Professional Women in the Games Industry: Anouk Bachman
We got a chance to interview Anouk Bachman, Asst. Producer of EA's Need for Speed NITRO, to ask her both about the game and what she thinks about women working in the video game industry.
Nintendojo was given the opportunity to have an email interview with Anouk Bachman, Electronic Arts Montreal's Assistant Producer of Need for Speed NITRO. We were happy to get a chance to not only ask her about what makes NFS NITRO unique but also what it's like to be a young professional woman in the video game industry. Originally from Holland, Anouk has been a lecturer at San Francisco State University and written as a game journalist prior to joining EA.
How is NITRO different than the other current Need for Speed, Shift?
I don't think you can even begin to compare the two. NITRO has taken the Need for Speed franchise and gave it a new edge; taking real licensed cars, real cities, police chases, but giving it a cool original twist. The art style is unique, a bit surreal even, with enhanced colors and shapes. At the same time NITRO is accessible, as the controls are very down-to-earth. Everybody can play it, whether that is with the wheel, Wii Remote alone, with the Nunchuck, Classic Controller, or GameCube controller. NITRO is an ode to the arcade racing tradition; pick it up, challenge a friend, and have a blast.
Need for Speed NITRO not only features colorful cities and stylized vehicles, but player-specific graffiti will splash across the track and buildings depending who's in first.
Why did EA decide to make a unique NFS title for Wii versus port Shift? Is a different demographic intended for NITRO than is for Shift?
The Wii as a console is a whole different ballgame compared to the other consoles. The Wii has "ruptured" all the gaming conventions that existed, and EA has realized that a console with that kind of impact should not be treated as a port- platform. The way people play with the Wii tends to be centered on a pick-up-and-play social and physical experience, not an individual immersive one.
NITRO is not necessarily for a different demographic than SHIFT. It just offers a different kind of racing experience, so I can easily imagine people enjoying both games, just like many people own a Wii and another console. SHIFT is for that high-end simulation experience, and it's hardcore, and very intense in its learning curve. It's not something you pick up and play for half an hour at a party whereas NITRO is. NITRO is intense in a way that it has this crazy sense of speed and challenges.
Would you classify this as an arcade racer, a simulation racer, somewhere in between, or something else entirely?
I've mentioned the arcade aspect of NITRO already, but it would not do the game full justice to see it as an arcade racer alone. The career mode for instance is very deep, and it takes quite some time and skill to unlock all the modes and cars.
Need for Speed NITRO's car customization allows for some pretty striking creations that look great on Wii.
What sorts of customization elements does the game offer? How deep does it go?
You should know how much time I've spent customizing my cars. I love it so much. When the game was not finished yet I would spend hours in the customization tool, pretending to test it, but really I was just obsessed with getting my dragon-flower-skull Lamborghini right. Every time there was a new build of the game, my works of art would be erased. Heartbreaking!
Anyway; you can customize the basic color schemes of your car and graffiti. You then select the style and logo of your graffiti, as it will show when you are in first place in a race. After that you can go nuts with the paint brushes, decals, and morphing of parts.
What's your favorite mode or feature in the game?
Definitely the Elimination mode. When you play with someone else and you end up last, you can become a police car. This is perfect for me, because I can put all this frustration of losing into bugging my friends with a nice road block.
As a female producer, was there any consideration toward tailoring the game toward women?
Personally I am not in favor of tailoring a game towards women. There are enough games on the market that misappropriate the color pink. I don't bracket gaming off according to gender, but according to gaming needs. What do you want from a racing game? For some it's accessible fun, speed, and adrenaline. For others it's a deep, complicated, and highly realistic racing experience. If you think according to lines like those, you can create something that is gender-inclusive. When a boy and girl play NITRO together, they may very well get a different kind of satisfaction from it, without the game having needed to be tailored towards either gender.
This is a Need for Speed game, so don't expect the cops to leave you alone. A fun element in NITRO involves snagging shield icons on the track, which dumps cop aggression on to a nearby racer and leaves you free to go.
What encouraged you to jump into video games development?
I grew up playing games, but never dared to think about working in the games industry. Heck, I grew up in Holland and a games industry was hardly present there when I went to college so it wasn't on my radar at all. There was this professor at the University of Amsterdam and she noticed my passion for research and writing about games, and she pushed me to take it further and see what I could do with that passion.
In that time, I fell in love with a game designer who was in Amsterdam for a press trip, received a Fulbright scholarship to study culture, language, and games in San Francisco, and I ended up living in the heart of the games industry. I was focusing on becoming an academic though - wanted to become a professor, until I met people like Lucy Bradshaw who told me about their work and I thought that it would just be amazing to work in such a dynamic and challenging industry. It's hard to find a way in though, but here at EA Montréal I was given the opportunity to help the teams with research and now production.
Historically, the video game development industry has been seen as a bit of a "boys' club." Have you seen that evolve since getting into the workplace, and do you think there are more changes to come?
I am seeing more and more women join "the force" on a yearly basis, but we are definitely still a minority. What strikes me is that not only are more women exploring career opportunities within the games industry; you also see that slowly but steadily they are making their marks in areas besides marketing, pr, and hr. For instance, one of our lead engineers here in the studio is a woman, and there are some female modelers and artists in the studio as well. It's an evolution, and it's slow, but it's happening. I think the gender landscape of the games industry will continue to change for the next couple of decades to come.
Between SSX Blur, Boogie, and now NITRO, EA Montreal has consistently produced some of the best looking games on Wii.
What would you say are the strongest contributing factors to making both video game playing and working in the video games industry a more appealing prospect for women?
Funnily enough; I think some of the most important factors that are drawing more women into gaming are brothers and Nintendo. I read this big research report on female gamers a while ago, and one of the findings was that a majority of women get introduced to gaming through an older brother. Not surprising to me, as it was my older brother who babysat me by teaching my 6-year-old-self to play Leisure Suit Larry.
And then there is Nintendo, a company that has managed to consistently create games and consoles that are accessible and gender-inclusive. I can't think of any Nintendo game that I wouldn't recommend to someone wanting to be introduced to gaming. In these times, when a lot of games and consoles seems to be getting more and more complicated and thus inaccessible, even frightening, for women wanting to start gaming, Nintendo came out with the Wii, which "explains" gaming as an extension of the body with its motion controls, and thus makes that step to becoming a gamer so easily understandable.
When you have women gaming, you'll automatically get more women wanting and capable of working in the games industry. When a girl grows up with a passion for games, the thought of how to make this part of her life is often not that far away.
We'd like to thank Anouk for taking time to answer our questions, and we're looking forward to seeing what projects she tackles next. Need for Speed NITRO is currently available for Wii at a retail price of $49.99, and on DS for $29.99.