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Paloma Dawkins Is Helping Keep Games Weird

Paloma Dawkins is a relative newcomer to the world of game development, but her dreamy visuals and unique approach to game design make her one of the most exciting voices in games right now. Coming from the world of animation, her foray into game development happened by almost by accident as result of her quest for hands on education.

“I went to Sheridan college for a year,” she says, “then I went to NSCAD for a year. I always picked my classes based on how cool the professor was or the most advanced class I could weasel my way into. It got to a point where my degree was a huge mess so I just gave up and started doing workshops and classes outside of school instead.”

“During my workshop hunting phase, I came across something called the Artsy Game Incubator for Animators organized by the Hand Eye Society. I applied and got in, and at the end of my incubation I layed an egg called Dream Warrior. I got really excited because RockLeeSmile from Indie Impressions covered it in a video, and I also showed it at an MRGS meetup in Montreal and people really liked it.”

“Then I started developing Gardenarium for Beakerhead in Calgary with Brendan Matkin, a friend from the NFB. I was dogsitting during this time, and I spent all day drawing Summerland (graphic novel) and all night coding Gardenarium. It was a really productive time, but I didn’t finish the game until I joined forces with KO_OP and worked with Kyler Kelly, who is also a friend from the NFB (National Film Board of Canada).”

The game itself was inspired by linking perspective to gameplay. “I wanted to make a game with top down isometric view where you play a simple mini game,” she says, “which turns into a first person explore game when you change the perspective. The mechanic was super inspiring and I enjoyed exploring the artistic possibilities. I made plans for all types of gardens, like a fire garden, a water garden, etc. But the only garden I had time for was the cloud garden.”

“The game was originally made for an event where the game would be played from inside a car that had a pop dispenser installed, hence the pop cans. The entire time I was making art for Gardenarium, I was listening to an audio book of Kafka’s ‘The Castle’ and I thought the plot could work well as an anti video game; like a game with no goal.  So I picked a few characters (Frieda, the Teacher, Barnabas, Sortini, Amalia, K, Klamm) and merged them with some character sketches I had in my sketchbook and I made up some elaborate story to tie it all together and voila.”

And although only one garden made it into the released version of Gardenarium, Dawkins dreams of returning to the world in future games. “I’d really like to expand on the Gardenarium universe and work on making the other Gardens I designed,” she says. “I think there is a lot more I can do with the mechanic and I’d love to explore the characters more. It’s a long term goal of mine, there are 6 gardens in total I have to make. I’ve also been working on a Vive game for the NFB that is pretty much the dreamiest project ever.”

As for future collaborations, for Dawkins it really depends on the right mix of people. “I really like to work with other people,” she says, “but I won’t stay in a collaboration that doesn’t inspire me. I am a finicky plant and I need all sorts of conditions to be just right.”

With regards to what she’s playing right now, “I don’t play a lot of games anymore,” she says, “just weird art games I come across on the net and meditative games like Hexic. I used to play The Sims 2, Psychonauts, JSRF, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Pokemon, Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing.”

Mariko McDonald
Mariko McDonald is a freelance writer and blogger based in Montreal, Canada. She likes writing about video games, playing co-op games (badly) with her husband and obsessing over her cats. Follow her on Twitter.
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Mariko McDonald
Mariko McDonald is a freelance writer and blogger based in Montreal, Canada. She likes writing about video games, playing co-op games (badly) with her husband and obsessing over her cats. Follow her on Twitter.

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