- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

After producing educational documentaries for 11 years, Bethesda native Megan Gaiser decided to get on the multimedia bandwagon.

She moved to Seattle in 1994 and found work at Microsoft as a media producer for CarPoint, the first online car-buying guide. She switched to video games three years later, which eventually led to her becoming president and chief executive of Her Interactive Inc. (www.herinteractive.com), a company known for attracting female gamers to the market through intelligent multimedia entertainment for all ages.

As one of the leading women in the gaming industry for almost a decade, she shares her views on the video-game industry and the magic behind her award-winning Nancy Drew PC games.

How do you create a Nancy Drew game? Nancy Drew is such an iconic figure, and what we did from the very beginning is preserve the character but bring her into modern times. We take the books and modify them so that you can never quickly solve the mystery. We construct a much richer story, which is our strong point.

We also have an advisory board of 70 women that we work with at various stages of production to make sure the story makes sense, the puzzles are not too easy or hard. We also keep up with current trends. We had a cell-phone camera in the last game. You can always use the cell phone to call Frank and Joe Hardy to get hints. We use the Internet as well.

What technologies go into a Nancy Drew game? We use a proprietary game engine and associated tools that we have developed in-house and continue to evolve with each game. The environment/level/logic design is also implemented with a proprietary file format that describes all behavior that needs to happen on the screen to the game engine.

In order to maintain richness of graphic detail in our games, our engine uses an adventure-game style of point-and-click to explore the numerous environments that … our titles [comprise]. We augment the game-play experience with video cut screens, sophisticated puzzles, superior character conversations, a simple user interface, interactive video, a wide range of mood-setting sound effects and exclusive background music.

Our art and character design is done with the typical tools used by game studios — Maya, Max, Photoshop, etc.

What is your opinion on the current state of video-game censorship and laws that restrict access? I advocate education and not censorship, and I believe parents need to be better informed on what types of media content their children are consuming. I do not support any movement to determine what type of content can be created or produced.

What are game companies’ responsibilities to the public? The games we create tell a cultural story, and this medium, like all mediums, will have an impact on our generations and future generations. Gaming is an art form. We have a responsibility to shape the quality and the values of the culture we live in and need to aspire to the same artistic and cultural credibility achieved by other major forms of entertainment.

As an evolving medium, we need to take more risks to create a full spectrum of content. If we can create violent games, why not also create inspiring games; games that make you think, where you deal with moral or ethical choices with consequences; games about serious issues, like global warming; games with strong female role models, etc.

What do girls want in games? One thing that seems to be clear for the girls and women we have spoken to is they aren’t enamored with being portrayed as victims. They also find repetitive violence boring.

However, I think that question is limiting because, in general, people like quality. There are stereotypes, and that’s dangerous.

When I started out in 1997, I did not know anything about the gaming industry. I heard a lot of comments like “do something in pink” or “all girls like Barbie,” Well, you know, a lot of girls like Nancy Drew, and a lot of girls like science. There are as many preferences as there are girls.

What will the video game look like 10 years from now? I think we will segment the market to include game options for many more preferences and genres, so gaming will be more gender-balanced. Gaming will be much more focused on the mass market than it is now. All levels of the family will be involved in game play. It will have a TV-like feel and be centered in the living room — providing a social connection.

Those of us who grew up with TV often have bonding moments with others when we talk about our favorite old TV shows. It will be similar. We’ll see further expansion in the way we connect with each other through games — with all wireless devices being able to communicate with each other. I think we will also see online games taking many different shapes and forms.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected])

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