St. Louis Game Development Feed

Brunette Games Team Promotions!

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Dexter Woltman, recently promoted to writer|designer II, sporting his Brunette Games logo jacket.

Brunette Games has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year. We're now a crew of six full-time writer/designers, supported by a pool of five contract voice actors who voice our scripts. One measure of our success is the individual professional growth you can see in our many team promotions in the first half of 2021. Here's a breakdown, and note that we use the title "writer/designer" to capture our team members' dual roles as both game designers and writers of all manner of in-game text, from character dialogue to tutorial messages.

Dexter Woltman: Writer|Designer II

Employee No. 3 at Brunette Games, Dexter has worked on 16 released titles to-date, which includes a wide variety of casual and mid-core games, from My Beauty Spa to Kingdoms of Heckfire. He joined us as a contractor during his senior year in Scriptwriting at Webster University, stepped right into a full-time job as writer|designer I once he graduated in 2019, and was just promoted to writer|designer II, in recognition of his increased leadership and innovation on our clients' projects.  

Jenna Faulkner: Writer|Designer I

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Writer/Designer Jenna Faulkner proudly displaying her new biz card.

The fastest promotion our company's ever seen happened this winter when Jenna went from writer/editor to writer/designer I after just six weeks on the job. Maybe it's the fact that she came to us with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing already in hand, or maybe she was just born for this kind of work! Whatever the case, Jenna's been a key asset as writer and editor for our G5 titles, Homicide Squad: New York Stories and Crime Mysteries: Find Objects, as well as pitching in on Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff and a couple of meaty, unannounced projects where she's already proved her mettle at designing narratives and characters that integrate superbly well with gameplay. 

Amanda VanNierop: Associate Writer|Designer

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Amanda VanNierop, associate writer|designer, in her spiffy Brunette Games polo.

In just a year and a half on the job, Amanda has racked up credits on eight released titles, including the high-profile games Sweet Escapes and Disney Frozen Adventures. Wise beyond her years and in possession of enviable talent and confidence, she started out as an editor but quickly took on both writing and designing duties as well, proving she could handle some tough assignments, hence the promotion to associate writer|designer. Amanda's with us full-time for the summer, but the rest of the year she keeps up the good work while finishing her double majors in English and Psychology. In her spare time, she wields a sword in her fencing classes, too! We're all in awe.

Anthony Valterra: VP Game Design & Strategy

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VP Game Design and Strategy, Anthony Valterra, one-half of Brunette Games leadership.

Along with our creative team promotions, with a growing staff has come expanded roles for leadership as well, with two key title changes.

First, Anthony's done a bang-up job as business director over the past two years, and a good deal of our tremendous growth is to his credit. He's also written, designed, and consulted on 14 released titles since joining Brunette Games, including Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story and Sweet Escapes. He's more than earned his new title as vice president, game design and strategy, which does a better job of encompassing his dual roles, too, as well as showcasing his veteran status in the game industry, having shepherded illustrious brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and Avalon Hill prior to the top-grossing games currently under his purview.

Lisa Brunette: Chief Creative Officer

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CCO Lisa Brunette, with her award for five years at the helm of Brunette Games.

Last but not least is founder and owner Lisa Brunette, a game-industry influencer who shaped the way we design stories and characters in casual games through her work on top titles Matchington Mansion, Lily's Garden, and literally hundreds of other released titles in her nearly 15-year career in games. With one foot in the narrative puzzle genre and the other in interactive novel apps, Lisa has grown Brunette Games from a solo act to a highly respected team of creatives in just five years. While she never imagined herself in C-level shoes, she finally found the right title for her work in this one: chief creative officer.

Join us in congratulating the team on their well-deserved promotions! Here's to another successful year.


Brunette Games Celebrates Five Years in Business

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It's been a wild, wicked, and sometimes, a bit of a wacky road, but this spring, we hit the five-year mark at Brunette Games. Here's a look back at our rise to become the industry's leading casual game storytelling studio.

2021

Brunette Games celebrates its fifth anniversary now as a team of 11, with six full-time employees and five voice actors on contract. We have written and designed 21 released titles for our clients to date, including top-performing games Sweet Escapes (Redemption Games), Lily's Garden (Tactile), and Matchington Mansion (Magic Tavern), with many more unannounced titles currently in development. Our latest release title credit is Uken Games' Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story.

This year we've also created new content for the Fox IP Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff and Family Guy: Another Freakin' Mobile Game (both Jam City), as well as the high-profile Disney Frozen Adventures (also Jam City). Included in the list is work on Homicide Squad: New York Stories and Crime Mysteries: Find Objects for G5 Entertainment, our oldest client.

And we added Writer|Designers Sara Hardin and Jenna Faulkner to our team in 2021, too. Sara's our latest hire, joining us just this week and bringing five years' experience in publishing and journalism to bear on our clients' projects. Jenna joined us at the first of the year and has already put her MFA in Creative Writing to good use on several unannounced projects. 

Ava's Manor

2020

Just as we began making plans to attend the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, COVID-19 hit our shores, putting a halt to all in-personal knowledge sharing. But along with the rest of the resilient casual games industry, we persevered, growing at a healthy rate despite all the difficulties. We even managed to squeak in a local rendition of our GDC talk before the lockdowns went into force. 

In 2020 we created new content for a few of our clients' ongoing games, such as Sweet Escapes, Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, Homicide Squad: New York Stories, and Disney Frozen Adventures. We also saw the release of new titles Jane Austen Solitaire (Super Gaming), Solitaire Tripeaks: Farm & Family (Tuyoo), and Crime Mysteries: Find Objects. And we added Writer|Editor Amanda VanNierop to our team very early in the year. As our only part-time employee, Amanda regularly amazes us all by committing her considerable brain power to our projects half-time while attending university full-time. During the summer, she gives us her full-time attention, too!

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Notably in 2020, company founder Lisa Brunette was named a 'game industry influencer' by UserWise, and she also co-authored a piece with industry analyst Om Tandon that generated a lot of buzz, "The power of storytelling in blockbuster casual games."

Last but not least in 2020's epic growth: We added three more voice actors to round out our roster of offerings: Ernest White II, star of his own PBS travel docu-series, Marqui Maresca, AKA the voice of Silver in Angry Birds Evolution, and popular Chicago actress/comedian Nicole Perez.

2019

Over a period of two years, we had the CEOs and creative heads of several mobile game publishers flying in to St. Louis to court our interest, and the last of those happened in the summer of 2019. The upshot for us was a few experiments that didn't work out but many that did, and our company grew a lot as a result. 

This year saw the shift from contract status to full-time for both Anthony Valterra, serving in capacity as both business director and lead writer|designer, and Dexter Woltman, writer|designer and employee No. 3. Dexter had joined the team while still a student and was more than ready to step into a tailor-made writing job after earning his BA in Scriptwriting from Webster University, where he met Lisa when attending her classes in Narrative Design. Dexter brought us a signature sense of humor and uncanny ability to channel his mom and sisters when writing for the female audience. Anthony, who's also Lisa's husband in real life, brought 30 years' experience to the table, including brand management for high-profile IP such as Dungeons & Dragons and Avalon Hill.

After fielding numerous client requests for voice-over services, we added two contract actors to our roster: Long-time game industry voice artist Andy Mack and the multi-talented actor, singer, and voice artist Cammie Middleton. Andy and Cammie can both be heard in Wild Things: Animal Adventures, Andy gives voice to dog Marlowe in Ava's Manor, and Cammie recorded the opening sequence for Jane Austen Solitaire.

In spring 2019, Lisa and Anthony flew to Helsinki, Finland, to work onsite with Kuuhubb on an interactive novel project, and in late fall that year, the two flew to L.A. to meet with Jam City's teams on various projects.

This year saw the release of Sweet Escapes, which we helped launch for our client Redemption Games, and we consulted on Jam City's released title Vineyard Valley. We continued to create new content for ongoing games Survivors: The Quest and Homicide Squad: New York Stories (both G5 Entertainment). But the biggest title credit for us this year was for the work Lisa did on a game called Lily's Garden

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2018

Tactile flew Lisa out to Copenhagen in spring 2018, and she continued to consult on the project until opportunity took her into building out the Brunette Games team over the option of remaining exclusively tied to one studio. The Tactile trip happened during Lisa's spring break from Webster University; she served as a visiting professor in Game Design from the fall of 2017 until spring 2018. She had every intention of staying on with the university, and they invited her to do so, but due to the commercial success of a number of games she'd had a hand in bringing to market, and the opportunity that presented, she made the choice to give up teaching to focus on building Brunette Games instead.

My Spa Resort

This year our client Cherrypick Games released My Spa Resort, Dexter's first title for us (see what we mean about channeling his mom and sisters?), and Anthony and Lisa continued to create content for G5's Survivors: The Quest and Homicide Squad: New York Stories.

While Lisa had previously done business as Sky Harbor LLC, a company she and Anthony formed together back in 2014, the name was already taken in Missouri, which prohibits two companies with the same name. After casting around for a moniker, she settled on Brunette Games, for the double entendre (and the inherent girl-power it invokes!). This time, she formed the company as its single owner.

2017

For whatever deep-seated, fantastical reasons, games seem to continuously find Lisa, as happened in early 2017, with three projects that would forge a huge new path in her career. G5 Entertainment reached out with a request to write and design for their long-running, successful title Survivors: The Quest. Marianna Shilina-Vallejo, the head of Daily Magic, a former colleague of Lisa's through their Big Fish association, invited her to collaborate on a chat fiction app. And most notably, Lisa was approached by a game designer in stealth mode to help design and write a new little title that became... Matchington Mansion

Matchington Mansion

Lisa's work on Matchington Mansion was pivotal to its success. Like a lot of the developers she'd encountered previously, the team's first inclinations toward character art and stories that would appeal to the female 35+ audience was pretty far off the mark. But together, they created a strong cast of characters and a good story that is well-integrated with the puzzle and play. She also helped them establish a number of match-3/narrative hybrid techniques that have since been endlessly copied across the breadth of casual games on the market today. And the name "Matchington Mansion"? It was a placeholder for the team, but Lisa convinced them it should be the game's actual title.

Another writing assignment Lisa secured that year was to write Pixelberry's first mystery novel for the Choices app. This became Veil of Secrets, which is widely regarded as a fan favorite.

Veil of Secrets

At this point, Lisa had an invitation to take a one-year visiting professorship in Game Design at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, her hometown. She accepted it, and she and Anthony moved their home and business to the Midwest. 

2016

In early 2016, Lisa left Big Fish Games, where she'd developed and led a team of narrative designers. Her aim was to pursue independent projects, and at first she focused on a series of mystery novels that she and Anthony had begun to publish back in late 2014 under the Sky Harbor Press imprint they created as co-owners of Sky Harbor LLC. She also authored the piece "Evolving Storytelling in Hidden-Object Games" for the Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games (SPAG) magazine, worked on a game for WG Cells, and made independent study of interactive fiction, which prepared her very well for all that would come next.

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It's worth noting that back in 2013 or so, Lisa was sitting at a bar with a bunch of her Big Fish colleagues, and a writer from another company asked her if she'd ever thought about striking out on her own with a boutique game-writing studio. "I'd work for you in a heartbeat," the writer said. The idea stuck!

Thanks to all our clients for your continued faith in our ability to tell your game's stories, and to all the players out there who appreciate every word we write. You're sitting on our shoulders all the time, telling us what you want to hear.


Meet the Team, Part 2: Our 5 Writer / Designers

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When Jenna says we’re writers, what she really means is we’re laptop jockeys!

Our core team consists of five people with the experience, skill, and training to both write and design games, whether that means coming up with the plan for each game scene's environmental art, designing a game narrative arc across several seasons, devising new characters, or writing character dialogue, tutorial messages, and other in-game text. We straddle the lines between creative and analytical as we draft hilarious jokes while designing a choice-based matrix or a statistics system. All of us have or are working toward degrees in writing or the humanities, three of the five hold master's degrees, and two of those are specifically in writing. We hope you like our stories.

Jenna Faulkner (above) is a welcome new face to the writing team at Brunette Games. With extensive experience in tutoring, flash fiction, literary journals, and news copy, Jenna joins us with a wide array of writing skills, not to mention a Master of Fine Arts in Writing. In her recent time here, she’s already taken the reins on hot titles such as client G5’s Homicide Squad: New York Stories and Crime Mysteries: Find Objects, as well as several unannounced games. When Jenna’s not breathing new life into Brunette Games, she’s breathing it into the natural world with her plants. While violets, cacti, and kalanchoe are her favorites, she’s hoping to dig her green thumb into a tree someday!

Fun Fact: Jenna once brought an African violet back to life after it had been completely dead for over a month. It's now her longest-living plant, at six years old.

What Jenna Loves About Writing and Designing Games

Being able to work on a project from the beginning of its development and fleshing it out completely in terms of character and plot can be really rewarding. Oh, and commas! There’s nothing I love more than transforming a sentence with a singular comma. That piece of punctuation can save lives!

Read Jenna Faulkner's bio.

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Amanda captures a year of working and studying through Zoom!

A rising star, Amanda VanNierop joined Brunette Games exactly one year ago and manages an often near-full-time workload while simultaneously attending Saint Louis University. She’s already racked up impressive credits on Disney Frozen Adventures, Crime Mysteries: Find Objects, Homicide Squad: New York Stories, Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, and more. Outside of hitting the books or writing for your favorite games, Amanda swings blades in the Saint Louis University fencing team. Trained in four weapons - the foil, épée, sabre, and small sword - Amanda is an avid fencer. When she’s not stabbing people for fun, she’s usually reading, writing, or watching movies.

Fun Fact: Amanda took a gap year after graduating high school to live in Germany as an au pair. Not only did she save money for school, but she got to see the sights traveling through Europe.

What Amanda Loves About Writing and Designing Games

My favorite thing about writing is creating a voice, both as an author and for your characters. When it comes to writing for mobile games, I love the process of seeing a story come to life. Every time we work on a pitch for a client, there's a possibility we're creating the next Matchington Mansion or Lily's Garden - and I find that possibility to be such an exciting part of the process.

Read Amanda VanNierop's bio.

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Dexter faces the workday with his personal assistant.

Dexter Woltman is a passionate writer whose history with Brunette Games began in 2018, when Lisa contracted with him after he attended her game design classes at Webster University. In his three years with the company, he's racked up an impressive list of credits on 15 titles and counting, bringing a fresh perspective to our work in casual games. His secret is he often holds his mother in mind as a representative player when writing and designing for the female 30+ audience. He's also a huge personal fan of Betty White, and her off-beat sensibility influences his comedic writing a great deal.

A representational face for the studio, Dexter attends a variety of events and conferences - or at least he did, pre-COVID-19. When he isn’t working on various hit titles such as Sweet Escapes, Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, or Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, he’s nerding it up in Dungeons & Dragons and rewatching all the greatest superhero films for the fourth time… this year.

Fun Fact: Dexter used to host storied week-long games of tag. Players had Nerf blasters, and if they got tagged, they became a zombie! If the narrative and characters he made for the game weren’t goofy enough, the costumes sure were.

What Dexter Loves About Writing and Designing Games

You get to challenge yourself with a variety of themes, storylines, audiences, and genres. When you can take an engaging world and make it your own, you know you’ve done a good job. To top it off, humor is my specialty, and never has a field given me so many opportunities to capitalize on dad jokes and puns.

Read Dexter Woltman's bio.

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Anthony has words with his guru and muse.

Anthony Valterra brought to Brunette Games decades of experience across tabletop, publishing, and brand management - to name a few! That makes Anthony Brunette Games’ go-to man for bringing in new and exciting work, as well as frequently pitching in as a writer and creative consultant on our game projects and coordinating the VO team. He has designed and written for G5's Survivors: The Quest, Redemption Games' Sweet Escapes, and Jam City's Wild Things: Animal Adventures, Vineyard Valley, Disney Frozen Adventures, as well as several unannounced titles. He also consulted on Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, for Uken/Mighty Kingdom.

He earned a degree in religious studies many moons ago, but Anthony is still fascinated by the variety of religious experiences in the world - both sacred and secular. He holds a deep fondness for traditional board, RPG, and card games.

Fun Fact: Anthony once owned a Black Lotus Magic™ card and sold it for $50. He thought it was a ridiculous price and figured he was selling it at the top of the market. Recently, the Black Lotus card was priced for $166,100 at auction!

What Anthony Loves About Writing and Designing Games

I love creating events, characters, and places. I like trying to say something through the story. Writing is the best way for human beings to communicate across vast periods of time.

Read Anthony Valterra's bio.

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Lisa lives the fantasy through artwork commissioned by a Magic: The Gathering illustrator. And now you can see, she used to be a literal brunette!

Lisa Brunette is Brunette Games’ owner and founder. She's effectively our CEO, though she doesn't use that title, and she not only steers the company's strategic mission but manages client relationships and directs the core creative team as well. Lisa's also actively involved in writing and designing herself, with recent work on several unannounced titles and for Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, Disney Frozen Adventures, Pride & Prejudice Solitaire, Tiles & Tales, and more.

Having designed and written narratives for multiple chart-topping games such as Matchington Mansion and Lily’s Garden, she leads the charge with 13 years' experience in games and 15 years prior in authorship and journalism. Even now, she can’t seem to turn off the need to write non-fiction outside of her daily work creating fictional worlds. Her side outlet is the lifestyle blog Cat in the Flock. That writing often dovetails with our work at Brunette Games, in the areas of gardening and home decorating.

Lisa also has an exciting background with Anthony Valterra. Though she is the owner of Brunette Games and Anthony is an employee, the two are legally married, turning our studio into a real mom-and-pop shop! They make it work, trust me.

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Lisa and Anthony—the king and queen of games!

Fun Fact: Lisa’s first job in the game industry was writing dialogue for a fashion journalist character in the Nintendo DS game Style Savvy. Tiffany was from the South and liked to call the player “sweet tea.” If the journalist character wasn’t coincidence enough, Lisa had also previously launched a fashion lifestyle section for the Seattle website Crosscut.com.

What Lisa Loves About Writing and Designing Games

It’s the perfect mesh of creative and analytical. You’re not just writing a story; you’re writing a story that supports the joy and challenge of playing a game. How to integrate narrative and gameplay is the question that most inspires both my writing and game design. For me, the two are inseparable.

Read Lisa Brunette's bio.

We hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into the lives of our team of writer/designers. We look forward to more exciting new releases in 2021!