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Interview: Erin Robinson (Spooks, Nanobots)

JULY 09, 2008

What follows is our informal chat with Erin Robinson, a respected indie game developer in the AGS scene held in high regards by industry veterans Dave Gilbert and Heather Kelley. Her fresh portfolio already includes involvement in the creation of a successful commercial game and the releases of two full-length freeware adventure games.

Hi Erin, shall we begin with a little introduction?

Okay, let's see... I'm a 21-year-old indie game developer who has developed two original freeware games (Spooks and Nanobots). Additionally, I did the background art and sprite animation for Wadjet Eye Games' Blackwell: Unbound.

Are you a student as well? Or do you have a full-time job while moonlighting as a game developer for kicks?

I graduated from university a month ago, actually. I just got a degree in psychology and I'm currently working in neuroscience. I have a full-time job now, but this game development thing continues to be a favourite hobby. It's kind of funny, really... most of my coworkers and family don't know about my alter ego.

How did you came to join the Notes on Game Dev's Aspiring Women Game Artists competition (which you eventually won)?

Dave Gilbert actually tipped me off to the contest months ago, and I saved a link on my desktop but had nearly forgotten about it. Then about a week before the deadline I stumbled upon the contest website and thought, "Hmm, I could probably write 500 words about my dream."

So, what exactly did you win?

In fancy words, I won an "Accredited Game Art Certificate Program at Sessions Online School of Game Art". Which means that over the course of the next year I'll be taking online courses in things like 3D rendering, texturing, character animation, and the games industry itself.

I'm sure they held the contest in the hopes of getting more women to make a career in the games industry, and I have to say, this has certainly turned my thoughts in that direction.

Can we assume that you'll be taking up on the grant offer? And does this mean you'll be making games during the course of your studies?

Absolutely. :D And to answer your second question: It would, yeah. I'm not sure yet how I'm going to fit it all in, but I'll find a way. It might mean taking fewer hours at work, but it'd be worth it to me.


You've recently released Nanobots. Should we expect another game from you anytime this year?

What is it now, July? (counts on fingers) Then yes. I can't say what it is, though.

Are you happy with the public's response to Nanobots?

Actually, I'm very happy. I think people enjoyed the game's strengths, and they were spot-on with the critique.

One thing that seemed to come up a lot was the "open-ness" of the game environment. You start with six robots and a multitude of objects and you have to figure out how to interact with each one, sometimes in several ways. It made the game a little intimidating at the start. I added the tutorial at the beginning so the player wouldn't be totally lost, but I understand it was still a lot to get the hang of all at once.

I was really happy about people's reactions to the writing. I always get a little happy inside when someone says the writing was witty, or that this or that part made them laugh. I'm here to entertain, and the game speaks to that all the way through.

Is the story of Nanobots done? Do you think you'd ever do another game featuring the Nanobots?

The Nanobots story is done, I think. I tied up everything with a nice big bow at the end and even threw in a bonus minigame. I might do one of those self-indulgent "mention old game in new game" things, but only for the eyeroll value.


How did your interest in making freeware adventure games with AGS started?

When I was in my first year at university I had a good friend who I used to have long chats about adventure games with. She had all the old Monkey Island games as well as Sam and Max, both of which I had never played. Inevitably we'd start complaining that no one made games like this any more, and then she said I should check out this guy "Yahtzee" who'd made a game about a freaky mansion that was killing people. And after some Googling I found my way to the AGS forums, and the rest is history.

What other adventure games have you played or had the fondest memories of?

I can list them :) I had one called "Robert Ripley and the Riddle of Master Lu" or something like that. Myst, Riven, Kyrandia... the Zork games, especially "Zork Grand Inquisitor." My brother and I saved up our lawn-mowing and babysitting money for that one. :)

Is there any AGS games from the community that you enjoyed playing, recently or otherwise?

I haven't played a lot of them recently. But there have been a few gems. I loved Ali's Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy, and there are a few others I really need to finish. Ghost's Once Upon a Crime and Mordalles' Duty and Beyond are on that list (you can see how far behind I am).

Oh, La Croix Pan was very good too. The sound added so much to an already creepy atmosphere. Play it and you'll know what I mean. The whole sniping thing...I had to turn of the sound. I'm easily spooked. :P

I'm also going to throw in Soviet Unterzoegersdorf because it was hilarious.

I'm assuming that you've played Portal from start to finish?

Heh, many times...

Have you played anything else besides Portal?

I'm slowly, slowly creeping through Half Life 2. The trouble is I haven't played a shooter game since Wolfenstein, and I miss the hints that other gamers get. For example, I spent half an hour fighting my way along a waterway, and my 12-year-old brother just mowed down all the bad guys with a boat. It crushed my morale a little.


What's the status of the sequel to Spooks, Skyward?

I've been piecing together elements of the story (for Skyward) pretty much since Nanobots came out. I wouldn't let myself look at it until that was done. ;)

But it's pretty much going to be me making the type of game I always wanted to see. Lots of exploration of temple ruins, ancient secrets, neat mechanical artifacts... and hopefully something to neatly tie up the universe I created in "Spooks." I'll be bringing back a lot of the characters in some form or other.

How many parts did you originally envision the Spooks story to be? Will it end with Skyward, or continue as a trilogy?

I definitely meant for it (Spooks) to be a very short game. The ending was originally much different. I had drawings of Mortia setting Spooks free, then kind of wandering around the Land of the Living as a dead girl. Then one night while I was procrastinating on my exams, I decided to paint over Mortia to see how she'd look if she was alive. I really fell in love with the new look... the whole "innocent yet snarky" thing she had going... and I had to write it into the game.

To answer your question, the series will end with Skyward. And if everything goes according to plan, it will end spectacularly. ;)

Length-wise for Spooks 2?

Skyward will be longer than Spooks, and hopefully be a lot more fun to explore. If I put it conservatively, I'd say it'll be about 3-4 times as long.

Anything you'd want to say to the fans who are eagerly awaiting Skyward?

Hehe, well, tell them not to hold their breath. 2009 at the earliest.

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