This Friday we’ve chosen 22-year-old games designer and 3D artist Nicola Hynes as our latest #CreatorOfTheWeek.
Having recently completed her master's degree, Nicola from Braystones joined White Paper Games based in Manchester.
White Paper Games is an indie game studio is known for the likes of Ether One, The Occupation, and Conway: Disappearance At Dahlia View.
We caught up with Nicola to discuss her humble beginnings in the gaming industry, and talk more about her journey to becoming a games designer and 3D artist.
What were your inspirations to start games design?
“I guess, I was already interested in art and I had grown up playing quite a few games. The main games, when I actually started to get inspired to go into games, was around 2011 when I was 11 or 12. I started playing more story-based games like Dishonored, The Last Of Us, and Bioshock
Those 3 games are the main games that got me very interested in creating artwork for them. I remember finishing Bioshock with the credits rolling and it had bits of artwork with people's names next to them, and I was like OMG these are so cool!
Probably the biggest inspiration though was Dishonored because, I'm pretty sure it's with one of the DLC’s if you complete the challenges which have a 3 tier star rating depending on how well you do, depending on which one you get between one and three stars you unlock different artwork.
And one of my favourite artists is one that worked on Dishonored, I'm pretty sure he did Dishonored 2 as well. Cédric Peyraverney is his name and I just remember sitting there playing on the Xbox 360 like these are the coolest paintings I have ever seen, so that really inspired me that game.
It's got an absolutely beautiful art style and it's really good actually because the company I'm working at at the minute, I think one of the reasons they hired me is because I showed a massive interest in Dishonored and Bioshock because across the board my co-workers are very interested in those games too.”
Do they do similar stuff to Dishonored and Bioshock?
“So, we do story games, very narrative-driven stuff which is what I like and what everyone likes there and I've seen a lot of people compare the artwork at White Paper Games to Dishonored. That's also happened a lot with the game we just released but yeah it is inspired by that quite a lot, there's definitely that link there.”
What's your favourite part about designing games?
“I think I might have answered this differently before having actually come into the industry. Basically, where I work it's a very small indie company, there's 11 or 12 of us, but because it's so small it means that every single person gets to join in on discussions about art or audio or gameplay design and stuff like that.
I think having those early discussions where everyone gets excited and inspired by everyone's ideas and everything bounces off each other. I think that's probably my favourite part because of the high you get off of discussing these ideas with everyone.
I think as well on that point I don't know if I'd ever want to go and work for a AAA games company. Like my brother works at AAA games and that's a massive company. We’ve talked about our experiences and they differ quite a lot.
My brother enjoys his time over there but I think overall I would still rather work for an indie company than a big one based on my experience with White Paper Games.”
How did you get in with White Paper Games?
“At the time of me being at Uni there were two employees of White Paper Games who were teaching the Uclan games design course, I think that was Pete and James at the time.
So Pete took me for my third-year games proposal project. So on the games design course instead of a dissertation, you do two final year projects, an arts-based one and a games design one.
So he had me for the game's design one and I have talked to him about this, there was a moment in a 1-2-1 meeting talking about this VR horror game thing I was making and I was explaining to him how I set up the blueprints in Unreal Engine (A games design software)
and basically because it was more of a horror experience rather than a game you play on a controller or keyboard and mouse, it was based on line of sight so if you were looking in certain places there would be a trigger box, triggering an event to happen. So you might look at a door over there and 5 seconds later you hear a door slam or something.
This is something we have spoken about while I have worked at White Paper Games and I think it was that moment where we were having that 1-2-1 conversation where he was like she's pretty cool!
It was literally the day after I submitted my work in my third year and he was like do you want an internship at White Paper Games? And I was like hell yeah!
I had to wait a couple of months because we finished in June and the internship started in September. I was also going to do a master's and I was going to do the internship as well.
So originally I was asked to do something different, I was going to be doing level sequencers which are essentially for cinematic moments in the engine.
So that was something I was just going to help out with just to help the load and help Pete be able to work on things more specific to him and help out.
But when the internship started, my specialism is 3D art, so when the internship started I was like "is there any chance of me being able to do some 3D work?"
They were like you know what yeah, we’ll give you an art test. So I made a wall-mounted telephone and James and OJ who are the lead artists at White Paper were like can we hire her?
The smile on my face when they were like do you wanna work for us? I was like yeah! It was just great going into that not expecting a job in art or anything so to come out of it with a job in 3D art was pretty cool! So that's how I got involved with White Paper Games.
From left to right: Rob Beard (Animator), Nicola Hynes (3D and 2D Artist), James Burton (Technical and Character Artist), Oliver Farrel (Environment Artist) (also in the middle is Eggie the Shiba!)
Are there any goals you’d like to achieve in 10 years in your career? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Well, hopefully, I'll have released some more games, that's the main thing. I quite enjoy horror games just as a game player outside of my career. So at some point in my career to have released a horror game would be cool.
I know for sure I would like to get involved in Women In Games. So there's an organisation called Women In Games which is there to support women in games.
I think in my second year I actually got involved in a Women In Games event and I was one of the panel members so I was speaking about my experiences and stuff.
The other women that were there because there were a couple of other female students and there were women from industry and I think it matters so I'd like to get involved again with that.
Especially with, I'm sure you've heard about the Blizzard Entertainment scandal. That's not what we want, we want to support the gals!
What's it been like as a woman in the gaming industry?
So there's not really been anything horrible that has happened to me. I'd say it is quite intimidating being in an environment that is very male-dominated.
I think I had a lot of mental blocks that made me feel inferior or as if my opinion doesn't really matter and I think men tend to be a little naturally more confident and I think having that in my head like oh my opinion isn't worthy or my opinion doesn't really matter and oh no I'm going to listen to what the man has to say and that's been a weird thing to get over myself where is like obviously not that's not right.
It's not like I was outright thinking that, it's a subconscious thing. But after being in the industry and getting hired straight after Uni boosted my confidence quite a bit. So the people I work with now I'm the only woman in White Paper Games and that in itself is a little intimidating but everyone at White Paper Games are so good and they're all very aware that I couple potentially feel a little bit intimidated being the only woman there and I think it's something they do have in mind.
And having worked there for over a year now, I've always felt as if my opinion does matter and people are very willing to listen to anything I have to say which has been really good for building my confidence and being comfortable with and everyone is really friendly and it's just great to work there.
Are there any projects you’d like to tell readers about?
So, we released in 2021 Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View which is highly inspired by Rear Window which is a Hitchcock film. That's a game we released last year, it's out on Steam, the Epic games store, and GOG and it's going to be released soon on consoles this year so Xbox, PS, and Switch.
A big thank you to Nicola for coming to speak with us! If you’d like to check out her work with White Paper Games you can visit their website here.
Here at Hollr, we want to celebrate young creative Cumbrians and create a space where we can celebrate the diversity and vibrancy of the young people making waves in our county. If you know a young creator who you think we should feature, drop us a DM to nominate them!