“If you want to make a different kind of game, you need a different demographic building the game.”
The slightest detour can create a completely new path not just for you, but a generation of women like you. Even just a shortcut.
Kathie Flood was set on attending law school at Iowa’s Drake University many years ago when she cut through the journalism school building to get to the parking lot. She spotted a flier on one of the bulletin boards; the school was looking for a programmer to put together a student database.
Flood got the job, and then got the bug for writing and programming — skills that would lead her to become one of the first women in Microsoft’s game division and to create her own company, centered on games where fast cars and big guns aren’t the main draw — and where women are inspired to play, or create their own games.
“If you want to make a different kind of game, you need a different demographic building the game,” she said over lunch near her home in Kirkland. “ ‘Assassin’s Creed’ didn’t have a woman. If I had a billion-dollar budget, I would have made a wide variety of characters.”
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Flood’s Cascade Game Foundry and her new game, “Infinite Scuba,” allows players to travel without leaving home. To explore undersea spaces and creatures without any gear. And, because it is Flood producing the game, the main character is a woman. Of normal proportions.
It’s the polar opposite of what Flood calls “the granddaddy of violent games,” Grand Theft Auto (GTA), a franchise with 14 titles, including “Chinatown Wars” and “The Lost and the Damned.”
“The art is gorgeous,” Flood said of the GTA series. “But I would love to see a studio take a chance. There are so many sequels of the same thing. We’re trying to expand that pool a little bit.
“What if you took all this cool technology and used it to teach or help people explore the world? Make it a good use of your time instead of getting to the next level of Candy Crush.”
No offense, she added quickly. She’s a “Words With Friends” person.
“I understand why people are doing it,” she said of games like Candy Crush. “But the game-makers specifically manipulate you to play more.”
“Infinite Scuba” doesn’t do that. It’s quieter, slower, almost calming. The female diver encounters undersea animals and artifacts that need to be unlocked. There is a field guide to tell you what you’re seeing.
“There’s history, marine life, dive science,” Flood said. “When you’re done playing our game, it feels like it was a good use of your time and you learned something about a different environment, a different culture without a plane ticket.”
That experience may just be different enough to draw more women not only into gaming — but into making games.
To that end, Flood regularly speaks at Seattle-area schools about programming and game producing, and has taught summer camp at the Pacific Science Center.
“I remember reading a list of careers (young women) aspire to,” she said. “One of the top ones is to be a personal assistant to a celebrity, or a reality star.”
Flood, 50, was born in Seattle, but moved to Iowa after her father inherited his uncle’s farm. He was a mechanic who became a professional pilot — and who brought a PC into the house as soon as they came out.
“It was something I fooled around with,” Flood said.
In doing so, she went against a trend that was just starting: Men dominating technology.
The earliest PCs were marketed to men, Flood said, giving them a head start on computer sciences. So when women joined them in college classes, “The men were so far ahead, (women) dropped out.”
Flood kept up, though, graduating with a math and computer sciences degree.
She got an internship at a startup where the very unpleasant CEO had a bee in his bonnet about a Seattle company called Microsoft. Flood, tired of his rants, applied there “purely out of spite” — and was hired in 1990 as a programmer, writing reference books for Windows 3.1 and Dos.
She joined Microsoft Studios in 1994 when, knowing she was an avid soccer player, her bosses asked her to make a soccer game. At one point, she asked her teammates to come in and test it.
“When we started, we did not know what we were doing,” she said. “What a great learning experience. It absolutely hooked me. Creative technical skills and creative skills.”
She loved when groups like Girl Scout troops would take tours at Microsoft, “Just to show them the huge variety of jobs you can get in technology,” she said. “It’s not all writing code.”
In 2009, she was laid-off in one of the single biggest cuts Microsoft has ever made. She had been there for almost 19 years, “So I took the severance and ran.
“I decided I didn’t want to make other people’s mistakes,” she said. “I wanted to make my own.”
And she wanted to make a different kind of game.
“We teach a lot about how to shoot and how to drive fast, but how about we teach some other things?” Flood said. “Help people explore the world with an interactive version of National Geographic.”
“Infinite Scuba” came out of Flood’s love of the environment and scuba diving — a skill she learned while working on a scuba game for Microsoft. She still dives in an underwater park near the Edmonds Ferry Dock.
“Scuba diving is as close as I’ll ever get to being an astronaut,” Flood said. “You’re weightless, you have a limited air supply and you get to see aliens.”
But some people will never get that chance to see the water that way, and fall in love, like she did.
“In order for them to care about it, they have to experience it, whether it’s firsthand or virtually.”
For this game, which she described as “Indiana Jones meets Jacques Cousteau,” Flood made the avatar a woman, with a figure modeled on a volleyball player who came in and modeled. A real athlete.
“Not surgically enhanced,” Flood said. “Her thighs touch. They’re tasteful. They’re not in thongs. We want good role models.”