If you thought the gaming industry was full of uni students in baseball caps lazing on reclining chairs you would be wrong. We got to meet Lauren Anne Marie Carter, the woman behind the super selling interactive fiction game ‘POWERLESS’. She told us about just how hard it is designing a game and why she chose to set up her own game studio.
You set up your own Indie studio in 2015 with your boss at the time Ryan, tell us about this decision?
I think after running a production company for so long, we were so ready to make a product; something which we could craft and perfect and be in control of. I think it was something both of us had always wanted to do so it was like the perfect storm.
For those who don’t know, please tell us about Powerless.
Powerless is an interactive fiction game that challenges players to survive in a world without electricity. You explore different characters or personas who are all experiencing this same disaster but all from different perspectives.
I’ve always loved making things and because of the way that the game world is so open for new experiences and ideas and the rate at which technologies are developing makes it an inspiring and challenging place to be.
You’ve been quoted for saying you want to make credible games, with diversity, reality and “no zombies”. Why have you chosen to steer clear of make-believe?
I like to think that gaming has a place beyond pure entertainment and escapism and I think that’s where I can add most value as a game designer. There are already 1000s of games about fantastical threats and situations, I think there’s a desire for a game that deals with real-world issues. I wouldn’t go as far as to say our game is ‘educational’ but I think it is didactic. The dream for me would be to know that people are discussing the issues in the game and taking a closer look at the world around them.
You also once said that making a game is really hard work, but you’ve made the same game three times, so tell us why you decided to go into the gaming world?
It is really hard work; because there’s no template or blueprint for a game. A game can be literally anything; you could make a platform game about magical goats designed for kids playing on a tablet device. Or it could be a VR racing game set on Mars. The possibilities are endless, so how do you start to design something which could be anything, for anyone, to be played on 100s of different devices? Well, the only way is to iterate; try out different ideas until you find a synthesis between the game mechanics you think are fun and the themes you are interested in and the audience you want to reach. That times time and sometimes you get it wrong. I got it wrong a few times but that’s part of the process, and that’s how you get better at it. I’ve always loved making things and because of the way that the game world is so open for new experiences and ideas and the rate at which technologies are developing makes it an inspiring and challenging place to be.
I’m often told that I’m too hard on myself and that I take the hard way with everything.
You studied at Oxford University, so what is the best piece of advice you could give to students studying to be in your field of work?
Well, I studied English Literature, but I like to think there is no set path for game development. I think the most important thing is dedication and perseverance. It isn’t easy, and you have to keep going in the face of failure.
We found some pretty interesting facts about you! Like you trained to be a pilot?
Ha yup. I did this Star Wars simulator when I was about 6 or 7 at a theme park – you fly through the asteroid storm and the chair wobbles you about. I remember thinking “this is the best thing ever!” and I wanted to fly ever since then. My dad was really into flying too, so I guess I got it from him too. I remember flying one day and moving through the clouds on this really sunny day and feeling like I was Han Solo. It was amazing. I miss it a lot.
We also read that you once drove to Singapore in an old jeep? What’s this all about?
It’s the longest overland route you can do, and it hadn’t been done since the 50’s when a group of guys from Oxford and Cambridge did it. We wanted to prove that it could still be done. Travelling and driving are my two passions so when the opportunity came up, I was all over it. When the expedition was first being set up, there was a large group of us, all men with PhD’s and Master degrees, and then there was me; I had 1 term of English Literature under my belt and a driving licence I had scraped after failing 8 times (see what I mean about perseverance?). I was selected for the trip for reasons I’m still unsure of, but by the date of departure there was only 3 of us left, everyone else had dropped out because it was too dangerous or too difficult. It was an incredible journey; in fact, once the game is out, I’m going to spend time working on the documentary. We filmed the whole thing on this old film camera so I’d love to get that into shape.
I always worry that people will assume that because I went to Oxford I’m a certain ‘type’ of person but that’s genuinely not true.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you?
I’m not sure people have any conceptions about me let alone misconceptions! I’m often told that I’m too hard on myself and that I take the hard way with everything. Perhaps they’re right, and I’m a glutton for punishment, but I like to think it’s a positive thing – I love a challenge and I’ve never believed in taking the path of least resistance. It’s worked for me so far I think. I’ve had a lot of experiences and yes they have been difficult and painful at times but without them, I don’t think I’d have had the perseverance to write and then re-write over a million words about the end of the world! I always worry that people will assume that because I went to Oxford I’m a certain ‘type’ of person but that’s genuinely not true. I’m dyslectic and struggle a lot with spelling. Even though I studied English I’m slow at reading and it takes me ages to read a book, most of the time I listen to Audiobooks because it’s the only way I can get through the books I want to read at any real speed. I often wonder why I decided to make a game with so much writing and reading – I guess I do like to do things the hard way!
What are you working on at the moment? Any exclusives for us?
Perhaps.. a couple of things. An AR application – it’s more of a tool than a game, but it’s pretty exciting. Then, of course, there’s Powerless 2 which will be set in a different location and with a different natural disaster.
Is there one particular game you rate highly? And if so why?
Ok, I’m going to give you two; one of my favourite mobile games is Two Dots. I love the level design; the graphics are incredible, and the puzzles are so addictive. It’s probably the only free-to-play game I have, and sometimes I just scroll up through the map to see all the artwork. The second is 80 Days, a game made by Inkle Studios who have been a massive inspiration to me. I’m a huge fan of theirs (I sent them a cactus once to show my love ha!). Like Powerless, it’s an interactive fiction game, and we use the same narrative engine that they designed which is called INK. It’s beautifully written and just a fantastic experience based on one of my favourite novels ‘Around the World in 80 Days.’
It’s so hard, working out what you want to do and what your good at. It took me years.
As a female in a predominately male stigmatised environment are there any pros or cons to this fact?
Strangely enough, I’ve always been in male-dominated environments. The secondary school I went to was an all-boys school (they were transitioning to a co-ed system, but it wasn’t popular with girls). The RAF was predominantly men; when I worked in production, I would usually be one of the only women on set. I’m not sure if it’s just me and I’m attracted to situations where women aren’t expected or if it’s just where I’m most comfortable; I’ve never really noticed it until recently. As I’ve got older, I’ve started to feel the injustice much more, and I now make a concerted effort to encourage women to get involved not necessarily in male-dominated professions but to pursue whatever they are really interested in.
To be honest, though, I think it’s more important that we all (anyone who’s passed the ‘what the hell am I doing with my life’ phase) share our experiences with those who are looking for guidance and inspiration or who are feeling lost with what to do with their career. It’s so hard, working out what you want to do and what your good at. It took me years.
It’s even harder I reckon now for students. When I was at university Facebook was just coming out, and it was wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now; If I was at Uni now and I had to see the endless stream of social media telling me how amazing everyone else’s life is I think I would have really struggled. It’s always such a polished version of life. That’s why I’m really keen to share the ups and downs and the struggle of this journey and encourage people to try things even if they might be hard.
I don’t think I’ve answered your question…Sorry.
What can we find you doing when you’re not working?
I love painting, so I am often found in my “painting onesey” making a mess. I’ve got a minor obsession with Polaroids so I’m usually forcing people to pose while I take pictures of them. I’ve documented a lot of the Powerless development process on Polaroid. I live in this fantastic community in West London that has been forged by the best Goddamn coffee shop ‘Tab X Tab’. When I was working on the game, I would sit in there all day, and I’ve made some really awesome friends there (a fair few of them are in the game actually!) so 9/10 I’m in there. Or laying down. I really like laying down on the sofa and watching The American Office.
For more information about Powerless visit: https://www.powerlessgame.co.uk