Most parents would love to stop their kids playing video games and hand them a book instead. Now we can live in a world where both are combined.
Kingston University’s alumna Chella Ramanan graduated with an English Literature BA more than two decades ago but right now she finds herself as a narrative designer for one of the biggest video game companies Ubisoft.
“I think I’m closer to English Literature than I’ve ever been in my career. I spend my days discussing storytelling and writing techniques with super talented writers and designers,” Ramanan said.
Ramanan is also the co-founder of 3-Fold Games, the studio behind the award-nominated indie game, Before I Forget, released in 2020. She is also working on the illustrated interactive fiction, Windrush Tales, about the Windrush generation coming to 1950s Britain.
She is also the co-founder of POC in Play, the representation and inclusion movement for people of colour in the video games industry.
Ramanan says her journey into video games only started at university.
“I didn’t really play games as a kid, as they were expensive. My only exposure was the odd friend who had games and my cousins in the US. We played Super Mario one summer,” Ramanan said.
“When I went to university, I began to play games with friends at night. We’d all sit around trying to figure out puzzles or just taking turns [playing video games].
“I had the best time at Kingston. I partied pretty hard because it was the 90s, so the music was great, rave culture was the thing. It was a great time to start university and I really enjoyed the modern approach to English Literature at Kingston, as well as the diverse student body.
“I met amazing people and quite a few are still really close friends,” Ramanan said.
Before I Forget
Ramanan said she knew she always wanted to write. Being a journalist and studying English literature honed her writing and the ability to write to the deadline.
“I was studying a post-grad in journalism and needed to specialise, so I decided to focus on video games because it seemed like a young, vibrant and fast-paced industry. And I was right.
“[Studies] gave me different skills, which I find useful in my job. There’s that old saying about perseverance paying off and it turns out there’s actually some truth in it, because that’s what happened to me,” Ramanan said.
Having more than two decades of experience as a writer, Ramanan produced game reviews for The Guardian and worked as a European correspondent for Game Industry News.
One of her first experiences involving video game creation was the co-founding of an indie game developer 3-Fold Games. Before I Forget, released this year, is a narrative adventure game about a woman with dementia.
“It’s an indie project I started with another colleague in 2016. It was a long, exciting and sometimes exhausting journey, but it was worth it and we’re both really proud of it.
“It’s the first game for both of us and for our micro-studio 3-Fold Games. It’s currently shortlisted for two TIGA awards and got an amazing critical response from The Guardian, The L.A. Times and other big publications, as well as people with personal experience with dementia, which was a huge relief and really humbling,” Ramanan said.
An exciting chapter
Just in the middle of producing her debut game Before I Forget, Ramanan opened a new chapter in her career.
KU alumna joined Ubisoft Massive, the studio previously collaborated with Ubisoft Montreal on Assassin’s Creed Revelations and played a major role in Far Cry 3. Ubisoft Massive is most famous for being a lead studio for one of the most successful video game franchises in the world, Tom Clancy’s The Division.
“I’ve done lots of exciting things in my career in games and joining Ubisoft Massive, is definitely a highlight in my career and opens a new, exciting chapter for me.
“[The job] is absolutely practical because we have a game to make. My day starts with a meeting called ‘stand up’, where we tell the team what we’re working on that day.
“Then I might be in meetings with people who design the levels or the gameplay for the quests I’m writing or perhaps sending information to audio for sounds I need to tell the story. Other days I’m writing character biographies and backstory, so that I can start writing dialogue and scenes.
“There’s a lot of planning and character and lore behind a game to ensure the world is convincing for players, so we have a lot of meetings to discuss those things before we start making things.
“We also have days where the whole team plays the game, so that we know what’s working and we can see all the cool stuff other teams have been making and what needs fixing,” Ramanan said.
She has advice for students who may be worried about their future plans. Having joined a worldwide company more than two decades after graduating from university, Ramanan says that it’s never too late to find your dream job.
“I’d say to people that you don’t need to be on a ’30 under 30′ list. You can find your dream job at any stage. There’s no rush, despite the pressure to be a success by 27.
“If something seems cool but scary, do it anyway because sometimes the things that scare you are the things you need to do to get closer to your dream.”