Gabriel Gutierrez, game developer

photo by luke fitz

Gabriel Gutierrez loves video games and always has, from the time of old-school text adventures and the arcade glory days through to the current generation of high-tech, full-blown cinematic experiences. He launched Nascent Games, his own development studio, in 2012 to bring his ideas into the hands of the people, and as founder and chair of the Sacramento chapter of the Indie Game Developers Association, he's working to help others realize their digital dreams as well. This Saturday, his chapter is putting on the second annual Indie Arcade Gaming Expo at Cafe Colonial (see Night&Day, page 29). We met up with him to talk about influences, the Sacramento gaming scene and how to make the jump from gamer to developer.

What’s the local indie game development scene like?

There isn't a lot. The only other thing is 5th Planet Games. They're up in Rocklin. Big shout out to my man Rob Winkler at 5th Planet. I know there are a few other little studios here and there. But this is where my problem comes in: The few that are allegedly here, we don't know what they're doing! What are they making? That's what I would love to know. They need to make their presence known.

That seems like what you’re doing, networking.

Yeah, and that's what we're trying to do. Nascent Games, yeah, we're a start-up studio, but we're still learning. That's where the Indie Arcade comes in. It's a collaborative celebration between my chapter and my studio. I didn't want this to be just about me, I want it to be about others who are in the same boat. The chapter was formed to provide resources for game developers like myself, aspiring game developers, from all walks of life, to learn, come together and not be afraid to share their ideas with others, to meet the people so we can tell them, “Yeah, you can do this.”

So how do you go about finding talent?

The first bit of talent I met was at SacAnime. At SacAnime, they have an amateur voice acting panel, so I went there. It was funny, because the guys that were up there, they were in Sac, and they were talking about going to the Bay to find work! People were raising their hands, going like, “Wait, wait, wait, what about here, what about in Sacramento?” They were like, “We don't know of any places in Sacramento.” People were pissed. So after that ended, I raised my hand and I said, “I'm a start-up indie studio here in Sacramento and we're probably a week old, but I'm looking for help.” I got approached by five or six people by the end of it. That right there was what I knew I needed to do.

What’s the big project that you’ll be showing off at the Indie Arcade Expo?

After the first Indie Arcade, I came up with this wild idea to do this progressive “game jam.” The idea is to spend 10 months to make the game idea you want, and you dedicate yourself. Every month, we do a new game jam to progress, to get together and work on it. Your goal is to take whatever you started last summer and show it off in April. We started it last June, so this upcoming Indie Arcade event will have the three teams that have been working all year long showing off their demos, or full game, depending on wherever they're at, to the general public. The hope is that something more will come from it. Maybe they'll want to consider becoming an LLC, where they actually become some business presence in Sacramento.

What’s one of the games you’re working on right now?

Schoolhouse is about a girl, her name is Mahalia. She will be about 9, 10 years old, a Jamaican-Haitian girl, but very light eyes, almost like an anime/comic style—but there's a reason for the look. That's part of the mystery of this game. Mahalia wakes up in this abandoned schoolhouse. As she progresses through this main area, she sees the entire schoolhouse is wired with bombs. Now the timer for the game starts, when you see that. You have three hours, real time, to get the hell out of there.

It seems like narrative is really important to you, as well as diversity and inclusion.

We're all human at the end of the day, and we all go through the same shit. The one thing that hasn't been tackled enough in game development is the fact that it's not just “you're a pretty little white girl,” not just “you're a pretty little white dude” with the same spiky hair, in a desperate situation. There are so many others in similar situations, and what's good for one should be good for all. We all have our place. I don't like to pull that kind of card out, but the reality is that [diversity has] been a real deep concern for developers and gamers, and for me, I'm gonna do my part to answer that.

These issues have been there forever, but they’re just bubbling up now.

You see these things from companies from groups saying that we need to have diversity. As far as I'm concerned, the more you say it, the more I don't care about what you're saying. Show me! Doing games like that, without having a need to say, “by the way, she's dark.” Why would I need to justify the cause? Talk to me about the narrative, tell me what you think about that. Don't point out the obvious thing.