The game design legend gets the rapid-fire question treatment...

FAQ: Brenda Brathwaite

[Develop’s archive of FAQ interviewees can be found here]

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Brenda Brathwaite, game designer, co-founder and COO at Loot Drop. I work with some incredible people to make social games.

What are you working on right now?
Wow, since we’re in start up mode, the answer feels like it should be, ‘What am I not working on?’. This week, I’ve finalised two contracts for games, completed a system design for John Romero’s upcoming game – an unannounced Facebook game to be published by RockYou – and talked to a few artist candidates. I’ll be starting on my own game sometime in May. It’s a really exciting time.

What was the first video game or product that you ever worked on in the industry?
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord at Sir-Tech Software. It later became better known as Wizardry 1, but back then, we weren’t figuring it would have seven sequels.

What was the first video game you ever played, and did you enjoy it?
I remember playing Pong at the local bowling alley in Ogdensburg, New York, where I grew up. Later, I borrowed a friend’s game system and played Pong on it with my mum. I remember talking with her about how amazing it was that this make-believe line could catch this make-believe ball and bounce it back. It felt magic to me. Game development still very much does. Just yesterday, Chris Burke, the lead coder on John’s game, was showing the implementation of a system I wrote, and I had that very thought. Making games, playing games, still has the same enjoyment for me.

What is your favourite game ever, and for what reason?
Ghost Recon, 1999, whose lead designer was Brian Upton, recently took the title from Civilization. The game is just so incredibly well done. The AI is responsive and keeps me guessing. It allows for excellent co-op and deathmatch play, and offers a type of play not commonly available in shooters.
John and I are over 170 hours into the game in the last year alone, and are currently playing the game on ‘elite’ level with fewer than 5 total team deaths. When we finish this run, we’ll try to play the perfect game on elite. Even with all those hours in, we still see new things and behaviours which surprise us. It and its two expansions, Desert Storm and Island Thunder, are amazing.

What do you enjoy about the video games industry today?
All the same things I’ve always enjoyed – making a game and seeing it come to life just never, ever gets old. I love the social game space, really. It’s different than any other type of design I have done, and even more challenging. It’s wonderful to make games for a target audience that includes me. That said, I am sure that at some point in the future, I’ll make some hardcore games again.

What disappoints you about the video games industry today?
We are in a period of transition in the social space where there are a lot of web app people who don’t necessary even like games but are nonetheless ‘designing’ them. It’s an unpleasant time for a great many creatives from our space, if the emails I receive are any indication. I expect that we’ll be in this period of transition for at least another year or two.

What hobbies, collections or interests do you have that are completely unrelated to video games?
Mexican food and culture. As a Northern New York transplant to California, Mexican food is totally new to me. There are so many great Mexican restaurants locally, and when we travel, we use Yelp to find great Mexican restaurants on the road and maintain a catalogue of sorts on our finds, likes and dislikes. I also find the culture just incredibly welcoming, wonderful, fun and celebratory. On Sundays, I usually go to a local place to see an eight-piece mariachi band, and I can’t get over how beautiful the music is. I get serenaded at my table by eight men. How can it get any better than that?

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