Q and A with Boba Studios, Baltimore, Maryland
“Teamwork doesn’t mean that everyone gets a direct reflection of themselves in your work; it means your work is a reflection of the team as a whole.“
Q: Who are you?
A: Boba Studios is a women-owned and -run game studio creating games to help represent underserved players, specifically women and people of color. In our four years of working together, our team of three has produced nine titles and is currently developing our first title aimed at publication. We are solely responsible for all aspects of front- and back-end development—everything from art, to music, to programming—and, through that, we have been granted not only the opportunity to share our stories, but be in control of telling them. We aspire to inspire further representation through creating space and opportunities for diverse developers to enter the industry by providing content for players who are often overlooked in the mass market; games created by a team who reflect them.
Pictured (from left to right): TJ, Ashley, and Kyrstin.
Our team is Ashley Guchhait as our game designer, writer, and programmer, Kyrstin Cooksey as our artist and animator, and TJ Martin as our composer and sound designer. As a small team, we fulfill many more roles than our titles let on, including providing each other feedback across our different mediums and non-art roles such as running and promoting our business. As artists, each of us have experience in many mediums, including in each other’s roles, allowing for a lot of crossover in our work. This can be in small ways from everyone sharing character dialog ideas to Ashley being Boba Studios’ graphic and UI designer, despite Kyrstin being the team’s artist. Teamwork makes the dream work!
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Squirrely Roo Rabbit is an in-development, 2.5D, puzzle-platformer game relying on color theory to solve environmental challenges. It features a visual style reminiscent of hand-drawn and watercolor pop-up storybooks. The game’s story begins with a gang of chameleons on a coloring spree changing the colors of all the animals in their wake, causing confusion and anger. Squirrely Roo Rabbit, who is unaffected due to her being a non-traditional animal, teams up with an outcast chameleon, Cammie, to track down the Chameleon King and return the forest to normal. Powered by fruit, Squirrely Roo and Cammie explore new lands and solve their puzzles.
This is our second iteration of Squirrely Roo Rabbit, or what we call our debut title, because it’s our first game we’re intending to publish. Creative differences unfortunately led to us losing our original developer, but with that came a lot of individual growth, making us a much stronger team. Which, in turn, has enabled us to make a much stronger game.
For the past year and a half, we’ve struggled with rebuilding Squirrely Roo Rabbit from the ground up, while also improving it in all the ways needed to make it the game we always dreamed it could be. Because our ability to work together well is so vital to us—and because we were fortunate enough to have coding experience—we decided the best course of action was expanding our roles to make up for the loss of a member rather than adding someone who is not as passionate about our work to simply get the job done. It was definitely the more challenging way to do it, but it’s been beyond worth it.
The first year was the largest struggle as Ashley and Kyrstin had experience in coding games, but more on the 2D and VR side of things and on significantly smaller projects. Despite all of the challenges 2020 has brought everyone, things standing still for a bit really got our development on track. We went from having thrown out a handful of versions for not measuring up to the original, to almost having rebuilt the original in its entirety since this past March. We’re still tying things together, but we’re very excited to launch the new Squirrely Roo Rabbit this fall.
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: Play and games, while obvious passions, are incredibly important places to start because of what they bring to the table. These forms of self-expression and exploration allows people to learn, discover, and experience in a safe space. They also serve as vehicles of empathy as you take on the persona of others, so while their premises are not always possible in our world, the feelings of empathy and understanding that players take away are certainly real.
Creating video games is the culmination of all of our passions: play, thought-provoking games, art, music, story, friendship, animals, and food. Being built on the foundation of art, music, puzzles, and storytelling, Squirrely Roo Rabbit is a great example of this. More specifically, while the story addresses serious topics, its cute and comedic nature makes the topics easily approachable. The importance of friendship is also a pillar of this story, just as it is with our team.
In more subtle ways, Squirrely Roo Rabbit also expresses our love of animals as well as food, though these interests are more apparent outside of the game. We both grew up around a lot of animals, which, for Ashley, were bunnies and puppies, and, for Kyrstin, were kittens and puppies. While some of our other games revolve around human characters, the theme of cute animals can surely be expected. Unfortunately, cooking and baking are passions which have yet to work their way into our video game practice, but, as with our games, we remain as dedicated to someone’s experience with our food as we are to a player’s experience; caring in equal parts about the taste and presentation.
Our love of art stems beyond creating things to also the enjoyment of working with our hands. We love gardening and the leafy green friends we grow just as much as we love our fuzzy animal friends!
Q: What were your younger years like?
A: To no one’s surprise, we grew up as gamers. Not just video games, either. We grew up playing all sorts of games from tabletop to live-action role playing whether it was singleplayer or multiplayer. Though, our approach to games were quite different: Kyrstin used to rack up hundreds of hours on games, replaying them over and over. Ashley, on the other hand, racked up the same amount of time on games, but over many unfinished files, all of which were used to explore the games in different ways. Despite these differing playstyles, we were both led to the conclusion that the quality of a game’s experience matters more than the act of simply beating it. We both want to find a world to not only immerse ourselves in, but a world where we want to stay.
Ashley spent a lot of time creating games with her brother and friends. This eventually led to her dream of creating a game studio. Kyrstin realized she wanted to become an animator for either an animation studio or a game studio when she was in college. Before settling on a career in art, however, she played around with the idea of becoming an engineer. Despite this, we both applied to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) with traditional art portfolios including drawings, paintings, and photography. Neither of us began learning digital art tools until our classes at MICA.
Though we were both very shy kids, we learned a lot about communication from our contrasting experiences. Kyrstin spent much of her younger years moving and has lived in seven different places. So, while the people around her changed, she met many people from varying backgrounds. Ashley, on the other hand, grew up in one house where, in spite of her shyness, she had a lot of tight-knit and long-lasting friends. We’ve used these experiences to communicate our stories more effectively with others.
Q: What is something valuable you’d like others to know?
A: For anyone working with others: teamwork is everything. When you’re working as a team, you’re working as one. Think of it like you’re one large person who uses different parts of themself to complete different tasks. After all, it’s not like your arms and legs serve the same function—that’s why we have teams, to fill in areas and allow everyone to become their best, most well-rounded selves. Teamwork doesn’t mean that everyone gets a direct reflection of themselves in your work; it means your work is a reflection of the team as a whole.
Communicate with each other. The only way to know if you are all on the same page is by asking. Find out what each other are thinking and what each of your goals are. It’s impossible to align yourselves together through assumptions. Without those conversations, you won’t truly know what everybody else wants, and because of that, you will all draw different conclusions because everyone thinks differently. If you can’t communicate or aren’t on the same page, that will come through in your work.
Q: What does feminism mean to you?
A: Feminism is about respect. It’s about taking each other seriously and offering the same regard to everyone at the table, despite their backgrounds. It’s about lifting each other up so everyone has the opportunity to take a seat at the table in the first place. Sex does not define your abilities, qualities, or achievements. And feminism is providing everyone the opportunity to define those attributes on their own.
Q: This one is for TJ, the composer and sound designer: What do you enjoy about the work you do?
Because of my background, gaming is already a safe place for me, both on the production and consumer sides. Gaming was hugely important to me growing up, and I wish for everyone to be able to have those experiences. I’m really glad to have the opportunity to work on and promote stories written by and for women. Through that work, I hope games become a much more inclusive place for everybody.
Thank you for reading!
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