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Saucy Saturdays: Amy Hennig, Creative Director at Naughty Dog

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AmyheaderHennig

This week on Saucy Saturdays we’re going to take a look at one of the most influential women in the game industry. Can you guess who it is? Can you even name three female game designers? If you can, I’m impressed, but my guess is most of you can’t. There are a lot of reasons for that, one of the biggest being that there aren’t many women in the industry to begin with. 

One of the goals for Saucy Saturday is to bring these women pioneers to light, to show you that women can be creative, they can handle themselves in the industry, and they can be badass. You probably aren’t aware that some of the most popular games on the market only exist because women helped create them. So today, our honorary Lady Designer of the Month is Amy Hennig: writer and director for some of the most successful Naughty Dog games.

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Hennig is currently the creative director for Naughty Dog, the developer behind Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Uncharted. According to the LA Times, she’s responsible for “all creative decisions, including writing, casting and design” at Naughty Dog. Just in case you didn’t catch that: she’s a big effing deal. She’s also the head writer and creative director for the Uncharted series, which just released its wildly popular third installment.

Hennig notes that one of the most influential years of her life was 1977, when three events rocked the cultural world: the release of the Atari 2600, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and Dungeons & Dragons. The LA Times writes:

The Atari 2600 started the home video game revolution, ‘Star Wars’ transformed what was possible in entertainment, and Dungeons & Dragons opened up the idea that stories can be told by those who take part in them, a key tenet of video game design.

The article quotes Hennig as saying, “Our brains were never the same after that.”

In 1989, Hennig got a freelance job as an artist for the Atari 7800 game Electro Cop, which ended up never seeing the light of day. In 1991, she started working for Electronic Arts, and in 1993 she got her big break when she was named lead designer of the SNES title Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City. In an interview with Game Informer, she says that from there she went to Crystal Dynamics in 1995 and:

…was the design manager on the first Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain game, as well as some other titles like 3D Baseball and Blazing Dragons. And then I went back to being a director on a single project after being there for a year, took over the Legacy of Kain franchise. Soul Reaver was the first game that I worked on after Blood Omen. I did that for eight years, and then came here in 2003.

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Although often asked about sexism in the male-dominated gaming industry, she says she hasn’t really had an issue. However, when working on Uncharted 2 (in which she co-led a team of 150 people), she says, “There was an issue with breast size sometimes. I would say to the modelers, ‘Let’s take it down. How about a C [cup]?’” One of her most poignant notes on gender, however, comes from her response to a question about writing male characters as a female:

I don’t think it’s any different, honestly. Actually, it’s funny, because people sometimes say, oh, you write good female characters. You just write people, honestly. It’s not any different. I think that if you’re over-focused on the gender, you’re probably writing a pretty one-dimensional character. Gender’s not that huge of a component of personality, I don’t think. At the end of the day, I think our humanity is the bigger component. I try to just write everybody like…genderless in some ways. Which I think is what makes them interesting.

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In addition to being named one of the 100 most influential women in the game industry by Edge magazine, she also won a Writers Guild of America award for her work on Uncharted 2. Uncharted 2 also received 15 nominations at the 13th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards and won ten, including Game of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction.

Uncharted 3 is also well on its way to being as impressive and impressively recognized as its prequel. According to Wikipedia, it has “92% on both review aggregate websites Metacritic and GameRankings, making it one of the most critically acclaimed video games of 2011 for the PlayStation 3 on both websites.” It was also nominated for Game of the Year, Best PS3 Game, Best Action Adventure Game, and got two slots in Best Performance by a Human Female, as well as 5 other categories, at the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards. It came away with the awards for Best Graphics and Best PS3 Game.Image4

When asked by G4 what her philosophy is for bringing the characters of Uncharted to life, she responded:

Well, our overarching philosophy has always been to create a story-driven game, and tell a character-driven story. This principle would be common sense in any other medium, but in games we’ve frequently told plot-driven stories, with character as an afterthought. We’ve often said that we’re trying to engage the player in three different ways: guts, head, and heart. Especially in the pulp action/adventure genre, the experience needs to be somewhat visceral – that’s where the gunplay, two-fisted combat, and big action set-pieces come in. But we also want the player to think – which is why the catalyst for our stories is always some sort of historical mystery. And most of all we want to engage the player emotionally, and that’s where the characters come in. All the epic spectacle in the world doesn’t matter, if you don’t care about the characters.

An accomplished and amazing writer/director of one of the top games of the year, at one of the top companies in the industry, Amy Hennig isn’t just an incredible woman in gaming, she’s just plain incredible. Her credits would be impressive for anybody of any gender. So yeah, she’s being featured in Saucy Saturday because she’s a lady, but she’s an awesome force for gaming in general, and deserves recognition beyond the fact that she’s a woman.

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