Renee Nejo

Unity Game Artist and Designer

Renee is an independent video game developer. She's been making games since 2010, and has worked on Ever Jane, Gravity Ghost, and her most recent passion project: Blood Quantum.

Post GDC 2016

ReneeNejoGDC16

GDC this year was an incredibly heart warming and terrifying experience.  It was the first year that I was a speaker, and , of course, the content I choose to speak on was the most emotionally challenging.  Nevertheless, in 2016, at perhaps one of the most important tech conferences in the world, I discussed Native American identity, vulnerability, and shame....in video games.

Just let that sink in for a second.

Not only was i totally emotionally naked up there, but i was welcomed and supported but the industries movers and shakers. I can't thank my friends, mentors, teachers, and colleagues enough for this overwhelming and humbling support. I hope to do more of this kind of talk in the future, but for now I need to get back to work. 

If you would like to see the talk, you can here:

Everyone's Silent Enemy: Shame and Vulnerability

Climate Change Game Jam - Reef Revival

First off, it needs to be said. Erin Robinson is responsible for this victory. Sure, I helped - a couple of design choices and art, but if it weren't for her, we wouldn't have won.

We won.

We friggin' won!

I haven't won a game jam before, though I've participated in many. So, I'm extremely excited to have worked on it with my bestie, as well as it being an important and relevant cause. 

Reef Revival - Our Submission

Reef Revival is a time management game where you restore reefs that will act as a wave break to protect a town in the Philippines. I learned a lot doing this game jam. We were lucky enough to have scientists to help us to keep our science accurate; a really invaluable resource. 

reefrevival1.png

So, climate change isn't this nebulous problem in ether that only scientists are solving in perfect white labs. We really wanted to focus on smaller, but equally relevant issues around the the changing of the earth. 

Acidification of ocean water is destroying important bacteria that coral reefs need to grow. Hi acid levels in ocean water is bleaching the coral.

Real people out there create underwater nurseries to help these little guys grow. If you want to see more about that you can go here: Reef Revival - Nature.org

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In Reef Revival the game, you have 5 mins to "farm" 12 baby reefs to health. In the real world, they aren't plants. Actually, they are being bred, aw, coral love <3.

In addition to the time constraint, there fish that feed off the bacteria.

if you don't scare them off, they coral will be lost forever and unable to transplant.

Win/Loss Condtion

If you can transplant enough coral, the whole reef will gain it's color back. and the harbor town will be safe from a large storm.

If you can not restore enough coral, the reef will remain bleached, unable to grow and act as a wave break.

The town will be immersed in water.

Play Reef Revival

Wanna see if you can save the town? Play it for free here at Lively Ivy's Blog Site.  

<3

Firefly Fan Art - WIP

I love this show. A while back I blocked out the ship and I think I’m going to pick it up again. You gotta make stuff for YOU, ya know? :D 

This was fun as hell to work on, and I think it will continue to be as long as I’m a fan of the series…which will be Fo-EVA <3 

More progress to come. I want bring the art to completion and post a playable First-Persion, Interactive Walk-through online. I <3 Unity

I’ll keep you posted. 

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#Natives in #GameDev and Native Realities

I can finally calm the hell down a little after the events of the last couple of weeks. The Natives in Game Dev gathering was so incredibly uplifting, inspiring and healing. I can't thank enough the people responsible fore making it so. 

Alaska Republic and ArsTechnica did a couple of write ups on it.

This whole experience feels surreal. I proudly speak about my heritage now. That wasn't always the case. To see an indigenous presence in tech, let alone video games, has done something to my heart. It has taught me to hope for what feels impossible. 

Progress is slow and healthy, and I personally think worth the hard work, heart break, and uphill fight it almost always requires. In those discussions with yourself or others, the realizations of "there's only so much you can do" is part of that heart break. For most, without any guarantee of results, work will just be...dismissed.

There are a lot of good people out there, making this space more welcoming for indigenous groups to show their work and the get into games. I never thought this would be a reality.

http://www.nativerealities.com/

Tribeca Hacks

So much has happened since the last post I made, and it's damn near shameful I haven't posted something sooner. Sorry about that.

Nawadinawe and The Tribeca NDN Country Hackathon

A few months back, the Tribeca fim institute reached out and invited me to the NDN Country Hackathon. I happily accepted and the turn out was heartwarming. The NDN Country Hackathon is very close to what I understand as a game jam, only instead of making a game in 48 hours, you make an interactive story. If you are at all interested in what came out of the Hackathon,  you can visit  tribecafilminstitute.org/events/detail/tribeca_hacks_ndn_country

Our story was based off of the original writings of one of our teammate's grandfather who spend some of his childhood in an indian boarding school. We used a similar art style to Ledger Art, a kind of art originating back to plains Indians using old accountant ledger paper. It had a revival in the 60s and had a very simple feel.

My take-away from this was pretty personal. I had the pleasure of meeting really wonderful people from similar walks of life. My life is a little richer for it.

Thank you:

Eve La Fountain - Story Teller, Writer, Producer - Turtle Mountain Chippewa
Renee Nejo - Designer, Background Illustration, Prop Art
Lyndze Blosser - Character Artist and Designer
Tyrone Headman - Prop Art – Navajo
James Chaffin - Sound Design, Foley, Score - East and West Band Cherokee
Darrick G. Baxter - App Developer - Marten Falls First Nation

You really need to go out of your way to get to know anyone and this was an opportunity to tell some of our stories.  I've had family of my own go to Indian School and reading the words of someone who was there was both heartbreaking and hunting. 

 

 

Blood Quantum

Blood Quan·tum

bləd/ˈkwäntəm/

- is the amount of Indian blood you possess as determined by the number of generations of Native people you descend from, and it's the process that the federal government uses to say whether they consider you a Native American or not.

If you are not Native, chances are, you've never heard of it.  I don't mean in the "my great grandmother was a Cherokee princess" sort of way. I mean if you identify as a Native American, you know what blood quantum is. 

It's origin was basically to bring about the extinction of the Native American people. It has continued to be relevant as Native country has tried to practice self determination. If you have never had to practice self determination with regard to where you come from and who you are, you are very lucky. 

I'm a half breed Native American. The "half breed" part matters. Please don't ask which half.

I'm not going to get preachy here, but it's important that I describe a little where I'm coming from before I start to talk about my personal game project publicly. It should also be noted that I work full time and so do both of the programmers. I've been working on the design for about a year, but not really with as much time as I'd like. This project is important for a lot of reasons, and I hope you can see everyone of them.  <3

Game Description:

Blood Quantum

Blood Quantum

Blood Quantum is a top down 3/4 Perspective Godlike with a few tower defense elements developed in Unity. 

The player interacts with little "Drawplets" to further their growth in their villages.

Drawplet

Drawplet

At first, the player's involvement has to do with leveling up their drawplets by hunting, farming, and building. By giving Drawplets "Purpose" or a job for their class, the "Spirit" of the village goes up. With the "Spirit" high, new baby Drawplets appear. It takes time to grow the village. Unlike an RTS, the loss of a single Drawplet is a great one, and death in battle is permanent. 

The Other Drawplets

The Other Drawplets

Blood Quantum the game is my love letter to my identity and family. Being half-breed is a special kind struggle. I'm constantly pulled in dividing directions with regard to my identity and always have been. When I was young, and we were starting to learn about manifest destiny in school, I couldn't wait. This was a subject that I actually knew about outside of school, because of where I came from. I felt like my little heart had a lot to offer to the conversation. But when It came time to read in class, that's really all we did. There was no discussion. No interaction. My short window to talk about what I thought made me special had closed, and the teacher had her lesson plan to stick too. I was SO disappointed. This is what set the tone for me with regard to my identity: "no body cares".

As an adult, now, I refuse to accept that. People do care. But most are completely ignorant to the very real matters and issues at hand. I hate that right now the fight that's getting the most attention is the Redskins debate. Shouldn't be a debate, but when I talk about the reality of the living conditions and reservation law, people are astonished. They've never heard of Blood Quantum before and almost can't believe that it's real. 

It's always been my attitude that education is key. We move on to "more important" things. We have only a finite amount of hours in our lifetime. But I believe being enlightened to reality, we can empower ourselves to make the obvious and right decisions. So, with that in  mind, I wanted Blood Quantum the game to be one of those things. I wanted to create a situation where the player puts a part of themselves in these characters. I made the decision to not make them resemble indigenous people very purposefully. I personally do not find the portrayal of Native Americans in the media to be acceptable.  Right now, when people see that imagery, they become immediately displaced. They can't relate to natives. I want the player to really care for these little Drawplets, and the focus to make them tactile and endearing is a huge part of that.

I heard somewhere that curiosity is the most powerful motivator to learn. This is my little experiment in educational gaming. I'm not interested in giving the dates and times of these atrocities, as much as I am interested in showing (even in it's smallest measurement) what it feels like to have what you understand and love, ripped away from you. To anyone who has some knowledge in American History, you can probably see the historical parallels. I don't want to just give that information in dates and numbers. I want to show it. The only thing I've left alone was the name Blood Quantum. I'm hoping that if anyone plays this and thinks to research "blood quantum" and it's origin, I've done exactly what I set out to do. 

More Screenshots to come!

My Dragon

That Dragon Cancer is a game you really need to know about.

From the developer's 

"That Dragon, Cancer is an adventure game that acts as a living painting; a poem; an interactive retelling of Ryan and Amy Green’s experience raising their son Joel, a 4-year-old currently fighting his third year of terminal cancer. Players relive memories, share heartache, and discover the overwhelming hope that can be found in the face of death."

The creator's of the game have asked us, their fans, friends, and support to express the time we faced our dragon. As it turns out, I'm doing that this year. I lost someone. A big someone. Someone who was important to me in more ways than I think I can express. There was anger, pain, loss and even joy.

"Bottle it up, pour it into a cup.  Make something beautiful.  Make Art. We’ll serve it at PAX on your behalf.  This year we’re raising money.  This time with Extra Life.  They love games, you love games.  They love kids, they raise money for children’s hospitals."

I am so excited to contribute, even if nothing comes of it. Tapping in to this is a big part of my healing and here's the chance i have to tell a little story. This story is only important to me, and that's okay. 

Suddenly She was Everywhere

Suddenly She was Everywhere

 

The ways of my people pass away with my elders. When one of our own passes on, we sing for them for days, we pray for them, and we burn every trace of their existence. I walk both worlds, old and new all of them swimming inside of me, confusing and beautiful. My grandmother, our pillar, our strength, our wisdom alive and burning in her.

Then she got sick. She knew it was coming. she knew it was the last time she'd see us, but she didn't budge. she didn't break. not even when her was drowning in her own breath. She was rock. 

"when it felt like she was no where, suddenly she was everywhere"

I however, was not. One week after they took her body away, we burned candles for 3 nights, we said our goodbyes. It's the duty of the women closest to her to put her things in the fire while the singers sang and the dancers pounded the earth with their feet. I had to let her go in the fire. When I looked up, through my tears I saw the smoke and the embers become part of the sky and she was suddenly everywhere.

I really don't expect anyone to understand what they are seeing. it's okay. I just hope it's liked enough to be printed and maybe enough to give a few dollars to children's hospitals. 

Ever, Jane Art Update!

New Character Stuff!

In earlier posts I mentioned the new redesign of the character models. We are very excited to start putting the models in the world to play but before we can do that, we must first get the character customization working. Judy has been working on it almost exclusively since the latest release, between being a CEO and Designer. 

Character Customization 1st Pass!!

Character Customization 1st Pass!!

Right now, we are just interested in getting the mesh and texture swapping to work correctly with everything rigged properly. So far, so good! We haven't had any problems that can't be resolved with some re-factored meshes, and optimized art. 

In the Mean Time...

Re-designed the Male character!

It will come as no surprise that the old Male Models suffered from the same affliction as the Female Models did. There were major issues with the anatomy and just overall tone that the characters set and it did not at all match the experience we wanted. We explained earlier that it was just in for the prototype. That was fine for the time being, however, now that we are funded, we are able to give the characters the attention they deserved. It was important to us that we got it right, so I was eager to re-design the Male Model after reworking the Female in the style we wanted.

Take a look at the before and after:

oh no! (Before)

oh no! (Before)

oh yeah! (After)  

oh yeah! (After)

 

Facial Shapes 

Part of the customizable character options will be different shapes for the faces. I created both the Male and Female Character models have Square, Round, Oval, Heart and Sharp shape to the faces. Moving forward, I would like to give them more time, but right now, other areas of the game need my attention, so this is going in as "done enough"  for now.

You can click through images below:

Skin Color Variations

Before the next release, we wanted to have all the features at least, though maybe not all the assets, completed for the character customization. Right now you can choose the gender, hair type and color, face, and cloths of the characters. Our last and in lot of ways our most important custom feature is skin color. There are 6 shades we can choose from at this point, though I would like to get much more in. Skin is not just about light to dark, there's tonal changes I would eventually like to do. 

Click through below to see the skin shades:

Denver, CO

My family and I are moving to Denver Colorado! We are incredibly excited for change of scenery. Since 3 Turn Productions is based just outside of Denver, I'm confident that this move will be healthy for he project. 

Dusty Flack is still moving strong with a pretty cool trajectory! Even though Raph will be in Phoenix and I in Denver, the work will continue remotely. I've been working on EJ this entire time remotely, so I'm not concerned about this falling through the cracks. 

Blood Quantum has slowed but not stopped. With my time being pretty much completely pre-occupied with Ever Jane, Gravity Ghost, and other paid contracts, my own game has had to take a back seat to projects that pay me and have a shot at shipping. Since Will Courtney is working on Gravity Ghost with the lovely Erin Robinson, I'll have him back with full momentum after it's release in September(?). 

Looking forward to meeting all the Colorado game devs and feasting my eyes on the some of the most beautiful scenery the US has to offer. :)

This Week In Jane Austen's Universe...

Next Ever Jane Release...

New Character Models!

Oh man, have I been dying to get those old character models out of the game! I learned lot about Unity's pipeline trying to force-fit those creatures in the level, but I've finally gotten a handle on the female's new design! 

Before I just picked a direction and ran with it. We really didn't have enough pre-planning. Judy and I both knew that wasn't what we wanted to do, but we made due with what he had. After the success of the Kickstarter, we set aside the time to really iron out the look and feel we WANT for the game, and not just what we can afford with the time we have.

Click through below to see the different color dresses.

Before

After

We aren't animating the face very much. Eventually there will be a little eye movement and perhaps some smiling expressions, but that's about it. There will not be any speaking animations, so it didn't really make sense to model the characters completely expressionless like I did originally. The expressionless face, looks so dark and grim; almost like we are making a horror game!

Proportions

The proportions for the first pass were completely wrong. In the Regency era, someone that skinny would be considered sickly and frail and generally frowned upon socially. The new model to right is as skinny as our characters will go. I went as far as to model the entire female figure going back to many muscle and bone references and anatomy studies. The result was a large improvement. We really want our characters to reflect the Regency Era's beauty ideal rather than our modern (in my opinion twisted) standards of beauty. 

Fashion

For the first few releases, we are only making available a few simple dresses. As your character levels up, or reaches hire social status, more fashionable and expensive dresses will be made available to you for your dressing room. In the mean time, we have a blue, a red and a white floral to choose from!

Dusty Flack

I currently reside in Phoenix Arizona for at least a few more weeks and made a stop on Artist Alley at Phoenix Comicon. Whether or not comic art is your cup of tea, it was truly inspiring to see artists of all levels putting their work and them selves out there in front of so many eyes.

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Dusty Flack is a sci-fi/comedy web comic, centering on a female space mechanic who longs to live a life free of ambition, in a galaxy where corporate culture is supreme and life is dictated by money and reputation.

Raphael Robbins - Writer

Raphael Robbins - Writer

Raphael Robbins and I have been working on Dusty Flack for a few months now, and we have found a style and story all our own. Raph is the writer and creator of the Dusty universe and he insisted that we take the time to plan out story, character arcs, and universe. While much of this can be and will be abandoned or changed as the story grows into a living universe, we emerge from this process with a  strong sense of our main characters, the first loose story beats, and a story engine which will ensure we will continue to have stories to tell long after the initial spark.

Storytelling informs the art, art informs the storytelling. Unlike novel-writing, writing a comic is a collaborative effort, and it is important to recognize that two people will have two different images in their heads when reading a description of events. Even when working on entirely separate bits of content, we do our best to meet weekly and work side by side. Doing so allows us to see each other’s capabilities, and more-so our limitations. Our best creative decisions are made when, after laboring over a particular frame, we just say “fuck it” and approach from an entirely different angle. Small decisions like that ripple throughout the entire story and eventually make the work stronger.

We are looking forward to the day we are sitting in that artist’s alley, showing off our own comic. And I, Renee Nejo, will of course fly to Arizona for every convention ever so that Raph isn't alone and sad. Raph will come out to Denver sometimes too.

Skinnier

This year's Global Game Jam 2014 was a bit of an introspective mind melt. The Theme:

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are"

Team Indie Game House:

Corey Nolan - Programmer/Designer

Corey Nolan - Programmer/Designer

William Courtney - Programmer/Designer

William Courtney - Programmer/Designer

Renee Nejo - Artist (me)

Renee Nejo - Artist (me)

Alex Burley - Programmer

Alex Burley - Programmer

Even though the Jam was back in January, Corey and I jammed on it this past weekend. Getting back in the project was a good feeling since we really liked the concept so much all those months back.  We said what everybody says: "We'll keep working on this after the jam"

WE DID! (even if this was the first time since)

Skinnier

The theme of this year's game jam struck a personal chord for us. We sat and talked together that day about what we thought the theme meant to each of us. What we all came to agree on was self image is an altered mirror. When we think about what we have control over in our lives, sometimes we find that we only really have control over what we do to ourselves, or in Skinnier, our bodies. Skinnier is the negative feedback loop life can have on our psyche. We have jobs and relationships in fast pace lifestyles where people may (or may not) be projecting our insecurities right back to us. In Skinnier you play as gender-less, faceless character who has to go on with their day. In the mirror, do you see your reflection or what you think you are?

Click through some screenshots here:

As the artist on the team, the decisions I made from the start were almost entirely based on scope. It was a little ambitious of us to go the 3D route, but I had just got my hands dirty in IBL and I had hoped I could bring the whole aesthetic together with a few VERY simple sky boxes. We had limited time and resources so I decided to go with a plastic cartoon feel: Bright colors, simple geometry, and flat textures. Since there would be a lot of static assets, we wanted to keep the art style as simple as possible. With maybe one exception, there are no unique texture maps or unwrapped assets. 

For the food parcels, I only got as far as place holder art, but the team actually really liked what I did. I just used simple rounded off cubes with colors or a simple texture. I wanted them to look like candy. We thought about doing a candy like world as kind of a nod to the candy crush debauchery, but that was a fleeting notion. 

All Content Created by Renee Nejo