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  • Writer's pictureK Fox

Earlier this year, I got my first official job the games industry!

Kind of!

The job is at The Iterative Collective, an indie games incubator and publisher. I do a lot of marketing stuff, like writing press releases and announcement posts, managing communities and contests, and helping to proofread other work from the team. Sometimes I get to help the devs with their in-game text as needed as well, which I love. I also do a lot of capturing game footage for content creation and giving feedback on different builds. That means I get paid to play video games, which is pretty great, not going to lie. What started as an internship has since turned into a full time job, and it's been a ton of fun and an amazing learning experience, as working for a publisher is a great insight into a lot of different parts of the game development process.

Of course, this isn't all I've been doing. You already know I helped launch a game on Steam recently , and I also worked as the narrative designer on an unannounced mobile RPG. (Unfortunately I can't share details about this one until it's out, but I'll keep you posted!)

All in all, it's been a really great year to really get my hands dirty and get to see how things work in the games industry from multiple sides. I've been taking some of that knowledge and putting into my work at TIC, since part of my job is to help with the blog and the weekly Digest, and I thought I might give a short overview of some of the topics I've covered over there in case you'd like to check them out.

So first off, here is a sampling of some of the insights into the industry I've written about:

Pitch Decks: What to include and how to put it all together

You made a game (Congratulations!) and you’re ready to show it off. You’d like to approach publishers and let them to see all your hard work. How do you get them to give you a shot? You need to present your work in a way that catches a publisher’s attention fast. You need something clear, succinct, and organized that gives them the broad strokes and really sells your concept in as eye-catching a way as possible. That’s where pitch decks come in.

Taking Your Game to Your First Con

I recently took a game I’ve been working on to a local con outside my city, Philadelphia. The convention is called Too Many Games, and it’s pretty small when compared to things like NYC Comicon, but with an estimated 18-20k guests over three days, it’s nothing to sneeze at either. Not every game convention is on par with PAX or Gamescom, but for an indie developer, attending comparatively smaller conferences like TMG can still be a really beneficial experience. Here, I outline some of the things I have learned to help any indie devs thinking of taking that leap and going to their first con.

What Exactly Is Ludonarrative Dissonance, and Why Does It Matter?

Ludonarrative dissonance is a slightly pretentious sounding term that is relatively new but incredibly important to keep in mind while designing your game.

Coined in 2007 by LucasArt’s former creative director Clink Hocking, it refers to that unfortunate phenomenon when there is a conflict between the story the gameplay is telling and the story told by the game’s narrative. As an incredibly simple example, if your character says they’re a pacifist in one scene (and means it) and then murders a bunch of people in the next, that’d be an example of ludonarrative dissonance. The gameplay is saying this character is a murderer, while the narrative is saying he’s not. Continue the more in-depth discussion on the term and its impact on gaming here.

If you've been looking for more of my commentary on gameplay, here are some of the games I've been writing about over there:

Tavern Master

Do you long for the bar scene but have gotten used to never leaving your house? Do you want to manage a business without having to get out of your pajamas? Do you want to send adventurers on dangerous and life-threatening missions to bring you back a mere handful of peas or a wheel or two of cheese?

Don’t we all?

That is where Tavern Master comes in!

The Witness and The Looker

Jonathan Blow created a gorgeous world filled with eureka moments and frustration alike, and while The Witness is beautiful, it’s simply not for everyone. Born from this overly long game of convoluted meaning, though, was something quite hilarious (as well as much shorter): The Looker.

Slime Rancher

You’re a thousand light years away from Earth and you’ve decided to forge new frontiers and make a fortune doing something unique to this strange and distant planet: farming slimes. These always cute and sometimes dangerous blobs bounce, fly, swim, and eat their way across the Far, Far Range where you’ve set up your modest ranch. They’re mysterious and adorable, and catching, feeding, and combining them presents unique and interesting challenges as you farm them for their “plorts” to exchange for currency on what is essentially a slime poop stock market. From there, you use your earnings to upgrade gear and your ranch and, eventually, fabricate all sorts of useful gadgets in the science lab. Each upgrade and innovation either affords you new abilities or grants you access to unique and uncharted biomes with countless secrets to discover in Slime Rancher!

Mini Motorways

I’m always in the market for a good management sim. From Banished to Sim City, Prison Architect, Oxygen Not Included, and everything in between, I’m always ready to strap in and start strategizing the most minute details. I recently came across Mini Motorways on Steam, and knew immediately it was for me.

The Talos Principle

This 3D puzzler isn’t new, but its subject matter feels more relevant than ever. In The Talos Principle, you spend half your time solving increasingly difficult puzzles and the other half questioning your own existence and the concept of AI’s personhood.

There's tons more stuff, including featuring some of the games we're publishing, interviews with game devs, more tips and industry insights, and some great contributions from my colleague Cameron. Check it out if you want to see more!

But if that's not your thing, no worries. I'll still be updating here. I'm so grateful to my readers. Please comment or use the contact form if you've got ideas about what you'd like to see me cover next!


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Post-mortem, retrospective--whatever you want to call it, reflecting back on your experience after a game's work comes to an end is a worthy endeavor. It gives developers a reason to pause and take the space and time needed to assess all the things that went right, wrong, and everything in between, and consciously take those lessons with them onto their next project. So, after launching Third Power on Steam last month, my fellow devs and I took the time to collect our thoughts on the experience, and we had the honor of being invited to present them to our local game dev group, The Philly Game Mechanics.

You can watch the whole presentation here:

Below, I'll discuss the project from my own (comparatively) narrow scope as that of the Narrative Designer, and I'd be curious to hear if anyone reading has their own thoughts about making projects similar to this that they'd be willing to share.

What went right?

I think our strategy of using discoverable narrative elements throughout the levels that slowly start to reveal the game story worked really well. We worked together to tell a story from the inside out (spoiler: the player learns they are actually breaking out of the cave, not venturing in in search of treasure and fortune as likely would be assumed), so it was really fun to create hints that made sense both forward and backward.

I also really loved helping direct the use of assets for storytelling (which worked so well because of our UX/UI designer Irene's significant talent and great communication). I think we did a good job telling a story in a compact space that accentuates the gameplay and does not impede it.

Every time I work with a team, be it a game jam or a longer project like this one, I use it as an opportunity to get better acquainted with the game development pipeline as a whole. I keep up with every single Discord channel constantly, so I can better understand what is going on with the concept art, audio mixing, level design, etc. These projects are a great place to become educated in other fields and see how all elements of the process work together. I think everyone could benefit from this peek inside each department's process, but someone who wants to work as a narrative designer especially needs to understand the broad ins and outs of nearly every department from art to programming to audio.

Which brings me to my next point.

What went wrong?

I got a job during the early stages of this project, so I couldn’t do dive in as much as I would have liked right from the beginning. Being brought in after some elements have been decided on is a challenge that I like about game writing, though, so I still enjoyed this part of the process a lot. I was presented with gameplay elements--like having a human that turns into an intricate cube and solves puzzles--and from there, I built a narrative and crafted the game's story. Not ideal, perhaps, because I'd love to have been there from the beginning, but this is honestly how a lot of studios do it, so I welcomed the experience either way.

One issue with projects like this in general is that, since we are all volunteers, it’s hard to really take leadership in collaborative work. One of the reasons I pay attention to what’s going on all over the place is because, in theory and depending on the project, a narrative designer might direct artists to alter their work so that their creations strike the right narrative tone, tell the sound designers that their audio needs to feel a little more this or that to really fit the feel of the space, or even get into the nitty gritty on character design right down to what the MC’s gait might look like. In work like this, I don't feel empowered to come to a bunch of volunteers and direct their work in the way that someone in a leadership position might otherwise do. Since we’re all volunteering our time and most of us have other jobs, we don’t often have the time for multiple takes on the same game element and, to put it bluntly, who the heck am I anyway to be telling folks what to do anyway? In the end, just another volunteer on a pretty big (for a project like this) remote team.

That’s not to mention how many of us (myself included) couldn’t always be around for team meetings and things like that, so coordinating live was often difficult. But with this more laisser-faire approach, things come out a little less cohesive at best and disconnected at worst. I did my best to try and point people to the GDD and general agreed-upon elements of the narrative when I could, but didn’t feel comfortable “forcing” things, for lack of a better word, like I have on paid projects where roles are more strictly defined and people are compensated for their time.

I’ve also learned that even with a GDD or even just a narrative plan available, not everyone involved in the project is going to reference it when making their assets, which can be frustrating, especially when a lot of work was put into making it accessible and expecting that, since our team was spread across time zones and continents, members would work to keep themselves abreast of plans made that direct development. But, again, it's hard to be too mad, as again, everyone was volunteering their time.


I’m proud of the work we did. With our hodgepodge team of volunteers and in the short time we gave ourselves, I think we did a pretty great job, considering. I don't think Third Power is going to blow anyone's socks off necessarily, but we've got a ton of downloads and generally positive feedback for something done in such a short amount of time. (Probably helps that it's listed on Steam at the low, low price of free as well!) There's a saying that your first 10 games will suck, so hurry up and make those so you can make the good ones. Well, I don't think Third Power "sucks," but I do know we still have a long way to go. That being said, It was a really great learning experience that I'm happy to have been a part of, and I can't wait to see what the team does next.

Action Plan

As for what I've learned during my time on this project that I can apply to similar jobs in the future, I'll say that, though I’m not someone who has the luxury of putting a full-time job’s amount of work into an unpaid side project, on similar projects in the future, I’d like to try and be more present in live meetings when possible (but there’s a lot hanging on that “when possible,” haha).

Moving forward, I think I might also break down agreed-upon narrative elements for each department to try and help keep a cohesive vision from the start more accessible to teams without expecting them to study the greater GDD (even though I still think this is good practice).

Finally, if I am able to be more present on another volunteer project like this one, I’d also like to get myself comfortable taking charge a little more. Even as volunteers, if I can help us all stay on the right track, that’s less time wasted, less frustration, and a more cohesive piece of work we can all be proud of.


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Recently, I wrote about how I’ve been participating in my first ever game jams this year. The experience has been really fulfilling, not just because it’s fun to apply my skills and actually see a more or less finished product (albeit a rough one) come together, but also because of the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to meet throughout the experience. Khenan Newton is one of those amazing people.

Khenan (pronounced kay-nin) is 25 years old, but he leads projects like he’s been doing it his whole life and then some. His passion is clear in how engaged he is, both in his own programming work and the time and attention he puts into guiding his teammates. He regularly encourages those working with him to branch out and try new strategies and is always available to answer questions and willing to walk folks through things as often as is needed. During our work together, Khenan would regularly stay up late figuring out bugs and reworking systems, and he says game development is the only thing that can keep him engaged and happily devoted for so many hours on end. His love for making games is apparent in his work and leadership in a way that really struck me, so I decided to learn a bit more about Khenan and where that passion comes from.

The original gamer in Khenan's family was his aunt. She got his grandmother into gaming as well, and Khenan spent his childhood playing on his grandmother’s GameCube whenever he got the chance. Pokémon and Legend of Zelda were some of his favorites, and he played Super Smash Bros competitively, but Khenan told me that gaming wasn’t just something fun to do in the off hours of his day; it went deeper than that. Khenan says he grew up in a house with six women and no male role models. He was cared for in that he was clothed and didn’t go hungry, but felt isolated and without a lot of the support, stimulation, or guidance from his family that he felt he needed as a young boy. He says he knows he “still got more than a lot of people,” but even so, he found himself immersed in gameplay on his grandmother’s console again and again as an avenue to enter worlds that, simply put, weren’t this one—and he couldn’t get enough of it.

I, too, relate to games serving as a childhood escape and refuge from an at-times difficult existence. For Khenan, games were the place he “learned to connect and rely on the support of others,” because it was with other gamers that he built himself a different kind of family and found community that he fit into and felt supported by in a way that outshone what he had at home.

Perhaps this sort of experience is what makes Khenan his own kind of role model now. Clear, organized, supportive, communicative, and understanding, Khenan is exactly the sort of person you feel lucky to have leading your project. When you’re not sure where you fit or are looking for support to branch out and be guided through new techniques and strategies, someone like him, a person who is excited to act as a mentor and reach new goals together with you, can be an absolute blessing. I don’t know that this is a conscious choice by Khenan, to be such a kind, almost older brother sort of presence in the teams he leads—part peer, part authority figure, but someone you generally trust and feel comfortable with—but he executes it flawlessly. “My philosophy for achieving fulfillment,” says Khenan, “is having people in your life that you can rely on, and they can rely on you. When you have that, there’s never a dull moment or a challenge that’s too daunting.” And indeed, the projects Khenan leads are often ambitious and experimental, but he supports his team throughout and generally gets impressive results.

Screenshot from Cell Shocked, on which Khenan worked as Project Lead and Lead Programmer

It’s clear that a sense of community is important to Khenan, and he and I bonded over our mutual respect for the fellowship and camaraderie games can bring to anyone and everyone who picks up a controller (or positions their fingers over the WASD keys, or gets ready to tap their touch screen) and dives in. Khenan and I agree that games are an avenue through which real connections can be forged and maintained. “Games are not just a source of entertainment,” says Khenan. “Games are an experience. Games are invokers of emotion [and they] provide the platform to share those emotions with others and connect people.” I agree wholeheartedly that games are more than a mindless way to pass time; they can create lifetime memories, establish lifelong bonds, and have a life-changing impact. That’s why people like me and Khenan (and so many others) love games in a way that’s beyond simply enjoying the gameplay itself; we assign deep value to the experience of playing and the connections we form between the folks with whom we play.

It's clear Khenan wants to take that value and add to it, using his career as an opportunity to give back to a form of media that feels like part of what shaped him. “I always knew I wanted to be involved in with game development. Games and the people surrounding them were the only things in my life that provided what my family didn’t,” says Khenan. At 23, he learned he loved programming game mechanics, reveling in the opportunity it afforded to revisit the emotions games invoked in him when he was younger. “The laughs, the happiness, the sadness, the fear,“ Khenan said, “were reproducible with a few lines of code and some cool features.” And through that work, he explains, Khenan strives to share those emotions and connect with others like himself.

Screenshot from Alma of the Forest, on which Khenan worked as Project Lead and Lead Programmer

In fact, Khenan has created his own studio, Plot Armor Studios, which he hopes will facilitate his mission to bring gamers together. His goal is to create things that satisfy those folks “who long for that game they can play with their friends for hours and hours on end and meet other gamers like them in the process.” Khenan’s dream is to “make it so they never have to stop or give up on that process,” because that’s how important of a role he feels games can play in people’s lives.

Two of the game jams I participated in had Khenan at the head as project lead, and I’ve seen firsthand how he brings his passion to the development process. He has also been working on his own solo project, Fantasy of the Last Originals, which I played a demo of last year at the Indie Arcade at Colorspace Labs before Khenan and I had officially met. Now he has his sights set on something even bigger. “My most ambitious goal,” Khenan says, “is to build an MMO that pays its playerbase just to play the game.” My mind whirs with the possibilities associated with Khenan's idea. “I’ll have to build a play-to-earn model, likely by building a system that facilitates a free market economy powered by the supply and demand environment of the game,” he explains. If this sounds far-fetched, remind yourself of all the other innovations games have brought to the forefront that we once thought of as odd or unachievable. I talk all the time about Achaea. Did you know that back in the 90s, that game was one of the first (if not the first) to implement microtransactions? Now think of how ubiquitous that model is today. For better or for worse, someone had to conceive of it and take the risk of trying to make it work within a game before we could get to where we are now, where free-to-play (or, if you're being less kind, pay-to-win) is just a way of gaming life and something we rarely give a second thought today. “Games are kind of like a bounce board for risky technology,” Khenan says, citing how the chances the gaming world is willing to take with innovative ideas often then clue in more cautious companies and major investors to what’s worth putting their resources into. “Video games proved to the world that people are interested in using VR,” Khenan says, “and video games will continue to improve the use cases for it, and thus even further encourage investment and innovation in other sectors.”

Khenan's game Fantasy of the Last Originals

And while games are very much about innovating, they're also about humanity and how the world works, even when the action takes place in exotic and fantastic locales. Shoot, we all know about The Corrupted Blood Incident, in World of Warcraft by now, right? That’s old news in one way, but in another it's still incredibly relevant, especially since the advents of COVID-19. Games and the communities within them continue to operate more and more like the real world (albeit often set in surreal and extraordinary environments) every day, holding a mirror—often allegorical but nearly literal at times as well—to the lives of the players who enjoy them. Games have been a place to spend money for decades. It’s only a matter of time before games become a place to earn money as well, right? Someone just has to make it work, and Khenan thinks that someone could be him.

I’ve said before that, if writing a novel is like giving a lecture to your audience, then game development is like having a conversation with them, and if that’s so, then Khenan seems eager to “talk.” The thing about a conversation in the world of game development started by a person like Khenan is that anyone who loves games and joins in on that dialog is going to be better off for it in the end. So long as developers continue to be as passionate as Khenan is, games are going to continue to be an even deeper and more impactful version of that wonderful escape so many of us look for while simultaneously serving as one of our easiest ways to connect, forge friendships, build families, and know that no matter where we are in life, we never, ever have to go it alone.


If you'd like to keep up with Khenan's new projects, you can find him on Linkedin, or check out what he's been working on here.

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