Anniemay joined us in the Work With Indies Discord in February 2023 for a text chat with our community members about her experience successfully landing and navigating her first few roles in games. The below is a recap of that conversation.

Anniemay, thank you so much for being here and sharing your insights with the Work With Indies community!

🐻 Thank you so much for having me!! I was so excited when I got the email asking me to be a part of this. It's such a confidence-boost being seen as a 'success story'! I hope my time here helps this amazing community that you and the team have fostered.

🤔 Can you start by telling us a little about yourself? Who you are, what you had been doing previously, and what you are up to now? (and also please introduce us to Meow Meow) ((f-for science!!))

🐻 I'm gonna start with a fun fact! My name is shared with the daughter of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson in some Spider-Man universe (there are far too many!!!). My dad's name is Peter Parker! The two are not affiliated.

Otherwise, I've been a contracted Junior Narrative Designer at Drop Bear Bytes for the past few months working on their upcoming title, Broken Roads. I've learnt so much from my team about branching narratives as I've actually had minimal experience writing in such a way for videogames.

Prior to that, I was a Junior Narrative Designer for Digital Lode, a Melbourne-based VR company making the Espire series. This series is a love letter to the stealth games of the past such as Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid.

I will find you some beautiful Meow Meow pics now! She actually gave me a motivating nose boop this morning. 😍

3 images of Anniemay's super cute calico cat

🤔 I am super excited to talk about DBB and Broken Roads, but could you start us at the before times? How did you get your first break at Digital Lode? Did you go to Uni for writing? For writing in games, specifically? Or did you find another path?

🐻 Good question! (I feel fancy saying that) I attended Deakin University in Melbourne soon after graduating from high school to pursue a BA in Creative Writing. There was ONE unit dedicated to writing for games and most of our time was spent analysing others. I remember checking out the LucasArts game, Full Throttle, for an assignment. We wrapped up the unit with a group project in Twine creating a short, branching narrative game. It was about a young man being wrongfully accused of murdering the princess of the kingdom. But plot-twist, he did kill her!!!

Otherwise, I applied for the QA Tester job at Digital Lode on a whim, I was nervously looking for work after graduating and was hoping to break free from retail! So, I applied and had a great (albeit nerve-wracking) interview with the company. I was accepted and worked at the company for almost 2 years! Releasing my first ever game - Espire 2!

🤔 I see that you went from QA Tester to Narrative Designer in a matter of months! (yes yes I went through your resume uhuhuhu which anyone can find here. Do you think that experience helped you get to where you are today? If so, how?

🐻 Hehe, I actually leave my resume there because some jobs I would apply to liked it attached to your website!

I was originally meant to be a QA Tester for a short period of time to help Digital Lode reach a milestone in their development of Espire 2. However, the team really enjoyed and appreciated my work so they had me back on! Working as a QA Tester during those heavy lockdowns was isolating but I think prepared me for the fully-remote structure of Drop Bear Bytes.

[.c-highlight]How I migrated in the company was actually thanks to a spur of confidence I got when starting in QA. My thinking was 'if I'm going to be here for a few weeks, I want to learn AS MUCH as I can about Narrative'. So, I approached our then HR/Talent Acquisition person and asked if I could look at the documents and tools used by the team's Narrative Designer, Alex Shedlock![.c-highlight]

He ended up reaching out to me, appreciating my love for the craft and we worked together on the narrative and QA-ing sections where the current narrative implementation did and didn't work. Then, in October, Alex and a few other team members put in good words for me and BAM! I was officially in my dream job so soon after graduating! Still can't believe it sometimes. But I wanna shout out Alex for being so supportive! Here is his portfolio.

[.c-insight]💡 Editor's Note: I love this so much! I did a similar thing early in my career. When I wanted to deep dive on marketing, I asked my extended team to include me on all of the marketing plans and initiatives. When I want to learn more about legal contracts, I told them to send me all of their drafts and offered to take a first pass. That allowed for a rapid accumulation of knowledge that would have otherwise taken me years if I was just to wait for the normal course of business to play out.[.c-insight]

🤔 Hi Annie! Quick question for maybe those that aren't aware of the difference, but what makes a Narrative Designer different from the other titles that can be found in games? And what kind of tasks do you focus on when it comes to the game development process?

🐻 Okay so I saw an amazing talk by a Narrative Designer working on the new Dead Island 2, her name is Ayesha Khan and she explained it so damn well! Here's her great GDC talk:

She puts it as: "A game writer's primary responsibility is to promote the story that is told in the scripts they write. Their job is to choose the cleanest, clearest, highest quality words they can assemble and give to other devs. A narrative designer writes as well, but our primary job is to get the WHOLE game to tell the same story. We coordinate the different disciplines into telling it together."

A prime example is environmental story-telling and character design. If your character is messy, there may be clothes, dirty dishes or an unmade bed in the apartment. If they appreciate their appearance or reputation, they may dress more smartly.

I love working with other departments and the job requires not losing sight of the story you want to tell in an area, through a person or even through the music!

🤔 How many jobs did you apply for before landing your first QA role? Any thoughts as to why this application was successful where the others weren't? Did you change/improve anything throughout your applications?

🐻 I applied to over 60+ jobs I think. I had been taking Polish classes for a while as I really wanted to work with CD Projekt Red but that was a long-term goal (I've since dropped Polish :C).

Otherwise, in January just before I completed my degree, I did two game jams. One was the Australian Global Game Jam and another was a Brackey's Game Jam!


[.c-highlight]Out of those game jams, I got three little games out of it. I definitely think those were a big help in standing out for the QA job as I noted that I did a lot of bug testing for these projects.[.c-highlight]

[.c-insight]💡 This will 1000% help you stand out.[.c-insight]

Otherwise, I think a lot of it came down to inexperience and going for jobs that I definitely could not properly provide for. I also did a lot of cold-emailing teams just to show them I existed. If you're going to do this, please be very nice and understand that you may never be contacted again. I was lucky to have small conversations with some lovely teams.

🤔 You said you applied on a whim, but were you actively looking to break into narrative roles at the time as well?

🐻 Yes! [.c-highlight]I was mainly looking at Narrative but realised I may need to start elsewhere to grow and see if the games industry was a place I even wanted to be in![.c-highlight] I'm happy I took the leap of faith and was VERY lucky that people were so welcoming for me to learn about other crafts and eventually step into it.

[.c-insight]💡 That was my approach. Get in any way that I can. And then good luck getting me out! 😄[.c-insight]

🤔 Were there certain games that significantly influenced your narrative design or writing styles? If yes, in what way?

🐻 I loved the linear story-telling and character-focused dialogue of the Uncharted Games. Such witty, snappy, funny lines that made me fall in love with these characters even when they were being idiots.

Otherwise, I took great enjoyment in God of War (2018) and it acted as the basis for my world-building of a personal project I've been writing for for over 3 years now?

To be honest, games that give characters unique personalities fuel me. So Disco Elysium is a BIG one too.

In terms of what changed in my writing style. I think when I was a little younger I wrote long bits of dialogue. As I played these games, I learned the power of short and sweet. Alex taught me a lot on that too.

🤔 What was the first game you ever played that made you realize “wow, this game could only (or best) be told in an interactive medium like video games?

🐻 That is a good-ass question.

I'm gonna double up here and say Disco Elysium. If I read Disco Elysium as an old Goosebumps choose-your-own-adventure I think I'd give up. Being able to digest the words, the visual scene, the Thought Cabinet and the music really helped me understand the gravity of my choices from light and funny to holy, oh no, this is bad bad bad.

I think another thing could be something as big and sprawling as the Warhammer series (both 40K and fantasy).

🤔 What is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far regarding narrative design?

🐻 I've got a few!

  1. Don't be afraid to ask for help
  2. Research, research, research! I actually watched a lot of Metal Gear Solid 3 videos on guard barks to help me design AI behaviours and barks for our own guards and Unit Commander in Espire 2. If I didn't do that, it wouldn't feel as authentic and I definitely would not have been as proud.
  3. Give different writing styles a go! Even though I was so damn excited to start at Drop Bear Bytes, I was terrified of the world I had only glimpsed at through a keyhole. Engage in the ways your peers write characters, dialogue exchanges, player choices and even documentation! You need to be able to not only write engaging beats but match up with your colleagues and the story they're telling in their own unique ways.
  4. If you feel overwhelmed, reach out. Burn out is terrible and can happen to you no matter how passionate you are!

🤔 I'm curious to hear, what are the expectations for a Junior Narrative Designer work-wise? A lot of job descriptions and definitions really apply to mid or more senior positions so I guess I'm wondering what an average work load looks like for you.

🐻 It changes from project-to-project and also what the game requires from each discipline. It can also depend on team-size, I did a lot of things a junior would not be asked to do on Espire 2 such as giving voice direction to voice actors. I was blessed to do it but omg was it stressful.

I think in general the responsibilities are;

  • Attend meetings to brainstorm ideas
  • Write and design dialogue for quests, linear moments, cutscenes, misc. text, etc.
  • Design documentation such as test plans, quest design docs and character sheets
  • MAYBE implement narrative into the game

But again, it really does differ. If a task feels too much for you, always let people know!

🤔 For the game jam projects, you mentioned you did bug testing. Can you elaborate more on the process for this? Was there a software or a particular methodology you followed that was similar to industry standard?

🐻 Oh God, I wish it was more detailed than what I actually did.

For the first game, Anamnesis, I mainly just hopped into our candidate build and pushed the boundaries. We were working with an isometric environment so making sure things layered properly was good. Otherwise, do triggers work? What if I click on a dialogue bubble too fast? What if I click to move my character away the moment I hit a trigger?

The beauty of QA is "What if?" among other things hehe.

🤔 Sorry if this is veering away from narrative design but what do you think companies look for in QA testers? I want to take a similar path as you and would like to know. Also, how should I go about building a narrative design portfolio?

🐻 For QA, I think companies would want people who are detail-oriented and know how to use the technology and mechanics to break the game. To be honest though, I'm sadly not the best to ask :C. From my experience, great communication and knowing JIRA is a good start too! Sorry for not being able to give much. :C

Otherwise, I bought a domain for my lovely website and got to picking my favourite design. Don't go too overboard in its style I think. Also, only put in the things you love and think show the skills needed for the job you are going for. [.c-highlight]I used to have 2D animation work on there and it really confuses the message of your portfolio when you do that.[.c-highlight] Write quest documentation, write menu text, write short exchanges, do game jams and be proud of all you're doing to get in!

🤔 Sounds like things were going well at Digital Lode? Why leave? Why Drop Bear Bytes? And what do you think is next?

🐻 Digital Lode was a great start in my career and I learned a lot from the people I worked with. I'm catching up with a few of them for some lovely hotpot tomorrow!!

But branching narratives have always intrigued me and when our Narrative Director, Leanne Taylor-Giles stayed in touch with me for a whole dang year after my application for a previous narrative design role, I got glimpses of where I wanted to be!

She has been my guardian angel. She was the one who hyped me up for Drop Bear Bytes who (soon after E2's release) asked me join them! I couldn't say no to such a learning experience! Also, the lovely Creative Director, Colin McComb, has been such a blast to work with. Working with such legends makes me feel like a badass.

🤔 How is feedback taken into account for a narrative design scene in your current role? Does this involve a meeting with the game development team or more async way of leaving comments in a document?

🐻 I think it can depend on what you're doing.

When I worked on character sheets for our art team at Digital Lode, it was a mix of meetings and comments on the Google document.

I think when working with your fellow creatives, a healthy mix of meetings and screenshots or documents is a great way to digitize your feedback but also understand the feedback better in things like meetings. Sometimes our eyes misread things or completely miss the point. So meetings can allow you to screen share your feedback if it's physical and work on edits together!

In regards to how it's taken, we'd have our publishers at Digital Lode check our work and do some amazing sessions telling us what they were thinking as different players! So having that mindset is fantastic when writing.

🤔 I've been a writer (and then a narrative designer) for almost six years now and I've had an absolutely wonderful time with it. Something I've been wondering is how to get familiar with others in the industry? It seems like a super social field but I've always been a bit nervous about reaching out.

Another question as well! How to do go from freelance to full time? It seems like a tough bridge to close.

🐻 I get terrified at socializing with others, I went to a few IGDA meetups in Melbourne and freaked out. This talk I watched recently is great for this, basically have people you know who can anchor you so you can go talk then race back to them and debrief with some chippies and drinks hehe.

Going contract is weird, especially when it comes to benefits and taxes but I really enjoyed the freedom it gave me to decide when and where I want to be in the industry. Having a website and knowing your rates you need to survive helps a ton as in Aus we don't get leave, etc. as a contractor!

🤔 I'm a big fan of branching dialogue & narrative, and super excited to see we've got an Australian setting game!

Working with such an experienced team in branching dialogues, what would you say the biggest lesson you've learned about how to write good branching dialogue is so far?

🐻 I've worked very closely with the Narrative Director, Leanne Taylor-Giles who reviews my work with great tenacity!

I think a big lesson I've learned from her is: "Keep it short and sweet".

When I first started, I wrote TOO MUCH and blew up our word count. But now, I'm learning how to be more concise with my player choices and how NPC's respond to your actions. It's a balancing act but it's so important for such massive games.

It was a blast, you are all awesome! Those looking into getting into the industry, you're almost there! Keep pusshingggg.