An Interview with An Interview with Sandi "Krazikatt" McCleary of Highmoon Studios

Winterwind had the opportunity recently to interview gaming industry webdesigner Sandi "Krazikatt" McCleary. Sandi has worked for Interplay and Sammy Studios. Enjoy the special "Valentine's Interview"!

Winterwind: In opening, we'd like to ask a bit about you and your interests. What are you interests and hobbies outside of your work?

Sandi McCleary: A few years ago I would have said punk rock shows, beer bars, pool halls, swing dancing and the beach. But I have become domestic in my late 20’s, so my focus has definitely changed! I still love tattoos and punk and swing and beer and pool… BUT, not to the same extent. Now I spend most of my free time fixing up our house and yard. I still LOVE the beach, so I try to go there when possible, and we actually have a pool table now, so I can play for free! I’m actually not too much of a gamer, though I love simple computer games and platformers like Spongebob and such. I’m still such a kid at heart!

WW: Is your educational background in web design? If yes, what lead to your decision of becoming a web designer? If no, what lead to the change in career focus?

SM: Actually my background education was in Visual Art Studio and Computing in Arts (as in 3D modelling and such). I wanted to get into special effects but it was very competitive… so I thought I would work in the gaming industry… though I couldn’t seem to get a job there either. My former Interplay boss saw my resume and noticed that I had some web training from school and hired me. My plan was to move into development, but I really enjoyed the web so I stayed.

WW: Was the gaming industry something you specifically wanted to work in or did it come about by chance?

SM: See above :) It wasn’t really chance, but more my second choice. Though I’m happy it turned out this way.

WW: How did you come to work for Interplay?

SM: I applied everywhere, but at the time there weren’t too many openings, and the openings that were there were for experienced veterans. So I actually applied to work in reception at Interplay so I could work my way up – fortunately all of the resumes were filtered by the web team at the time, so my resume never made it to reception.

WW: When you first started at IPLY you were going to work on art for Stonekeep 2. You also designed the site for TORN which was up for about a week before the game was cancelled. Was this the fate of a lot of your work at IPLY?

SM: For Stonekeep 2 they were going to let me help with the art on a voluntary basis so I could get my foot into development… but I unfortunately never got to do anything. I would imagine I would probably be an Artist in development now had the game not been cancelled. The Torn site was something that had to be up quickly so I stayed late and got this site up (maybe it was for E3?) and I think it was only up for about a week before they told me to remove it. Fortunately though this wasn’t always how it went. Most of my sites were up for at least a year. I think the toughest part was in the end watching the entire Interplay site, BIS site, all the product sites and the forums just go “poof!”

WW: At Interplay, you also became the forum admin. What lead to this additional job duty and what did you enjoy most about the forums?

SM: Actually iirc one of the previous admins acted up and was told by his supervisors that he could no longer visit the forums… so they told me I would now be taking over the position. I thought it was fun and I think I was the only person who ever fought for the fans from that point forward. I just liked the people that I met there… the mods were great and it was a great place to waste time!

WW: In the summer of 2003, Interplay closed the community forums (leaving only the game specific fora) allegedly because management feared action from the US Government when a forum member made a joke about a presidential assassination. This alienated a large number of members/customers. You fought very hard to save those fora on behalf of the fan base. [Note: IPLY closed not only the political discussion forum but the Arts and Sports fora as well.] Can you now tell us anything about the reasoning behind IPLY's decision and how did management's seeming disregard for the fans/customers affect your morale as the web designer and forum administrator?

SM: Actually someone did make a comment about a presidential assassination but you could tell that they were obviously just kidding around. I personally didn’t think much of it and probably just would have warned the guy and deleted the post. But they freaked out and actually wanted to shut down the forums completely. I fought them and they finally agreed to only shut down the community forums. I told them this was a mistake and we would alienate our fan base, but I seemed to be the only one who thought that way. They seemed to think that the forums were just a waste of time and money, and that they were one big liability (hello! That’s why we have a disclaimer!!) I personally think that a community surrounding your company and games is a very good thing! I really couldn’t understand why they would want to get rid of it. It did affect my moral. It was just the beginning of my journey to hating the company so much that I finally quit.

WW: After a long history of financial difficulty, in December of 2003, IPLY closed Black Isle Studios and let go of most of the employees. When a member from the NMA site posted on the IPLY forums a list of the released employees and asked for confirmation you replied, correcting some of the names on the list. As a result you were censured and banned from the forums you ran. You were ordered to lie to the moderator team and forum members about the reason for your absence. What affect did this have on you? Was this what lead to your decision to leave the company?

SM: Yep. This was the straw that broke the camels back. The fact that they thought what I did was so horrible that they wanted me to lie to the people who I had gained trust in, was just absurd to me. I thought they were kidding when they told me that I needed to “voluntarily step down” from the position of admin and that I was no longer allowed to post on the boards without getting their approval on my post first. I was forced to tell everyone that I was voluntarily stepping down and that I wouldn’t be around anymore because I was too busy. What a crock of shit! I was hoping that people didn’t really believe this and somehow realized what was really happening. And when people had questions for me about it I was not allowed to answer. I just thought this whole situation was handled so poorly. Seriously, I consider myself to have good judgement… especially when it comes to posting company info on message boards. What I posted was public knowledge, I simply told them that some of the people they thought were laid off were in fact still working. Anyhow, I could rant on this forever. From this day forward I was so upset and bitter at the people who made me do that, that I immediately went out and found a new job. Ba bye! Have fun running the website by yourself!

WW: Despite the problems IPLY had you were always very positive and always worked hard to ensure that the forums were a fun experience for its members. What would you say are your fondest memories of your time at IPLY?

SM: My fondest memories were definitely from early on in my stay there. I started working there in 1999 and at that time the company was still big and doing okay. We had a great web team of about 15, and we all hung out and partied, etc. Even when we worked late we would order a pizza and get some beers. As time went on and layoffs started happening once or twice a year, I was less and less happy. I was always positive though, thinking I would stick it out and things would get better… unfortunately I was wrong!

WW: When you left IPLY, you went to another gaming company, Sammy Studios. What made you choose another game developer to work for?

SM: I love working in the industry – and the fact that I already had 4+ years experience in gaming made it easier for me to get a job. I was very happy that I was able to stay within the industry.

WW: What can you tell us about your role at Sammy Studios?

SM: I am a Web Producer here… so I pretty much handle the day to day management of everything front-end web related. The creation and maintenance of all the sites, the community, the creation of online ads, hosting, contracting out, etc.

WW: It was recently announced that most of the gaming forums at Sammy's are being moved to SEGA. Can you tell us why and what affect will this have on your position with Sammy's?

SM: It is public knowledge that there were some layoffs at the company, however, I really can’t say too much at this point. Sammy Studios is going to be focusing its energy on development. As a member of marketing, I was also laid off, however, I am still here for a while tying up some loose ends, and I will most likely be working for them as a contractor to see my sites through game launch. It is my goal to be rehired by Sammy Studios when Darkwatch does well and sells a million units!!! :) heheee… so everyone make sure you buy Darkwatch! And tell your friends to buy Darkwatch! I certainly am not leaving this company with any ill feelings. I love working here and would be honoured to work here again.

Here is the official statement: "Earlier this week Sammy Studios reduced its sales and marketing staff as part of an effort to put the company's focus squarely on game development. It is difficult having to release some of the very same people we hand selected to join the company. Yet our development capabilities and our creative and technical talent are intact, and we are confident that we will emerge from this transition as a top game studio."

WW: Game developers have varying approaches to their message boards. Some seem to hold them in high regard where the designers interact on a regular basis with the fans and others seem to treat them as a "necessary evil". Do you believe there is a benefit to a company having message boards for their fans? Also, do you believe there is a benefit to have non gaming forums on a gaming company's message boards?

SM: I do think there is a benefit. To me it’s a way for the fans to interact and feel that they are a part of something... especially when the game is in development. I think that it is very important that the developers visit the community regularly to answer questions and feedback. I do think there is a benefit to having non game related forums as well… I think they are important because it gives the fans a place to hang out and make friends with people who are interested in the same things. They can also hang out in those forums while the gaming forums might be a bit slow.

WW: As a web designer for a gaming company, you obviously get the "scoops" before the fan base. How much interaction do you have with the designers?

SM: Getting the scoop early is often hard. I don’t mind knowing things that I cannot talk about – but I hate it when people ask questions and I can’t answer them yet… and people just think we’re ignoring them. At Interplay I had a lot of interaction with the Designers and actually worked directly with them most of the time. Here at Sammy Studios I have less interaction with them because I generally have a Product Manager in between us to funnel information and get me assets and answers. Though I still chat with them often and sometimes do need to work with them directly.

WW: You regularly attend the E3 conventions (and always supply gamers with the much desired "Booth Babe" photos). What is you favourite thing about E3? What is your least favourite?

SM: Every year that I go to E3 it is less and less special and just becomes more routine. It is very impressive to people who don’t go often though. Everything is big and loud with fancy lights and colourful booths. The bigger companies usually invest in some booth babes to get the attention of the geeky gamers. My favourite thing is probably just walking around and running into people from my gaming past. My least favourite thing is actually working at the booth because really you are on your feet and running around for a good 10 hours. I’m also not too keen on asking scantily clad women if I can take their picture… they always look at me like I’m hitting on them… lol. The things I do for you guys!

WW: How did you come by the nickname Krazikatt and can you tell us how you came by your fascination with cats?

SM: Hehe… well, I’ve always loved cats and other animals. I worked at veterinary clinics for 7 years through high school and college, as well as groomers and pet stores… and I grew up with cats… so that’s where the animal fascination comes in. But the story of Krazikatt is a bit different. When I was in college I was huge into Lindy Hop. So when I came to Interplay and they told me I had to come up with a handle, I immediately thought “swing cat” or “hep cat” but that was too normal for a nickname. At the time I was a bit of a crazy college kid, so I thought I’d put the two together, but crazycat was already taken! So I went with Krazikatt and it stuck.

WW: How do you feel about being a sex symbol for the "geeks" of the gaming community?

SM: It’s an interesting concept. I try not to think about it ;o) lol.

WW: In the spirit of Valentine's Day, what is your idea of an ideal romantic evening?

SM: Hmmmm…. I have a lot of ideal romantic evenings. Staying home with a romantic dinner, candle light, red wine and a good movie is always good. Or going out for a nice romantic dinner is nice too! Or even walking on the beach or something like that would be great.

WW: Next month, you're getting married. (Congratulations!) Do you have any Valentine's advice for the hearts of all the lonely gamers that just broke when reading this question?

SM: lol – thank you! I’m very excited! I will be marrying a fellow gamer geek; a wonderful man named Terry Spier, whom I met while working at Interplay. So in about a month my name will by Sandi Spier! CRAZY! Advice huh? I would say that you shouldn’t try to find true love whilst playing an MMORPG. You shouldn’t try to find true love on a message board or in a chat room (though I know there are some success stories with this) because you never know when that hot 18 year old chick is really a 43 year old fat and greasy man. You should try to get out of the house every so often and meet people that way! It is also important to find someone who shares your same interests, so maybe go and hang out at Dave and Busters or GameWorks or some arcade like that to make sure you find a girl who also likes to play games. Also, if you already have a girlfriend or wife, I doubt their idea of a nice valentines day is making dinner while you play WoW – so tell your clan that you won’t be online that evening, and put your focus on the lady!

Thanks all for the interview! It was fun – I hope you enjoyed reading my babbles!

Winterwind would like to thank Sandi McCleary for her time with this interview. Be sure to visit Sandi's site, http://patsan.com for some excellent examples of her artwork.

We also wish Sandi and Terry the best of fortune and happieness in their upcoming marriage.

Discuss this interview on the forums