Deirdra Kiai likes to make "socially conscientious, personally meaningful" video games in her spare time. That's when the 23-year-old, Saskatoon-born game developer isn't at work at Vancouver's Hothead Games. As a programmer for the independent game developer and publisher, Kiai is working on DeathSpank, a role-playing adventure game expected to be released in 2010 for consoles and the PC.
Before joining Hothead in May 2008, Kiai was employed by Telltale Games in San Rafael, California, and studied computer science at the University of British Columbia. At Telltale, she worked on Sam & Max: Season One and CSI: Hard Evidence, which were developed for the Wii, Windows, and the Xbox 360.
Under the banner of Deirdra Kiai Productions, Kiai released The Little Girl Nobody Liked in June 2009. The interactive story is the latest of the 10 Flash and Windows games she's independently developed and made available on her Web site.
The Georgia Straight reached Kiai by phone at Hothead's offices in Yaletown.
How did you get into the video-game industry?
When I was a teenager, I had an interest in game development. So, I went on-line and started playing with some development tools I found. At the age of 16, I finished my first game. It was called Cubert Badbone, P.I., and it was a point-and-click detective adventure. So, it became a bit of a hobby for me. I enjoyed it.
Then, when I went to university, I decided on computer science, because I entertained the idea of making games for a living but wasn't entirely sure about it yet. So, I figured something more general would be better for me at that point in time. When I was in university, I did a couple of internships at video-game companies and enjoyed them so much that I decided that game development was indeed what I wanted to be doing as a career. That's what happened.
What are you working on at Hothead Games?
I'm working on DeathSpank as a gameplay programmer, and I'm mainly focused on sort of the puzzle-solving and character-interaction aspects of the game, which goes nicely with my background.
What is The Little Girl Nobody Liked?
It is a small, Flash-based game I created. I call it an interactive children's book, and it's about a young girl and her experiences with a big, homogenous group of identical-looking girls. So, the game allows you to make choices as to how she interacts with this group of girls.
What makes that one a game versus an interactive story?
Well, I'd say it's a bit of a fine line between the two. I consider interactive stories to be games, personally, because they are a space that you can play in and explore. My definition of a game is sort of a more exploratory sense than a more conflict- or challenge-based sense.
What to you is, as you say on your site, a "socially conscientious, personally meaningful" video game?
Well, the "socially conscientious" part, to me, means just an awareness of society and conflicts that go on and struggles that groups—both marginalized groups especially—have to face. I like to use a lot of that in my storytelling, because it's an issue that means a lot to me personally.
As for "personally meaningful", it's just that. It's the idea of writing a game that you personally resonate with, that allows you to express your own viewpoints and values.
What are some of your future independent game-development plans?
Well, I have one project currently in the works, which is about near-death experiences. I plan on expanding to more platforms, such as the Mac, in my work and also attempting to make my current and future work accessible to broader audiences than simply what I've done in the past, which was show them off to other game enthusiasts over the Internet on forums and such.
What kind of video games do you like to play?
I'm mostly interested in story-based games, particularly point-and-click adventures. But I'm also interested in RPGs and the occasional rhythm game, such as the Rock Band franchise, and puzzle games on the iPhone, generally.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.