At Casual Connect Europe 2015, business partners Alina Constantin and Michael Rosel, spoke about what happens after a successful Kickstarter. Their focus is on their game Shrug Island and the way it captures nature and the imagination. To this, Alina said, “The goal from the start of a project that has been built for years, from an animation film, to a story, to interactive media is to connect to the imagination of people in the way that when you were a child, you see the world around you as alive. You go out in nature and it is alive and you can imagine things. The game that we are making right now is based on that feeling and trying to make it into a digital experience”.
When Alina Constantin was a child, her dream jobs ranged from sculpting to photography to nature preservation to film-making. While she didn’t expect to end up in gaming, in hindsight she calls it a natural evolution, saying “I think all of these have qualities that I find today in the process of building an identity as a media-maker.”
Constantin grew up in a home where “creativity was highly valued, as well as making your own path.” Her father would make games and write musicals while she and her siblings played music and attended art lessons. At 15, Alina attended an art high school. It was during this time that she chose a career path. Se knew she wanted to be a visual storyteller.
She was eventually inspired to pursue game design because of its potential as an “interactive bridge between creators and audiences.” Alina notes that not only can games reach widespread audiences, but they also provide a level of personalization no other media can. “The lively responses of players at game jams were a large motivation as to the attraction of such a rich media,
even at a very limited stage,” she says, “and it’s the work of talented indie game developers, as well as the prosperous network of media and game development in Denmark that provided individual examples and lessons I could apply to my own path.
Along with game jams and Denmark’s development community, she was inspired by the organization Games for Change — which showed her gaming could be a powerful tool for activism, providing deep meaning and engagement alongside entertainment.
Throughout her professional career, Alina has worked as a creative director, teacher, concept designer and team leader. All of these things have helped her develop the core skills she now utilizes as the co-founder and game director at Tiny Red Camel — a small, Danish-based developer — including communication skills, art production, managing workflows, and handling feedback.
As game director at Tiny Red Camel, Constantin manages the business, production, and promotional side of the company. She also deals with 2D art production and level design, product vision communication and alignment, and change management — the latter being one of the most challenging, although also most constructive, parts of her job. “Between vision, implementation, iteration and user testing, there are always unexpected things to handle,” she says. “It’s difficult to make the right decision between rebuilding an element from scratch for a better user experience or continuing with the process in place to provide something quicker. It’s a crucial balance.”
On the other hand, she absolutely loves it when she gets the chance to work on something meaningful with others and everyone comes together to bring each other’s work to a higher level while creating unique products. “The most rewarding part are those moments when collaborative content creation has succeeded and watching the wonder in players’ faces as they unravel and identify with the game.”
While collaborative content creation can be rewarding, there’s a lot that goes into it. Constantin loves to draw inspiration out in nature and in the performing arts. She has formulated game ideas by looking at the structures of plants, breaking apart pieces of music, watching contemporary dance and even building clay houses with community organizations.
When she goes to actually build a puzzle, game level or scene she usually starts with the character and story message and works toward an experience or concept she wants the players to go through. If she can, she’ll paper prototype it (or, if it’s music-based, whistle it or play it on guitar) and she’ll sketch visual ideas dozens of times. “I
look at my inspirations and what context the element will connect with,” Alina says. “Then I usually break it apart to provide puzzle or game pieces that the player will have to put together. So I consider the element as a whole, and then in pieces, before I go in depth.”
Regardless of what she does, or whether she eventually hands it off to someone else to refine, “a lot of writing is involved.”
While creative blocks rarely occur for Alina in regards to her work, when they do, she handles them by discussing the issue with a close network of people, testing through the problem, and going for a nature walk. If those don’t solve the problem, she’ll take a break from the problem for a day or two and let the time spent doing something else feed into her problem-solving.
Shrug Island and Participatory Media
Right now all of Constantin’s creative energies are geared toward Shrug Island, “an environmental adventure game about hope in the mysterious hand-drawn Shrug world” featuring an “ambient” story, magic and animated music puzzles.
The game revolves around two separated friends trying to meet while “reconnecting with a living home they’ve been away from for a season.” Players switch between the duo and use special abilities to sing to their surroundings while collecting and assembling parts of the world.
Constantin’s proudest moment was when the Kickstarter campaign for Shrug Island succeeded in the 11th hour. She believes this is due to a “very warm” community of
supporters, as well as frequent and transparent updates. “A lot of it is due to the fact that I tried to activate as many people as possible from the various fields I’ve been a part of and — certainly to some regard — due to the years of iterating a unique game world to be as engaging and personal, yet universal, as possible. The collaborative effort paid off.”
While Shrug Island has been greenlit on Steam and is chugging along toward its release, Constantin sees it as merely scratching the surface of the game and the potential of the gaming industry — and, in particular, she is keeping a close eye on the emerging trend of participatory media. “I think players are getting more demanding and devices are definitely more versatile — so there will be a trend towards games that follow players in more than one area of their lives.”
While she admits that, due to her small team they are unable to incorporate participatory media to Shrug Island, they do aim to include it in future design and management as they grow out their community of followers and interact with them. “We want to give them different ways to unlock and connect with content — not just as players but also as watchers, listeners and participants. This will start with creating peripheral products related to Shrug Island in the immediate future, but will hopefully grow to be an integral part of the products we make.”