Kate Olguin knew that finishing her undergraduate career and searching for a job would be difficult; she did not expect a pandemic to make it even harder. Fortunately, armed with a degree in interactive media and game design from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Kate landed as a game designer at Other Ocean Interactive, where she currently works on Project Winter. From her home in Connecticut, she also continues to volunteer with Boston Post Mortem, whose monthly events have moved to a virtual format.
In this podcast episode, Kate and I talk about how the pandemic affected not only her studies, but also her team’s development of the game The Call of Karen; what it was like to exhibit at WPI’s booth at PAX East; the tradeoffs of specializing in one field versus being a “nightmare jack of all trades”; how her minor in music will play a role in her game industry career; what makes a good guest speaker for Boston Post Mortem; and differences in the 19 years between when we each graduated from WPI.
Stream the audio edition of this interview below or from iTunes, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, Overcast, Pandora, Pocket Casts, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, RadioPublic, or the Internet Archive. Click past the jump for a transcript and links to resources mentioned in this episode.
- Kate Olguin on Twitter
- Other Ocean Interactive
- Project Winter on Steam
- The Call of Karen
- Interactive Media & Game Development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute
- WPI IGDA
- Boston Post Mortem
- Polygamer #33: Francesca Carletto-Leon on Diversity in Gaming at WPI
Voiceover: Welcome to the Polygamer podcast, where gaming is for everyone. Join us as we expand the boundaries of the gaming community.
Ken Gagne: Hello and welcome to the Polygamer podcast, episode number 112 for Wednesday, April 14th, 2021. I’m your host, Ken Gagne.
Ken: What a year it’s been. There has been a pandemic that has impacted so many institutions. We have talked here on this podcast about how it’s affected libraries. Also, very much of course, it’s affected schools and events in the gaming space like PAX East, which is now not happening. But nonetheless, a lot of people are still finding ways to move forward and progress their educations and their careers. And I’m very excited today to talk to somebody who has been doing exactly that.
Ken: A recent college graduate of my own alma mater, WPI, a recent hire of Other Ocean Interactive where they have the title of game designer, and an organizer for Boston Post Mortem in my own hometown of Boston. Please join me in welcoming Kate Olguin. Hello, Kate.
Kate Olguin: Hello. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.
Ken: Oh, my pleasure. We’ve exchanged a few tweets before and I’ve enjoyed the content you’ve been putting out. I’m very excited at your new position at Other Ocean Interactive. That’s great.
Kate: Oh, I’m very excited about it. It’s been a grand old time, love to have a job.
Ken: I can’t imagine looking for a job during a pandemic has not been the scenario you imagined when you enrolled at WPI. I do want to talk about your new job, but let’s go in chronological order. And let’s talk about your education. You majored in interactive media and game design or IMGD, at Western Polytechnic Institute, or WPI, in Central Massachusetts, which is also where I went, and where other alumni of this podcast like Francesca Carla de Leon went.
Ken: So, tell me about IMGD. Did you go to WPI specifically to enroll in that program? Did you transfer into it from computer science? How did that happen?
Kate: At some point in high school, I had the realization that I think most game developers do, which is you’re playing a video game, and you think, “Wow, this is fun.” And then, you have the thought, “Oh, someone made this like as a job. They made this for money and they made their living doing this.” And that’s a crazy realization for when you’re in high school, and you don’t have any concept of a job really, aside from like flipping burgers or whatever, or the standard career path of, I don’t know, lawyer, doctor, whatever.
Kate: So, I had that thought. I was very fortunate that my parents were very supportive of me. Not everyone is when you’re like, “Hey, I would like to make video games for a living.” So, I decided, I poked around, looked for colleges. WPI for a couple of reasons, just atmosphere. I like Massachusetts. It all ended up coming together for me, WPI, that was the one.
Ken: And you’re originally from New England, so it wasn’t that far.
Kate: Yeah, yeah, that was an important thing to me. I wanted to be close to home if possible, because I am in Connecticut right now, and before then. Hopefully, getting back to Massachusetts soon, though.
Ken: In the last decade or so, a lot more schools have started offering interactive media and games design programs, places like NYU and New York City, and even Becker College, literally, across the street from WPI. What other schools did you look at, and what made you choose to WPI?
Kate: Yeah. Let me think. I looked at Champlain, I looked at Northeastern, I looked at Becker, I looked at UConn, I looked at Hampshire, and I looked at RPI. And it was a variety of things that made me like WPI, part of it was being close to home. Part of it was I just liked how small the campus was. And another thing was, all of them really did like … All of those colleges give you the hard sell.
Kate: They’re like, “Come spend thousands of dollars to be here for four years. And hopefully, you’ll have learned a thing.” And actually, at WPI, they had just gone through this crazy faculty shake up, which I learned later. They have gone through this crazy faculty shake up, where like the head of the IMGD program left, and a bunch of faculty have also left from what I recall.
Kate: And so, they gave the presentation. And I don’t honestly remember all that much about the presentation, to be honest. But I do remember, I caught up … I ran into the guy who was giving the presentation, who was then the acting head of the department, I believe, or the program, Joshua Rosenstock. And I ran into him.
Kate: And at that time, I wanted to do game writing. That was before I learned that game writing is one of the hardest jobs you can try and get, like right out of school, or just for games in general. But I wanted to do game writing. And I ran into him and I was like, “Hey, I want to do game writing, and I didn’t hear anything official about it.” And he was super cool, super nice. And yeah, that was one of the reasons that I decided, “You know what? I think I’ll do it. I’ll give it a go.”
Ken: But you were discouraged from pursuing game writing as in like script writing, narrative design, et cetera?
Kate: Yeah. I wouldn’t say necessarily discouraged, no one sat me down and said, “You shouldn’t do game writing anymore.” And honestly, game writing is still a thing I would like to potentially try out in the future. Although, right now, I’m more than happy with where I’m at.
Kate: The thing about game writing, from what I have heard from industry professionals, what I heard from faculty … I like the faculty at WPI, or the IMGD faculty at WPI, they’re very supportive. But I kept on hearing over and over and over again, game writing is one of the hardest jobs to get, period, out of school, or just in general for game development, because there’s tons of people who want to do game writing.
Kate: It’s like, my old boss, at Fire Hose, he at one point said to me, “Now, we hired you to do audio, but we usually have a guy, who does audio for us outside of that. And so, think about all the indie companies that do their own audio and how hard that is. And now, think about all the indie companies that do their own writing.”
Kate: So, game writing just really hard. And I thought, “Well, I like writing, but do I like it enough to suffer for that one and that long?” And then I decided that, no, I would be more than happy to do other game development stuff. But then of course, I switch to design, which is also very difficult, not as like to get a job in right now, but not as difficult, but still really tough. But that one, I was more willing to make a concession for.
Ken: Did you already have experience in any area of creating a game, game development prior to enrolling at WPI? Had you done some programming in high school?
Kate: I took AP Computer Science, which was like just, it helped me figure out Java. My teacher, there was super cool, super nice. Shout out to Mrs. Corricelli. I knew AB Computer Science, but I hadn’t really applied it very much. I failed the AP test, or at least I didn’t fail but I did not get enough to like there weren’t any sort of transfer of credit.
Kate: And I think my final project for that class, I tried to emulate the Gen 1 like Pokemon. The way that Gen 1 Pokemon battles work. I did it in a super hacky way with like a million if statements, and it was super, not good. But I was very proud of it. Other than that, I hadn’t really had that much experience like actually making games.
Ken: Now, when you start in interactive media and game design at WPI, is this like, a game jam, where within a month you have something to show for your effort? How long were you at WPI before you had your own game?
Kate: So, the very first class I took at WPI, which was IMGD 1001. In that class, at least in the version I took it, and different professors will teach it different ways. But in the version I took it, the second half of that class is basically a game jam, where you work in a team to make a game.
Kate: Now, whether or not you have a finished game at the end of that point is subject to your team and also, just you and all that. But ideally, you do have that. But after that, there’s honestly a little bit of a drought. After that, there’s a bit of a drought. From people I’ve talked to in other game’s colleges, that’s not uncommon that the actual curriculum itself won’t give you too many projects. You’re expected to do it on your own.
Kate: Most professionals and like whoever just expect that of you. You go to school for games, you’re making games inside of class and outside of class. Do I love that? No. But do I love making games? Yes.
Kate: So, by the time I finished my freshman year at WPI, I think I counted and then I lost count. At some point, I had made 11 games of varying sizes because I went to every single game to impossible. I was doing miscellaneous stuff outside of that. I was trying to turn every game that I had into a class into some sort of project, because someone said the words portfolio to me. And I thought, “Oh, boy.” And I really started to buckle down.
Ken: Wow. That is so many games. And yeah, WPI is a very intense place. I found that most of my classmates and I had the bandwidth to really commit ourselves to maybe one extracurricular outside of class. Sounds like you went a little bit beyond that.
Kate: Actually, yeah. I went to the Game Development Club Developers as it was called, at that time, because the game development club did other stuff that wasn’t making games. It was kind of a weird thing. And I went to every single meeting of that and just threw myself at it.
Kate: And I think it was halfway through sophomore year, I actually became the president of it, which was exciting. And in the meantime, the Diversity in Games Club got revived. It had been out for a few years or a year or two. I don’t know how long actually. But the Diversity in Games Club got revived. And so, I got involved in that. And outside of that, I actually did a cappella. That was my one non-game related thing that I did, was I sang songs on the weekend.
Ken: Whoa. Whoa. A cappella, which group are you in? Well, I think, there’s Asymmetric is one of the groups?
Kate: I was in the Technichords.
Ken: Oh, amazing. Yes. They were there when I was there.
Kate: Oh, that’s crazy. Man, they’ve really been around a long time.
Ken: That’s the women’s a cappella group, right?
Kate: Yeah, yeah.
Ken: They used to be called Interstate 8.
Kate: Yes, because there were eight of them, and they were from different states, right?
Ken: That’s right, which is a name that didn’t really scale. So, they changed it. But, oh, wow, are they still putting out albums nowadays or CDs sort of gone the way of 8tracks?
Kate: Yeah. I don’t think they, at least while I was there, didn’t do albums. But we still do a big old show every year and have a good time. The audio files puts out albums now.
Ken: Cool. And the big show is that, a cappella fest?
Kate: Oh, man, I think each group has their own big show and all the other ones perform at it. So, I think Simple Harmonic Motion does a cappella fest. And we have our own show, which is temptations from blank. It’s always temptations from something.
Ken: I love that. If I am ever back in Massachusetts, and if this pandemic ever ends, I will have to go to the temptation show.
Kate: I highly recommend.
Ken: So, one of the experiences that you had at WPI, in addition to making games and singing a cappella was, attending the Boston Festival of Indie Games. I have interviewed its founder here on the show, and also attending PAX East, which many people have gone to from this show. But you went to both of these events as an exhibitor. So, what was it like to attend these events, which I assume you’d been to before as an attendee, but now you were on the other side of the table?
Kate: Yeah. It was absolutely crazy, because BostonFIG and PAX East were also some of the things that did contribute to me wanting to go into game development, because I had family in Massachusetts, and there was one point where we were in Massachusetts, at the same time that PAX East was going on. But I didn’t know about PAX East until I had gotten home. And then when I found out, as an avid game player, when I found out that there had been a gaming convention in the state, like a mere, like 10 miles from where I had been, I was astonished, and I was like, “I have to go next year. I got to go, I got to go.”
Kate: And I went, and it was, as you can imagine to a young lass of high school who just has lived in a town where nobody else really played video games, absolutely, astonishing experience. Being on the other side of the table, completely different. I don’t know which I prefer, to be honest. Probably, being an exhibitor, I like organizing things. I try to keep very organized whenever I do stuff. And I like helping out people and I like running stuff, it just feels good to … It feels good to me when you go to an event, or you complete a task, or something like that. I like organizing stuff.
Kate: And so, when I got the opportunity to help organize WPI’s appearance at both PAX East and BostonFIG, it was super exciting for me, especially because I had two good pals, Grant and Jordan to help me out. But it’s completely different. It is way more exhausting because you have to be on all the time. If there are people nearby, you’re smiling, you’re trying to get them to come play your video game. You are on all the time.
Kate: But it’s also a lot more fun in that presumably, when you go there, at least this was the case for me, you’re part of this greater game development community, and you’ll see people who you know there, and that’s super exciting. Where you get your 10 minutes off of the booth and you can go over and heckle your friends at a different booth. And be like, “Oh, how’s it going?” And you can talk about how the game is going. It’s a lot of fun. It feels like being part of a secret club.
Ken: It does sound exhausting, everything you said about organizing it and being on. I mean, I’ve done those things at other events and I wouldn’t want to do it the whole time because I would feel like I’d be taken away from being present to enjoy the event. I hope that exhibiting was the minority of your time at an event like PAX?
Kate: Actually, I helped exhibit at PAX for WPI twice. The first time, I was on, maybe not most of the time, but it was either me, Grant or Jordan, the two guys I was with, one of us had to be at the booth at all times. So, I guess, like I was there a third of the time, because the other two-thirds of the time they were there. And the second time, I was mostly just there to kind of supervise in case something went pear shaped.
Kate: So, that time, I got to do is, walk around and enjoy the event more. And I definitely would say, as much as I do enjoy exhibiting, being on all the time, as you said, is completely exhausting. So, I agree, I like having that time when possible to go and explore the event. I’ve been to a lot of smaller events, like demo nights and stuff in the area, where I was the only one on my team there. And I have to be by the computer the whole time. And that, as much as I like exhibiting, that’s a lot less fun, because you can’t go around and talk to people and experience the event, like you said.
Ken: Were you showing your own games at these events? Or were you showing your classmate’s, et cetera?
Kate: So, the first time I was at PAX East, I think, it was other people’s games. The second time, two of my games were there, actually. And at BostonFIG, one of mine was there also, yeah. So, it was a mixture of it. But mostly, I was showing at least one of my games.
Ken: And when you’re showing your own games, is the goal either to get it published, or is it more to attract people to attend WPI?
Kate: The goal for WPI is, definitely, for showing that is to get people to attend WPI. The goal for me is to get people to see that my game is good, including, at least at that time for me, employers. Actually, I had a crazy thing that happened to me at BostonFIG where I was showcasing one of my games is like, Friend Sighting, which is about a moth man going to a school for monsters.
Kate: And some guy and his kid came up, and this kid just sat down, started playing and he just started talking to me. And he said something about 3D modeling to me, and I just thought he was being nice and we were just chatting and having a good time. And his kid finished with the game, got up and he turned to me, and he said, “Well, anyways, I’m the President of FableVision, so if you ever want like a portfolio review or something like that, we’re doing an event in the future. Here’s my card.” And he walked away and I was just stunned.
Kate: That’s the kind of thing I want to happen at those events.
Ken: Yeah, you never really know who you’re talking to. So many of the people who contribute to video games aren’t rock stars in the sense that you would recognize if you were walking down the street, so you have to be nice to everybody.
Kate: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Ken: That’s awesome. So, your education at WPI had so many of these wonderful experiences, right up until the end, just like a month and a half, two months before graduation, boom, global pandemic.
Kate: Oh, yeah. A big oof there, a really rough time.
Ken: So, I imagine even in as digital realm as interactive media and game design, you’re still on campus, you’re still attending classes for the first three, and three quarters of your education, what happened this time last year when all of a sudden everything changed?
Kate: Yeah, honestly, I kept on saying to my friends, because I had some friends who were engineers. I just kept on saying, “I’m really grateful that the IMGD faculty at WPI know how to use a computer.” There are so many engineers, engineering professors, who don’t. Honestly, all things considered, I felt like the transition to remote was pretty good. Because like you said, it’s a very digital realm.
Kate: Obviously, it’s not quite the same. But a lot of the environment can be emulated. I think the most difficult part was, a lot of times you’re in IMGD, you go to the lab or something, or you’re in a room full of people working on stuff and you can just say, “Hey, I’m having a problem,” and someone like either another student or professor will come over to help you. And that’s a lot harder to do when you’re remote because it’s not the same as being in a room and just waving your hand and having someone to help you.
Kate: You have to message someone and then you have to wait for them to get back, or even if you’re in a call, it’s still a whole thing. But I felt like the transition was like, all things considered, pretty fine. I would imagine that it gets more frustrating for everyone when you’re there longer. But for me, it was just the last half of the semester, so it was fine.
Ken: Yeah, at that point, you’ve had most of your education behind you and you’re just in the homestretch. As you and I were chatting before the podcast, it’s good that you were able to graduate that time and not like a year or two later, because if you were in the middle of your academic career when the pandemic happened, that is significantly more disruptive.
Kate: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Ken: Yeah. Now, not only was your education in progress, but so was some games that you were working on, specifically The Call of Karen, that is a team that you were working on of about four people. So, what did the pandemic do to that specific project?
Kate: Yeah, that one was definitely, that was quite a transition because we had been meeting in person. Before the pandemic struck, we’ve been meeting in person, something like three or four days a week.
Kate: We met every single day just to give an update on here’s what we’re doing today and here’s how things are going, and here’s what the plan is. Basically, a little mini stand up. And we did a lab time for The Call of Karen too where we would sit together and we just work in the same vicinity. So, if we had questions or wanted to get a second pair of eyes on things, we could.
Kate: And that was a lot harder to do after the pandemic struck. It was also incredibly difficult, because we were in the homestretch of that game. But also, you’re grappling with pandemic and you’re grappling with senioritis, which I mean like, we all really wanted to get the game done. But also, there comes a point where you’re doing remote learning, and you’re in Zoom calls, and you’re like, “Enough is enough.”
Kate: We were all super dedicated, but we were also getting fatigued and it was very disruptive. But I’m super grateful that the team was super hard working. Everyone was, like I said, very dedicated to the project and we did manage to get it done. And I felt like, I’m very proud of the product that we ended up putting out there.
Ken: Did you have a deadline you were working toward? And if so, did it get pushed?
Kate: Yeah, our deadline vaguely was we would like this game to be on Steam after we complete it, and we would like to complete it by the end of the year. That was our goal. Starting out, we want a game that is done after the end of the academic year.
Kate: We kind of made it. I mean, the game was fully playable and I guess a minimum viable product, you could say. I mean, it was pretty buggy at some points, but we did have a completed game, I guess, it was the beginning of May was when school ended. We did have a completed game there.
Kate: But we did end up working on it for about another month or two. I don’t actually remember the exact date. But we ended up working on it for a bit longer to get it all polished up for Steam and wide release and all that.
Ken: And I understand it’s done not badly on Steam. You had about 70,000 downloads. Congratulations.
Kate: Thank you. It’s crazy. We actually hit 90,000 the other day and we didn’t notice.
Ken: Oh wow.
Ken: Pretty soon, you’ll be in the six digits.
Kate: I hope so. That’ll be crazy.
Ken: So, this game, it’s for Windows, it’s completely free. Anybody can grab it from Steam. What is the Call of Karen?
Kate: The Call of Karen is a game about a 1950s suburban housewife whose home is being invaded by Cthulhu. It’s kind of like Cooking Simulator but with more Eldritch Horror. Yeah, you play as Karen. You are a 1950s suburban housewife and you’ve got to keep your house in order and deal with your family as your life descends into madness.
Ken: So, this is a first-person perspective game where Cthulhu is invading your home?
Kate: Yes, yes.
Ken: That’s amazing. What sort of games did you play, if any, for inspiration? I can imagine maybe like Cthulhu Saves the World or Eternal Darkness?
Kate: Weirdly enough, neither of those.
Ken: Oh, dang.
Kate: Weirdly enough, no Cthulhu games for inspiration. I know, really. Well, because it’s like a comedy game. So, I loved watching Let’s Players in high school and so I loved watching them do stuff like Surgeon Simulator, Octodad, all that. So, I watched tons of those games with silly controls or if not silly controlled, then just the very silly premise.
Kate: And the main inspiration for this game was, hold on, I got to Google it. I got to find the name. I think it was Mother Simulator. Yeah, it was Mother Simulator. I’d seen a Let’s Play of Mother Simulator. And it’s this game that’s like, incredibly … It’s so silly. It’s just you have a robot baby. It’s like first person perspective and it’s really like erratic. You have a baby and sometimes the baby wants stuff and you run around the house and you just do stuff with it.
Kate: The baby’s like, “Ah, change my diaper.” And you have to drop the baby in the crib, and then run over and snatch up the diaper and throw it at the baby, and it’s just very chaotic and very simple. That was the other thing I liked about it. It very chaotic, very simple, and very funny.
Kate: And so, that was actually probably our biggest comparable, but we always tell people Cooking Simulator because more people know Cooking Simulator. And not to dunk on Mother Simulator because full respect to the people who inspire The Call of Karen, but Cooking Simulator is a bit more polished.
Ken: Since you mentioned having a comparable, is that something that you have to research anytime you’re pitching a game in a class at WPI? And also, was this game for a class?
Kate: To answer the first question, comparables, not necessarily. I don’t think I’ve researched comparables at WPI outside of my own games and such. Yeah, I don’t know if that was something. I would imagine that my experience differs from other people because different faculty teach different classes and everyone has their own thing.
Kate: So, I think, there was a class that I was a teacher’s assistant where they did do that, but I didn’t for any of my classes. That was stuff that I learned when I was making my own games. And then, I went to the Mass DiGI Game Challenge, a local pitching competition and I saw what they were doing. And I was like, “Hmm, I should probably be doing that same thing.”
Ken: Makes sense.
Kate: As for whether The Call of Karen was made for a class, so The Call of Karen technically was my major qualifying project, which is like your capstone at WPI. But we actually started work on The Call of Karen about six months before we were going to get any credit for it.
Kate: I got the team together and I sat them down. And I was like, “Look, I would really like for this game.” My one goal for this game is we want to make a game and we want it to be good and we want it to be released on Steam and be good enough to be released on Steam. It’s kind of a vague phrase because a lot of things get released on Steam, but we want to meet a certain standard of quality.
Kate: And so, I sat them down and they were all super on board with it. The school year started in late August and we started work on The Call of Karen, just early planning out stuff, no prototypes or anything like that. But we started working on The Call of Karen in February of that same year. So, we had been working on it for a while.
Ken: One of the reasons I asked about comparables is because sometimes people think, “I have no comparables. This has never been done before. It’s a unique idea that the world is going to love because they’ve never seen anything like it.” When from a marketing perspective, what you actually want is to say, “Here are the games that are like mine and how mine is going to be better.” If there are no comparables, that’s probably because it’s a terrible idea and nobody wants to do something like this.
Kate: Yes, that was something I heard a lot. Because I went to the Mass DiGI Game Challenge when I was like a sophomore, which then a pitching competition, and I had no clue what I was doing. But I stayed to watch the finals and I saw what they were all doing and I was taking notes.
Kate: And then after that when I went to go for the next year, I started researching everything. And the phrase that I kept on hearing was exactly as you say where you want your game to be, “It’s like this, but this.” Or preferably be, but this is better.
Ken: Right. So, Call of Karen, you were on a team of four and in that team you yourself took on the roles of producer, designer and environment artist and you have worn many hats before as such as when you worked on the Lead the Light, you were a lead artist, audio coordinator and designer. So, of all these hats that you have worn, which one fit the best? Which one did you enjoy the most?
Kate: That is such a good question. I think, honestly, I have to say, I like being a designer the most. There are aspects of all of those roles that I really liked, but I really … I just love design. I can’t even fully articulate it. I don’t know of how much or like the particular reasons that I like design. I think it’s just fun to have an idea and see it come together. But that makes design sound too much like you’re the idea person or whatever.
Kate: I love doing design because I feel like with design, I mean, of course, all game development disciplines have a significant impact on the actual experience that the player is having. But what I like about design is that you have a lot … With design, you get to be very hyper specific about here’s what I want and here’s how the player should be feeling. And here’s how all of these systems come together to make this a full, cohesive experience and you have to really be thinking about the big picture. And I love that. I think that’s great. I have so much fun with that.
Ken: So, with all these job titles that you’ve had, you clearly know how to do a lot of different things. I would normally describe a person like that as a Jack of all trades or a Jill of all trades. You describe yourself as a nightmare Jack of all trades. Which at first, I thought, is that a term I’ve never heard before? And I googled it and I got a lot of hits about The nightmare before Christmas. So, no, I don’t think I’m missing something. What is a nightmare before Christmas and why does that have such a negative connotation?
Kate: Yeah, I will often introduce myself as a nightmare jack of all trades. I want to clarify that I think that there’s nothing wrong with being a jack of all trades. I think it’s great to know how to do a lot of things. In fact, it’s helped me a lot in every single job I have been at. It has helped me so much to know how to do a lot of things.
Kate: But the problem that I have heard from a lot of people like faculty, the professionals, bosses, whatever. What I’ve been told a lot of times when you say a jack of all trades or I’m a jack of all trades, the impression that sometimes people walk away with is, “Oh, you can’t focus” or “Oh, you like a lot of things, but you’re not actually good at one thing.”
Kate: I think for, indies, from what I understand for indies, that’s actually not so bad as to be good at a lot of things. I think for everyone, it’s good to be good at a lot of things. But for indies, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, why would I hire one really good artist who doesn’t know anything about coding when I could hire someone who can both do art and code?”
Kate: But for a lot of game development jobs, I think, they want you to specialize more. That was just the impression that I got and what I’ve heard. So, I will jokingly describe myself as a nightmare jack of all trades, especially because it also took me a while to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. So, I just had my hand in this, have my hand in that. And I got pretty good at things, but it took me a while to get there.
Ken: So even though you do describe yourself as a nightmare jack of all trades, if you are at an industry event and you’re talking with a potential employer, and they were to ask you like, “What kind of role are you looking for? Or what aspects of game development do you enjoy the most?” You wouldn’t just say, “Oh, anything and everything.”
Kate: Yeah. No, I wouldn’t. I usually go with designer and producer for that one. But now that I’ve got a design job, probably I’m just going to stick to the same designer.
Ken: That makes sense. Although I’m glad that that’s the role that you were looking for because there tends to be a lot of inertia in any person’s career, regardless of the industry where if you have two or three jobs in a row that are the same kind of job, you’re probably going to get pigeonholed when people look at your resume and you’re going to keep getting jobs like that. So, it can be difficult to switch tracks once you are outside of academia, I have found.
Kate: Yeah. No. I’ve heard that too. So, I’m super grateful that I have the job I have now.
Ken: However, what does that mean for your minor in music that you got from WPI? You do still write music, including for a recent compilation World Tour and you have been a contract sound designer. Do you see this coming into play in your role now as a game designer?
Kate: It’s definitely another one of those areas where I found it’s useful to know. It’s been helpful to me to keep audio in mind when I’ve been working on any game, when I’ve been working on doing live ops for Project Winter as well.
Kate: But I’m honestly a little bit torn about where my future lies with music. I love writing music. I think writing music is great. I like sound too, just overall sound design too, but I like music the most.
Kate: But I don’t fully know how much I would love to be … I would like to be a musician full time. I think music is a thing that I just really … I have a very specific way of writing music and I have a very specific style of music that I like. I like stuff with a lot of instruments and I like stuff that has a very strong melody. And not every game or project or anything is looking for that.
Kate: So, I’m happy to write music as opportunities and stuff becomes available to me or just as the winds hit me.
Ken: What about being a remix artist and contributing to OC ReMix? Is that something you would consider doing?
Kate: Actually, when I was in a capella, I did a lot of arrangements of songs for both the Technichords and other groups. So, I like writing music a lot, but I also like doing different renditions of other people’s songs too. So, I would honestly, I could see myself doing that if I brushed up my skills a bit more.
Ken: I would love that. I love the remixes that that website puts out. My only complaint is that we don’t need more remixes of Chrono Trigger, Mega Man two, Super Mario three, Castlevania three. I love those games. I love those soundtracks. We don’t need 127th remix of it.
Kate: Yeah. You said we don’t need more remixes of and my brain went, “Oh, he’s going to say Mega Man two.”
Ken: Yeah, yeah, that’s one of them. I mean, again, there’s a reason people remix it so often but …
Kate: Great soundtrack, but …
Ken: Yeah, I would like a little variety, please. So, with all these different skills and with this amazing, wonderful degree from the WPI, you finally landed, yay congratulations, a game designer role at Other Ocean Interactive, which is the developers of such games as Super Monkey Ball, #IDARB, Medieval, and many others. So, what was it like looking for a job during a pandemic?
Kate: I mean, people told me it was going to be bad. But I didn’t realize quite how bad it was going to be. I had been told throughout my entire career at WPI, “It’s going to be hard to find a job. It’s difficult to get a job in games.” And I heard that and I thought, “It is, but I think I can do it.”
Kate: And then pandemic hit and it was rough twofold because so much of game development, from what I understand, and finding a job, is who you know. It’s reaching out through your network connections, because it’s a lot easier to get an interview at a place where you know someone.
Kate: And the thing is, it’s not only is it already tough enough to go looking for anything in the greater Boston area as a game development graduate, because as much as I love, absolutely love, the game development community in the greater Boston area. It’s not as big as places like L.A. or San Francisco or miscellaneous other places. And a lot of the companies are small, so not all of them are hiring.
Kate: And so, the pandemic hits and a lot of those small companies are the ones that are potentially struggling a bit more. And unfortunately, that’s where I know people. So, that was really tough. Other Ocean was my 80th application.
Ken: Do they know that?
Kate: I don’t think they do. Other Ocean was my 80th application and I want to say my like 10th interview, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. And it took like eight months. I think it was eight months? Yeah, it was a while. It was brutal, honestly. I only hope that it gets less brutal for more people and I’d like to think that it would have been different if the pandemic hadn’t hit.
Kate: But I’m also grateful because if the pandemic hadn’t hit, I don’t know if I would have gotten the job that I have now. Because the Other Ocean told me they were like, “We don’t usually do remote work for people who aren’t like seniors, but everyone’s remote now, so why not?”
Ken: Well, that’s one of the questions I had, which was the pandemic has accelerated the trend toward remote work, which means that you’re no longer limited to applying for jobs in Boston. You can apply anywhere.
Ken: The downside is that it also means that employers can hire from anywhere. So, you’re now competing on a global scale. So, this is an entirely remote job and you weren’t like flown in to meet anybody and you haven’t met any of your co-workers yet?
Kate: Yeah. I only know my co-workers through Discord. And I think I’ve only spoken face-to-face and by face-to-face. I mean, video call to video call with I want to say like six of them and I work with a team of, I’m not good with numbers, but like 20. So, yeah, it has definitely been a different experience than like when I worked for Fire Hose, or MassDiGI or anything like that.
Ken: And what does that experience been like, so far? I know you’ve only been there for a few months. And I’m asking at this moment, specifically about the remote aspect. My job is also fully remote. It has been since before the pandemic, but it’s the first time I’ve ever held a job like that. And you noted earlier about how it’s difficult when you can’t just flag somebody down to come over and look at your work. But when you don’t have a manager who’s accessible to you or somebody else who’s looking over your shoulder, and you’re very much more self-sufficient to meet your own goals and deadlines, how has it been with your first fully remote full time job?
Kate: I like to think of myself as pretty disciplined. So I actually do all right with less structure. But I will say that I feel like they’ve done a really great job of onboarding me and everything. They’ve been super supportive of all of the remote stuff. Like there was a time where my VPN wasn’t working or whatever because I was in the States and they’re in Canada, and I was like, ah. And all these people were reaching out to me and trying to help me out.
Kate: Whenever I have a question, I can just pop it in the right channel or DM someone, they usually get back to me pretty quickly. I think they’ve been a really great team to work with so far. I’m super grateful for all of them.
Ken: And what was it that attracted you to Other Ocean Interactive? Was it the kinds of games that they do? The good reviews on a website like glassdoor.com? The fact that they had an opening for a game designer?
Kate: The last one. No, I’m kidding. No, one of the things that actually attracted me to Other Ocean was kind of that jack of all trades thing you were talking about earlier. The Other Ocean is interesting because they’re kind of a big company, but also a small company. They’ve got different offices everywhere. But not all of those offices are huge. And not nothing like a triple A company, like a big massive, sprawling team of like hundreds of people.
Kate: I looked at Other Ocean’s portfolio, and one of the things that I liked was that Other Ocean had a lot of different projects, but also all of them were good. And as someone who likes to do a lot of things and explore a lot of different projects, that was something that really appealed to me.
Kate: And the other thing was I was drawn to it because of Project Winner, which is the game I do live ops for. It’s a social deception game. It’s like Among Us meets Don’t Starve-ish. That’s the general vibe. And I love deception games. One of the last things I did before the pandemic hit was like organize a werewolf night with friends.
Ken: Oh, gosh. Deception games are not one of my strong suits, like Secret Hitler. I’m just no good at them.
Kate: Well, I’m terrible at lying. But I have a great time.
Ken: And just to clarify, when you said you do live ops, what is that?
Kate: Yeah, I do live operations. So, basically, Project Winter is a game that … it requires multiplayer servers, eight people in them. And it requires a multiplayer server because their game is up to eight people. And people are playing it. I mean, people are playing Project Winter right now. And it’s been out since 2019, I believe, and people are still playing it. And we’ve been doing updates to the game. So both stuff like bug fixes, of course, but also new cosmetics and also gameplay changes.
Kate: So, this most recent update, we just dropped a map with a brand new mechanic. And so, we keep on doing content updates to keep both old players playing and new players interested or like entice new players into the game. So, I work on the content for those updates. So, what’s coming next. And what we’re going to give to players to keep them playing, keep them coming.
Ken: So I myself don’t have an Xbox or a Windows machine, so I had not encountered Project Winter before. But when I do a Google search, I don’t know where Google is pulling from but in the results, it says 94% of people like this video game, that’s a really good track record.
Kate: I sure hope that’s true. I say that it’s not true. We have a really active Discord server that people are constantly popping off in. We’ve got a very active and dedicated community fan base. I would hope people like this game because, and I don’t say this just because I work on it. I really like the game. I actually play it with my friends in my free time sometimes. It’s a lot of fun.
Kate: But we have a surprisingly active fan base. I say surprisingly, not as though it’s a surprise because, again, the game’s good. But surprisingly, because I think Other Ocean hadn’t had their own independent IP. They hadn’t had a hit for their own independent IP, really, until this one, as I understand it. And also, again, the game released, I think, in 2019, and people are still playing it. People are still pretty regularly playing it, which is crazy.
Ken: Yeah, I’m looking at the same page, which is the Windows version. It has a very positive rating based on a lifetime of 11,011 reviews. And that dates back to May 23rd 2019. Its release of almost two years ago. And I love the art style now that I’m looking at it. This seems like a lot of fun. Is it a game that you were playing even before you applied for this job?
Kate: I don’t know how but it somehow hadn’t crossed my radar, which is crazy, because I’ve been playing a ton of Among Us. And we’ve been playing like Secret Hitler, and all these miscellaneous other social deception games. So, I have no idea how somehow I never managed to come across Project Winter.
Kate: The moment I got the job, I told my friends, I was like, “Hey, I’m working on this game.” And they were like, “Well, we’re playing it immediately.” And so now, I play Project Winter with my friends sometimes and it’s very fun to be able to play a game you’re working on with your friend.
Ken: As long as it doesn’t feel like work at that point.
Kate: Yeah, but it’s still fun.
Ken: Now, the way that Other Ocean is divided, are you working exclusively on this game? Or do they have you on multiple projects?
Kate: Right now, I work exclusively on this one. Other Ocean has all sorts of other stuff going on, as you would imagine with a game company. But right now, I am Project Winter bound.
Ken: Cool. And do you have a sense for how long that assignment will last? I know that I can’t ask you about things that Other Ocean hasn’t announced yet. But do you have a sense for where your career at Other Ocean is going? Even though you’ve only been there a few months?
Kate: Not yet. Right now, I’m on the roadmap for until like the end of the year. Who knows what’s going to happen before then, after that, mystery.
Ken: Cool. It’s exciting. We’re kind of almost an hour. And there’s one other topic I want to broach. I know that we could talk a lot more about Other Ocean and your work there. But I also want to touch upon, you mentioned that when you were at the WPI, you were the president of the WPI chapter of the IGDA. Is that correct?
Kate: Yeah, yeah, it wasn’t called that. But it was called that immediately after I left.
Ken: They waited until you left.
Kate: Immediately after I left the club, to clarify, not the school. I was still in the club. After I stopped being the president of it, there it is.
Ken: Gotcha. Okay. And then, after or at some point, you also got involved with the Boston Post Mortem, which I understand is basically the Boston chapter of the IGDA. Is that correct?
Kate: Yes, that is right.
Ken: So, I’ve been to a couple of Boston Post Mortem talks myself in Kendall Square in Cambridge. Clearly, they’re not there anymore during the pandemic, they’re presumably online. But for those who have not had the pleasure, what is Boston Post Mortem?
Kate: Yeah, so Boston Post Mortem traditionally builds itself as like games and grog once a month. And once a month, we’ll usually get a speaker, round everyone up, and we’ll have people talk. Sometimes, it’s actually a post mortem. Sometimes it’s just the informative topic.
Kate: And we’ll have people get together, they can network and we’ll have people and then we learn from each other. And I love that. I think it’s great.
Ken: And you’re still doing these events on a monthly basis. They just now migrated to an online platform.
Kate: Yeah, we still do talks once a month. But we also are experimenting with other kinds of events too. Because as you can imagine, the pandemic has changed the face of game development and game development networking a bit.
Kate: The event before this last one we did, it was a developer stream. So, we brought on three game developers who were well established in the area. And we had them do a live stream of what they were working on, all indie devs. So, no mystery, spooky NDA stuff.
Kate: And we had them all live stream what they were working on for the audience, so people could see it and ask questions and see how a professional developer works on their stuff. And potentially pick up some tips and all that. And that ended up working out really well. And we’ve done, I think, similar things in the past with having people like artists live stream their work, usually in the classroom or something on a big screen.
Kate: But it was definitely different having it online. And I think it actually worked out a little bit better that way, it was a little less chaotic, we would have had to have gotten three rooms before and now we can do three Discord channels.
Ken: Yeah, it’s much easier to move between virtual spaces than it is between physical ones. And also, of course, to reserve the event space.
Ken: So, what is your role as an organizer for BPM?
Kate: It’s been joked that I’m the unofficial secretary, because every time we have a meeting, I forget things constantly. I have no brain. And so, I don’t remember stuff and I will always pull up a Google doc and I’ll be frantically typing just everything that everyone’s saying. But I have also become a Discord maestro, because we were hosting our annual holiday party around the time that I joined up with Boston Post Mortem. And we are hosting our annual holiday party with all of the other game development groups. So Boston Indies, Bug, all that.
Kate: And so, we’re hosting our annual holiday party and we were doing in our Discord server. And I said something about, “Oh, yeah, I have a friend who has bot, like a custom Discord bot that can potentially help us organize the channels for this.” And one thing led to another and suddenly, I was doing a lot of Discord stuff.
Kate: So, that was a lot of fun. And then, in addition to that, all of the organizers get a hand in helping come up with events, in wrangling speakers, although Lauren and Alyssa usually do most of the speaker wrangling.
Ken: So speaking of speakers for BPM, I know that they do most of the wrangling. But I’m wondering if you have any insight into what sort of criteria they look for when choosing speakers? That can be either, what kind of topic they want to talk about, like if you just had to talk about audio design last month, you don’t want to do it again this month. But is audio design a good topic for example? Are you looking at the demographics of the speakers? Are you looking at how well known they are? And any of that?
Kate: Yeah. A lot of it does, honestly, to some degree come down to who do we know and who’s working on cool stuff that they might want to share. Because it is easier to wrangle someone that you know than you don’t.
Ken: This is true.
Kate: In addition to that, we want our talks to be useful, and we want people to get something out of them. We want people to learn stuff. And the thing is that Boston Post Mortem is of course open to students and professionals alike. But ideally, we are useful to both of them, not just one or the other. Of course, students have the most to learn, but we want professionals to come and feel like they got something out of it too. So, that’s definitely something we really try to keep in mind with all of our events is how can we make this topic or this event just the most helpful and the most interesting to people of all game development backgrounds, triple A, indie, student, like veteran, all that.
Ken: When you look at your audience, would you say that any one of those demographics is more represented? Like is it mostly the speaker’s peers? Is it mostly students from the many fine colleges in Boston and central Massachusetts who are checking in for the event?
Kate: Honestly, it varies a fair bit. We usually get a solid mixture of pretty established Boston developers and people from other groups as well like Boston Indies organizers or Bug organizers. And of course, a fair amount of students. I think, actually, since the pandemic has started and we’ve moved all our meet ups to remote, my impression from the Boston Post Mortem meetings I attended before all of that happened, my impression is that we actually get potentially more students now, because there are several game development schools in the greater Boston area.
Kate: But you got to make a trek out there on a weeknight and if you don’t have a car, if you don’t have money for the train, then it takes a while to get there, so.
Ken: Yeah, especially on a school night, because then BPM gets out at like 9:00, 10:00 and then you have to catch the 10:20 train home from South Station and you get home at midnight. Yeah, it’s not ideal. Have you found that moving the events online has expanded the audience to people outside Massachusetts? Are you seeing attendees from some of the places you mentioned, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Texas?
Kate: We don’t see that many attendees from places like that far outside of New England or anything like that. Mostly because we mainly bill our events. We don’t necessarily do outreach or anything like that to those places. Not that we wouldn’t be welcomed to anyone from those places coming to our events. But we’re Boston Post Mortem, we’re trying to reach people in the Boston area. But I can definitely say that we have gotten some more people from outside of the general Boston area. Because I am one of those people, I have been displaced to Connecticut. And even when I was in the Boston area, aside from when I lived in Cambridge to work at Fire Hose, I was in Worcester.
Kate: And so I couldn’t always make it out there. I tried as much as I could. But it was definitely a lot tougher like we were talking about. So, I am in Connecticut right now and I can still help out with organizing Boston Post Mortem and come to all the events. And that’s great. I love that. I actually hope that in the future, even when things go back to “normal”, I hope that we’ll still be able to maintain at least some level of outreach through online stuff so we can get more people who can’t necessarily come in person.
Ken: That’s one of the nice things about everything being entirely online is that when there’s an in person event and it’s live streamed online, that definitely makes it more accessible to people who can’t make it to the physical event. But there’s still a disconnect, where people are having two different experiences, some people are experiencing it in person, some people are experiencing it online. Right now, it’s a level playing field where you’re all having the same experience.
Kate: Yeah, no, there’s no perfect solution, unfortunately.
Kate: I do hope, though, that we can still maintain at least some level of online stuff, because even though it definitely is different, I feel like there are a lot of people that end up missing out, because of either they can’t make it live because of school, or potentially we’ve got a lot of game developers who are becoming parents now in the Boston area. And it’s a lot harder, from what I understand, to get out to an event at 9:00 at night when you’ve got a kid at home.
Kate: So, I’m hoping that even though that gap will still definitely be there, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to either mitigate it or some way or at least still be able to keep it accessible for people who maybe don’t have the time or resources to come in person, but do have a computer and an internet connection.
Ken: Do you have a timeline for when in person events might resume?
Kate: I remember everyone was talking about, they go like, “Oh, man, weird how PAX East is going to be in person, right? But PAX East isn’t happening anymore.” So honestly, I have no idea. We haven’t talked about it yet. We’ve mostly just been talking about how to make the situation work as it is now. So, at some point, we’ll presumably return to in person activities, but we don’t know when yet.
Ken: Yeah, PAX East was originally scheduled for early March of 2021. They pushed it back to early June of 2021. And just last week announced that it will not be held in person at all this year, which I think is the right choice because an article in The Washington Post predicts that by July 1st, our country will be 54% vaccinated, which is still short of the minimum 70 to 85% that’s needed for herd immunity. So, for 70,000 gamers to congregate in early June, just did not seem wise or healthy.
Kate: Yeah, no, it was when people were talking about it too because PAX East was for a lot of not even just game developers in the Boston area, but for a lot of game developers in general, PAX East was the last big game development event that happened before everything went pear shaped. So, it’s crazy to me and I think a lot of other people that it’s already coming around again. Or I mean, I guess, that it’s come around and isn’t happening.
Ken: Right. Everything has been canceled for almost a year now. And this is the first time that PAX East has been canceled. It took more than a year for the pandemic to finally actually hit PAX East. I’m in the same boat where it was the last normal thing my friends and I all did. And it’s the last time I saw a lot of people that I can’t wait to see again.
Kate: Yeah, I think about it and it seems both so close and so far away.
Kate: I can remember it like it was yesterday, but also it was ages ago.
Ken: Yeah. I mean, PAX East ended March 1st. So just like 13 months ago, it seems like it was on one hand only a year, but there have been a lot of years compressed into the last year.
Kate: You are so right about that.
Ken: Well, unfortunately, I think we’re in the homestretch where things are getting better. We’re getting vaccinated. There are going to be PAXes again someday. You have a great job at Other Ocean Interactive things are looking up. There are so many other things we could have talked about in the past hour or so many other games you’ve worked on. But for those who do want to know more about you and your many accomplishments and experiences, where can they find you online?
Kate: You can follow me on Twitter at @DragonDirigible, dirigible like a blimp and dragon as in the dragon. My website is kateolguin.com, K-A-T-E O-L-G-U-I-N. It’s a little bit out of date now that I work at a company but my email is there if you want to reach out to me for whatever reason. And those are the main two things, I think, yeah, Twitter, website. Yeah.
Ken: Should I ask where the name dragon dirigible comes from?
Kate: I like dragons. And I was a really big fan, I say was like I still don’t love it is this book series called Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. And it’s like ultimate history, World War One. And Leviathan is the name of this giant airship that’s also like a whale. So,band I loved Steampunk stuff in high school. So dragon dirigible just ended up working out, but nobody knows how to spell it. So, I’ve paid for it.
Ken: Well, I think, it’s unique. And I love dragons and dirigible. So, I think it makes perfect sense.
Kate: I’m glad we can be comrades in this way.
Ken: Yay. So, I’ll include links to all of those in the show notes for this episode found at polygamer.net. Kate, thank you so much for your time.
Kate: Thank you.
Voiceover: This has been Polygamer, a Gamebits production. Find more episodes, read our blog, or send feedback at polygamer.net.