game that may remind you a lot of early Sonic, but I promise you it is so much more. It was the first game in a long time that I had so much fun I would skip meals or cancel dates just so I could keep playing. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed Freedom Planet so much I brought on the composers of the soundtrack, Leila Wilson and Kamu, to write for Charmixy as well!

Be sure to check out Tess’s kickstarter for Charmixy!

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