Notes on GameDev: Maurine Starkey
August 19, 2008
Maurine Starkey is a founding member of Westwood Studios. She has worked as an art instructor, lead artist, art director, creative director, producer and game designer for over 24 years, plus continues to paint, sculpt, storyboard, and illustrate books, paper games, and comic books. As Producer/Designer at SkillJam Technologies Corporation, her primary responsibility is game design and redesign for “skill games,” by taking popular, casual games and preparing them for competitive play. She recommends games for download and skillifying while identifying which games need better artwork, score-tweaking, or retirement for future reevaluation.
Before being a Producer/Designer at SkillJam Technologies, you’ve been an art instructor, lead artist, and art director. When did your interest in art start and how did you meld it with a career in game industry?
I wanted to be an artist from when I was very small. I started to take it seriously when I was twelve years old and living in Alaska. I would visit the post library religiously, and check out any and all ‘how to’ books. Back then most of those were written by Andrew Loomis. It was a pivotal time for me as I think about it. It’s when I started going to the movies, collecting comics, and studying art. I remember being interested in so many things. But art and storytelling were the most important to me.
What do you feel gave you the drive to not only be an artist, but also take on lead roles directing team members?
Fundamentally, I’m a puzzle solver. That’s what attracted me to creating art for games and why I like games. Taking on lead roles has always been natural to me. I learned if you respect your teammates, you’ve made allies for the future.
How has being a woman influenced your projects and work experience?
What I’ve noticed over the years, myself and my female coworkers have actually brought a stabilizing influence to a studio. I know when I was away from a studio of all men for a year and came back, there was a lot of broken furniture around the place. No furniture ever flew while I was in the studio. For early Westwood days, I was their only artist and was instrumental in setting a high standard from which the studio was able to build on. I’m proud of that.
When you approach the artistic vision of a game, where do you seek inspiration?
The classics, myths and histories. When you break it down into its fundamental elements, it’s all storytelling. Even games. It’s not enough to know a software package or draw a pretty picture. You gotta’ read. Be well rounded. Comic Book story telling or what some call Sequential Art is the closest to game movement/story telling. Its ways of pointing your player to those things that keeps the story moving forward.
How has working with the casual games at SkillJam differed from your experience with other game design?
Early on in my career I was doing RPGs. But I’ve always had an interest in casual games.
I compare it this way; An RPG is like a big thick paperback trilogy. It takes an investment of time and concentration. A casual game is easy in and easy out, but if done right, has the entire gem like qualities of a really good short story. As an example, Luxor gives you a total experience--i.e. a feeling you are immersed in a movie. If you’ve played it, tell me, you started a story going on in your head, didn’t you? Great music too.
Where do your other artistic endeavors, such as comics, fit into your life? Hobby or possible franchise development?
I’ve been working a several projects, all influenced by popular media. I’ve done pirate and vampire comics, sci-fi illustrations and worked on animating a radio drama. Currently I’m focused on a personal project that I’ve wanted to do for years.
What advice do you have for artists who are just now emerging in game industry today?
Know your rights. Know your limits. No one person or company will take care of you. Remember, networking is vital. Respect your co-workers, even if you know they don’t respect you or deserve it. Deserving has nothing to do about anything... Oh, and don’t eat dirt.
What’s your favorite game that you’ve worked on?
Actually the next game I’m working on is my favorite. I know that’s why I never really moved into management. I have loads more fun creating.
We look up to Maurine for her amazing creativity and trueness to herself throughout her career and wish her the best as she continues to do what she loves!