Developers From thatgamecompany Hold Court at GameFest

Thatgamecompany was on hand at this weekend’s GameFest at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. President Kellee Santiago, Core Engineer Martin Middleton, Lead Artist Matt Nava, Producer Robin Hunicke, and Community Manager Aaron Grommesh were at a table in the center of the courtyard on Saturday, March 17, signing books and posters and posing with fans. This friendly, down-to-earth group sat and talked with me and a friend of mine, Nikkolai Davenport, who works at indie developer Cipher Prime in Philadelphia, PA. But they did so much more than just sit and talk with us. What we got that day was a unique and memorable experience.

First and foremost, I have to show off the cutest cosplayer I’ve ever seen. She was dressed as one of the androgynous characters from Journey.

Not only that, she also handmade a doll of the character, which she gave to the developers.

Amazing companies that create brilliant games attract this kind of following: creative, beautiful people who make unique and lovely costumes. This seemed so natural to me, seeing this kind of love and dedication to a team that so lovingly and dedicatedly bring their fans such great games.

I got a poster from Flower and asked Santiago to sign it for me. She was happy to do so. I talked to Hunicke, too – mostly just about her busy schedule and about reviews of the game. She had gone from GDC to SXSW to GameFest, and she was exhausted and ready to go home. She and Santiago played the game at a friend’s house the day it launched, and were happy to play with “normal” people, people not involved in the development process.

The coolest moment for me was when I asked Hunicke if she read reviews of the game, and handed her my business card. She took one look at it and said, “Oh! I read yours! It was good!” While I know it’s commonplace for developers to read reviews, it still gave me a shock and made me feel great to hear it coming from her mouth. I was surprised, pleased, and a little humbled, feeling my world growing that much smaller.

Nikkolai’s interaction with the developers from thatgamecompany was very intimate. He took out his laptop and showed them the project he and his coworkers are working on, a game called Splice. Santiago, Middleton, Nava, and Hunicke each took a turn playing it, and they all gave him ample feedback on the user interface, telling him exactly how they felt and what they could do to improve it. It was overwhelming to see them taking out so much time and effort and go into so much detail. “Generosity” doesn’t even come close to describing it.

Santiago’s family was also at the event, crowded around her, smiling and laughing. Her mother came over to us and introduced herself. Nikkolai and I told her how great it was to meet her daughter, how brilliant she is, and what great games her team creates. She told us how they all knew what Kellee did for a living, but they had never really gotten to see her in her element, surrounded by her fans. Davenport said, “She’s a huge inspiration for us in the field.” I added, “Especially for women!” Her mother beamed with pride.

Thatgamecompany is more than a little indie studio making a big splash in the gaming industry. It’s a team full of bright, generous, thoughtful people, trying to make the world a better place. They not only free our minds and our hearts with their games, they expand the very definition of what it is to be a video game, and a developer. If you ever get the chance, be sure to meet them. It’s an experience like no other.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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