Get to Know a GameDev: Mare Sheppard

N++Mare Sheppard is one half of the dev team that makes up Metanet Software, a Toronto-based indie studio famous for their platformer N (and the newest N++).

As a Toronto dev “O.G.” and founding member of the Hand Eye Society, she’s also a great community supporter who has long been studying what goes in to a great game. The result is the N++ game and its success, “the product of 12 years of thought and iteration” with her partner Raigan Burns.

We grabbed some time from Mare to ask about how she got started in game dev, her biggest influences, and her indie game’s success. Enjoy!

What would be your unofficial title?
[I] usually just say ‘co-founder of Metanet Software‘, but that is so boring 😉 Our company is just [Raigan and I], and though we do hire more people when working on bigger projects or events, for smaller projects or day-to-day work, we do everything from programming to art to website design to marketing.

What did you do before you worked in the game industry? How did you break into the industry?
We’re old, so the industry was pretty different back when we started making games — we were among the first small developers in Toronto! Freeware and shareware were flourishing and the word “indie” didn’t even really exist yet, so we just made a game we thought was good and put it out there, and luckily some players found it and it took off from there. It’s kind of cool to have this perspective and be able to see how much things have changed for small developers today.

What’s the Metanet ‘origin story’?
Our story begins back in 1998, when Raigan and I were both attending University of Toronto. Among many other things, I was taking visual art, sociology and computer science, and Raigan (also multi-disciplinary) was taking philosophy, film and computer science, and we met in first year in Java 101. We started chatting in the Lab one day and really hit it off, bonding over a hatred of boring application programming and a love of games.

Over the course of those heady U of T days, we spent a lot of time downloading and playing games from Home Of The Underdogs (a site that had lots of freeware and shareware games), playing together or recommending our favourites to each other. There were some that stood out: Soldat, Puchiwara, and Zone Runner were exceptionally fun and inspiring, and you can see the echoes of these in N.

N++ Mare Sheppard

As we played, we talked about what was fun or special about our favourites, and what went into making them, and it dawned on us that many games were being created by small teams of just one or two people, several of them students. Just like us! This planted the seed in our minds that you could make a pretty great game with just a few people. And that’s how it all began.

Were there any gatherings that contributed to your growth as a game dev?
We are both founding members of the Hand Eye Society, which was definitely helpful in being able to meet more developers, talk about what we’re working on and expand the idea of what making games means. We’re also fans of TOJam, which we think really contributed a lot to the creativity and community in Toronto’s game development scene.


What game has had the greatest emotional impact on you? Why?
I like when the narrative of the game is interwoven with the gameplay, and told through the gameplay itself — it’s so much more powerful to me. My favourite game is System Shock, because it was so immersive and compelling and that was the one that sort of proved to me that narrative in games can be really affecting and awesome. The tension created by the audiologs and by SHODAN’s creepy interjections was ramped up by the fact that you were always in danger of being killed by the horrible creations in the space station, and that more and more, you were so desperately alone. That was the first time I’d really felt that — it was so awesome.

Beyond that, most of the games that have had the greatest emotional impact on me do so because of the people I played them with, and the memories that I have from those times. When I was a kid, my sister Clara and I would play through all the Sega Genesis games we could get our hands on, so Sonic has a special place in my heart because of how great it was to play through it over and over with Clara. Similarly, Animal Crossing is one of my favourite games because my friends and I would get together in real life to play together, visiting each others’ towns and chatting. Good times 🙂

What are your current projects? And your favourite project?
We have a lot of projects in the pipeline we’d like to start or finish, and it’ll be great to be able to try some new experiments now that the bulk of the work on N++ is complete.  Yeah N++ is my favourite as well — it’s the product of 12 years of thought and iteration, and to say development has been a rollercoaster is an understatement. It is quite an accomplishment to have finished N++: we’re so proud of how it came together. More info on the journey from N to N++ check this out.

Are your games Robotology and Office Yeti going to be available anywhere soon?
We hope to return to some of our earlier ideas as well as experiment with new small projects as we figure out what’s next. I especially can’t wait to finish Office Yeti though, I really want to play that game!

Other than indie games, what has been a big inspiration you ?
We’re big fans of art, architecture and all flavours of design, which we think comes through in N++‘s look and feel, and we draw a lot of influences from there. I have been taking ballet and learning about dance, which has been really inspiring — exploring that world helped create Motion++, our “ad campaign” for N++ which visualizes what playing the game is like.

N++ is being really well received; does it put more or less pressure on your new secret project?
Thanks! we’re so proud of N++, and are just so thrilled that there are other people in the world who appreciate what went into it and enjoy what they get out of it. I don’t feel *too* much pressure right now, but I imagine I will as the secret project becomes less secret 😉

Any good questions we forgot to ask?
I always like hearing about what influenced people and where their specific inspirations come from, so I always enjoy that question. Also, what my favourite thing is about the game I’m working on. It changes, day to day, so that question keeps it fresh. Also, generally, I like to try to understand what a dev’s goals were with a project, or what they were trying to say. It’s always interesting to hear how people approach their art.

Great – now we know what to ask in our followup piece on your ‘secret project’ 🙂

Do you know someone in the gaming or game development community with a unique perspective, interesting project or creative take on the industry? We’d like to talk to them!
Let us know who we should feature next:


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  • On November 18, 2016

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  1. Pingback: Get to Know a GameDev: Raigan Burns - GameDev Cafe

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