Game On: Q&A with Shannon Jahnel Lanktree
As a collective, we’re fortunate that we can be really flexible in how we work. This advantage allows us to keep developing our craft no matter what the circumstance, as the creative industry requires both relentless passion and initiative.
After several months of exploring Europe, Shannon found herself locked down in Portugal as the COVID pandemic swept across the world. Shannon used the pause in her adventures to explore an avenue of her practice that she’s always wanted to pursue – making her own games. From scratch.
Q: What made you decide to create games?
Shannon: Sam and I both love playing games and we had been wanting to make one for a really really long time. It seemed easier than ever for indie artists and developers to create their own games but the fact that we didn’t know how to code at all seemed like a big hurdle to overcome. There are tools out there to help you create games visually but it seemed like having a basic coding knowledge was still helpful. It was something we wanted to explore and learn anyway, thinking that it would be useful for other projects.
During the lockdown, a lot of people were hosting and participating in game jams. We found one which didn’t have too many people participating and had a pretty long deadline, so we thought “let’s just join in and try it”. We didn’t even expect to be able to finish the project to be honest. We just wanted to give it a go.
Q: As creatives, we often are inspired by the environment around us. How were you able to find inspiration for your games while being in lockdown?
Shannon: There were a few places we drew inspiration from. Since we play a lot of games, we already had a pool of inspiration to draw ideas from. But the internet was also our best friend. Luckily we had good wifi during the lockdown so we were able to search a lot of things online. Our ideas for the game mechanics had to be kept very simple due to our limited knowledge of making games, so we often came up with those on our own (haha usually in the shower!), but other games, videos, images, etc… also influenced this as well as our art styles.
Q: What was the most important thing you learnt from this process?
Shannon: There were quite a few things… The first and most important thing was to overcome the fear of failure. Learning to just give it a go. We also learned to try to keep ideas simple and achievable since time constraints were often very tight for the jams. Google and YouTube are your best friends when you’re learning to code. And last but not least, sleeping is not something you do during a game jam.
Q: What do you enjoy the most in making games?
Shannon: The whole process is super fun, from coming up with ideas, storyboarding, sketching, illustrating and animating, but the best part is seeing the game start to work. Like, even when you’re working with developer art, being able to make a little cube move left, right and jump is super satisfying!!
Q: Where there any happy accidents?
Shannon: I think that because the time constraints were so tight, every game was a sort of happy accident. With Quiet Space for example we struggled with the idea for ages, we almost gave up, but when we finally came up with one and rolled with it, we loved it. A lot of the art for most games was also really under-developed, because we didn’t have time to play around with concept. The first character designs for Pikwip were also the final ones. They might be wonky and the colours might need tweaking, but this also gives the characters charm, which players responded to really well.
Q How are you handling your ‘imposter syndrome’?
Shannon: Hahaha for every little game we publish I try to emphasise the fact that we are are definitely not professional game developers, that we’re just two artists learning how to make games for fun. A lot of times I don’t even understand why a line of code is working. But that’s why we try to push the artistic side of games a lot. We actually had a 12 year old kid message to say that they’re a new game dev and that our game Pikwip was a real inspiration for them, so even if we don’t really know what we’re doing, it’s nice to know we can inspire others to have a go as well.
Q: So, what’s next?
Shannon: We want to continue making games!! And we also want to continue developing the ones we’ve published. Some of them have bugs and others, like Pikwip, have been really well received, so we want to expand it into a bigger game. It’s a bit harder to set time aside now that there’s no lockdown, so we have to be a bit more disciplined… If the next game jam presents the opportunity, we’d like to create a game that’s playable on mobile, so as to help in our long term goal of making a game and putting it up on the App Store.
If you want to have a go at playing Shannon & Sam’s games, check-out CookieCrayon at itch.io.
To view more of Shannon’s commercial work, check-out her portfolio here.