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Team Spotlight: Priscilla Firstenberg, Creative Director

Hello! My name is Priscilla Firstenberg, aka Pri. I am the co-owner and art director of Pie Trap Studios along side my partner, Chris Whitaker; and I am the creative director of Forage Friends!

An Artist Background

I was known as the art-kid during my childhood and graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle in 2006. After graduating from art school, I jumped into the game industry right away with a focus on illustration.

In 2010, I switched focus to 3D modeling and became an environment artist at Arenanet, working on the mmorpg title Guild Wars 2. Because of my skillsets utilizing both 2D and 3D, I’ve worked primarily as a generalist for several studios. I’ve been in the industry for almost 18 years, and have worked at several different studios, worked on a couple dozen games, got to work on several different platforms, such as pc, mobile and VR, and now I have my very own studio!

Creating Pie Trap Studios

I met my partner, Chris, while we were working at 5th Cell, the studio known for their titles such as Drawn to Life and Scribblenauts. We had planned to make our own games together and found having a fulltime job and trying to do a game during your free-time was nearly impossible. So, we strategized on how to set off on our own and form Pie Trap Studios! Pie Trap was created in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. Fortunately, we were welcomed with a lot of supportive friends in the gaming community and we’ve been able to finance ourselves and our game through doing consulting work with other studios. With that, we’ve been able to build a team to create Forage Friends, which we are truly excited for!

Interview Questions:

What is the best part of working as a Creative Director?

I’ve worked in the frontline and the trenches of game development for nearly all of my career as an artist. I also love games and have my own ideas I wish I could bring to life. I wanted more contribution to a project than just my labor. It’s hard, particularly as an artist, to fully express yourself in your work when you work under a lot of guidelines set by others, whether it’s upper management, publishers or financers, or even just trying to follow the market trends. Being a Creative Director has allowed me to voice my ideas freely and have a productive conversation with other team members on how to grow those ideas into something even better. It’s quite exhilarating!

What are some of the tough things about working as a Creative Director?

Oh gosh! So much! Being responsible for all successes and all failures. Making sure everyone has your ear, and that you’re doing everything you can to make sure everyone has what they need to do their job. Making a game, particularly one you either haven’t made yourself before, or that might even be original that no one has made before.. You will not have all the answers, but everyone will be looking for you to have them anyway. It is a lot of pressure, and time is money. Every delay has consequences and cascading effects. Creating a project with a team isn’t about placing the right skill sets in the right categories either. You have to make sure your team is mentally and emotionally healthy. No matter how much you plan, every week is unpredictable and you have to be on your toes to make sure the production train is always on course.

Are there individuals that have motivated or inspired you?

Oh yes! Artistically, I’ve been a huge fan of Jen Zhee from SuperGiant. Her art direction and work is flawless and inspiring. As far as management goes, Cara Ely was always a role model for me. Cara was the first producer I’ve ever worked with at the start of my career. She was a very strong woman in a man’s world and worked hard to get to where she is, as well as elevating others who showed potential. She made sure everyone had what they needed to get work done. She would even go out and buy me lunch whenever I was hungry, haha.

She was protective of the other couple women in our office from being taken advantage of and she had great ideas and made sure they were heard. Those ideas ended up being blockbuster hits for every company she’s worked at and people learned quickly that when she speaks, you listen.

I watched her grow from producer to Creative Director quickly and it was incredible to see. She worked at the Creative Director for I-play, Zynga, PopCap Games and was the Vice President of King.

What games are an inspiration to you?

Oddly, I loved a lot of games that were not main stream. I loved Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, Twinsen’s Odyssey, Black & White 2, Overlord, Fable and Folklore.

What was the inspiration that got you into games?

I actually wanted to be an artist and it didn’t really register for me that I could work in games until halfway through college. Being in the Seattle area, which is a big gaming hub for the industry, a lot of the graduates were getting jobs there so the curriculum was skewed with the idea that graduates would be in the gaming industry. I just went with the flow, to be honest. I felt it worked out since video games and art were my main 2 hobbies anyway.

What’s your favorite part of working in the gaming industry?

The culture. I’ve met great people working in the industry. My chosen family, you could say. I was a weird kid growing up and now I feel normal hanging out with like-minded people. I just personally feel at-home.

What do you wish games had more of (content-wise)?

Might sound specific, but I wish there were more co-op games that were third person. I’m not a competitive player, so I prefer fun co-op games I could play with my partner or friends. Also, I get motion sickness with FP cameras. I also am not a huge open-world fan and prefer well-tailored level design over procedural. Throwing this out there.. But some magical-girl games would be awesome as well, haha. Give me a Sailor Moon action RPG please!

What would you change in the gaming industry to make it better?

In-house mental health professional, massage therapist and occupational therapist on staff!

Game developers eat through their supply of mental stability and physical stamina so quickly because their passion is always questioned when it comes to unreasonable deadlines that they didn’t even create for themselves.

Another one is a much deeper topic, but to keep it simple, a better production structure and delivery expectations that allow workers to maintain a reasonable work-life-balance.

What is the dream game you hope to work on one day?

Probably an RPG based off of some of my favorite fantasy novel IPs that haven’t been tapped into yet.

What was a really tough challenge for you when working on Forage Friends?

My role is to have all the answers for the team, even if I don’t have all the answers. The challenge is making sure everyone knows what their goals are and that they have everything they need to accomplish those goals. Making sure that the schedule is always being met, and that no one is being overworked. On top of that, my partner and I got a puppy! So raising a little spit-fire of a dog has been a challenge while being available for everyone on the team. They’ve been great and understanding though. Couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to be working with us.

What was something you’re really proud of when working on Forage Friends?

At Pie Trap, we really want to make sure that some sort of real-world positive impact is being applied to the games that we release. We truly feel like Forage Friends is the first step to helping people, and that it is the first of many other games that do just that.

What kind of impact are you hoping to make with the release of Forage Friends?

We hope that Forage Friends can use the psychology of habit building to improve people’s behaviors in forming healthy and helpful daily routines.

What is your favorite part of developing for Forage Friends that is in another department?

It’s hard to say. I’ve been excited for all departments! I love the way the art is turning out with our illustrators on the team. I’m getting truly invested with all the characters we’ve created with the stories our narrative team has written for them. And our programmer has really made the game come to life, having it all get pulled together in an actual comprehensive product!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Currently, training our little Finnish Lapphund puppy, Mocha! But besides that, I love to play video games and board games. I love cooking new recipes and love watching anime, Critical Role or Scary Game Squad on youtube.

What is an interesting fact about you?

  • I am half Filipino and half White.

  • I use to table at artist alley for different conventions, but stopped when Covid happened.

  • I took Japanese for 5 years and stopped. Don’t remember any of it now. Haha.

  • A few of the games I’ve made in the past have easter eggs of me. Either my name is in a level or there’s a photo of me as a character somewhere.

  • My face was scanned to be used for State of Decay 2, but I have no idea if they used it.

What is something you love that not a lot of people know about, in general?

The game Folklore for PS3. Besides my partner, I don’t know anyone else that has heard of it, let alone played it.

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