Monday, April 18, 2011

Ten questions with auntie pixelante (or, why the woman behind Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars wants you to have a 'big fat orgasm')

Shortly after her latest, greatest--in my opinion, at least--creation, Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars, hit the 'net, Anna Anthropy (aka auntie pixelante) agreed to answer a few questions about what prompted her to make this turned-on-its-ear Wizard of Wor clone, why she had to censor it and how she feels about the LGBT media's "dismissive" response to it.

The Gay Gamer: You wrote on your site that you've been thinking about this game for four years (after Owen Grieve and his students gave you the name). What prompted you to finally create a game around that name? Did it come to you in the middle of a marathon session of Wizard of Wor?

Anna Anthropy: I was really focused on Wizard of Wor for a while, yes. I've always been impressed by how conscious the designers seemed to be of tension and pacing, between the speeding up of the maze, the radar-only invisible monsters, the high-stress worluk encounter at the end of each dungeon, and the surprise confrontations with the wizard himself. I like to use my games to get people to investigate older works that i want more people to play, like Bomb Jack with Mighty Jill Off and Monuments of Mars with REDDER.

GG: My first reaction upon playing Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars was along the lines of, "Man, this would have been perfect alongside the games at my childhood bowling alley/arcade." It gives me a vibe--in terms of sound and graphics and even gameplay--similar to the one I get/got from games like Robotron and Sinistar. Is that the kind of reaction you were shooting for?

AA: I've always admired the sort of design decisions that the arcade format promotes: Games need to be fast, to teach the player the rules as quickly as possible, to communicate everything that happens in the game clearly. These games from 1980s arcades--particularly Vid Kidz and Midway games--informed a lot of my ideas on game design, and I wanted for a long time to make a game that I could place side-by-side with them.

GG: I really like the one-handed nature of the game. Why did you decide to go that route--by eschewing the shoot button?

AA: Because it was an extra button I didn't think I needed. I felt like I could fit the player's entire vocabulary into the buttons she uses to move the protagonist. Relegating some of the most important actions to a secondary function is distance I thought the game didn't need. And I think it does a lot to characterize the spider-queen: She's powerful enough that just a glance at a woman is enough to ensnare her. So much of the game followed from that decision.

GG: I have to admit that while playing Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars part of me wanted to see what it would be like to have access to a shoot button. Did you ever consider giving players that option? Or would it have been too similar to Wizard of Wor as a result?

AA: A lot of the tension in Wizard of Wor comes from the player's ability to recognize when to press the shoot button--and to press it before it's too late. Do you really know where that invisible monster is? The shoot button also gives the player the important choice of whether or not to kill the other player for points. But I wanted my game to be about different decisions and a different kind of tension: The threat is of being overwhelmed by less powerful beings, not of being conquered by a more powerful enemy.

GG: One of my favorite aspects of the game is one that's probably overlooked by a lot of players: The Dig Dug-esque "soundtrack" (which starts and stops along with the player's movement). How did that come about? And was Dig Dug actually a source of inspiration?

AA: That was straight from Dig Dug. Having a whole layer of audio that only plays when the player is moving adds so much to Dig Dug: There's so many times in that game that the player stops and waits for an enemy to approach, and having the music stop and wait with her makes the game much more tense. I like what the queen's little tune (only four notes long) says about her as a sinister, stalking spider.

GG: You've suggested via Twitter that the folks at Adult Swim either asked you to censor the game (by covering up nipples, etc.) or censored the game for you after you turned it in to them. Can you tell me a bit more about that? What happened, exactly, and how do you feel about the whole situation?

AA: The values of Adult Swim's standards and practices committee are bizarre to me. My game is incredibly dirty--there's a subtext to the game that's much more dirty than a bunch of nipples. But the nipples are what concerns them. We compromised that I could keep everyone topless if I got rid of their nipples, though the nipples allowed me to draw breasts that were shaped much more like real breasts--without them I had to redraw them to be more recognizable as pairs of distinct breasts.

GG: Did you expect such censorship going into this project, or was it a surprise?

AA: I was surprised when they asked me to get rid of the cross, because these are the people who published BIBLE FIGHT and also because it's the stereotypical thing that publishers censor in video games. I changed the cross to a candle--my slave's suggestion--but the room it appears in is still shaped like a cross. Go figure.

GG: Another topic you've addressed on Twitter is the somewhat negative, or in some cases dismissive, reaction the game has received from much of the gay press. Why do you think gay bloggers/writers have responded to the game that way?

AA: I was particularly surprised with how dismissive the Queerty post was, comparing the game unfavorably to Dragon Age 2. These queer and feminist websites will post an article every so often asking "where are the riot grrls of gaming?" but ultimately these blogs will give much more face time to a corporate game like Dragon Age--one that allows players to be ambiguously queer just as a virtue of how generic it is--than a game that is confrontationally queer made by actual queer women.

GG: Have you found that lesbian bloggers/gamers have responded more positively to it than their gay male (and even straight male) counterparts? If so, why do you think that is?

AA: Lots of queer and trans women have said good things to me about the game, which is ultimately the thing I want most from my games: To make a space in games culture for other queer women to feel safe raising their voices, to get other queers and pervos excited about game creation.

GG: What's the one thing you want people--LGBT or otherwise--to get out of playing this game?

AA: A big fat orgasm.

See also: 'Eight more questions with auntie pixelante' and 'A somewhat gay review of Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars'


Bryan Ochalla said...

BTW, yes, this *is* the longest blog header ever written :)

Gaelach Rose said...

Auntie Pixelantie, I salute you!

I had a thought the other day about a magazine geared toward LGBT gamers, but I don't know how well it would sell. XP

Bryan Ochalla said...

Thanks, Gaelach Rose! I'll bet she salutes you, too :)

As for a magazine geared toward LGBT gamers ... I'm not sure what I think of the idea, to tell you the truth. I could see an online magazine for gaymers, or maybe a 'zine of some sort, but I kind of doubt there are enough of us (LGBT gamers) out there to buy an actual magazine aimed at our community.

That said, I'd love to see someone try it in some form or other!

Gayme Bar said...

Sorry to hi-jack your post Bryan... but I couldn't find any links for direct contact. Gaymebar would like to have a word with you.

That said delete this comment after you get this, I would hate to pull your comments off track for much longer


Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, Gayme Bar! How did I not know about you guys until now?

Anyway, no need to worry about pulling my comments off track :)

I'll contact you shortly, OK?

Sean said...

Hey, great to see you delving into the "long post" style! Nice interview.

I really liked her comment on the value of arcade games in terms of design. The story about nipple censorship is also interesting.

Bryan Ochalla said...

Hey there, Sean! I wouldn't expect me to publish such long posts all that regularly -- I mainly reserve them for interviews/Q&As which, admittedly, have been few and far between thus far.

Anyway, I'm glad you liked the interview. Like you, I found her comments regarding arcade games, especially "old school" ones, quite interesting.

Speaking of which, look for a second Q&A with Anna later this week. Half of that interview is devoted to LGBT characters and storylines in games, and the other half is devoted to old-school arcade games :)

Viewtiful_Justin said...

Wow. I love her even more, now!

Bryan Ochalla said...

Yeah, she's pretty awesome, isn't it? Just wait until part two! :)

Viewtiful_Justin said...

There's a part 2?! Hooray!

Bryan Ochalla said...

Yep! I didn't plan it that way, but after sending her the first 10 questions (about Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars), a few more came to me. I asked if she'd be willing to answer them, and she said, "I'm always willing to talk about myself." Ha!

The second one will be 8 questions and answers, with four of the questions devoted to LGBT game characters and storylines and four devoted to her love of old arcade games. I'm planning to post it on Friday :)

Gaelach Rose said...

I'm waiting with baited breath for that one.

Story and characters are important to me as a someone who's going to write stories for a living (in part, at least).

Bryan Ochalla said...

Great! The second Q&A will be posted on Friday :)

Are going to school for English or journalism, by the way?