Alumni Interview: Game Designer Lauren Ellis

by Sessions Staff | August 28, 2012

Sessions College alumni Lauren Ellis graduated with a graphic design and business marketing certificate in 2009. Lauren went on to apply her design and business talents in the most creative way possible. Laura started up her own video game company Ignis Studios with her husband and brother. Unafraid of multitasking, Lauren describes her current role at Ignis as CEO, Art Director, Project Manager, Interface Designer, and Web designer. The company is currently fundraising for an exciting new monster-catching game called Deozoa: Legends of Eden. We caught up with Lauren to find out about her exciting new career.

Q: Since graduating, you worked as a creative director for a couple of companies before launching your own game company. What inspired you to make the leap to game development and founding your own business?

It honestly started as a “what if?” discussion with my husband and brother. When I was a little kid, I was always drawing monsters, making my own trading cards, and making up my own little worlds for them to live in. I imagine every child who grew up with Pokemon, Digimon, and Monster Rancher did the same. So my husband, my brother, and I were talking about what we would love to see in a game. It took us a full year before we made anything official.

At the beginning of 2012, we saw a market opening and really started to take the project more seriously. So last February I cut my Web design work dramatically to work full time on building the game. I have always loved the idea of running my own business and being creative, so branching into the game industry was not too far a stretch for me.

Q: Developing your first game, Deozoa, is clearly your 100% focus right now. Can you briefly describe the game, explain how concept came about?

Deozoa: Legends of Eden is a monster catching RPG for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, and Ouya.

We really wanted to create a fresh experience, so we spent a lot of time brainstorming what we would love to play. We discussed what we liked and disliked about other games we had played. So after pages and pages of notes and sketches, we started to put together a formula that we think people will really enjoy.

Q: The game is a “monster-catching RPG” or role-playing game. Can you explain what that is and how your game will be different from others in the genre?

Most monster catching and fighting games feature a one-on-one monster battle where you send your monster out to fight under your guidance. We thought it was more interesting to manage a small team of humans and monsters that fight together on a large battlefield against multiple enemies. We liked this because it reinforced the idea of teamwork, not only between people, but between you and your own monster.

Much like Pokemon, the monsters will grow into more mature adult stages. But the human characters on your team will also upgrade their classes, so you can get stronger together.

Q: Your game design calls for traditional frame-animated characters. Why is that important to you?

Early on, we teamed up with a classmate of Truman’s (my husband) who has a film and animation background. We discussed the options and we all concluded that traditional animation would look the most natural for the various creatures in Deozoa. Although Flash-type animation is great, traditional animation has a real soul to it. We really wanted to not just create a good game, but a great piece of art.

Q: As a trained art director, what role(s) do you play in creating the visual identity of the company and the game?

My title is art director, but I guess you could say I direct a lot more than that at the end of the day. I currently oversee three artists, work with one writer, and manage the marketing and business side of things. In short, how the game looks, feels, and sounds is under my direction.

With the help of my brother, we try to create the environment, characters, and story in a fresh way. I then relay that to our artists and help direct them on their art toward what we envision. I also draw all the concepts for the monsters that Howard, my lead artist, finalizes. As the art director, I also design the user interface and make sure it is intuitive and beautiful.

Q: We really liked your Ignis Studios branding and Web site. How did the branding evolve? How does designing your own brand compare to designing for others?

Thanks! From the start, our goal of our company has been to provide positive, uplifting games in the gaming industry. We really liked the idea of that positivity spreading like fire, so we found the word “ignis,” which is Latin for fire. It took us a long time to settle on the name, but once we did, everything else fell into place really smoothly.

It has been really fun brainstorming and creating my own unique branding rather than trying to fit into someone else’s vision. I love having a vision that I am passionate about and I work hard to convey that through our logo, website, and game. Designing for clients is great, but designing for myself gives me so much more satisfaction.

Q: You are using a creative funding method to create the animation and programming for game, by using Kickstarter to raise funds to animate of hundreds of characters. Can you explain how the fundraising and subsequent development process will work?

Kickstarter is awesome. It is a crowdfunding website that connects you to people with a similar passion and allows you to build the project together. If we hit our goal, we will be able to immediately hire our artists to begin developing the hundreds of characters and dozens of backgrounds that we need. We estimate the development process will take 8 to 12 months (since some of our artists are finishing college).

Q: You’ve taken on many roles in your company’s startup phase—not just artistic, but also business management. Do you view art and business as equally important?

I do think they are equally important and equally creative. No matter how good the product is, if you don’t have the business wherewithal to manage it, you won’t go very far. At the same time, people love beautiful games, engaging stories, and an intelligent interface, so it is important for us to not get too lost pursuing one over the other.

Running a business and managing the art are very creative in different ways. With a business, you need to be wise with marketing, budgeting, and managing employees. I am so thankful for my work because I really enjoy managing both aspects. If I’m burnt out on one thing, I can always work on the other.

Q: If Deozoa is a highly successful game, where would you like to see Ignis Studios in 3-5 years time?

Right now we are a home based business, so I would love to get a studio in downtown Austin. We also have a couple of Deozoa sequels brewing as well as a few completely unique titles. So in five years, I would love to develop at least three to five games and be successful enough to keep myself and our employees on a salary.

Q: Any advice for aspiring creatives contemplating an education—or a career—in digital media?

I would say develop a diverse set of skills in both design and small business management. Learn the necessary skills and the tools you need to be able to work in the fast-paced design industry. Your art education will strengthen your portfolio, build confidence, and increase your likelihood of being hired.

If you ever want to run your own business or freelance, it is important to be able to put together a website, media package, and business cards. Learn accounting, budgeting, and basic business planning. Learn how to write cohesively and communicate well with your clients. One of the best ways to keep clients is to respond quickly, even if it is just an acknowledgement that you got their email. Also, put together a great portfolio and don’t be afraid to go out and get clients!

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Sessions Staff is a restless soul who loves to share Campus News stories with current and prospective students.