Ask An Indie: Sara Ferret

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Welcome to Ask An Indie where we interview local independent game developers to learn how they make, do and create.

The Indie: Sara Ferret, Freelance Musician & VR Developer

What inspired you to start making games?

I’ve always spent most of my time writing and playing music, and eventually thought about the ideal format for my stories. l love books and shows, but 3D games with agency like Myst and Unreal feel like actual memories – “I was THERE when I was a kid!”

The way that impacted me, I knew it had to be digital games… but sitting in front of a screen also didn’t seem right.

I once dreamed of playing UT99 where everything was realistic – I had to physically pick things up, and actually drink the health vials (they looked good, but tasted gross like salt water), and interacted with my AI teammates like they were really there. To truly sense those characters in my space and to physically interact, rather than just seeing them through a screen, felt like removing a wall, a triumph of real connection over the limitations of reality. “We’re really HERE together! Y’all are real!” That sense got me to pursue VR development.

I also want playing music to be a game mechanic. VR seems like the least lossy format for translating all my ideas; I’m excited about its physical storytelling potential, and other physical benefits. So far, I’ve been focusing on creating relaxing, musical environments that I enjoy being immersed in.

At what age did you create your first game?

Other than tutorial projects, my first real game was age 27, “Space Music VR”. Made in UE4, it’s a relaxing Google Cardboard VR audio/visual experience, where you explore an asteroid inhabited by musical particle effects, while the background music evolves as you climb higher. The goal is to reach the beacon in the tower, where there’s a statue singing.

What formal training do you have that has helped you?

Flute lessons as a kid was frustrating at first, but I learned the basics of music, and proved to my brain that I can tackle difficult things with practice and patience. I might have given up otherwise. On my own, I continued teaching myself by experimenting playfully, bending the “rules” and trying things from different angles. Playing the flute is my reminder of how to approach new skills (like gamedev) playfully, because I think that’s the best way to learn.

I also took an animation class at the UMN a few times, because the teacher was great. Then I was in GLITCH‘s first Immersion cohort in 2016, which introduced me to many aspects of the game industry.

What are some of your favorite tools or resources?

I use the usual free things: Unity, UE4, Gimp, Krita, Blender, MagicaVoxel, random internet tutorials! For music I’ve used trackers and Logic, but now mostly Reason. I just got a kalimba; it’s helpful to keep trying out new instruments.

How many people does your studio employ and in what capacity?

I don’t have one yet… but my future studio has all the best, most surreal artists and programmers in the world and we’re like a happy family doing what we love, with a limitless capacity for ferrets.

What game(s) have you published and on what platforms are they available?

I’m unpublished, but both my Cardboard VR games have been featured somewhere. “Space Music VR” was at GlitchCon 2017, and “Organ Temple” was shown at Orchestra Hall in April 2018. I haven’t released them to the public yet; I might put my next project on itch.io. They would require an Android smartphone and Cardboard VR viewer to play.

What is the most challenging thing about being a game developer in the Twin Cities?

To get the most out of the community aspect, you have to go to things and interact, and I like to hide out at home. Same goes for trying to make a living at it (which I’m not yet), especially since opportunities are few.

What is the most rewarding?

That from what I’ve seen, the community trend here is to be encouraging and supportive. If people hadn’t reached out to me to show my game somewhere or encouraged me to apply to things, I wouldn’t have had those experiences. That culture is a big help to me. It’s also fun when people compliment my game and say it was their first VR experience.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?

I’ve only just barely broken into a friendly corner of the industry myself. It’s inspiring and motivating to see what others are doing, so I’d recommend entering that way, start by going to things and being involved. The toxicity surrounding most of the rest of the game industry is my #1 concern in trying to branch out. So if/when I do, my strategy will be to be prepared and to stay close to “the helpers.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Ferrets get into everything and never give up. Check out Widget Satchel when it comes out! I do the music/some sounds. Also, for a relaxing, musical internet timesink, video search “singing bowls.” Muahahaha.

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