Brunette Games Business Feed

St. Louis Ranks No. 1 for Female Entrepreneurship

My longtime friend and fellow Saint Louis University grad, Lubna Somjee, posted the above recently on LinkedIn. We're honored to be thought of here at Brunette Games, and I'm personally grateful for the recognition. I hadn't realized what a small cohort I'm part of as a female entrepreneur. As the Forbes article Lubna links to says, only 24.5% of U.S. startups in their first two years are owned by women. You can read the full story here, which provides a list of the top 20 cities for female entrepreneurship; St. Louis is no. 1. There's also an interesting discussion of what challenges and factors go into making a city a supportive place for women to start successful businesses.

When I relocated my business to St. Louis from the Pacific Northwest in 2017, I was a solo act. Two years later, we're a team of three full-timers and two contract voice-over actors. We love our Midwestern headquarters. It's been a privilege to hire Dexter Woltman right out of my game design classes at Webster University, and we're active members of our local St. Louis Game Developers Co-Op. I've always said that St. Louis is vastly underrated as a city in a "flyover state." The degree of cultural and natural world offerings at your doorstep compared to the low cost of living makes it, in my opinion, a much better option than cities I've lived in on the East and West Coasts. Of course, my family is here, too, so that helps tip the scales.

Congratulations to St. Louis for this distinction. We're thrilled to be part of the entrepreneurial spirit here in the river city!


Brunette Games Now Offers Voice-Over Services

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Brunette Games is pleased to announce a new offering in our suite of services: voice-over talent! As storytelling becomes more and more of a focus in mobile games, we see greater need for professional voice-actor recordings to help enhance and heighten narrative. As narrative designers and game writers, it's a natural fit for us to work directly with voice-over talent. We write the scripts they'll be reading, after all, and can provide the right direction and feedback for voicing dialogue that best works for the game and characters. It's a great benefit to clients, who can regain valuable studio time by offloading management of this task. We've already inaugurated this new service with one regular client who will have not one but three distinct voices adding texture and polish to one of their games. 

Two voice-over actors have joined our team to support the new offering: Cammie Middleton and Andy Mack.

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I've known Cammie Middleton for many years and have been only too excited to see her acting career soar. A native St. Louisan, she now works out of her L.A. studio. Game industry peeps might recognize Cammie as a series regular in "Dire Multiverse," directed by longtime narrative designer Angel McCoy. Cammie has also played the lead in several films: "Glass Half Empty," "Eastern Standard," and "Caseworx." A multitalented artist, she sings Jazz and Blues, is an accomplished stand-up comedian, has appeared in theater productions across the U.S., and can even make her ears wiggle. Read more about Cammie on her team page, where you can also listen to her reel.

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Unbeknownst to either of us, Andy Mack and I worked on the same games for the same Eastern European studio for years. That was Serbia-based Eipix, a longtime Big Fish partner and developer of flagship game series such as Mystery Case Files, Hidden Expedition, Phantasmat, Myths of the World, and many others. So literally, Andy has been voicing my scripts for a long time already. Now we can do so directly!

Besides the VO work he's done on Eipix titles, Andy has contributed to Dying Light 2, Whispers of a Machine, Grim Dawn: Forgotten Gods, and many other games. Andy toils daily at the metaphorical anvil of voice-overs, honing his craft and donning the 'chain mail' of vocal awesomeness. He'll proudly shout from his Hobbit hole that doing character work is his specialty, but many bards have sung and several lengthy tomes have been written about his audiobook, commercial, and e-learning skills as well. Give his reel a listen and find out more at his team page.

Please join us in welcoming Andy and Cammie to the BG team. And feel free to reach out to us to discuss how VO might enhance your game. We're happy to do a test sample anytime.

 


New Release! 'Vineyard Valley' for Jam City

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Brunette Games is pleased to announce the release of Jam City's Vineyard Valley. Vineyard Valley is a collapse, color blast game with a renovation storyline set in a winery. With this title, the Jam City team pushed the innovation curve with a slightly more adult setting than is customary in the genre. The game is rendered in 3D, and the art and design are beautiful. To capture the look and flavor of a winery, Jam City consulted with Genevieve Gorder, celebrity interior designer and Emmy-nominated television personality (Netflix’s Stay Here, Bravo’s Best Room Wins, and TLC’s Trading Spaces). Gorder designed the furniture and interiors featured in Vineyard Valley and will even appear in the game.

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A new client for Brunette Games, Jam City brought in our team just before launch as consultants to see what more could be done with the game before release. We've continued to consult on the title as well as work with Jam City on other, unannounced projects.

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In Vineyard Valley, you earn stars by beating puzzles, and you can use those earned stars to renovate and run a small winery, all while navigating the relationships of a cast of colorful characters and dealing with the pitfalls of running a business. The characters are quirky and fun, the rooms are lovely, and the decorative choices are modern and tasteful. The winery itself is enormous, with a lot of room for renovation, stories, and adventures.

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Here is the official description:

Design & renovate the vineyard resort of your dreams! Express your home design creativity by playing exciting puzzles in this FREE color blast matching game. 

Uncover the secrets & mysteries of Vineyard Valley with a lovable cast of unpredictable characters.  Complete puzzle quests and grow your business from catering to restaurant to acclaimed destination resort!

Bring your home designs to life as you transform the rundown vineyard to a vibrant resort. Flex your interior design muscles by customizing the kitchen, dining room, entrance, guest rooms, garden and more. Embark on a brand new adventure puzzle game and uncover the mystery of The Tangled Vines.

Blast cubes through hundreds of challenging collapse puzzles, create powerful combos and let the renovation fun begin! 

Game features:

  • RENOVATE, design and restore your very own vineyard resort
  • DISCOVER the quirky cast of characters and enjoy their stories and secrets 
  • MATCH and blast cubes to solve hundreds of addictive matching puzzles
  • DECORATE the resort to increase your Prestige level and unlock awesome rewards
  • JOIN social clubs to connect to earn free lives, extra coins, and special perks

Are you ready for dream designs, mystery, and drama? Get immersed in fun gameplay and the personal stories of your new friends while you design and renovate the vineyard resort in this new home decorating game.

Download Vineyard Valley and start designing now! 


PixelPop Festival 2019: A Community for Gaming

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I’m Dexter Woltman, a Game Writer / Designer here at Brunette Games. On the weekend of September 13th and 14th, I had the pleasure of representing our narrative design company at PixelPop Festival. For those who aren’t familiar, here’s an official description of the event:

PixelPop Festival is a game conference and expo in St. Louis, Missouri, that celebrates unique games and the many people who make them possible.

PixelPop Festival features independent tabletop, digital, and experimental games produced by local and national game creators. Two full days of diverse conference sessions from industry professionals are curated to equip you with creative tools and resources to make remarkable work that makes a difference.

There are two main components to PixelPop. The first is the expo hall, where dozens of designers show off their creative visions in gaming, whether that be video gaming or tabletop gaming. The second is a series of talks coming from industry veterans that cover a wide range of game design topics.

This was my first time attending PixelPop. Aside from stories of past years, I didn’t know what to expect. I put on my Brunette Games shirt, filled a pack with notebooks, and went in with an open mind. The first thing I saw when I entered the expo hall was an overarching sense of community. Not only were there dozens of faces I recognized from classes and industry appearances, but everyone was actively engaged with one another. They were talking, laughing, and, most importantly, playing games together.

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An image of the PixelPop expo hall.

The community of PixelPop was filled with visitors from various cities across the country, like Chicago. Many local St. Louis developers also attended. As for the presenters themselves, some were part of companies with personal IPs to showcase, and others were independent developers demonstrating their design skills. Everyone was there to be part of something and engage in a supportive atmosphere.

As for the expo hall itself, it was a large room to accompany the dozens of stations and tables inside. Oddly enough, I noticed a strange lack of prominent lighting in certain areas. As the day went on, I realized this dim lighting lead to an explorative atmosphere where the games shined.

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Gamers playing a chicken-themed dice game called Dice Fight.

In the hall, imagination flourished in small-scale indies. While some presenters told a story with their games, others displayed gimmicks. Both concepts were equally as entertaining. I went from playing a game where you slap a fish controller in a dual fighting game to a narrative tale focused on the discovery of Earth’s roundness. 

Coming from a narrative design company myself, I couldn’t help but wonder about the story behind each game I played. I asked the developers what their inspiration was for their games, as well as the messages they’re trying to convey. One particularly adorable dog shelter management game, To the Rescue, had a darker, more hidden message. It called attention to the ongoing issue of kennel euthanizations, something players in the management game could do when their kennels got overfilled. Of course, this mechanic was optional, especially for younger audiences.

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To the Rescue is adorable and honest.

Beyond that were a plethora of narrative-based games. I spent over an hour playing a fun tabletop roleplaying game called Thalassophobia. The game was described by its creators as Dungeons and Dragons meets The Thing. My friends and I were each given occupations and were tasked with investigating reports of missing patients at a nearby hospital. I received the role of doctor. Coming from a narrative background, I constantly strived to push motivation onto my character. The end result was an obnoxious doctor who heals critical injuries with band-aids and who probably but definitely doesn’t have a real doctor’s license.

I also can’t forget to mention the roleplaying game, Starry Messengers, where I could only communicate with other players through handwritten letters. The setting may have placed me centuries ago, but I still found ways to put modern-day memes in all my letters. There was also the occult choice game, Hills & Hollows, that features tarot cards as a decision device. I’m proud to say I’m one of the lucky few who discovered a hidden ending and somehow summoned the Devil. Last but not least, I found a texting game called We should talk, where I texted my in-game girlfriend from a bar. Again, I discovered a rare ending that definitely got me broken up with.

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The poster for Hills & Hallows.

Throughout these many narrative-focused games, others also relied on the amusement of gimmicks. I probably spent too much time at Hellcouch, a game where an actual couch is a controller. A previous professor of mine and an active member of the St. Louis Game Developer Co-Op, Rob Santos, also presented two incredibly fun games. One featured an Infinity Gauntlet as a controller and put players in the shoes of Thanos. The game was a parody of the recent blockbuster hit, Avengers: Endgame. An endless runner, players used Infinity Stones to avoid being caught by Ant-Man before the superhero flies up Thanos’ personal “endgame.” Santos also showed a mouse cursor battle royal. There were computer mice scattered around the table, and players scrambled to find an active cursor to move around and shoot others with.

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Santos' Infinity Gauntlet and mouse battle royal games side-by-side.

 

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Hellcouch is a game you control with standing and sitting.

Beyond the expo hall and games was an impressive line-up of industry talks. While I didn’t attend every talk of the festival, I did pay special attention to the ones with a narrative focus. The first I attended was a talk about visual novels. They spoke of the various ways to go about writing a visual novel and how to deal with branching choices. As someone who recently worked on an interactive novel with many, many choices, I was particularly interested in their organizational methods.

There was also a talk on depicting mental health in games. This can be a sensitive topic, and I admit struggling with it in my own game writing. The talk focused on ways to approach mental health respectfully and realistically. The largest takeaway for me was that writers must consider mental health as part of the character, rather than merely a status ailment.

Lastly, I attended a talk on procedurally generated storytelling in the real world. It was all about how designers can use sounds and images in the real world to influence the story of a game. Not only was this a very intriguing subject, but it opened my eyes to various ways in-game environments can convey stories beyond just typical dialogue and cutscenes.

Oh, also there was a mini talk about Bad Tetris. Someone intentionally made an aggravating version of Tetris that moves a character around based on regular Tetris block movements. The comments the developer received for sharing the game online were just as funny as the game’s actual existence.

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Bad Tetris, "It made me frustrated but like in a good way."

Throughout all these games and talks, PixelPop taught me that no one has to forge the gaming industry alone. This festival builds a community. It’s about finding reliance and mutual interest in ideas and mechanics. It’s for people trying to bring awareness to their creativity. It was an honor to be part of the festival, and I hope Brunette Games is even more involved next year.


Five Years Ago This Week, the Dreamslippers Series Was Born

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As founder of Brunette Games, I came to form this narrative design and game writing studio with more than a decade of experience in the game industry. But before the game industry claimed me, I'd racked up 15 years as a published journalist, short story writer, corporate history chronicler, and yes, even poet. That background is reflected in the Dreamslippers Series, a three-book saga (plus novella) about a family of psychic dreamers who solve crime using their ability to 'slip' into other people's dreams.

Solving crime that way is a lot tougher than you can imagine, as it's not like the culprit will dream of his guilt, pointing the erstwhile dreamslipper toward all of the clues. The matriarch of the family, Amazing Grace, supplements her sleeping skills with waking-life pursuits such as meditation and yoga. Young Cat McCormick, the hero of the inaugural book in the series, has an entirely different take. She bends and breaks the rules a bit, and she capitalizes on an emotional connection to solve a mystery involving a Midwestern, fundamentalist preacher and his (not-gay-at-all) right-hand man.

I released Cat in the Flock under my own imprint, Sky Harbor Press, in July 2014. It zipped up the Amazon sales charts, occupying the No. 1 spot in the Private Investigators category within the first year. It was praised by Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Readers Lane, Book Fidelity, and countless other review sites, blogs, and institutions. I was contacted by a Hollywood producer about rights, and later, by more than one game studio interested in making an interactive version. Cat in the Flock won me my first IndieBRAG medallion, awarded to only the top 20 percent of independently published books. I would also be awarded the IndieBRAG for the other two books in the series.

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I wrote, published, and marketed Cat in the Flock all while working full-time as manager of the narrative design team at Big Fish Games. It was a lot to do around not-your-average day job. But I made it work, with the help of a very supportive husband and stepson, not to mention a crackerjack team of narrative designers and strategy guide writers at Big Fish, who helped me bring my traditionally 12-hour days down to a more reasonable balance.

Bolstered by the success of the first book, and full of more Dreamslippers stories to tell, I followed up with Framed and Burning. This second book in the series is set in Miami amidst the high-stakes art world, and its prescience can be seen in the Jeffrey Epstein case today. Cat and Grace follow the clues to a murder frame-up, which takes them into the Darknet and the powerful players behind a child pornography ring. 

Framed and Burning was a finalist for the prestigious Nancy Pearl Book Award, and it was also nominated for a RONE Award, in addition to winning the IndieBRAG.

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The third book in the series, Bound to the Truth, is in a lot of ways my best. It continues the series' sex-crime theme, but back in Seattle, with an informed, fair portrayal of the Emerald City's sex-positive community. Cat and her grandmother visit a sex toy shop and a sex dungeon in their quest to track down the killer of a prominent Seattle architect. It was my answer to the huge disappointment that is Fifty Shades of Gray.

The cover is my favorite of the series, too. All three covers were created by Toronto designer Monika Younger, who's also the genius behind our very own Brunette Games logo.

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After that, I went back and tackled Amazing Grace's origin story in a novella, Work of Light. It's only found in the ebook boxed set. Set in the past, when Grace first discovered her powers, it follows her to an ashram in the 60s, where she uncovers the guru's true nature.

I'm grateful to the many BETA readers who gave me feedback on drafts of the books. My BETA reader program was based on the process we use in the game industry, where player feedback can truly make or break a game. We writers and designers are far too close to the work to judge it subjectively, especially the further into the drafting (or development) process we get. My BETA readers put on their "cruel shoes" and gave it to me straight, and I revised to the best of my abilities. I think it shows in the higher-than-average quality for not just an indie but for publishing as a whole.

Also deserving of recognition is Elisa Mader, who edited and/or proofread the books. The high marks I get for being error-free are entirely to her credit. You might also know her from some of our Brunette Games projects, as she sometimes freelances for us as editor, writer, and designer of games. I've mentored Elisa for years and also hired her to our freelance stable at Big Fish.

Join me in celebrating this important milestone for a body of work that is very close to my heart. On that note, it's time for an important announcement:

In honor of the fifth anniversary of the Dreamslippers Series, the ebook boxed set of all three books plus the bonus novella is entirely FREE wherever ebooks are sold, except Amazon, where it's only 99 cents (that is the minimum price we are allowed to offer through Amazon). So please tell your friends. And thank you for your interest in Brunette Games.

Handy book links here.

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