Mila Pokorny – a name she assures me is “shorter for something far harder to say and even more Eastern European” – is one of the most prolific female game developers in the city. She is currently an artist at QuadraTron Games, as well as the Owner/Game Designer/Art Designer for her own company, DeerFox Games. She was also recently elected as a board member to the Philadelphia chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). I had a chance to catch up with Mila and ask her some questions about game design, the local game scene, and what’s next for her and her games.
Before getting her start at QuadraTron, she was working at an eclectic list of places – “The times between your degree and industry job tend to be the strangest. Embarrassingly, I was actually most recently working at a sandwich shop, where I actually learned a ridiculous amount about cheese. Between my first official job, i was doing a series of volunteer work, museums and the most recent was an Art Teacher for a local jail.” She was also doing smaller projects, including commission work, as well as getting her first piece of art printed in Fangamer’s Kirby Dream Zine.
Her first game dev job was as a Junior Artist at Pittsburgh-based Schell Games, where she “colored story frames and scenes for their game, PlayForward: Elm City Stories.” While out in Pittsburgh, she “also did some illustrations for TekkoShowdown, a special card game for Tekkoshocon, Pittsburgh’s Anime convention.” But after moving to Philly, she got involved in the Philly Game Forge and Philly Dev Night. “This is one of those blank who knew blank just so happens to know blank things,” she said. “My boyfriend went to GDC and met Zenas, who is an IDGA board member and regular at Philly Dev Night. We originally moved to Philly to find work anyway, but were excited for the formal invite to Dev Night. We’ve gone and have loved it ever since. I give micro-talks every so often, so feel free to come visit us,” she added. “My most recent one was on types of gamers based off goals.”
Her involvement started with Dev Night, but truly took off at last year’s Global Game Jam. Pokorny had worked with QuadraTron on the game Threshold, and was then invited to help make it a full-length game. “I was trusted to make Threshold’s world as robust and fresh as humanly possible,” she said, adding, “We’re currently getting ready for a kickstarter to launch on January 19th.” Keep an eye out for more information on that Kickstarter.
DeerFox Games was started initially as her own “personal project to house my other smaller projects, like comics, digital experiments and card games.” Right now, it’s mostly a card game company, specifically housing her card game, Mahou Shojo (“Magical Girls”). As she continues, though, she expects it to “grow into different categories.”
Mahou Shojo is a very special kind of game, focused not just on Magical Girls, but on keeping the sexualization of girls out of the game – a rarity in the genre. “I had a specific mission of Mahou Shojo being a game young girls could pick up and play, and gameplay to last under a half hour for quick play,” Pokorny said. “I suppose I felt a call to action as Mahou Shojo was further devoloped. A problem I see with Mahou Shojo/Magical Girls as a genre, is that much of it is sexualized to not lose a male audience. We find this type of behavior ‘acceptable’ and ‘normal’ for Japanese audiences, but this causes disinterest with a young American girl audience.”
“It’s these reasons I really enjoyed the first three seasons of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” she continued. “Our six main characters were female and never shown to have boyfriends, or focus on their appearance. These themes are a go-to when marketing to this group. I hope to capture the same attitude, and inspire young girls rather than dictate them. So, the actual warriors featured are never dressed down for a man’s eye, and the Alter Egos/Normal Girls are shown as actual characters. They’re using computers, they’re on their way to soccer practice. They’re writing/biking/anything active. DeerFox’s mission since then has been to make games for women, by women, but enjoyed by all. I think a problem in games intended for women is they focus on cosmetics/dating, and I hope to avoid this with DeerFox’s games.”
This is a beautiful and noble endeavor, and is reflected in how she is treated at the Philly Game Forge. When I asked her what it’s like to be a woman in the gaming industry, she said it was “hard to say. So many women are so capable of programming and making these amazing personal projects. I feel as someone focused on art, I am pushed into the nasty category of ‘Idea person,’ so I feel like Mahou Shojo is proof I’m not all talk. I’m picking up programming languages as I go with minor pet projects, and hope to be able to produce digital games on my own.”
But she definitely feels that women are underrepresented, “specially people of color.” But she’s grateful to be part of the Philly Game Forge – “Its inhabitants are mature enough to not judge me or make me the end of jokes because of my gender. I don’t feel like an elephant in the room. For that, I feel very fortunate, and hope this becomes the norm for women in this industry everywhere. The Philly Game Forge, while relaxed at times, remains to be a professional environment I don’t want to leave anytime soon.”
So what’s next for DeerFox Games? “Feburary is Mahou Shojo’s proposed Kickstarter launch, and if all goes according, I can start producing the game commercially,” Pokorny said. “After that, I hope to start DeerFox’s first video game. My only official word is that it will be an RPG keeping with DeerFox’s mission.”
For those looking to get into the industry, Pokorny’s advice is inspiring: “Have an idea you love. Work with it. Do whatever it takes to stay on task… People will love your idea, too. People will want to help because they love your idea and you. Consider your feedback. Playtest until the cows come home. Believe in you, believe in your fans.”
Keep an eye out for both Kickstarters Pokorny is involved in, coming up next month. If you want to check out the game jams she’s participated in, here’s a list: