Jenna Fearon Interview: Path of The Craft

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After reviewing Duke Nukem: Time to Kill a while back I got some nice comments about the article on Twitter from several new fans, and somehow attracted someone who had worked on the title. Jenna Fearon has worked in the industry for quite a while and has done visual and audio production for a number of varying games. In her own words, she lives in a spaceship and really likes sandwiches and stuff, but I knew there was more to be found out and was grateful for the chance of an  interview and ask about her journey in the industry.

Victory Point: What games did you play as a kid? How did these inspire you?

Jenna Fearon: I’d to go to arcades all the time early on. It was usually the lesser played games that would get my quarters, because the more popular games had lines to play. My favorite games from the arcade days were Galaga, Centipede, Tempest, Xevious, Star Castle, Star Wars, stuff like that.

We also had an Atari 2600 at home so I got to play the more popular arcade games like Pac Man, Donkey Kong, etc. on that. My favorite game on Atari was probably Asteroids, followed by Defender. I used to sit backwards, super close to the TV, with my head upside down, and play Asteroids that way. Why? I have no idea. My sisters thought it was funny, though.

I bought a computer when I was about 12 or 13, and got really into adventure games. Text adventures (Infocom, etc.) mainly to start, and then graphic adventures when those started coming out. I’d also write my own games back then, mostly adventure games.

Later on when NES came out, a game that totally inspired me was Dragon Warrior (and its sequels). More adventure, but wow, it was unreal. I devoured those games. It’s adventure games that were my greatest inspiration. To have a whole world to explore, in a computer. That really did it for me.

Jenna Fearon Picture

VP: How did you get in the business?

JF: I’d grown up working as an artist for my Dad’s company (sign shop, auto painting, airbrush, etc.) so art was really my thing back then. Eventually I ended up at an apparel company that made shirts for NFL teams and a lot of sports related stuff like that. I was designing shirts using airbrush art.

In the mean time, at home, I’d been working in 3D on my Amiga, and was a member of some of the demo teams back then as an artist and musician (tracker). One day I thought about maybe designing a shirt in 3D, instead of on paper with airbrush. I made a 3D space ship that was basically a giant Pepsi can, printed it out, and brought it to work to pitch to them the idea of using 3D to design some shirts.  From there, and with a lot of help from other team members, we started a whole division and eventually switched over to designing exclusively in digital.

After a couple of years there, a good friend of mine told me that a friend of his was starting a video game company and might be looking for people. I gave them a call and set up an interview. The company was called Tiburon Entertainment. When I went in, it was this little tiny office in a little complex. There were only a few people working, and they really hadn’t even officially started up yet. I interviewed with John Schappert and Jason Andersen and got an offer to be on the team. I was the first artist hired aside from the Art Director. And that was that. For about six months I was driving two hours each way back and forth to Orlando (from Tampa) until I finally moved there. It was a cool job!

VP: How did you learn your artistic and audio skills? What advice would you give for those who want to get better at these things?

JF: My father was really artistic and creative so I grew up in that sort of atmosphere. The guy that trained me to do airbrush, Monty Gibson, was a great teacher and made me really work for it. I’d have to do days and days of just painting circles or lines all day before I was “allowed” to move forward. It was hell at the time and I hated it, but it worked.

As far as music and audio, my Dad was also very much into radio, and had gone to broadcasting school when he was younger. He wanted to be a DJ and although he never ended up doing it, he still very much has that kind of personality. Several family members on his side were radio DJs and in the entertainment industry. My parents loved music and we had music night every weekend where we’d all sit around as a family listening to records, dancing, and singing. So my sisters and I were really exposed to a lot of music growing up. I got into some bands when I was a teenager and haven’t stopped loving and playing music since.

If you’re interested in getting better at music or art or really anything creative, you should seriously immerse yourself in it. Surround yourself with inspiration. Make sure to go see art or see bands play. And just do it. Every day that you’re not drawing or writing or making music or whatever it is that you want to do, is another day gone. How you spend your days is how you spend your life.

VP: You’ve developed for numerous consoles, what is it like learning how to create a game to run on different hardware? What was your favorite system to work with?

JF: The early days with sprite art on SNES and Genesis were really eye opening. I’d come from doing pretty much whatever in digital art to being very restricted technically. Limitations on color and pixel count was interesting to get used to, and doing tiling sprites was really challenging. It was fun, though. Challenge is fun.

When 32 bit and 3D started to hit, with the 32X and Playstation; wow, that was a whole new world. I went from working on sprites in Deluxe Paint to creating pre-rendered cinematics in 3D Studio. That was a major change. It was pretty much overnight that games went from being focused on great sprite work, platforming, etc. to being totally 3D with open environments and just a whole new way of working on things.

My favorite system to work with was probably the N64. It was fun to use, plus I got to do my work for it on an SGI computer which I’d always dreamed of using. I was at Boss Game Studios and it was a great place to work, so I think that also colors my memories of that time. SNES is probably my favorite system as far as game playing goes, but N64 definitely holds a special place in my heart.

Jenna Fearon Time to Kill Disc

VP: What can you tell me about Duke Nukem: Time to Kill’s development? Any interesting stories, changes, or tidbits in the lifespan of the game?

JF: I was working at N-Space and we’d just finished up ‘Bug Riders‘ for Playstation. I’d been a big fan of Duke Nukem 3D and started to hear rumors in the wind that we might be doing a Duke game. If I recall, we had to sort of “prove” that we could do it. Some of us started putting together graphics ideas before everything was solidified, kind of throwing a bunch of stuff around because we were excited.

So once it was official, I teamed up with Ted Newman and started working on the cinematics.  I was really into explosions and fire and doing crazy stuff in 3D back then so it was a load of fun working on those things for the opening video. The awesome Stabbing Westward song wasn’t put in until the end, so we were working with a temp score the whole time. When we finally saw the finished result with that song, we had huge smiles on our faces.

Some of us, including me, had a modded Playstation at home so the in-house build discs worked fine and we’d take home builds of the game every now and then to play over the weekend. That’s how I ended up with that one disc I posted on Twitter. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to bring them back to work but I must have forgotten that one.

There was some back and forth during development regarding just how far things could be taken, like the strippers in the intro, things Duke says, etc. If I remember correctly, there were some things that had to be taken out because they pushed a little too far and just wouldn’t fly.

VP: Please tell me you had something to do with that awesome Stabbing Westward song?

JF: Haha, no, but it was a great song. It gets stuck in your head.

VP: I see you worked on some adult games recently, how did these come about? How is this part of the industry different?

JF: When I first left the studio world my wife (game dev partner) and I were mostly working on simulation. Flight sims and train sims, really. After we finished a pretty large contract we’d been working on for a while, we decided to try something different. We talked about doing an auto-racing game, an airplane barnstorming game, a first person shooter ala Half Life. All kinds of stuff. And then one day we sort of said, “people like boobs”. So we made a thing called Strip Kittens which was basically a club environment where you could play your own MP3s and these 3D girls would dance and strip naked. It was really just something fun that we thought would do ok. It did really well. And that was that. We sort of got on the path of adult games.

Back then there were so few people making them, it was not a very well represented genre. It was also a time before Steam, itch.io, GOG, etc. and games were sold in stores. Stores wouldn’t carry our adult games so we had to get pretty creative at first to get the word out, set up billing, etc. Steam still doesn’t accept our kind of games, but nowadays there are several outlets for them so it’s not so big of a deal.

The biggest issue we ran into making them was secrecy. For several reasons we kept it super quiet, and even most of our close friends had no idea that we were making adult games. That started to get to us after a while, but it’s only been within the past year that I finally opened up and let it out. It’s honestly kind of weird to have worked for fifteen years on these games, hiding things, being secretive about what we did because of it being so underground, and then boom, within the last year or so the genre has exploded into view.

Today there’s a flood of adult games, on Patreon, itch.io, etc. Steam still won’t carry our games but whatever. There’s at least some spaces being opened up for this genre so that’s cool.

Jenna Fearon World Driver Championship

VP: What is your favorite game you worked on?

JF: In the mainstream world I’d say “World Driver Championship” and in the adult world it would have to be “Sex Sim”.

WDC was the last studio game I worked on that saw release (I was on “Stunt Racer 3000” (Stunt Racer 64) for a while before leaving to start my own thing). Aside from just being super fun to work on the N64, the people at Boss Game Studios were great and I’m still friends with a lot of them today.

Sex Sim was just a really huge and fun project that happened to hit the sweet spot. It did very well for us and it’s still running smoothly today, gaining new fans six years after release.

VP: What are you playing in your spare time now?

JF: I’ve been playing “Dying Light” a lot. Also “The Talos Principle” which is phenomenal.

Jenna Fearon FLSM

VP: What are you working on now that you’d like to talk about/advertise?

JF: Our last game, “Future Love Space Machine,” was sort of an experiment in that it’s a continuous work in progress. It’s the first game we tried on Patreon, the first game we made that wasn’t sort of “generic humans”, and it’s definitely been a challenge, both financially and creatively. With that said, we’re still improving it, almost two years after its release, so that’s something we’re working on.

Aside from FLSM, we have two big projects in early stages. We’re finally edging out of adult game territory and back to our original roots as mainstream developers. We’ve even got a new company name, Magnetic Loop Studios. So, Ripened Peach Entertainment will stay put for the adult games, and Magnetic Loop Studios is for the new stuff.

The first project is a car racing game. My wife and I grew up going to local auto races and have a great love for stock bombers, figure eights, dirt track, etc. The grit and the sound and the craziness of it all. So we’re trying to capture that in a game. We’ll announce it officially some time down the road, but yeah, we’re super excited about it.

The second project is a pet project of mine that I’m working on while my wife models all the cars, etc. for the racing game. It’s heavily focused on character editing which is something people love about FLSM. I’ll have more info about it on my Twitter or whatever once I get further along.

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One who writes for different places, waking up late in the day to struggle with commas, broken controllers, and nightmares of Silent Hill and Yo! Noid.