Interview: Krista and Emma of Jagex on Game Design and Development, Epic Storylines, and 'Coding Music'

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Part of me can't actually believe this is happening, but here it goes. Today I'm sharing an interview with two female developers from Jagex, the game makers behind such wonders as, wait for it, Runescape(!) and Old School Runescape(!!!). Runescape was one of the games that made me who I am today as I skipped back home from school and immediately logged on to, you know, chop down some trees, make some fires, and generally make no progress. Now the Old School version is out, I can revisit that nostalgic world and actually get some stuff done...when I'm not on the glossy, expansive, regular Runescape!

Emma and Krista chat to me about their gaming histories, how they got into development work, and how they stay productive. It's been an absolute pleasure learning about what game development entails, especially in the context of games that are so close to my heart. Thank you both for getting involved!

Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, will you tell me a little bit about yourself and where you are today?

Emma:
My name is Emma and I am at the ripe old age of 24 (that’s basically middle aged, right?). I’ve only had one job in the games industry, which I got straight out of university. I am currently a Technical Developer at Jagex - For those of you that don’t know what a Technical Developer does, we work mostly on maintainability of code, efficiency and, although we also create content for the game, we tend to be given the more technically complex projects to work on.

Krista:
I’m Krista Goalby and I have been a content developer at Jagex for six years, working on several different games. I’m currently working on RuneScape in the Live Events team, and split my time between designing, programming and being a SCRUM master.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into game design and development? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby? If you did study it formally, would you say this was a good or bad experience regarding allowing your creativity to flourish?

Emma:
I first gained an interest in game design when I was about 17 years old and looking to apply for university. At the time, I was interested in becoming a psychologist but I’d recently got my hands on a PS2 and the game Kingdom Hearts. It was right then that I fell in love with games and the stories that they tell, and decided that this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to make stories just like this. After that I applied to Computer Science courses at universities. This was where I first got introduced to programming and got my hands on some modelling software. For the most part, my course wasn’t designed to be overly creative and lacked somewhat in game production, but you were encouraged to express creativity within the University’s Programming society. And there was never anything stopping you from doing something in your spare time! 

Krista:
I did a degree in Interactive Systems and Video Games Design at Bradford University. While this was a good thing to have on my CV, and a great foot in the door, it was more the contacts I made while I was there that have helped me through my career rather than what I learned. There were many modules where I had to teach myself the coding required, and I found this quite fun.

Magic & Musings:
Would you call yourself much of a gamer, or is this a field you stumbled across on your journey?

Emma:
I would definitely call myself a gamer, although somewhat of a late bloomer. I used to watch my brother playing Doom and the early Tomb Raiders on the PlayStation and then later on, Max Payne and Half Life on the PC, but I never really played them myself until my late teens. Nowadays, as is always the way, I don’t have as much time to play games as I would like and have so many unfinished or even unopened games on my shelf (pretty standard). But I will muddle through! 

Krista:
I’m not a ‘typical gamer’. I’m not into the latest Triple A titles. I prefer games that make me think, or make me laugh. I am also an avid mobile gamer – having spent a large amount of time on King’s games – and I’m not ashamed of it at all. I look at games in a different way to a lot of people that I work with, being a more slow and steady type of player, and I think this helps with team designing, as we look at things from several different angles.


Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying and non-binary artists and their work. Which female artists/designers/devs, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? 

Emma:
I would like to sound professional and say people like Kim Swift or Jennifer Hale (both amazing women don’t get me wrong) but I’m going to be a bit of a ‘butt kisser’ and say the women that I work with. Coming into the industry so young it was really inspiring to see other women working alongside me doing amazing work and not letting anything stand in their way. They are strong women and keep me heading forward. 

Krista:
Roberta Williams, co-founder of Sierra On-Line paved the way for a lot of the games that I grew up loving. She was a leading figure in creating games that coupled the traditional text only style with graphics, and I greatly respect her work.

Magic & Musings:
Are there any games in particular you take inspiration from or feel inspired by?

Emma:
I get the most immersed in the games that have epic storylines and characters that you can really fall in love with. Games from the Final Fantasy series are always good for a bit of inspiration, as well as some of the lesser known titles such as Transistor or Heavy Rain. Anything that really makes me feel always leaves me inspired and eager to pass the experience onto others.

Krista:
I’m old school. I grew up with ‘point and click’ games, as well as games from Bullfrog (Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park), and these are the things that fit my humour the best. I like to inject a bit of this old school irreverent humour in to my content where I can.

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your work, what are you the happiest with and why?

Emma:
It’s very difficult to choose something in particular. Working on the Live Events team at Jagex generally means 95% of your content is temporary. Despite this though, the most standout piece of content that I have done would be the loot interface. It is basically some functionality that when you choose to take some items from the floor, it opens an interface that allows you to loot everything/select things etc. On its own this doesn’t sound like much, but before this, the only way of picked things up was to click each item individually. I essentially overhauled one of the central aspects of a (now) 16-year old game. And it went live with very few bugs which is always amazing with a project that touched as much as this one!

Krista:
The things that engage players. Despite making a lot of content for the game that is temporary I like to add a lot of humour in to what I do and when players pick up on it, and I see Reddit posts with them chuckling at the content I have made, it makes me happy.

Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 

Emma:
To be honest I tend to work best when under pressure or when I have a lot to do. I don’t like being a position when I’m not sure what I’m working on next. Other than that, headphones on with random rock music tends to do the trick. 

Krista:
When I get into the flow I like to have my headphones on listening to what I consider ‘coding music’. This is normally Slipknot or Skrillex, something energetic. You’ll quite often see me bouncing up and down to the music as I work.


Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Emma:
I mostly turn to those that I work with. I’m lucky enough to work with people that have the same thought process as me and are always willing to help you out with getting the juices flowing. A quick brainstorm or a couple of ideas batted around is normally enough to get me back on track.

Krista:
Think about something else. The great thing is we always have several things we are working on. If I need some inspiration straight away, however, I’ll book in a brainstorm with other members of my team which helps get the creativity going again.

Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in another medium?

Emma:
There was a time when I wanted to be a 3D modeller. I loved the fact that you could see instantly the fruits of your labour. But in the end, I decided I much preferred the logic puzzles that being a programmer poses for you.

Krista:
When I first started my degree, I was on the graphics version of the course – focussing on Maya and character modelling. I quickly learned that this was not where my skills or passions lie. I’m definitely a coder who enjoys design.

Magic & Musings:
What does success look or feel like to you?

Emma:
Success is the responses and feedback that we get from our players. I think we are a little different in that we are one of the only game companies that allow all their staff to be completely player facing if they so wish, so having Twitter/Reddit accounts that the players know about mean that we get feedback from our work straight away. There is nothing better than seeing players enjoying what you have put so much work into. 

Krista:
When the players are as enthusiastic about my new content as I am. I get quite animated when I talk about my work on livestreams etc. and to have this mirrored by the players is a great pleasure.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Emma:
I wish that someone had taught me how to keep a healthy work/life balance. Working in a field where there is so much passion and people genuinely enjoy what they are doing, it’s very easy to suddenly find yourself working late and even over the weekends. Even when you are enjoying every second of it, it’s still very easy to get burnt out if you’re not careful.

Krista:
“It’s fine to take pride in your work. There will always be people for whom it’s not their cup of tea, but don’t let a vocal minority take away the joy of creating.”


Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 

Emma:
The book that I’m currently reading is ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s an incredible epic story that I’m enjoying getting lost in for a few hours here and there. For an album, I definitely recommend Halestorm’s ‘Into the Wild Life’. There isn’t much better than a powerful female lead in a rock band. They are few and far between. 

Krista:
I’ve recently re-read The Night Circus. A gorgeous book with an intriguing plot. Music wise it would be amiss of me not to suggest people try working whilst listening to Slipknot or Skrillex.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Emma:
Don’t ever stop trying! The perfect chance for you will turn up so long as you keep looking. The best place to keep up to date with what I’m doing is through my professional twitter account, @JagexMohawk (plug)!

Krista:
I’m a semi-regular on our live stream videos that we do every week to showcase the work that we are doing. This is the best way to get a feel for the things we do!

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