Women in Game Development: Cidney Hamilton

With the recent release of NEW GAME!, a show all about women in game development, we thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to hear from REAL women kicking butt in the game dev industry!

 

cidneyportraitCidney Hamilton of Transolar Games was kind enough to dedicate some of her time to giving us an inside look at her life and work!

 

 

  • Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re currently doing.

Hey, there! My name is Cidney Hamilton. I’m a programmer at Transolar Games, an indie game studio founded by Lori and Corey Cole, the creators of Quest for Glory. We’re working on Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, the spiritual sequel to Quest for Glory. It’s a really cool project; the main character, Shawn O’Connor, is a street thief who gets caught breaking into a house and gets a chance to redeem himself by going to reform school and using his skills to become a Hero. Some reviewers have called it a “Western version of Persona”, where you’re going to class and doing mundane things like making friends and trying to save up enough money to buy your school supplies, but also going into a dungeon and fighting monsters and using your skills to solve a mystery.

 

About half of the people on my team are industry veterans who worked at Sierra Online; the other half are people like me: artists and programmers in our twenties and thirties who played Quest for Glory growing up and wanted to contribute.

 

  • What is your background in gaming? What are your favorite games?

My first game was King’s Quest IV. My father was an aerospace engineer and got me to play computer games when I was a toddler so that I could learn to read and write by typing commands into the parser. This was back in the old days of adventure gaming, where you had type all of the commands and couldn’t point and click. King’s Quest IV had some really unfair puzzles; so I never got that far in it until I was older, but I enjoyed exploring the world and trying out all these different commands.

I don’t have as much time to play games as an adult; but when I do, I play adventure games, RPGs, and sometimes simulation and strategy games. I just finished Life is Strange and really enjoyed it. Planescape: Torment, Baldur’s Gate, Gabriel Knight, and The Longest Journey are all contenders for “favorite game ever”.

 

 

  • How did you get to where you are now in the game development world?

Kind of by accident! I backed the Hero-U: Kickstarter; in late 2014 I saw an update saying that they were looking for more programmers. I got recruited as a software engineer for a tech company out of college; back then, there weren’t a lot of games being made that I was really interested in, so I didn’t look at game development as a career. Kickstarter and crowdfunding has made it much easier for indie developers to get started; so a lot of the designers whose games I played and loved as a kid, including the Coles, took advantage of that to hire developers. I’ve always *made* games, though. In high school I built a game called Ashara Online. It was a play-by-post RPG that I’d built a website and interface for. It was a lot of work, and I wasn’t making any money off it; but more recently, Storium has used the same model to a great deal of success!

 

 

  • What’s an average day for you? Can you walk us through some of the highlights and unique aspects of your day/job?

I work remotely out of a home office. The other lead programmer is in New Zealand, so he tends to wake up right when I’m about to have dinner! Most indie startups don’t have brick-and-mortar offices; so that raises its own set of challenges.

 

 

  • When we first told you that we were releasing an anime about women in game development, what was your initial reaction? What are your thoughts on a show that highlights female game devs?

“This will either be absurd and hilarious– or extremely close to home.”

 

 

  • Do you think the visibility surrounding women in the gaming industry is growing? Are there still challenges?

Women have always been making games. Sierra Online had Roberta Williams, Christy Marx, Lori Cole, and Jane Jensen in high-profile designer positions during the 1980s and 1990s. Lori was one of my heroines as a kid; it’s been thrilling to work with her. Nowadays, you don’t run across many games designed by women, and that’s a problem, since it discourages women from pursuing careers or getting mentorship. There’s unfortunately a lot of bias against women in tech; computers and math are seen as things that boys are good at, not girls. Girls internalize that bias and become less confident and interview poorly, and then there are fewer female mentors in leadership position if you do get a job. It’s a vicious cycle.

 

There’s ironically more visibility around women in the game industry because of the online harassment independent developers like Zoe Quinn have experienced. It’s a challenging subject.

 

 

  • Is there anything else tied to the topic of women game developers/anime that you would like share? Feel free to elaborate! Do you have any advice for future women in game development?

Don’t focus on “getting a job” in “the industry”– just make the kind of games that you want to play! The earlier you start, the stronger your portfolio will be. There are plenty of free tools that can help you get started. Twine (https://twinery.org/), Ren’Py (https://www.renpy.org/), and Inform 7 (https://inform7.com/) are all free and great places to start making text adventures and visual novels.