Baby Talk: Interview with Michelle McKelvey

By Erin Bell |

Programmer Michelle McKelvey recently met two very important deadlines: the launch of her latest game, Slingo Quest Hawaii, and the birth of her son Elijah, both of which happened right around the same time.

Michelle spoke to Gamezebo about the unique experience of developing a game while pregnant, and shares some insight into how to maintain the all-important balance between work and family.

First, please tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

I’m a software developer and I’ve been creating games for almost 20 years. Most of my career has been with Microsoft working on The Gaming Zone, now MSN Casual Games. I also did some developer evangelism – I talked talking at conferences and colleges about .NET and other technologies.

A few years ago, I left behind commuting traffic and thousands of emails to develop casual games with some old friends from Boston at Gameblend Studios. We got together with Funkitron and created Poker Superstars III and Slingo Quest Hawaii.

What were some of the challenges you faced working on Slingo Quest Hawaii while pregnant?

I couldn’t have asked for a better project to work on while I was pregnant. The game is really fun to play and the development went smoothly. Working at home allowed me to develop while periodically sitting in the rocking chair, putting my feet up, and taking yoga breaks.

What went through your mind when you found out you were pregnant? Were you afraid that you might not be able to finish Slingo Quest Hawaii?

I knew I was pregnant when we started the project and we recognized that the "delivery dates" were close. I ended up going 2 weeks past due, so at the end, I had some extra time to wrap up.

Did being pregnant change your approach to game creation? Did it influence how Slingo Quest Hawaii turned out at all?

I was aware of the fact that there was always a possibility that someone else would have to complete the project. We had signs of early labor at week 23, so I never knew if I was going to have to stop working at a moment’s notice. It made me take the extra time to write really clean, easily maintainable code with lots of comments.

We hear a lot of "horror stories" in the gaming industry about stressful crunch times and employees having to work insane numbers of hours. How do these stories compare/contrast with your experiences at Funkitron?

We defined and stuck to a realistic schedule throughout the project. That’s not always the norm when shipping software. At Funkitron, we have a seasoned team, and we work well together. We all worked remotely in different time zones, but we synced up really well. It was fun to see it all come together.

I’ve spoken with many developers who start out working at game studios but find that they have to retire or change careers in order to focus on family. Does the videogame industry, on a whole, make it difficult for family-oriented men and women to work there?

I’ve reflected on this as I get ready to return to work. It is a hard industry to keep a reasonable schedule. You are expected to put work first and put your life second, or even better, make work your life. I have chosen a different path, and I work with clients who appreciate quality work delivered on schedule, who also respect my need for a balanced life. In addition to parenting Elijah, I also teach yoga and enjoy the outdoors. I love my work, but I also want to have time to do all these other things I love.

I am hoping to continue to work on casual games with great companies like Gameblend and Funkitron. I’m hoping to create an environment where I can watch my son progress through his first year while also enjoying my work as a developer. My husband and I are interviewing nannies to watch him while I get some work done, but I’m also going to around to feed him and make sure he’s doing OK.

How much time off are you taking? Are you planning to go back to Funkitron after your maternity leave?

Eli is 10 weeks old and I’m starting to work a little now. I need to figure out a schedule over the next couple of months. It would be fun to work with Funkitron again, they are really cool.

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