Under the banner of Hanako Games, U.K.-based game designer Georgina Bensley crafts unique adventures inspired by a passion for anime and the love of a good story. We sat down with the creator of Cute Knight and Fatal Hearts to chat about making games from her position as an indie developer.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and Hanako Games.
I’ve loved video games since I was just a little girl. My first console was a ColecoVision, and I remember CGA graphics on the computer. I thought, like a lot of kids probably thought, “I like games. I want to make games!”
On the other hand, I sort of figured everyone else would want to do that and that there would be too much competition as a career. So when I went to university, I only minored in computer science and majored in music, telling people I was going to write songs for video games. I thought it might be an easier field to get into! But I didn’t actually know how to get started with that, after graduation, and wound up working in a library instead. I was still interested in games, and always trying to make them whenever I got my hands on new tools.
Then a combination of things… I moved, and had to lose my job, and had more time to put into making games. And I became aware of indie games, and that I could just set up shop on my own to sell them. That’s when I came up with the name and started trying to make something out of it. I was literally working out of my bedroom.
Can you give us some insight into your design process? How do you come up with game ideas and implement them?
I can’t stop coming up with ideas. Any sort of new concept I see or hear about, I’m likely to start thinking “How could I make that into a game? How could I make that fun?” Especially if someone says a particular concept can’t be done. Someone mentioned in conversation that it would be impossible to make a racing game with drama and meaningful character development. So of course I had to come up with a design for one, where the drivers would have friendships and rivalries and this would affect the way they raced… if you stole someone’s girlfriend then he might decide to sacrifice winning a race in order to make you crash out.
I’m not making that game, though. I have far too many ideas to actually implement them all. Some ideas won’t leave me alone. If I keep thinking about the same thing over and over, I probably have to make it. If I start prototyping an idea and lose interest, it probably wasn’t that great an idea. I have some ideas that have been sitting in my list of ‘maybe someday’ for years now, because I keep coming up with better plans that I feel more urgent about creating.
Your upcoming game Twinkle Toes Skating recently won Casual Connect Kiev’s Innovate 2007 contest. In what ways has winning the contest impacted the project or Hanako Games in general? How beneficial do you think these contests for indie developers?
It’s a first for me to have any sort of arrangement on a project that isn’t yet complete. In the past, I’ve always finished the game and then tried to sell it. So this adds some complications to the development process and also commits me to finishing this game, and to putting it ahead of other projects – which makes me slightly less than completely independent, for the moment. But only slightly.
I don’t know how many people entered Innovate, but I know that some open contests like the design-an-RPG-world competition Wizards of the Coast ran years back have been absolutely inundated with responses. It’s a chance for a lucky break. Which can be rough, actually. It’s not that easy to know what to do with a windfall.
Even for people who enter contests and don’t win, having had that impetus to try might be what was needed to get them started. Several people who didn’t win that RPG design contest did go on to develop their ideas into full games. So I think anything that inspires more people to try and take a chance is a good thing.
There are lots of games that haven’t been made yet, and I’m waiting for someone to make them so I can play them!
How do you fund your projects?
The business grows organically – the sales from one game allow me to spend more money building the next.
You work with a roster of freelancers and contractors on your games. How do you select people to work with, and how do you interact with them?
Almost all the people I’ve worked with have been entirely through the Internet. I look at a lot of portfolios and try to get a feel for someone’s style, whether they’d be a good match for the project I have in mind, and then describe what I want. Working with people long-distance can be frustrating when you can’t get hold of them, but it usually works out eventually.
Anime-style artwork figures prominently in Cute Knight and Fatal Hearts. How has anime influenced your game design?
I love anime! I am such a geek. Fantasy, drama, angst… it’s very me. If I could get the rights to make games out of my favorite shows, I would.
What are the challenges of being an indie developer?
Well, like any self-employed person, I don’t have a steady salary or sick days or anything like that. I have to wear a lot of hats, because I don’t have supervisors or staff to manage things for me.
What do you like most about being an indie developer?
Being able to explore my own ideas, at my own pace. Not having to keep regular hours, since I am a night owl. Being able to honestly say that I’m buying/playing a game for business reasons.
If someone offered you a studio with a staff of 10 people, what would you do? If you had the opportunity to join a studio, would you?
I can think of projects to assign if I had a bigger staff, but I’m not sure I really want one. I do always have more ideas than I have time for, but that may be a good thing. It forces me to focus. I think I’d be more likely to have people working with me than for me, people who were passionate about their own ideas.
As for working for someone else, well… I’d like to think that anyone who wanted to hire me would want to hire me for the things I’m good at. If someone wants to pay me to sit around and come up with the same kind of ideas I come up with already, then I’d think about it. I’ve considered working for a large company as a writer. I’m not interested at the moment because I have too many projects I want to see finished first, but maybe someday.
Any parting words for your fans?
Thank you for supporting me and buying my games! To see what I’m working on for the future, and to give feedback and suggestions, please visit the forums at Hanako Games!