Each year, the NYU Game Center commissions new work from four artists for No Quarter, an exhibition of games. The 2019 No Quarter artists were Karina Popp, Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan, Michael Brough, and Xalavier Nelson Jr.. No Quarter Curator Charles Pratt briefly interviewed each of the artists about their process of making games for No Quarter. You can read all of the interviews here.
Karina Popp is a person living, making games, and teaching in New York City. Karina makes games about banality and bodies and labor. Her work has been selected at festivals such as the IGF, Come Out and Play, Now Play This, and Fantastic Arcade. Once she won several cups of change in a game design competition at GDC 2016. She received her MFA in Game Design from the NYU Game Center in 2016.
For No Quarter 2019, Karina made Party Baby.
Charles Pratt, No Quarter Curator: What was on your mind when you started designing your game?
Karina: My main design goal for my No Quarter game was to make a game that someone like me, who tends to hold back and just watch others in an arcade, would feel obligated to play in a public setting. When I’m at events like No Quarter the trouble of learning a brand new game around a crowd gives me stage fright and tends to take away from the experience for me. I find it much more fulfilling to watch my friends instead. So, I wanted to make something that I would have to play.
I also wanted to lean into certain emotions common to the virtual pet genre. I wanted to eschew a player’s relationship with the pet. When I think about my time spent playing more traditional virtual pets, particularly the early tamagotchis, I mostly associate stress with the experience! It’s so hard to keep something alive in real life, yet I find those early 2000s virtual pets to be like a thousand times worse. My love for any surviving tamagotchi is proportional to how long I can keep it alive, not really anything the tamagotchi does or is. I wanted to make something like that.
Were there any challenges that you ran into that you didn’t expect during your game’s development?
A huge technical challenge I wasn’t expecting was dealing with Joycons as my controllers. I had my heart set on them because they look less “gamer-y” while retaining the functionality of a modern controller. But holy cow! They are hard to work with when you’re using more than two. Most of my development process kept getting put on hold or reworked around the Joycons. Bluetooth is also rough. Did you know that you can only connect 7 devices to most computers at once?
Playtesting was also a pain. At varying points in development, I needed 4-8 players for an individual vignette, but just playtesting a single mini-game never gave me a sense of how the baby could impact the texture of a party over the course of several hours. I’ve been flying blind for most of the development.
What was your approach to designing for No Quarter in terms of the event and the audience?
To achieve my goal of creating an event game that a more reserved person would want to play, I decided to design around sort of influencing the flow of the party. I wanted as many players for a mini-game as possible. This meant that I had to keep barrier to entry low and individual play sessions fast with quick turn over. At events like No Quarter, the audience at 7:30pm can be completely different from the audience at 8:00pm. Players have to be able to pick up a controller and either understand what to do or at least be able to muddle their way through a mini-game.
Rather, I wanted to leverage social pressure to get people to pester their friends like, “Hey, we need one more player or else the baby is going to die – go find somebody.” No Quarter in particular is going to be full of competitive people, so ideally Party Baby uses that to its advantage.
Also: I’m not sure there are many spaces that would let me play the ear piercing screams of an infant.
How do you feel like your No Quarter connects to your other work?
I think if someone were to look at my work online and then Party Baby they wouldn’t see much of a connection. Party Baby is really game-y, with pretty much no story to it, and is (to be charitable) kind of juvenile. Anything of mine you can play online is more atmospheric and you can’t really lose or win in them.
There’s a connection, though, I swear. I’m really interested in translating minute actions into gameplay. In something like 10 Mississippi that meant making keyboard metaphors for an action on the screen. For Party Baby that’s using a joycon to express the process of swallowing. To that end, vignette games, which I do consider Party Baby to be, lend themselves well to focusing on individual action.
Thematically, I like to think that Party Baby recontextualizes aspects of domesticity, which is something else I’ve been toying with. I definitely want to see more games which engage with the ways we portray activities associated with the home. I think, maybe, games tend to take a rosy or cutesy view of homemaking or child rearing. It takes a village to raise a child, you know? So, maybe it can also take a party to raise a virtual pet.
Event photos by EMiSpicer. See more of her work here.