Serious Game Alumni Interview #7: Ziba Scott

Ziba Scott, owner and founder of Popcannibal, a game design company, chimes in this week as we continue delving into the interesting lives of alumni. With a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Chicago, and a “good deal of live theater along the way,” Scott graduated from MSU with a Masters in serious games. Reflecting on his coursework then, Scott finds it difficult to pick a favorite, due to all the different kinds of learning that took place in each. One year, his class game project, Crossroads Village even won “Most Meaningful Game” at the Meaningful Play conference.

“The classes I took gave me a lot of perspective about what it takes to work with people and ideas to really craft something intentionally designed and professionally executed.”

As a student volunteer for the international Meaningful Play conference hosted by MSU, Scott met  James Portnow, a game designer who has worked on a wide range of games, from the Call of Duty series to Farmville.. Scott recalls an interesting academic talk about exergaming by a student, Yoonsin Oh, and, while working at the conference registration desk, he got to check Robin Hunicke in to the conference, “which gave me something to chat with her about when I met her again years later. I talked with her about Elegy to a Dead World this year at her GDC session ‘Experimental Gameplay Workshop.’”

A lot happened between those two meetings. Scott founded PopCannibal, where he works as a co-designer and lead developer. Popcannibal’s mission? “To make unusual games…to make new things that surprise people and expand definitions,” Scott said. And they did just that with Girls Like Robots, a puzzle game about seating arrangements. Published by Adult Swim, it was the 13th best reviewed iOS game of 2012.

“Now I’m focused on creating experiences that engage people and light up their minds.”

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In conjunction with Dejobaan Games, Scott is currently working on Elegy for a Dead World, an experimental writing game in which three unstable portals have opened to long dead civilizations. Only a poet manages to survive the trip through the portal, meaning that it’s up to them to record the remains of these worlds. As you walk through landscapes inspired by and based on Percy Shelley’s Ozymandius, John Keats’ When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be, and Lord Byron’s Darkness—British romantic poems about “existential fret and man’s search for his place in nature”—you get to write and imagine the “origins, triumphs, and extinctions” of these three planets. Players can even read the stories that other players create about the same worlds.

“We used famous poems to give our worlds coherent feelings that will direct but not overly inform players.”

Looking to the future, Scott believes that Elegy for a Dead World “can be used for many ‘serious’ or ‘meaningful’ purposes and that’s something [he’s] very excited about.” Elegy for a Dead World brings fresh, artful, playful  perspectives to classic poems, encouraging people to explore poetry on their own terms.

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Property of Dejobaan Games

As far as advice goes, Scott had this to say: Make games. Pick scopes you can handle and make them.  Fall in love with them and work hard, but then realize that they’re probably crap and move on to your next one with the lessons you’ve learned.  (I’ve made some pretty bad games that I learned a lot from.)

PERSONAL NOTE: I interviewed Ziba Scott over Skype for this blog post. Hopefully I will get to meet him in person as a student volunteer at Meaningful Play this fall!

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