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11 Nov 2011

Interview with Beth Maher-Inventor of: the Kreayshawn Game

Interview with Beth Maher-Inventor of: the Kreayshawn Game

Pixel pixel, 8 Bit kitties, chiptune music, physics…

Be still my nerdly, gangster heart – This. Fokking. Exists.

You may recall that we’ve got a major love-on for Oakland’s baddest little bitch around these parts. Kreayshawn’s music, Kreayshawn’s steez, Kreayshawn’s endless flow of hilarious Tweets

Some of us (… maybe just me?) are into Kreayshawn on a “I DRESS UP LIKE YOU SOMETIMES!” level – and video games too (Step back, Lana Del Ray, I’m talking about my Xbox).

All of us – and all of you – like finding cool stuff on the Internet, which is why as soon as this Kreayshawn video game hit the web, it blew up.

“Clever, clever…” I thought when I saw the game on Buzzfeed, thinking that it had been commissioned by her label – much like Hannah Montana’s game, or Beyonce’s game, or Michael Jackson’s NES game (which pales in comparison to this one, imho)

But it wasn’t Columbia who produced the game, it was an independent female artist from Toronto (splooge!) named Beth Maher.

How could we NOT try to round this chick up for an interview?

Beth was down to meet up with me at a Starbucks near U of T for a good 71+ minutes according to my tape recorder. We chatted about everything from feminist gaming politics to the under reportage of miscarriages and feline suicide.

As expected, Beth Maher is one bad bad bitch. Peep some excerpts from our conversation to see why we love her so much:

Name: Beth Maher, 29
Occupation: Illustrator, designer, writer, closet rap god (probably).
First computer: A Pentium 2 inherited from her (decidedly futuristic) grandpa in 2001.
Preferred console: “All of them”
Favourite game: Half Life
Cats: 3
Favourite flavor of Lollipop: Surprise apple “when you think it’s lime, but it turns out to be apple and you’re like “SWEET!”

First off – why did you choose to make a video game about Kreayshawn?

I was actually part of a female-focused gaming incubator [The Hand Eye Society’s “Difference Engine Initiative”] and we had a limited period of time. I have another, much bigger idea for a game that I want to do, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t create in 6 weeks.

So I was sitting at a Starbucks and had all of these ideas sort of come to me at once — which was great. One of them was a Game of thrones RPG, done like, Final Fantasy style… Another was Kreayshawn, the game. My husband was like “YOU NEED TO DO THIS.”

Were you a huge fan or something?

Yeah, yeah, I mean – everyone sort of heard that song over the summer, got it stuck in their head and couldn’t get it out for a month. For me, it was during that time and it was a good way for me to get it out. I still listened to that song for another two months without getting sick of it. I still love it. It’s a great pop song.

It must have been such a trip to have Kreayshawn Tweet it!

It was so insane because it happened completely overnight. I don’t even know how she got it in the first place. I went to bed that night and I woke up and all of this craziness is happening – literally overnight.

I’ll bet the Indie gaming community in Toronto is happy for you!

It hasn’t been written about on Joystiq or Kotaku or anything, so I don’t even think they know…

Dude – it’s been in LA Weekly, the AV Club, Fader, the Rolling Stone… that’s huge!

Yeah… my coolest one was Vice… and Spex. It’s a German Pop Culture magazine. I can’t understand anything they’re writing about, but I really respect their graphic design (laughs).

Respect. What was the reaction from Kreayshawn’s camp like?

I talked to her manager – Stretch – and he’s a great guy, a really nice guy. I think we really got eachothers’ authenticity. ‘Cause I wasn’t doing this to benefit off of kreayshawn – I was just doing it for fun because I like her.
It’s on kreayshawn’s website right now so yeah – it’s officially endorsed by her – she loves it, she likes me…

Have you met yet?

Not yet – I feel l like if she ever made it into Toronto we WOULD talk, but she can’t make it into Toronto…

I’ve heard. Ballzzzz. So, aside from everything I learned by creeping your portfolio, I don’t really know a whole lot about Beth Maher. What’s your day job?

Right now, I’m not doing a whole lot because I tend to freelance and I tend to do like 10 billion things at the same time. Last year at this time, I was actually working as a child wrangler on the set of Splatalot! – a children’s reality tv game show… yeah, I get up to too many things.

I think I actually have a list on my Facebook profile *laughs* but, I’ve worked as like, a graphic designer, journalist, and illustrator, and editorial comic, I’ve worked as a Starbucks Barista at one point…

How’d you get into building games?

I’ve always been into board games. I guess In a way I’ve been a game dev my whole life. I used to always make my own board games when I was a kid – even recently. A few years ago I made a board game for my husband for Christmas.

Nice! When I first saw your game, I figured that you played a lot of NES growing up. Am I right?

I was actually a PC gamer… there’s definitely a lot of super Mario inspiration in that game, but that’s because Super Mario was the only game I really ever got to play on the Nintendo. A bigger inspiration for me are the super Mario level design analyses online. That really helped me build the game and think about how to build the levels…

I’m a console person now – I’m not a PC gamer – but growing up, I played the Sierra games and Commander Keen – which is like, a really early 90s side scrolling platformer. Those were my early influences.

What games are you into now?

My favourite game, I like to say is Half-Life – that’s usually the most acceptable, appropriate answer. It’s also a good one to tell dudes because it’s not like I’m saying ‘The Sims’. When I say Half Life they’re like “OH, so you like gaming” – which is kind of a bullshit reaction in a way.

I don’t like the judgment of girls not being gamers just because the games they play might be different than what guys play. Like – you’re still a gamer if you play Bejeweled. But I kind of like Gears of War..

Ohh, a first person shooter girl…

Yeah, I’ve come to really like that stuff. I think I had sort of an inner “Girls don’t play those types of games” thing when I was younger – especially in high school, trying to fit in with other girls… but then in college my husband sat me down and said “you’re an artist – you should be playing these video games. They are art.”

It started out with Grim Fandango by Tim Schafer- super arty game – A Lucas arts game. The art style and the story telling just blew my mind.

So what did you actually use to make the Kreayshawn game?

I used this program called Stencyl – which is kind of a snap together visual editor that makes it easier for people who’ve never programmed before.
I’d done some code writing – like, I make my own Worpdress templates and stuff for when I do my own blogs – I’ve been doing that for a really long time.

What language does Stencyl output to though? Like, how does it work?

It’s these visual code blocks that click together like Lego almost, but inside of those blocks are logic statements. So it puts it into plain language as opposed to code. It outputs to real flash though, so you can go back and edit it if you want…

Sheeeet, sounds complex…

Yeah – There’s far more involved in making a platformer than most people understand. They seem easy when you play them – but when you get down to doing them, there’s so much involved. There’s physics in my platformer – you’ve actually got science to contend with when Kreayshawn is jumping and falling against things.

Are there any secrets in the game? Like hidden invisibility stars or 1-up mushrooms? I love that stuff…

I don’t have any “up up down down left right” sort of things, but there are a few… like an invisible floor in one area that you can walk across and get another lollipop. I built in just a couple things like that, but again – I didn’t have a whole lot of time… but I love little things like that in games, too.

What did you use for the art? The characters and the background?

I actually did most of it on my iPad.

WHAT?

I can show you. I use this program called “Sprite Something”, it’s for pixel art. I cheated on some of my backgrounds though – they’re vector art. I manipulated them so that they look right – and actually, a lot of the Sierra games, their backgrounds aren’t straight pixel art – they are using early graphic design programs to do that – the Street Fighter backround stuff
They’re hand painted, but pixelated = and that’s a little bit of my inspiration for the backgrounds.

Fair enough. I love that Kreayshawn turns into a kitty when she dies. Why?

I was playing around in Sprite Something when I first got it, and I started making my cats. When needed a death animation for Kreayshawn I was trying to think of what would work… And I was like “well I’ve already got this art of the cats I did that I wasted my time on, and I’ve only got a limited time to do
this and Kreayshawn loves cats so…”

So that’s actually your cat?

Yeah (laughs) – I don’t know what her cats look like – I know she has them, it’s what she named her mixtape after.

Your cats are internet famous now.

Well my cat Maeby (as in Maeby Funke) was already a LOLcat. Semi-famous. Somebody found a flickr picture of her and submitted it to iCanHazCheezburger during their first year.

Holy crap. You’re a real OG internet person.

Kind of. I’ve had a blog for 7 years – I had a diaryland (sort of a proto-livejournal) and all kinds of stuff before that. I’ve been around for a really long time – I just never made a big deal about myself. I was never pursuing going viral or anything – I was just doing my own thing for my own reasons. And that’s what the game was – I was just doing it to make my friends laugh pretty much.

Have any artists or companies come at you looking for something like this yet?

… At one point, Complex magazine was talking to me a little bit about doing something for their cover artists – I think it was just sort of testing the waters.

I might do it for Complex because I really like the people they have on their covers. Kanye, Nicki Minaj, Amy Sedaris, Seth Rogen… I would do games for any of those people.

I really feel like I’m an artist first and I want to be doing things that I want to be doing and I have to be inspired to do them first.

I had some guy approach me – Some other Oakland rapper funny enough – and he was like “MAKE ME THIS GAME, JUST REPLACE THE CHARACTERS” and I was like “no!”

Ideally, if you could give any other artist the game-treament who would that be?

I don’t know… I had this idea recently do to a Kanye game based on 808s and heartbreaks somehow, cause I love the art of that album. That colour scheme… him in the sort of Miami vice sort of white suit. I just think that would really lend itself well to a little pixel art guy. I don’t entirely know what the plot of that game would be. I just focus on the visuals first.

What has the virality of this video game taught you, if anything?

Well, One of the things I learned from working on Splatalot last year with 11-15 year olds was that… I thought I was okay going into that. I knew what Twilight was, I listened to Beyonce – I thought “I’m pretty hip, I’m pretty with it… I may be almost 30 but whatever – I can converse, I can have a conversation on these kids’ levels. But when I got there, no – I couldn’t. And it’s not because I wasn’t hip to the things that they were hip to – it’s that they aren’t’ doing those things anymore. They aren’t reading books, they aren’t watching movies, they aren’t even really listening to music or the radio. They’re not watching TV – a lot of them aren’t even playing games on consoles.

They’re on the Internet 24/7 and they’re on YouTube most of the time. They know who all of the celebrities are on YouTube, so they know who Kreayshawn is, but they don’t know Ben Stiller!

Like, Rolling Stone wrote about my game and it only brought me a few thousand hits. Kreayshawn reTumbled it and it gave me thousands upon thousands.

Kids these days… Last question: Some people have criticized Kreayshawn as a “flash in the pan”? – what’s your take on that?

It’s early to say that!

I will say that I don’t think Columbia Records would have signed her if they thought that was true. Columbia Records isn’t a place to shove people who’ve had one pop single.

I mean, they represent Beyonce and Barbara Streisand. Of Sony Recrods individual labels, it’s sort of their Tiffany one. And they’re promoting her really really hard, too… I hope not too hard so that she gets overplayed.

C’est ne pas possible! Kreayshawn Forever.

Hollah. (Author’s note: Beth didn’t actually say “Hollah”, but isn’t that nice way to end this interview?)

Words + Photos by Lauren O’Nizzle

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