Few people know better than DigiPen students how painstaking the game production process can be. Just getting an object to show up on-screen can take days of modeling, prototyping, and coding, to say nothing of the animations and physics necessary to allow players to interact with it.
But one game series has set itself apart by letting players instantly conjure up nearly anything they can imagine—and a DigiPen alumna helped make it happen.
Super Scribblenauts, developed by Bellevue-based studio 5th Cell and released for the Nintendo DS on October 12, is the second game in a series where your vocabulary is your reality. Type in the words “Albert Einstein” and “velociraptor,” for instance, and you’ll discover what happens when one of history’s greatest thinkers is confronted with one of pre-history’s deadliest predators. And as a producer at 5th Cell, 2009 DigiPen RTIS program graduate Brittany Aubert was there for every step of the development process.
“I had an internship at 5th Cell as a programmer between junior and senior year—I wrote a tool that was pretty much used as our content pipeline for Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter,” Aubert says. “At the end of the internship I realized, ‘yeah, I want to go into production.’” For its part, 5th Cell was so impressed with Aubert’s performance that it obliged: She started as a producer at the studio a mere two weeks after graduating.
“I basically came on and my first real game as a producer was from start to finish, which was really cool,” she says.
It wasn’t the path that Aubert had expected to take. “I had produced on all four of my games while I was at DigiPen through the gaming courses,” she says. “And I was always fighting the urge to be a producer, because a lot of women in the game industry end up going into production, and it’s kind of the most ‘woman-friendly’ field. So I was like ‘no, I’m going to fight it, I want to be a programmer!’”
Eventually, however, she reevaluated that decision.
“Working with Rachel Rutherford [a professor of game software design and production] my junior year, I made the realization that production was actually something that I’m interested in,” Aubert says. “And after doing a full internship, and sitting there day after day programming, I realized while it was fun and I really did enjoy it … in 10 years I was probably going to be bored out of my mind.”
Rutherford’s game classes didn’t just help Aubert decide what work to pursue. They also gave her a taste of what studio development was really like.
“It’s as close to the professional setting in the game industry as you can get at DigiPen,” she says. “You get the freedom to fail a lot. And a lot of the times, I learned more from my failures than I did from my successes.”
She also had high praise for Sonia Michaels’ communications course. “It was a lot of little things like emailing more effectively, which you kind of brush off as ‘eh, whatever,’ but seeing as a good chunk of my day is spent emailing, it was kind of nice to put things in perspective,” Aubert says. “I found it extremely beneficial, especially taking it right before I went out into the real world, because all of the information was fresh.”
Aubert can’t talk about the next project on 5th Cell’s agenda, but she has plenty to say about life outside of work. “Weekends are probably my favorite thing since graduating,” she says, laughing. And she’s joined a soccer league comprised of local game developers, many of them fellow DigiPen graduates. “I know people at every other company,” Aubert says. “The connections you make in school really do last.”