Interview with Leann Sterling - Winner of Jammin 2021

2021-08-06

,

Jammin is a game jam that’s hosted by and for Caribbean game developers. 2021 was our 3rd competition, and the biggest one yet! One of the key changes was that participants vote to determine the winner, and Emily All Alone took all our hearts away. We reached out to Leann Sterling, a game designer and maker of this awesome game to learn more about her and her work!

Screen capture of Emily All Alonne

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m Leann, a game designer from sunny Jamaica, and a recent graduate of Sheridan College’s Bachelor’s of Game Design program, with a passion for games and the unique way that players can interact with them. I especially love story rich games. Games aside, I’m also enamored by mythology of all origins, as well as musical theatre. I’ve volunteered with my local youth theater group for several years, and have participated both on and off the stage.

Why do you like making games?

I’ve always been passionate about creating things, though that passion has manifested itself in many different ways over the years. As it turns out, a lot of those manifestations are pretty helpful when it comes to making games! I just think it’s amazing to be able to make something out of nothing and have other people interact with it.

The Caribbean isn’t particularly known for game development, how do you feel about being in this space?

The Caribbean game development scene is pretty small, but I try to use that as encouragement! I’d love to help get some sort of gaming industry underway here, so when I feel like no one is actually going to see my work, I use that as my motivation to keep making games. And even though right now the Caribbean game development space is small, I’ve already seen so much passion, talent, creativity, and determination in my fellow devs. It’s genuinely so inspiring.

Describe the game you created for Jammin

Emily All Alone is a puzzle RPG about a girl named Emily who is unhappy with her life. She finds herself stuck in an alternate version of her apartment where only fear and negativity seem to exist. Solve puzzles and help the building’s other inhabitants in order to come to terms with the struggles in Emily’s own life and maybe, just maybe, find a way home.

Your game was heavy on story and character. Are you now, or have you ever been a writer?

Not professionally, though I’m currently trying to pursue a career in game writing. Although I’m not a writer by trade, it is something that I love deeply and have been practicing in my free time since I was 10. At the end of the day, it’s all about practice, and incorporating feedback.

Playing the game felt like exploring a real person’s world, and the traumas they experience. It felt authentic. Authenticity typically comes from a mix of personal experiences, observations and inspiration from others. Was it difficult or easy to be authentic? How did it feel to create this story and share it?

For Emily All Alone, it wasn’t difficult for me to be authentic. I was going through a rough time mentally when working on this game, and so I used it as an opportunity to vent, sort out my own feelings, and clear my head. Every character in the game is someone I can relate to to some extent, though their situations and negativity are largely exaggerated. The game ended up being more personal than I had initially set out to make it. The problem with personal games is that it can be scary to share them, though having a deadline can help with that - no time to second guess myself or worry about what people are going to think of me, I can post the game in the next five minutes or miss the submission window, so I just have to take the leap without thinking about it too much.

What was your favourite part of making Emily All Alone?

Like I mentioned before, the game was a bit of a vent piece for me. It wasn’t always easy, but it was definitely cathartic to work on. Additionally - and I’m not sure if this counts, since it happened after I released the jam version of the game - I got a comment on the game talking about how it helped someone feel better about their own life. That wasn’t something I had necessarily expected to happen, but it meant so much to me when I saw it.

How hectic was making a game in one week?

Extremely hectic! I was lucky that I wanted to make an RPG, and that I already had RPG Maker to help me, since that did a huge chunk of the work. Even using it, I barely got the game done in time, and there was still so much more I wanted to add! It was a lot of rushing, simplifying ideas as much as possible, and compromising with myself.

Any secret techniques you want to share?

I don’t think this is a secret, but I think it’s super important to reference games similar to what you want to make. While making Emily All Alone, I watched a bunch of playthroughs of RPGs like Mad Father and Ib, since they were big sources of inspiration for me. I don’t think my game ended up being as similar to them as I had initially intended, but consuming that material definitely helped with generating ideas and keeping the general feeling of the game cohesive.

How does it feel to win?

It put me in a good mood for days! I thought I did well, and expected to come maybe third, second if I was really lucky, but I definitely didn’t see first coming! I was already proud of my little game, but it was still super validating to see that other people thought it was worthy of such high praise too.

What’s next on the champion’s journey?

I’m not quite done with Emily All Alone, though I’ve been taking a break from it since finishing the jam. I want to go back in and add some of the things I had to cut to meet the deadline. I have a few other game ideas I’d like to work on as well - both games that I’d rather make on my own, and collaborating with friends.

To the aspiring game maker, I give you this wisdom…

If you want to make games, the best way to get started…is to make games! There are so many game making programs for all levels of experience, and tons of online resources and communities to help you on your way. Start small, make fun little projects in your spare time, and get them out there for people to see! The first few may not be fantastic, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get!

Massive respect for Leann for being open with the highs and lows, and for giving advice on how to keep going. Be sure to check out her website and keep up with her latest projects!

Happy game deving!

© 2021 Marcus Sanatan