Nearly everyone with a phone has heard of Hipster Whale's Crossy Road. It has its roots in the arcade style of Frogger, but is so much more than that. With clever jokes and hidden easter eggs filling the screen, giving us something to laugh about, the Crossy Road franchise spun off the Disney licensed version, and more recently, a platform style dungeon crawl (or should I say jump) title Crossy Road Castle, dreamed up by Hipster Whale CEO, Clara Reeves.
Reeves joined Hipster Whale in 2016 and brought the idea to the development team. Crossy Road Castle is now available exclusively on Apple Arcade, and let me tell you, even though it's a different type of arcade game, it's every bit the Crossy Road you know and love in style and humor.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Reeves for an interview about her role with Hipster Whale, her experience in the gaming world, and being a women in the tech industry.
First of all, I wanted to mention a little bit about Crossy Road Castle, which just came out recently. It definitely took a different turn in the Crossy Road series by going platformer style. Were you a part of the development conversation to create a platform at this point?
Yes. Actually, I drew that idea on an empty ice cream container. The inspiration for the game was ice cream. I finished the ice cream and drew a chicken running around the outside of the box. I brought it to the team ane went, "yeah? We're a really small team. Everyone wears a lot of hats, and one of my roles is creative direction for the projects.
With this particular game, though, it didn't have to be a Crossy Road game. It could have been just a new game from Hipster Whale. Why did you decide that it should fit within the Crossy Road series?
Crossy Road Castle was all built from the ground up to be a Crossy Road experience.
We actually did build it from the ground up to be a Crossy Road game. So that did inform what kind of game it was. There are a lot of consistent design elements that come across in the game. The humor of it, the brightness of it, but also the fact that it's really designed to be short play. It doesn't take a long time to clear each of the rooms and it's designed to be really broadly appealing so that we can have a really wide audience of people come and give it a go, and it's easy to get into. But then, at the core, it does actually have quite a substantial game that does get quite hard if you're looking for that. So making it really accessible to as many people as possible is something that's very Crossy Road, but it's also having a really deep core experience. And playing together is always something that Crossy Road has been about, even though the original Crossy Road isn't a multiplayer game. We know that a lot of people play it together and share it together, especially family. So, yeah, there's a lot that is very core Crossy Road in there. And it was all built from the ground up to be a Crossy Road experience.
Has anyone found any of the secret characters yet?
Yeah, we've already had some people tell us on Twitter that they've unlocked the secrets.
We get quite good at the game, I guess, as we're developing it. Everyone on the team gets relatively good at playing the game and we can get pretty decent scores. But then when you put it out in the world, there's always people who can do way better. We always love seeing our high scores get absolutely obliterated. But there are some people who will just play and unlocked everything and then be like, "More, please."
You have a bachelor's degree in fine art, but also software development certificate. So I'm wondering how did that happen? It seems like somewhere either during college or right out of college, you made this decision that you were actually going to go into tech.
It never really occurred to me that making games was something I could do.
I think at the heart of it, I just always wanted to create entertainment. From very young, I just loved video games. It was pretty unusual for girls to be as into video games as I was then. So it's always been something that I love to do, but I suppose just because I'd never met anyone who made games, and computer programing wasn't something that was easily accessible to me when I was young. It never really occurred to me that making games was something I could do. I thought I would be an animator. So I went to art school and learned how to draw and paint, and learned color theory, and the philosophy of why we make art. And I loved all of that. But at the end of it, I was probably a little bit lost. So I did a very logical thing before finishing my degree. I just went and worked in a foreign country just to completely escape everything. I went to live in Japan for a year. And during that year, I really played a lot of video games. And I think something sort of went eureka for me at that moment where I thought, "Actually this is what I want to do. These are what I want to create." "I have no idea how to do it, but I think I need to program."
And so I came back to Australia and finished my degree so that I could do a postgraduate in computer science. So I sort of jumped straight into a postgraduate course in computer science, which is a bit of a hard landing. But I got caught up.
There were hardly any women studying the course at the time. And it was a bit daunting. But at the same time, I discovered that I actually love programming, that it's incredibly creative, really. Which was a surprise to me — that the actual coding was creative — and I felt a little bit deceived by the world that I'd never been told that before. Because, you know, I would have loved to have gotten it got into it earlier. But it was amazing, jumping in and feeling like all of a sudden I had control over how to actually make these creative things that are video games.
So you started with Atari, but then you quickly moved into managerial roles, and now you're president of Hipster Whale as of 2016. What's it been like for you?
So I started in QA. I actually started while I was finishing up my postgraduate. And so I only did that for about six months and I went to Krome and they hired me full-time into the production team. I think that probably was a pretty traditional way to move into production. Through that process and through the people around me seeing my leadership skills and pushing me towards that position, I moved into leadership roles.
I definitely like to make things and be part of the creative process. But I've also got a relatively strong business acumen because I also started my own business in Australia when I got back from Japan with another person here.
We did a start-up before anyone had the word start-up.
We did a start-up before anyone had the word start-up. We were importing clothing that we thought were called from Japan and South East Asia and selling them in Australia. And so running a business and starting a business and just doing all the basic stuff you have to do. I was able to bring that experience into production, like knowing how to keep something on schedule and making sure that it's still the creative project that it needs to be while also talking between technical teams and creative teams, and being able to bridge the gap between some of the communication breakdown that happens.
You are definitely a big fan of video games. I can tell you're not just somebody who's running a game company. You love video games. So my question is, what games do you have installed on your phone right now? Or at least, do you have a favorite console game?
There's so many games that I love and have given me great joy. There are two games that I play as my default, however. Stardew Valley, which I've played on phone and Switch and PC. There's something about just creating a beautiful little farm haven. And then there's Overwatch, which I played with my brothers. It's kind of a social thing where we'll just have a chat while we're playing and that's a very different type of gameplay.
You talked a little bit about how when you went to school there were very few, or maybe even no other women in your classes. Do you see a shift in how women are represented in the gaming community today, say, from 10 years ago?
To see young girls creating amazing stuff and be so confident with technology is just so encouraging for our future.
When I think about this issue, sometimes it's frustrating, you know, like why haven't things changed? But if I look 10 years back and 10 years in the future, I'm much more encouraged. Ten years back when I was at university, there weren't that many women in my technology course. And I don't think that, in general, it had been self-identified within the industry, that this was a problem. It just wasn't something that people were talking about or trying to solve. That has changed. And then when I look 10 years in the future and I'm looking at young girls getting really into games and being encouraged to, not just use their computers and use the technology, but to control it and learn how it works — to see young girls creating amazing stuff and be so confident with technology and the creative tools that they have, they're just so encouraging for our future.
For girls and young women out there that are considering a career in technology. What's one bit of advice that you would like to give them that you wish you had gotten right when you were first getting started?
No one has the answers. The people who look like they really are up there and they are creating these amazing things or they have all this power ... they don't know what they're doing. None of us know what we're doing. We're all creatively terrified and we're all making it up as we go, and you've just as much of a chance as the people out there.
For the girls and young women out there right now who just think that there may not be a career path for them in gaming and technology? Do you have any encouragement for them?
Oh, absolutely. This industry wants you. For games, and technology in general, there are so many opportunities and there are so many different types of technology, whether you want to be part of a team, whether you want to work by yourself, whether you have a more artistic, creative ambition or you want to solve science or world problems, there are so many different ways that having a technical interest is going to open up opportunities for you.
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