Who are you, and what do you do?
I'm Jenn Sandercock and I'm a game designer. I've been working in games for 8 years now, mostly in digital games, but I have a passion for all kinds of experimental games, including real-world/physical games. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, but I'm currently based in Seattle. I love the weather here (rain is awesome) and the snow-capped mountains. I also love how tech obsessed most people are.
For the past year I've been working on a variety of projects from digital to completely analog games.
The majority of my time has been working on Thimbleweed Park, a Twin Peaks-esque point-and-click adventure game. We're a small indie team that's distributed across the world and I got to put on a lot of hats on the team. I helped out with code, design, production, customer support, social media, booth creation, merch & Kickstarter rewards and more. I got to work with Fangamer to create a wide range of amazing merch for the game.
I also got to work with Sensible Object (of Beasts of Balance fame) on a new type of board game: one that uses voice-powered devices. It was part of the Amazon Alexa Accelerator, powered by Techstars. I worked next to other tech companies and got a real insight into the startup world. My job was to help design and produce a totally new board game that relied on the Alexa and used it in interesting ways. The game we created was called "When in Rome" and I got to talk to a lot of really interesting people from around their world about their cities.
As the new year begins, I'm ramping back up on my personal passion project: a series of edible tabletop games. That is, games where you actually eat the pieces and eating changes the gameplay somehow. I've already come up with over half a dozen edible games and my current plan is to develop more of them and then put them into a cookbook that tells people how to bake them and then how to play them!
What hardware do you use?
I mostly work from my 2015 MacBook Pro. I don't like Macs, I only use it because I used to make mobile games and you can't make iOS games without having a Mac. Note that's not entirely true, but they make it so hard that's it's just easier to get a Mac.
I have a large TV monitor that I've borrowed from the Thimbleweed Park booth set up. Anytime we show somewhere, I pull down the monitor and pack it up. It takes up a lot of deskspace, but is really pretty. For testing, I have access to an Xbox dev kit, a PS4 test kit and a Switch test kit. Each one has its own issues when trying to get the latest build of the game on it – so I generally avoided doing this if I could.
I have some large headphones from our booth as well. They've got Franklin (the ghost character) on them. I used to have better headphones that I won at some point, but I lent them and never got them back. I got my own Thimbleweed Park mousepad, which sounded silly when I got it, but I really love.
For my edible games, I use a variety of things from board game supplies to ovens to cookie cutters to ingredients. My current coworking space has an amazing board game supplies wall. They have all kinds of meeples and other tokens you could use for prototyping. They also have a laminator, so I can quickly create boards that food can go on top of and be cleaned!
When I'm doing cooking, I just use my home kitchen which isn't fantastic. There's not much counter space for everything. After having 2 hand-held beaters die on me in the middle of making gingerbread, I searched to find one with more power (UPDATE: It just died on me too, but I blame myself). The good thing about this is that it was the same brand as the underpowered ones and so my beaters fit in it too. It may not be obvious why this is so good, but the reason is about being able to beat flour-based mix and then switch to beating egg whites without having to wash beaters constantly. I love my Silpat baking mats that are easy to clean and reuse (although hard to dry in terms of finding hanging space); and my stackable cooling racks. I recently got sick of my digital scale since it kept eating up batteries and turning off in the middle of me trying to weigh things. I upgraded to this one which has an off button and a dash that pulls out when I put large bowls on top. I'm currently experimenting with a new oven thermometer and so far so good. I prefer it to the analog hanging ones since it doesn't fall down in the hot oven all the time. Disposable piping bags of various sizes are great and end up being handy for so many different things. I recently and finally learnt how to temper chocolate and now I'm doing it super frequently. The problem with tempering is you have to temper a lot more than you need and then you're stuck with a bunch of leftovers. So I bought a chocolate bar mould and then I just pour my leftovers in there and can break them into small chunks and eat – I mean reuse for tempering again.
The best thing about my kitchen set up is my partner… He'll often come into the kitchen after I've been cooking and do all the cleaning and washing for me!
And what software?
Trello is both my super power and my weakness. If something doesn't go on Trello, then it basically won't happen. I can get a bit obsessed with it… Sometimes I've done a task that wasn't on Trello and then created a Trello task just so I can mark it as "done". I've thought long and hard about how I set up my main Trello board and I have a system that goes from left to right. I have lists for the next 4 weeks of to dos, backlog, "do today", "doing", "done today", "done this week", "done this month". I use Card Counter so I can feel a sense of accomplishment, rather than having tasks just disappear. I've been keeping track of cards completed for my personal life for 2 years now and I can see when I have a big month in tasks.
I use a lot of Google Drive. Particularly Google Sheets. I love spreadsheets. I also can't remember how it was attempting to work on the same file with someone else without Google Drive. Recently I learned about "SUMIFS" and it seriously upped my spreadsheet game.
Working with remote teams and coworking spaces means I have to have Slack. Although I think I'm on too many different Slack communities now for me to keep up with all of them.
When I have to help hack together art for a quick Thimbleweed Park promotion, I use PhotoShop. I wish I was better at using it, I feel like I'm only just beginning to understand it. I'm sure it will be useful when shifting to work on images for Edible Games.
While working on Thimbleweed Park as a coder, we had custom tools called Wimpy & Compy. Wimpy helped us position items in rooms, set hot spots, trigger boxes and walk boxes. Compy helped us put together the frames from our animators and check that animations were set up right. I use BBEdit to write the code, and Slicy to break up layers from Photoshop into sprites.
For Thimbleweed Park, we use Square to run payment transactions at our booth. We used PledgeManager to help us manage Kickstarter & new backer information and pledges. We use Sprout Social to manage all the social media sites and Zendesk to manage customer support. We only started using Zendesk a few days before our launch and I can't believe we didn't start earlier – we really couldn't have survived launch without it.
Dropbox to share files is essential as well. I have so much on Dropbox, that I usually use the selective sync function. To help with this, I use DaisyDisk since my hard drive seems to always get too full. It helps me find out where the big files are. I use 1Password to help create and keep passwords and other private information.
As I start to work on my book editing and layout, I'm sure I'm going to add a whole new slew of software to my list.
What would be your dream setup?
Firstly the location: A coworking space with some likeminded people who I could have lunch with every so often, within one ride on public transport (no transfers!). Currently, it's two buses for me or a bike ride up a hill or I end up driving (and I hate commuter driving).
On the technical side of things, I don't really need much in the way of computing power. I'd love to go back to a Windows laptop, but I can't justify the cost right now, so I'm stuck with my Mac. If I did have more money, I'd get a Microsoft Surface for all my personal work and leave my Mac for professional work, so I could separate work and normal life even more.
What I'd really love is an oven in the workplace!! That's super impossible to find. Perhaps a hybrid commercial kitchen rental space with an office space next door?! Although I'm not sure how much I'd get along with professional chefs – I'd be overwhelmed by imposter syndrome. Even at home, I'd love a double oven and enough countertop space to leave out mixers and scales without having to put them away all the time.