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    Nina Freeman

    Person » credited in 5 games

    Game designer at The Fullbright Company, as well as other personal projects.

    Interview: Nina Freeman

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    gamer_152

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    Edited By gamer_152  Moderator
    No Caption Provided

    Nina Freeman is an independent game writer, designer, and programmer who you may have seen on Giant Bomb or just out there in the indie space for a while. She’s created a series of vignette games, smaller Twine and Flash-based experiences that you can find over at ninasays.so/games, and was recently the project lead and designer on the Star Maid Games title Cibele. Based around real events in Freeman’s life at age 19 and featuring actual photos and writing from the time, Cibele tells the story of the relationship between the characters of Nina and Blake who have found each other through the fictional MMO Valtameri. I recently contacted Freeman and she was kind enough to answer a few questions on the game and her experiences.

    ____

    Gamer_152: Your previous work has largely been in vignette games, but Cibele is a far longer and more layered experience. What led you to taking on that format with this new project?

    Nina Freeman: The design decisions in general, including format, that I make when designing the personal projects I've worked on are all made in order to directly support the story. I almost always start with the story first, and then the mechanics are designed around that story. I have to ask myself what the core interaction of the story is--what can I have players do in order to help them feel like they are performing as the character. So, for Cibele I asked myself that question, and decided that the core interaction to that specific story is interacting and getting to know someone via a computer. So, the game mechanic needed to focus on that interaction, thus the faux online game, desktop, folders, etc. The story helped me discover the mechanic.

    Additionally, I always ask myself: what kinds of context does the game need to provide in order to help the player understand what they need to at the outset, so that they don't feel lost? That is really when the desktop came into the picture, thus the multi-layered experience you refer to. I needed the desktop to help the player understand things about Nina and her relationship that she may not directly refer to in the conversation, but are still important to understanding the story.

    G_152: You’ve drawn parallels between poems and games like Gone Home or Dys4ia before. Where do you see those connections?

    NF: When I was studying poetry, I focused on poets that explored ordinary life stuff--anything from Frank O'Hara talking about what he saw while he walked down the street during lunch in NYC, to William Carlos Williams relating the story of being with his grandmother on her deathbed. The poems all focus on specific details that really paint clear pictures of these human stories. Games like Gone Home and Dys4ia are, like those poems, about real life stuff and stories that focus on humans, and dive into the specific details that flesh out those stories. That's the kind of storytelling that I'm really interested in, and my interest in it was first sparked by poetry.

    G_152: I can see where your background in and enthusiasm for poems informed your earlier games. Did those aspects of yourself also play a part in creating Cibele?

    NF: Yes, basically in the same ways I explained in the previous question. Cibele is really a game about an ordinary relationship, and that ordinary relationship is explored through both dialogue and specific ephemera that you can find throughout the computer. Those aspects, the detail oriented storytelling and ordinary life stuff, were heavily influenced and inspired by the kind of poetry I'm interested in.

    G_152: There are things you’ve done in Cibele that you haven’t done in previous titles and obviously the project must have been a significant undertaking. Were there any big, unique challenges in creating this game?

    NF: Cibele is very different from other games I've worked on in that it was a long-term project of a scale that I had not yet attempted. It may only be about 2 hours, but you'd be surprised how much time and work (code, design, art, sound, etc) went into making it. I think that the main challenge was managing the scale of the project, and needing to make decisions that would help us ship the game within a reasonable amount of time. Despite the fact that we weren't beholden to anything like a publisher, I still wanted us to finish within at least a year or two. So, we had to optimize our time, much of which was taken up by full-time jobs or school, such that we could release the game without the project going on for too long. I had to cut a lot of stuff that I wanted to put in, but it was worth it because cutting things made the game more focused and helped us ship it before we went crazy from working on it for too long, given that it was a side project for all of us.

    G_152: You’ve said before that there’s an important distinction between yourself and the character of Nina in the game. What is that distinction?

    NF: The character is based on me. The whole story is true to things that actually happened in my life. However, I didn't really treat the writing process like autobiography. When I wrote it, I worked really hard to think of everyone as characters, and separate from myself, so that I could be as honest as possible about the whole story. I really wanted to depict Nina and Blake as real, complicated people. It would have been easy to rely on my biased, emotional perspective of the events, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to explore the good and bad sides of Nina, the mistakes they both made, the good things they did... and everything in between. In order to be honest and transparent, I tried to treat my real life story like fiction. So, in that sense, Nina is more of a character to me, despite the fact that she is based on me.

    G_152: I notice that while most of Cibele is conveyed through visuals, sound, text, and software mechanics, there’s one area that includes gameplay as a key piece and that’s Valtameri, the fictional MMO. How were the point-and-click activities there important to you?

    NF: The game is about two people who have a relationship in an online game. My goal with the whole game was to create mechanics that would help the player perform as Nina, one of the two in this online relationship. In order to perform as her, I needed to put the player in her shoes, sit them down at her computer and let them play the game as her. So, the online game is there basically to help the player understand that aspect of the story. The faux online game, Valtameri, is there for context. But, I didn't want Valtameri to be so complex that it would distract players from the story, so it's very simple. Because it's not really about playing online games--it's about a relationship. Everything in the game is there to support the focus on Nina, and her relationship, and how it unfolds.

    G_152: The relationship in the game feels partly shaped by a reliance that Nina and Blake have on Valtameri. With the widespread use of video calls and social media sites now, do you think Nina and Blake's exact kind of relationship could exist today?

    NF: Online dating is becoming more and more of a hot topic. I think online dating was common during the time the game takes place (2009), and it still is, but there's one main difference--in 2009, we didn't talk about online dating as much. It was pretty taboo. So, I don't think that much has changed other than the conversation around it. Now, because of mainstream use of stuff like OkCupid, people are more open to talking about relationships that form online. So, they were happening and they still are, for sure.

    Also, given the responses I've gotten from people who have played Cibele, online relationships in MMORPGs are alive and well. I've had a lot of people reach out to me who are in or have been in a relationship with someone they met in games like FFXI or WoW. It's more common than you'd think! I'm glad people are more willing to talk about it these days, because relationships, regardless of where they start, are good and important!

    ____

    Nina Freeman is currently working on sci-fi explorer Tacoma with the Portland-based Fullbright Company. Thanks again to her and thank you for reading.

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    thatpinguino

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    #1 thatpinguino  Staff

    Very cool interview! It's great to hear about the distinction she made between herself and a character based on herself. That's a subtle distinction that could make all the difference in writing such a character. Great work!

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    epr_prime

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    Great interview

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    Lelcar

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    Whoa! You got an interview with Nina Freeman? That's awesome, man! Great interview, this is a good read.

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    clagnaught

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    That's cool that you talked to Nina. Thanks for posting this.

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    sparky_buzzsaw

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    #5  Edited By sparky_buzzsaw

    Great interview. Her approach to fictionalizing very real events is absolutely fascinating. I hope we see more of her through her games and other future projects. Such an interesting, open personality.

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    mracoon

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    Nice interview, Gamer. I'm a fan of personal storytelling in games so Nina's work has always stood out to me.

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    hassun

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    It seems like Nina and I have pretty much nothing in common and very different lives to boot, yet video games allow us to connect in some way. Always a good thing when one can broaden his or her horizons.

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    shivermetimbers

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    #8  Edited By shivermetimbers

    Looking forward to her next project!

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    GERALTITUDE

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    Pretty good interview gamer - very interesting!

    I've yet to play Cibele but gonna wait for the hype to simmer a little before jumping in.

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    Counterclockwork87

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    Sweet interview! I've definitely met this girl before in NYC, but at the time didn't realize she was a game designer. Cool to see.

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    Slag

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    great interview @gamer_152!

    Always neat to hear why a creator makes the decisions she/he does.

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    kubqo

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    Coolio!

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    Jonny_Anonymous

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    Cool stuff!

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    DevvyBoyyy

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    Just played a bunch of her flash games. That was a very interesting (and occasionally upsetting) experience. I'm glad I finally took the time to play them. Great job with the interview.

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    monkeyking1969

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    Very nice.

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    Blackout62

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    And now we need the interview with Nina Freeman (creator of Cibele) about the challenges of having the best hair.

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    FunkyHugo

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    Awesome! Great interview, I love Nina's work.

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    NeverGameOver

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    #18  Edited By NeverGameOver

    I just got around to playing this tonight. Boy, what a personal story. She must have serious guts to put herself out there like that.

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    unsolvedparadox

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    Insightful interview, well done!

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    Nyhus

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    She seems cool, but her hair reminds me of Cthulhu and other ancient evils. Please stop.

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    Substance_D

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    Great to see coverage of games like this on the site even if it has to come from the mods instead of the journalists...

    This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

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