Potions: A Curious Tale & Renee Gittins Interview

Interview with Renee Gittins from Stumbling Cat, Creative Director

A staple I do in all interviews in order to start things off is to ask that you elaborate a bit about your game (s) that people might not know?

I’m currently working on “Potions: A Curious Tale”, a crafting game where combat is not always the answer, you play as Luna which creates potions that she uses as spells to solve puzzles. The game itself takes on fairytales and folklore from around the world such as Baga Yaga and Tripitaka from “Journey to the West”.

Limited resources are available in the game so you need to be careful when creating your potions. When taking on monsters and creatures they will not always grant additional resources. In fact, sometimes killing a monster won’t give you any ingredients at all! Thus, combat isn’t always the best approach.

That aside describe some of the recent events and activities that you’ve been a part of in the gaming industry as I’ve read you organize and are part of a variety of panels in the community which is great.

Right now I’m with IGDA Seattle and we’re running micro-talks about crunch in the industry. This is the current issue and something the national organization has been working on. Crunch is when any developer is working extra long strenuous hours because of publisher milestones or when developers promise things for events.

Crunch can be common within the industry, it’s a big factor that scares away developers as it’s hard to have a family life when you’re working 80 hours a week. I’m currently working on an event that covers this and managing crunch so developers can get some free time.

I also just came back from GDC, where I believe 27,000 people attended and I also write for Broken Joysticks. I’m also working on my game “Potions: A Curious Tale” full time which is exciting.

Potions: A Curious Tale Screenshot

Your background is also rather interesting when I did some research about it, could you give us a bit of a background and also at what point you decided to move into the gaming space?

Obviously like many people in game development I’ve been a gamer my whole life. I would enjoy playing Wolfenstein 3D, while also doing alright in school though I didn’t quite know what to be when I grew up and looking at gaming as a career there wasn’t a ton of publicity about working within the industry.

I did pursue a career in engineering in biochemical and mechanical project management. I eventually was a System of Design Engineer within the biotech industry. During my senior year of college I became friends with game developers and discovered it was a potential career path. I was involved with blogs, writings and cosplay to express fandom, seeing that development was a path to industry events I got involved in the gaming industry from there.

Got into game programming and was able to switch from the bio area to the software development team with the first project being the creation of mini games for testing the cognitive ability of children to see if they’ve been concussed. This was mostly for Secondary impact syndrome with the second concussion being more deadly than the initial impact so I developed games to work on that.

I also went to working at FixerStudios as well with other studios after that. I was also a producer; server engineer, lead QA and worked on asset transfer as well. I decided to start my own company “Stumbling Cat” 2 years ago, then went on to working at my game “Potions: A Curious Tale” full time a year and a half ago. I worked on some smaller games during this time for learning experience and then decided to work on a full game.

Tell us more about Stumbling Cat as the name is quite enchanting, is there an interesting story of where that name came from?

Lots of things went into being called Stumbling Cat, first off I’m quite the cat lover. When I was two in preschool we made animal ear headbands as a project and I made cat ears. Stuck a sock in my back as a tail and went around as a cat meowing all the time. I even went without using utensils and became cat-like for a couple months.

My mother was slightly scared, my dad thought it was cute and I acted normal again eventually, maybe. My middle name is Kathleen so that works into it as well. My Internet identity is also a factor, druid was Riku and RikuKat when Riku was taken so that feline association has followed since.

I also got recommendations to give it a name where friends would think of me, I also like the idea of keeping cat since my friends know I love cats due to the online nickname and then the descriptor was also necessary. My cat is a lovely clumsy cat which is amazing in how graceful and yet clumsy he can be. A local bar named Stumbling Monk and the juxtaposition of graceful feline stumbling was a good symbol so that eventually helped formed the name.

Potions: A Curious Tale Screenshot Screenshot

The game you’re working on titled “Potions: A Curious Tale”, could you give us a bit of information on the game in general along with where the idea for this title game from?

I started developing this game just over a year and a half ago. The basis for the game was where combat is not always beneficial, I managed to solve that by making combat cost something like a resource. I thought it would be cool if you used potions as spells and that they would get consumed (taken up).

When talking to friends around potions and you do this with potions, etc. People asked how’s potions going, this girl’s making a game about potions, called potions. Potions then became the identity for the game, but obviously not a good game name. A Curious Tale plays on the integration of fairytale and folktale and lore from other cultures which I thought was a fitting and very charmingly descriptive name.

Looking at the game I particularly like the art style for it, though I’m more curious about the aspects of the character not needing to engage in combat and the crafting systems that I read/saw were in place within the game, care to elaborate more on those particular elements?

In regards to the art style went with fairytales; folklore and art style that nodded back to it with a really beautiful illustrated look. I’m amazed by the environments myself and it feels like you’re in a fairytale book. We use a program called “Spine” for animation with cool manipulations of 2D sprites that aren’t usually possible unless you’re in 3D.This makes the characters seem like they’re coming to life which helps factor into making these fairytales come alive.

In regards to combat not always being the answer. There’s a level where every monster was aggressive and the only solution was the kill them. You would have a hard time doing so with the limited resources available having eight different potions at once with only ten at ready for each. That’s not a lot of fire power so you need to use the monsters against each other to cause damage and then run away.

You use your broom to run/flyaway though you fall off if you take damage, though it’s good for the most part. Some monsters with interactions use ingredients you need, so fighting isn’t the answer. This creature the gobbler is a wild giant creature and the first you encounter that isn’t deadly. It’s scary compared to the spiders being buff and approaching it not realizing its passive players attack it.

What the gobbler does is run if you attack and you get booted halfway across the map with it taking half your health. The Turkey is a bit scary and even with wings it’s scared of flying things. It turns out that instead of using your broom, chase it which makes the creature flap around running away dropping feathers which are a base for many health potions in the game.

Renee Gittins

Now, I suppose we should go back into more about you after covering the game which we’ll have links for at the bottom. I understand you’re very supportive of female representation in the gaming field which has traditionally been rather small in terms of a percentage, but is rising slowly. Where did your enjoyment of games begin and how did you build to the point of working on these titles?

Certainly starting as a first person shooter gamer at the age of seven, I wasn’t able to relate a ton to my peers and not all with the female ones about the games. Kids didn’t want their kids playing these types of games, I clearly remember a moment asking my father why you gave the dancing ladies money. I was so young playing Wolfenstein, I had no concept of the Nazis as it seemed you were just trying to escape from prison.

Growing up was interesting being a female with these interests was different as there’s certain amount of sexism you run into and I definitely received criticism for my passion of games. Many would tell me you just like games for attention, I was criticized thoroughly based on gender with harassment in World of Warcraft about making a sandwich and death threats to my personal number along with threats about going to conventions to assault me.

Interesting events and woman in technology has its own challenges, in second grade I finished math early and asked for more, but the teacher said girls didn’t need to know anymore math. But I did obviously going into engineering. There have always been female gamers and girls find themselves interested at many ages, but there’s been a problem with toxic behavior.

Not just from the gaming community, when exhibiting “Potions” at Geek Con I was thanked for being there by a parent as their daughter was made fun of in second grade class for playing Minecraft. Both the female and male kids were making fun of her for liking the game. There have definitely been improvements with the percentage or women in gaming and technology going up. The numbers of women going up mostly with how many accessible mobile and online gaming options are now available.

With the next generation of females rising, it’s important to show support for them and that they’re thought of. Partially by showing women are a monetary force and that they are customers too with help from women making games that are geared towards women and games they like to play. I show support for them anyway I can such as mentoring students of both genders, run many programs to help developers and dev blogs. Just recorded a new one and uploaded it before this discussion, I want games and gaming development be available for everyone.

Are there any particular women that are in the large AAA space that you find to be leading a shift in the industry towards a more equal representation, aside from yourself of course?

Yes, there are countless ones with one being Kate Edwards as I know her personally as she’s President/CEO of IGDA, they run a lot of really cool scholarship opportunities for women and minorities in the gaming industry. Help AAA companies reach out to disadvantaged groups to create programs to support them.

Potions: A Curious Tale Screenshot Screenshot

I thought it would be nice to also move into some more fun interview questions at this point. Being young are there any big wow events that you’ve been to? Personally I got to attend my first E3 last year and it was truly wonderful, have you had any moments like that with panels or events you’ve been a part of?

Before getting into the industry my first Pax Prime really floored me as it was just as or when games were bringing in more dollars per year than Hollywood and I was stunned with the amount of people/games and astonishing displays. They had a full dragon!! A full sized dragon coming down over Dragon Age and it was awesome.

Never seeing something like that which was temporary and knowing it would be gone so fast was amazing. The diversity and passion of people there was incredible and seeing this larger group in person was great. In regards to the game industry I recently attended DICE, I was able to go there on a scholarship as the ticket to get into the door was $3800 which is insane for an indie developer.

This is of course an Elite convention with notable people from the gaming industry, wild for me that I had gotten there. Me talking to the VP at Gearbox or talking to Kate Edwards of IGDA. It was great to be surrounded by so many great and influential people and earning my way there, great ego boost while learning so much and meeting so many people. Learning great things on studio management in the industry and how to proceed forward.

Another more fun question, were there any games that really stood out for you this past year or any great games that you’re playing at the moment?

I have a number of games I found myself enthralled, haven’t had a ton of time recently for them though. Overwatch is on the top of my list, growing up as a first person shooter fan and a number of years playing MOBAs passionately seeing the two in combination is a welcoming environment compared to Counter Strike as logging in as a female is not the best experience.

Playing in the beta has been a great experience. I’m also looking forward to Pokémon: Sun and Moon, huge fan of Pokémon. One of my friend’s games is named Tumblestone which is a competitive puzzle solving time game. I’m looking forward to the advantage of playing it early, seeing if I can get to the top of the leaderboards before more of the talented people overtake me.

I’d like to leave this last part open for any extra comments or to go over anything that we might have missed during the interview?

Potions: A Curious Tale is on Kickstarter (Link Below) at 8am PST April 8th, I do write for Broken Joysticks if you want to see the articles including games and VR coverage. I do cover some industry events and more controversial topics as well. I wrote an article the female imposter syndrome as a woman in the game industry which was well received by many women in the industry. GDC was great as women came up saying that it was inspiring which was cool.

Support Potions: A Curious Tale on Kickstarter
Check out Potions: A Curious Tale's Site
Making Potions, Youtube Series

Gamerheadquarters Reviewer Jason Stettner