Life may not be all fun and games for alumna Colleen Fannin, but some of it is.
Not many people can say they have a video game character named after them, but Colleen, who graduated with her bachelor’s in Game Design and Development in 2015, can – and she even voiced the character.
Colleen’s title is Game Designer, but that doesn’t illustrate the many facets of her role. Over the years she’s been a level designer, script writer, lead game designer, producer and, of course, voice actress (at the 10:05 mark) for River City Girls 2, which may be her favorite one yet. The game continues the story of River City Girls and is a “beat-’em-up” adventure game, with its main characters taking on gang members throughout various locations in their city.
“As far as past projects, I really enjoyed River City Girls 2 and being able to cameo as a shopkeeper in it,” Colleen reflected. “There was a lot of hats that I was wearing on that project, but there was also a lot of heart that everybody poured into it. Everyone really cared about it, and in addition to producing it, I also got to have some design input as well. People even message me and say ‘I just got to this part in the game and I can tell that you were involved in that.’”
Colleen knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the gaming industry.
“When I was in fifth grade, my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told them that I wanted to be an author, to which they said that I should have a backup plan,” Colleen laughed. ”So then I thought, ‘I like video games, so video game designer.’ Then I just kind of stuck with that, and I lived in Colorado Springs most of my life and I found out that UCCS had a game design and development program and thought that was perfect.”
“As a kid, the term game designer to me meant that you’re making video games, and I know now that the term I was thinking of was game developer,” Colleen added. “I knew that I wanted to be on the development side of things, but I didn’t know anything about the industry because I was so young. Then the older I got, the more I thought that I was going to be in the art side of things because I’ve always been an artist and been really into 2D art. When I was actually in the Game Development and Design program, it was heavily geared towards programming and design and whenever there were group projects, I did the art.”
Colleen currently does game design at FarBridge, a company that prides itself on “using technology to create meaningful connections between people and fantastic worlds – from creating interactive event installations to crafting the next chapters of beloved franchises” and who has collaborated with Electronic Arts (EA), NBCUniversal, Oculus and more. Colleen’s days usually start with check ins and task management, seeing what needs to be done or what’s been updated, before splitting her time between paper design and hands-on scripting.
“Paper design refers to documentation that is turned into actionable work for other disciplines,” explained Colleen. “For game design documentation, it’s the ideas that then become the roadmap for the rest of the disciplines. Say somebody needs a car and if you’re doing the paper design for it, you write down ‘we’re going to have a car and it’s going to be red, and we think that it should be like this big.’ But make sure that you expose other variables, like the speed, to the designer so they can tinker with those. All that needs to be written down and considered. What kind of car? Can it transform? Can it fly, too?”
After paper design and some prep from engineering, designers can begin scripting, which is when the game really begins to come to life.
“Scripting is programming that’s been made nice for designers,” Colleen said. “Once paper design has been done to the point where tech can really take it and create stuff with it, they give you these little nodes that perform functions, and it’s like a little flowchart. For example, if this player interacts with this NPC, then it’ll make them say this dialogue, and then they can go into the shop node, which is what the programmer made. Designers set that up so that programmers can focus on making systems, and we take care of the story and decision elements.”
Out of the many aspects of Colleen’s work, one of her favorites is the feedback from players and fans.
“I love getting to hear and see people’s reactions to the stuff that I make, especially playtesting feedback for when people play the material I’ve created,” said Colleen. “I’ve always found that player response is really fulfilling, because you have your intention, and they might interpret it completely differently. It might land exactly how you expected it to or might not, and it’s really cool to see that push and pull between designer and player.”
Gaming is also a significant part of Colleen’s life outside of work, as she enjoys board and tabletop gaming alongside video games. She also likes to read and is a member of her local library book club, along with spending time with friends, many of whom were made while earning her degree.
“I met my lifelong friends at UCCS,” said Colleen. “I really found my people there, and my time in the game development program changed me as a person so much for the better. Every time I think about it, it is with the utmost fondness. College was one of the best times of my life, and my friends and I spent many hours holed up in Library Room 303.”
For those looking to work in the gaming industry as well, Colleen has three words. Or one word, but important enough to mention three times.
“Network, network, network,” she emphasized. “It will help your chances of getting a foot in the door. Look for Discord groups, keep making stuff to build your portfolio and keep making games in your own time.”
Colleen also noted the importance of prioritizing one’s self, especially in a field where so many bring passion to their work.
“The more you care about something, the harder it is to distance yourself from it, and it’s really common to see people burn out in a job with that passion. Try to separate your personal space from your workspace and have a screen or a computer that’s just for work. Make sure to prioritize yourself.”
About the UCCS College of Engineering and Applied Science
The College of Engineering and Applied Science enrolls more than 1,700 students and offers 23 engineering and computer science degrees, ranging from bachelor to doctoral. The college is a Department of Homeland Security / National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense and works closely with the National Cybersecurity Center and with more than 250 aerospace and defense, information technology, cybersecurity and engineering organizations in the Pikes Peak region. Learn more about the College of Engineering and Applied Science at UCCS.