Welcome to Fan Appreciation Week 2016, Day 2! Today, we're taking you behind-the-scenes of Scholastic HQ, where editors fine-tune your favorite stories, the game developers create your favorite games, and the marketing team makes sure you guys know about it all!
Ready to meet (or re-meet, since many of us are mods here on the MB) the people behind the magic? Read on!
Meet the EDITORIAL team: Emily Seife, editor of TombQuest; and Zack Clark, editor of Spirit Animals!
Who’s your favorite character in the series you work on and why?
EMILY: Despite his many, many flaws—or maybe because of them!—Luke is my favorite character in the series. He’s not the smartest, or most powerful, or most reliable, but he always makes me laugh, and that counts for a lot.
ZACK: I feel like I could talk at length about any of the four main characters of Spirit Animals. They’re all so rich and flawed and wonderful, and they’re all really different. My answer changes all the time, but I think that currently my favorite, favorite character is Shane. His story has gone in such unexpected directions. No spoilers!
Any tips for aspiring writers?
EMILY: Don’t be afraid to start. It can be scary to stare down at a blank page, but your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, or even good. Try not to judge your work too much at first. If you don’t have any ideas, ask a friend for a prompt! If you’re having trouble creating a character, try drawing them first! Just get started, and soon the ideas will flow.
Keep believing in yourself even when you feel stuck—soon you’ll get to that fun, magical place again!
Finally, you have an awesome community right here! All your MB friends and mods are here for you if you need a little inspiration, encouragement, or feedback.
ZACK: As you get older, creative writing classes can be a great way to hone not just your writing, but your ability to think critically about stories. If these are offered in your school or community, go for it! If not, try finding friends who also love to write. Bouncing story ideas around with others can be a lot of fun, and it makes the solitary writing process way less lonely.
Why do you love being an editor?
EMILY: I’m always learning. Every book poses different and exciting challenges. Even though it’s my job to edit the books, I find that every author teaches me something new. This job is NEVER boring.
And truly the best part of all is hearing from the readers and the fans. YOUR feedback lets me know that the books I work on are out in the world, being read and enjoyed, and maybe even making your day a little more fun. Or maybe teaching someone something new. How cool is that!
ZACK: I get to know all the secrets and spoilers before anyone else. ;)
And now, introducing the MARKETING team: Beth Noble and yours truly!
What is your role in the publishing process?
BETH: You know that feeling when you REALLY love a book and want to convince your friends to read it? You probably gush about the characters, or the twist ending, or how cool the cover looks. Well, that’s my job. As a marketing manager, I need to excite booksellers, kids, parents, and educators about new Scholastic books.
LISA: It’s not a secret that I’m a HUGE book nerd; luckily for me, in my role as marketing coordinator, I can let the whole world know! Like Beth said before, our whole job is about getting people excited about books (which isn’t difficult when the two of us can’t contain our own excitement about them).
What’s been your favorite thing to work on?
BETH: I work on SO many awesome books, but my favorite marketing campaign was the Worlds Collide 2015 campaign. We hosted a book convention for some of our middle grade series at the Scholastic office in New York City. I had so much fun meeting our fans and watching them interact with our authors. Plus, a couple super-fans recognized me from the message boards and I felt like a celeb for the day.
LISA: In addition to being a HUGE book nerd, I’m also a HUGE history nerd, which makes working on the I SURVIVED series a dream come true for me!
Why do you love working in marketing?
BETH: I love book marketing because I get to read lots of books and then tell people why they should read them. What’s not to love?
LISA: I’m surrounded by books, fellow book worms, and future book lovers. Need I say more?
And last, but certainly not least, your GAME DEVELOPMENT team: Gavin B, Jen T, Keith F, Jonathan Z, and Sheila L!
How do you begin the game development process?
GAVIN: It starts and ends with the book series. In The 39 Clues, that meant putting mystery and puzzles front and center, while mixing in action sequences to get the adrenaline pumping. For Spirit Animals, we wanted to create the feel of an epic world and let players feel like they were taking the fight to the Conquerors. It’s important for us that playing the game and reading the books evoke the same feelings, whatever they are. Luckily we have thrilling books, so it usually is easy.
JEN: I imagine each person on our team has a different approach, but we mostly begin by all sitting together in a room and bounce crazy ideas off each other. The next step is figuring out if we can actually make that. We’ll reign in our crazy ideas into something that’s possible for us to make. Of course, you won’t really know what’s possible unless you try, so you hit a lot of brick walls in the beginning and you got to find that one wall you can break through to make the game happen!
KEITH: The first step in creating anything is to make yourself a HUGE SANDWICH. You can’t get those creative juices flowing on an empty stomach, can you?
Now that you are properly fed let’s begin for real! For me, the first step in game development is arguably the most fun . . . PLAY GAMES. When you want to make a game or you have an idea you think might work for a game, go look around to see if there are any other games which you can draw inspiration from! A good practice for game development is to play a game and write down ways you think it could be improved or simply take note of why you think the game developers made the choices they did. So go ahead . . . PLAY LOTS OF GAMES . . . And if anyone asks, tell them it’s important research – hehe :)
JONATHAN: We usually get the whole team together and brainstorm. We toss ideas around for what the game could be about, what mechanics or rules the games could have. We usually joke around a lot, too. Brainstorming is probably the most fun part of the process because a game can be so many different things! The possibilities are endless.
SHEILA: As our games are tied in with specific books, I start with reading the manuscript to get a sense of the world in the book. Once I feel like I understand the main themes of the story, I’ll research popular games to see what kind of mechanics and game structure would fit the book world. After that, I’ll meet with editors/marketing to run ideas by them. There are other times when I’ll come prepared with at least 2 fully developed ideas to show the group to review and choose. After everyone is happy with a concept, I’ll start drawing up wireframes that show each game screen and what happens as the player moves through the game.
How do the other groups (editorial, marketing, design, etc.) participate in the game development?
GAVIN: We consult with everyone the full way through. Editorial, especially, is very involved. They come up with a lot of the ideas for plot, enemies, and other challenges. And usually one of the editors writes the dialog and story in the games.
JEN: [Nervous laughter]
KEITH: One of the most fun and unique parts of the game development process here at Scholastic is working with all the various groups to make the game come to life! Take the editorial team for example. We have some incredible editors here (MOST OF THEM ARE ALSO AUTHORS! CRAZYYYY RIGHT???) and so when we have a game that requires a really fun or compelling story, the editorial takes our game ideas and crafts a spectacular narrative to go with it.
JONATHAN: Well, making a game and book together takes a lot of smart people working together. The game designers, the marketing people, and the editors are all trying to figure out a unified vision for what the project should be. Is this creepy book too scary? Does the game reflect the story of the book? All these questions are important and it takes a whole team of experts to make the project magical.
SHEILA: Each game is a hugely collaborative effort, particularly for our multiplatform games (39C, SA, TQ, and IR). Editorial provide a lot of insight into the story and world of the books, so they advise us on what would fit the characters and plot of the book, and write any text/dialogue that goes in the game. Design conceptualize visually what the game art, textures, and general style can look like. On the games I’ve worked on for non-multiplatform brands like Woof, Upside-Down Magic, and Wish, the Marketing team help us brainstorm ideas and figure out how we’re going to advertise our game to all the fans!
Why do you love working in game development?
GAVIN: Aside from the amazing team I get to work with, I love knowing that what we build is something that our players get a huge kick out of. We don’t make something that people need; we create something that makes people feel joy. And also rage when they narrowly fail a quest, but that’s all part of the fun!
JEN: I was attracted to the idea of being a super villain since I was 14. I had once “kidnapped” a Pikachu doll from one of my neighbors, but I left a trail of clues, puzzles, and cryptic messages to help them find it. I watched from the distance as the neighborhood kids banded together to find the missing doll, and I enjoyed watching them struggle as much as I enjoyed seeing that light bulb go off in their heads when they finally solved a puzzle (I was a benevolent villain). That is what game development is to me: I’m the villain that creates obstacles so others can be the heroes that overcome them.
KEITH: Jeez. So many reasons. First and foremost . . . IT’S FUN. But creating games isn't just enjoyable, it’s very rewarding. There is something inherently wonderful about having your wild ideas come to life and then seeing how others interpret them. The best moments of my time as a game developer are when I get to personally see fans like YOU play the games we’ve made. When you guys really enjoy the game I think "OMG THIS IS SO AWESOME THEY TOTALLY GET IT AND LOVE IT!!!!!!!!" And when you guys find an aspect of the game that you don’t enjoy or like I think “Hmm, there’s probably a better way to do this!”
The key takeaway is that BOTH ARE POSITIVE THINGS! That’s really what I love most about making games – No matter what the result, you are constantly learning. So let those wild ideas fly!
JONATHAN: I love games! I grew up playing every game I could get my hands on, and making them is a dream come true. I was the kid that went to the video game store and looked at literally every video game. Now that I'm an adult, I don't go to the game store as much, but when I do, I still want to play every video game there.
SHEILA: I love books and games so working in game development at a publishing company is a fantastic blend of both! I also like how game development is about using both the analytical and creative sides of our brain. You have to be able to figure out the logic of a game and know how to manage the project, but at the same time, you need to be able to think creatively about what makes a game fun to play.
What’s the deal with Keith?
GAVIN: No one is quite sure. He seems to think that he’s a king, despite a complete lack of any royal heritage or subjects. Also, we live in America where there aren’t any kings and haven’t been for hundreds of years. But we all like him, so we play along to keep him happy. All hail King Keith, defender of the cubicles and herald of the Nerf! Don’t tell him I said anything.
What programs do we use to make games?
JEN: Unity 3D and Construct 2. Both are free programs, but I recommend Construct 2 if you’ve never written a line of computer code before. If you’ve ever toyed around with Scratch, Construct 2 is like a more grown up version of that. Unity 3D is a bit more advanced, but if you are comfortable with computer code (C/C#), then Unity 3D has a lot of great tutorials and sample projects on their website.
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