Hey everyone! First, I want to apologize for the lack of posts on the blog, but since school started, I haven’t even thought about this at all.
Second, I’m super excited to present an interview with past HeR Interactive employee Mari Tokuda! While at HeR, she took on many roles and took part in many projects. She provides some really cool insight into what it was like working on the Dossier series as well as so much more! Without further ado, let’s jump in!
HM: Hey, Mari! First off, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. To start, would you mind introducing yourself and telling us what your roles at HeR Interactive were?
MT: Hi! My name is Mari Tokuda. I worked as a production assistant, production coordinator, and game designer at Her Interactive.
HM: How long were you at HeR for?
MT: I was at Her Interactive for a little over five years.
HM: According to your resume, you were on the team which made the Dossier games. Could you tell us about what it was like developing a whole new style of Nancy Drew game?
MT: Developing the Dossier games was a fun and exciting and frustrating experience. The team I worked with was incredibly skilled and talented. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates in a million years. The frustration came when we were trying to match expectations. In the beginning, the Dossier games were supposed to be Nancy Drew branded mystery games targeted toward a casual audience that could be created by a much smaller, leaner team than the classic adventure games. We went through many, many prototypes. I have to say that some of them were very, very different than the final product, but still a lot of fun.
I’m so, so proud of the final game we created, but it honestly wasn’t much smaller than the classic adventure games and still required a large-ish team.
HM: Can you say how much work was done on Ship of Shadows before it was officially shelved?
MT: Ship of Shadows was about halfway completed when they had to cancel the project.
Here’s the thing, though. No one wanted to cancel Ship of Shadows. The Dossier team was really hitting its stride at that point. Everyone in the company was excited about the next game.
Unfortunately, the economics of the casual game industry just couldn’t support our game. Some casual game distributors didn’t allow developers to determine the price of the game they would sell, which meant that we didn’t have any pricing flexibility. Distributors also take a cut for access to their audience; at that time, it was anywhere from 40-75%. That left it up to the number of games sold on a platform as to whether a game broke even on its development costs or not. And… the bigger the team, the more complex the game, the higher the development costs that need to be recouped.
And, well, I haven’t kept up with the casual games industry lately, but up until a few years ago, the successful developers were either big players like Popcap/EA and King, teeny-tiny studios in the U.S. who could make a product with one- or two-person teams, or they were larger studios in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia (where the cost of living and, therefore, development is much cheaper).
That’s the unfortunate reality of the situation. Having a team that could create a game as art intensive and complex as the Dossier games and have them based in the U.S. (especially in a high cost of living location like the Seattle area) wasn’t feasible with the direction the casual games industry was headed at the time. Believe me, the Dossier team tried to make the magic happen again when we put together PassionFruit Games after Ship of Shadows was canceled. We made another game that we were super proud of (Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box)… and we learned about the business side of the industry the hard way.
HM: You were also on the team which developed The Cody Capers. What spurred the creation of that game?
MT: When we made Cody Capers, we were in the midst of developing prototype after prototype for the first Dossier game. Our wonderful director, at the time, decided that it would be a morale boost for us to concentrate on a product that we could complete and put out. She was right. It did help. When we first started on it, we hoped to make it a “Togo’s Adventures,” and have Nancy’s dog be the main character, but the licensing didn’t work out for that one.
HM: Another project you worked on was porting The White Wolf of Icicle Creek to the Wii. What are your opinions on how that project went? Did you believe it to be a success, or more of an experience to learn from?
MT: I only stepped in to help out with that game for a very brief period, so I don’t actually have much insight into how the development of that game went or whether the sales were enough to consider it a “success.” I hate to sound so mercenary about it, but, ultimately, it is a business, and everything comes down to whether or not the company is making back the costs of development, overhead, manufacturing, and marketing at the very least. And, honestly, every project is a learning experience!
HM: Was there a game that launched that you were most proud of? Do you have a favorite Nancy Drew game?
MT: That’s a tough one. Hm. I’d have to say that Resorting to Danger is the game I’m most proud of. The Dossier team was really meshing and figuring things out on the Dossier side. We had big plans for what to do with subsequent games. And we snuck in multiple endings… so seeing the players start to figure that out was so much fun!
As far as a favorite Nancy Drew game? Oooh! That’s another difficult question! If I have to choose, I would pick Curse of Blackmoor Manor. That was the very first game I worked on as a production assistant, and it was such a thrill! Also, the atmosphere was so moody, and the design was super clever. That game will always have a special place in my heart.
HM: What did a typical day look like for you while at HeR?
MT: It depended on which role I was in and what point in development a given game was on. On the production team, I was scripting the game and puzzles and implementing sound effects and testing. When I worked on the design side, I was creating puzzles (and subjecting my teammates to paper prototypes of all kinds), working with the scriptwriters, sitting in on recording sessions, and whatever else needed doing.
HM: What was the work environment like while working on the Adventure series as well as the Dossier series?
MT: The Adventure team was a well-oiled machine and just became more so over the years. Two games a year is a lot to ask of any team, so they had to have systems in place to facilitate that.
The Dossier team was noisy, rowdy, and, as we were still finding our way, much less regimented.
Let me just say that the caliber of the talent throughout the company was incredible. From the front desk to the marketing and sales teams to the teams that developed the game… I’ve never worked with a better group of people. Even in an industry as volatile as the game industry, Her Interactive had something special. There was very, very little turnover for a long, long time, which is super rare.
HM: Lastly, can you tell us what you’re working on right now and how readers can find you/follow you?
MT: Currently, I’m working as a freelance writer on tabletop games and stories of my own! I’ve worked on the official Dishonored tabletop RPG and am currently working on the official Dune tabletop RPG. I wrote several stories for the Malifaux tabletop skirmish game. And I have a middle grade historical fiction choose-your-own-adventure style book coming out from Zoozil sometime in the future. I’m always on the hunt for new opportunities! You can find me on Twitter (@maritokuda) and on my website (www.maritokuda.com), where I keep a running list of all my projects, new and old. I love making new friends, so don’t be shy!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Mari!
If you have any more questions, you can reach Mari at the aforementioned spots around the internet. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in the next post!