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  • For the Love of All Games: How Catherine Herdlick Broke Into the Industry

    - Jill Duffy

  •  CH: In every delivery to the publisher, I'll include a list of the things that have changed since the last time they saw a build of the game. Sometimes this includes, to greater and lesser degrees of detail, a summary of which art is final or semi-final. The most important things are new features usually, and a list of questions for them to answer. When I write the release notes, I also include a list of questions.

    I always propose a time to talk on the phone to discuss it so that it won't get to the deadline before we can consolidate that feedback. If it's a delivery for approval, I like to remind them that it's a delivery for approval and that we need to know within a week and that we're going to be sending an invoice.

    GCG: A producer I know once told me once that producers work the least amount of overtime, but a good producer will work the overtime with her team.

    CH: That's probably true. Before we did agile development, I worked -- and this is a control thing! -- I worked more, and I had more to do in terms of "I'm going to crunch tonight and do it." Not always, but I would think, "I have to rewrite the whole schedule. I have to rewrite everybody's tasks for the next four weeks and outline it in great detail." Now we do it as a team and it's more distributed over the day. Each day I have to work a certain number of hours.

    To think of myself now versus four years ago, I spent some time in the office slacking off, and I spend no time doing that anymore. I mean, literally none. I'm here and I'm working. I'm exhausted when I go home, but I do tend to not work very much overtime.

    But it is imperative that if the team is staying really late that you be there, that you can't have them stay late and they say, "Good night! It's six o'clock, so see you in the morning!" and they're still there in their pajamas with scraps of food everywhere. If they're working late, you have to stay with them. Sometimes that means I am just hanging out reading the news, but usually I'll just tweak around with my release notes.

    GCG: What advice do you have for people who want to get into the game industry specifically in production?

    CH: When I was at Parsons, I did do a lot of team projects and often did find myself, looking back now, in what was considered the producer role -- coordinating the team, reminding people of deadlines, keeping everything together. Sometimes I'd also have another role too, like designer, or programmer.

    I think if someone wants to get into the game industry, generally they should be making games, even if they are paper games -- they don't need to be digital. I do the Come Out & Play street festival --

    GCG: -- What is that?

    CH: It's a festival for street games. We had the first one last year. Greg Trefry is the executive director of it. He and myself and two other guys put it together last year. It's over the whole weekend. It's games played in public space all around New York City. We're actually doing it in Amsterdam, too.

    The games use cell phones or flicker tagging, and some of them include no technology at all, like hide-and-seek or something. That's an example of thinking of a pretty low-tech solution to whet your appetite in game design.

    If you want to be in a producer role, it's incredibly important to understand at least in an amateur way game design, visual design, and programming. It's virtually impossible, I think, to manage a team of those people with out it.

    In music, unfortunately, everybody is a little bit less knowledgeable in explaining themselves about audio, but you have to be able to deliver critical and constructive feedback about all of those things.
    For production, understanding general principles of each of those things, not necessarily mastering each one, but just sort of understanding that if you are going to master one, master game design.

    The most important thing is to practice good organizational skills, which can be done. Since high school, I've written out my tasks for the evening, and then for the week, and I put in parentheses how long they'll take me. I do like a time estimate. (laughs)

    GCG: For stuff like that, it sounds like it's already part of you and that's why you're attracted to production. It's kind of hard to decided today's the day I'm going to be an organized person if you're not already.

    CH: There's also an element of embracing parts of your personality that you might not be proud of. The control thing is an example.

    GCG: What's something you wish you had known before you got into the game industry?

    CH: It would have been nice -- this might sound petty -- but the industry has one of the greater imbalances in compensation between males and females. I guess it would have been nice to know that ahead of time.

    GCG: Are you talking about salary?

    CH: Yeah, salary. It's different at Gamelab because we're so small we don't have tons of money to pay anybody very much money.

    Also, in our niche of the industry, you have to be very sensitive about PC things.

    GCG: By PC you mean politically correct and not PC as in a platform, right?

     CH: Yes. For instance with Diner Dash, there were several people who thought we were being racist because the black business woman, the successful black business woman who leaves big tips, is impatient. The response was, "You're saying all black people are impatient," and we felt like that's wasn't it at all; we were trying to include a black character and not have all white people. Things like that.

    I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise but it did. I went to a school that was obsessed with political correctness that I definitely didn't expect to continue to think about political correctness. In the gaming industry, the attitude seems like it is "Whatever! We'll do whatever we want!" But I guess it's a changing trend in the industry.

    GCG: What games are you playing now?

    CH: I'm actually not playing a ton of games right now because I don't have very much time. I'm playing Guitar Hero II --

    GCG: -- In the office?

    CH: No at home. And we've been playing kickball, which is not at all a digital game!

    Interview by Jill Duffy
    All screenshots courtesy of Gamelab


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