Lulu LaMer – Director of Studio Development

Lulu LaMer – Director of Studio Development



“I’m serious, curious, dedicated, and excited about figuring out how to get things done in the most mutually-agreeable way possible.”


Lulu, so glad you can chat with me today.

“Thanks for inviting me to chat!”

 

Can you tell me what is your current title and where you work?

“I’m the Director of Studio Development at Funomena. Funomena is a tiny indie studio in San Francisco, working on 3 titles right now: Luna, Wattam, and Woorld. My title isn’t standard, but it means leading production on one team, overseeing scheduling & budget across the studio, plus HR and facilities.”

 

Woorld

Woorld

So many things you are in charge of!  

[Laughs] “Yeah – the joys of being indie I guess! I’m used to having much more narrow areas to focus on, but I’m nosy as hell so it’s fun to have a little more space to be nosy in.” [Smiles]

 

A common thread among most indies I talk to is the wearing of multiple hats.  

“Yeah, with 15 people and 3 projects, it’s inevitable that a lot of folks have to take on a variety of roles. We can’t afford an admin or office manager.”

 

You gotta make it work.  As I usually say, “Games don’t make themselves.”  Can you give me a list of some other titles you’ve previously worked on in your career?

“Sure! Thief 1, 2, and 3 at Looking Glass Studios & Ion Storm Austin; System Shock 2, Borderlands 1 & 2, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider: Legend & Anniversary, SpecOps The Line… and a little time on a few other things here and there.”

 

Thief, SpecOps? This is such an impressive list of titles.  You’ve been in the industry for awhile.

“Yeah, I started pretty early and I just keep coming back to games – I’ve tried to leave a few times, but it’s pretty compelling work, and I’ve had the good fortune to work with some really amazing people, so it’s hard to stay gone.”

 

Game development can be addicting.  What is your typical workday like?

“I get in early because I have kids and first thing in the morning when it’s quiet I take a little while to clean up the office and take care of little things like filing trademarks and following up on administrative crap before anyone gets in. Then I play Wattam for a while and log bugs, updating our schedule/milestone documentation as I go. I usually spend a couple hours in meetings about either project planning or personnel stuff – I try to have 1:1 meetings with everyone at the studio at least 1x/month.”


“Yeah, I started pretty early and I just keep coming back to games – I’ve tried to leave a few times, but it’s pretty compelling work, and I’ve had the good fortune to work with some really amazing people, so it’s hard to stay gone.”


 

Getting in early, or staying late is the curse of the productive developer.  You have to find uninterrupted time to work. As I mentioned before, it sounds like you have a lot on your plate.  You didn’t just start as a Director of a Studio. You have to start somewhere.  Let’s talk about the beginning.  Give people an understanding of your background.  Where did you grow up?

“Oh, I’m from a tiny corner of Vermont, right on the Canadian border.”

 

What town?  

“Alburgh! Population 2k, probably closer to 1200 when I was growing up. Not a beautiful place! But, I grew up right on a lake with more freedom than kids (including mine) could possibly hope to have, and I miss the hell out of the long days of idle wandering, looking closely at nature out of boredom.”

 

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line

Where did you get your schooling?  Did you graduate high school and go onto college?

“Yep, I did the traditional thing. I had a really 1890s idea of what schooling should be about – the classist ideas of what languages are better to learn, trades being less valuable somehow than a  ‘balanced’  liberal arts education, all that garbage. And so I have a degree in French of all things. I had these ideas, but I didn’t really have a grasp of trying and failing as a way to get better at stuff, so I just did what was easy. I only applied to colleges that didn’t have essay requirements for the applications, and only in towns with good rock music scenes. Which is how I ended up in Austin.”

 

Some of my best friends have degrees in French.  I love how you narrowed your collegiate search.  What was the name of your school? University of Austin?

University of Texas. The university has more students than the biggest city in Vermont has residents. I was a little out of my league.”

 

Looking back would you have chosen a different school?

“Oh absolutely. I was so eager to get away from home and see different things, and of course I had no frame of reference for understanding homesickness. I don’t regret it because I love Austin and was pushed so far out of my comfort zone, but there were much more realistic choices much closer to home.”

 

LuLu02I can understand that.  Independence is something all new adults seek.  Back to games.  How did you get from the University to your first game job?

“I moved back to Vermont after college, and started dating an old friend from high school who was pretty determined to get into games. He got a job at Looking Glass, we moved down to Boston, and I temped for a year before they started hiring QA folks for Thief, and I had no idea what I was doing with my life so I applied!”

 

Nice!  Team QA!  I started there as well.  Great way to get a lay of the land.  You chose to stay in games after this position.  Why games?  Why not a French translator for the UN?

“Totally! If the dev team is open to talking about how things work, and you ask a lot of questions, you can learn a ton about how games are made. Well, the thing about a French degree is that if you don’t study or live abroad, you don’t actually get to be fluent. I was already really depleted from the move to Texas and learning about leaving home and not being able to come back again and belong anywhere, so moving to France (or even Montreal) wasn’t something I had the energy for.”

 

I see.  So you’ve climbed the ranks.  Moved about the country for different game positions.  What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

“That’s a tough question. Because a producer’s job is to cultivate the environment for good things to happen, it’s hard to take direct credit for the success of any given project. Tomb Raider Anniversary (the TR1 pseudo-remake for PS2) was one of the best teams I’ve ever worked on – absolute pros working together brilliantly, motivated toward the same goal. It was also an awful project in so many other ways, but that feeling of good synergy is really memorable. The other one is SpecOps; I spent 6 months with the development team in Berlin getting them out of pre-production and ready to make that game, and I learned a hell of a lot doing that.”

 

In your experience, what skills or traits are important to succeed in your field of work?

“It took me a long time to figure this out, but the humility to be genuinely curious, and the vulnerability to ask questions without worrying about looking stupid. Figuring those things out has made me 10x more effective (and happier).”

 

Wattam

Wattam

Thumbs up to that statement!  You can only get smarter asking questions.  

“Being “smart” is a trap. It’s pretty well documented in even pop psychology these days, but if your identity is about being smart, you risk breaking that identity to ask a question and appear that you don’t know. Once I met really truly smart people in games (like everyone at Looking Glass, and like my boss Robin Hunicke), I realized, I don’t need to keep up appearances about being smart – THOSE people are smart, my identity can be about something else. What a fucking relief!”

 

An amazing epiphany!  Was there anything you had to cut from production you wish you could have saved?

“I can’t think of a single thing I regret cutting. I regret adding features more than cutting (for example, third person camera in Thief 3). I do regret not taking more time to polish around cuts – SpecOps would have been better if we’d cleaned up around cuts a bit more.”

 

It’s like production’s job to be an editor in some cases.  Help “trim the fat” to make a better project.

“Help the dev team be ok with making those trims. I don’t take credit for the edits – that’s usually the job of the lead designer / creative director / art director. I may have made a couple good suggestions here and there but it’s not important to my self-worth.”

 

How do you like to spend your free time?

“Right now, with 2 little kids, I have very little truly free time. I love hiking and looking at nature, and reading books, but that shit is not happening right now. So with my hour per day of free time, I play really weird indie games with my husband.”

 

System Shock 2

System Shock 2

Lol, kids are the best.  Are there any trends in production or games that have captured your interest lately?

“After playing Soda Drinker Pro and Californium this weekend, I was thinking about how able we are now to bring to life ideas from the 70s-90s. I have been thinking,  ‘this is exactly what I would have loved in the 90s’  so much when playing indie games lately. What’s that about? I’m still figuring out what that means – is tech just catching up to the thinking from those times? That seems reductive and insulting.

 

What game has influenced you the most?

“Oh, huh. Hmmm. System Shock 1? The drawing program on my Commodore Vic-20? ADOM? Super Smash Bros? I have no idea.”

 

It’s hard to pick just one.

“It is! The games I’ve worked on are not the only kinds of games I like to play, and my aesthetic interests spread beyond games, so it’s hard to trace a direct route of influence from games to my work.”

 

Luna

Luna

Describe yourself in one sentence.  What is your tagline?

“I’m serious, curious, dedicated, and excited about figuring out how to get things done in the most mutually-agreeable way possible.”

“That sounds really boring.”

 

If people want reach out to you later, is there some what to find you?  Twitter, Instagram, MySpace?

@lulu on Twitter. My Instagram is just pictures of my kids and food (because I don’t have a cat).”

 

Perfect.  Thanks for your time today Lulu.  I’ll let you get back to what I can only assume is a full day!

“Thanks Marcus! Nice chatting with you.”

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