Being LadiesGamers, we feel it’s time to give women that work in the gaming industry a podium in our series of articles, featuring ladies who are working in the gaming business! Interested? You’ll find the other interviews here.
A lot of avid gamers would probably love to have a job in the industry themselves and we think it’s especially important to encourage girls in particular to go for their dream job. This time we talk to Charlotte Sutherland at Cave Monsters. Charlotte is the solo developer who was responsible for bringing the point-and-click adventure game, Lord Winklebottom Investigates to life, which we gave our highest rating of Two Thumbs Up in our review.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Who is Charlotte in everyday life?
It’s been so long since I had some free time it’s hard to remember what I used to do before making my game! In my free time, I enjoy going to zoos, walking in the countryside, playing board games and painting miniatures, as well as spending time with my husband James (who is also the voice of Winklebottom and Frumple) and my dog, Coco.
What is your professional history when it comes to gaming?
I started off as a cutscene animator at Tt Games, working on the cutscene cinematics across the LEGO series, such as Star Wars: The Complete Saga, Batman and Indiana Jones. Then, I wanted a break from working on only LEGO, so I moved on to EA Bright Light (which doesn’t exist anymore now) working on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One for the Kinect. I then moved on to working at Rare on Kinect Sports Season Two.
Following my contract there I moved down to Brighton for a month to work on a Zumba game at Zoë Mode, then I landed a permanent role at Sumo Digital in Sheffield and worked on Doctor Who: The Adventure Games, The Gunpowder Plot, then Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed and finally working on Little Big Planet 3.
Tell us a bit about your studio Cave Monsters?
Cave Monsters currently just consists of me in my home office based in Sheffield (I’m usually accompanied by my chihuahua, Coco, as she has a bed in here). Cave Monsters started with me wanting to take a break from AAA and regain a bit more creative freedom over my work.
Does your educational background match your position in the gaming industry?
I studied animation at university, first as a BA then my MA, as I originally wanted to become an animator, I’ve always loved animation so it was something close to my heart. There weren’t any games-related degrees when I went to university and to be honest, I didn’t initially plan on working in the games industry.
I just applied for various animation roles and the first one that I landed was as a cutscene animator at Tt Games working on the LEGO series and it all kind of fell into place from there. The cutscene element suited me well as it’s all cinematic-based rather than walk and run cycles, etc. so it gives you more creative freedom with regards to the scenes. All the technical elements of working with game engines I learned on the job as most studios seemed to use their own in-house engines at the time rather than Unity or Unreal.
Where did you take your inspiration from for Lord Winklebottom Investigates and why did you use animals as characters?
The idea originally just started with me doing a series of paintings of animals in fancy, old-fashioned clothes. I’ve always enjoyed painting and creating characters, and animals are just very fun to paint. It all started after a trip to the zoo and seeing the giraffes, I went home and painted a snooty-looking giraffe which I named Lord Winklebottom III.
I was watching a lot of old murder mysteries at the time, Agatha Christie adaptions, Sherlock Holmes and Paul Temple films, I’ve always been a fan of the genre. I thought it’d be fun to try out some animal characters in that style. The more characters I came up with, the more I started to think I could make a game based on them, I’ve always loved point-and-click adventures and thought that the style of paintings and the world-building with the characters would lend itself well to that genre, so that’s how Lord Winklebottom Investigates came to be.
Women in the Gaming Industry
Do you feel the gaming industry is still very much male-dominated, or do you think that has changed or is changing?
Even though the industry is still very male-dominated, I feel that the industry is becoming a much more inclusive place to work now and it’s gradually becoming easier to call out bad practices due to social media.
I’ve encountered sexism myself at some companies, particularly when first starting out (I was one of about four women working in a development role in a studio of a few hundred) and it seemed like there was less support available then. It seems like the industry is gradually changing for the better though and becoming more supportive, especially as more women gain more leadership roles across the industry.
What advice would you give girls who have a dream to one day have a job in the gaming industry?
I would say to keep working on your portfolio, focusing on whatever you want to aim for and try to get feedback from industry professionals as much as possible. There are mentoring schemes available that can help pair you up with contacts, or try and find local game developer meetups (you can usually find out about these through Twitter or Facebook).
I’d also suggest trying to take part in some online game jams. They can really help boost your portfolio as well as help to find game dev friends outside of your local area. Don’t be afraid to show off your work and get feedback from an early stage, as it really helps you to grow in the long run.
Do you play games yourself, or have you played them in the past growing up?
I played a lot of games growing up, when I was younger it was mainly things that my older brother bought on the SNES, so a lot of Mario, Cool Spot and Aladdin! Then after he bought an N64 I played a lot more Mario, Banjo-Kazooie and Goldeneye.
The first taste of adventure games I had was after getting my first PC, when I experienced The Curse of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango for the first time, after that I fell in love with the LucasArts games. I love the narrative and world-building aspects of adventure games.
If you could be a character in a game, which one would it be and why?
I’d probably just want to be an animal in Animal Crossing New Horizons. They just usually swan around relaxing all day long, living on a tropical island, while the humans keep the place tidy, weeding, etc.!