Ghost Garden Games: Women-Led Independent Developer Studio Shares Their Experience

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Two years ago, a group of soon-to-be studio founders enrolled in the first ever Xbox Game Studios Game Camp in New Orleans, where they received the tools, resources, and mentorship to turn their studio dreams into reality.

Ghost Garden Games is an up-and-coming, women-led, gender-inclusive studio located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The team was officially formed in 2015, when a group of high school friends discovered a passion for telling narrative-driven stories in an interactive way.

“The original folks involved were Asher, Leslie, Claire and me,” said Kathryn Nastasi, producer and technical artist of Ghost Garden Games. “Claire was a teacher that was mentoring us in high school, and we remember meeting in her classroom every day and discussing the idea of Echo, which is this little sound wave and her ball-of-light companion, Hue. Over the course of a few years, we really developed this idea into a wonderful story and that was the project we ended up bringing to the first Game Camp.”

Game Camp was founded with the goal of empowering aspiring game creators from traditionally marginalized communities with access to subject matter experts, tools, and industry connections. The program offered a mentorship experience that taught foundational skills in game creation engines, programming, and game design through a mix of self-paced learning and live instruction.

While at the camp, the “Ghosts” realized that they needed to step back and build a strong foundation for their studio before developing Echo. Thus, during the program, they focused heavily on exploring their interests and defining the organizational structure of their team.

Participating teams were paired with mentors from Xbox Game Studios and even had the opportunity to discuss their ideas with industry legends like Shannon Loftis and Ken Lobb. The Ghosts received support from Erin Ali, a Game Camp mentor and lead producer at Turn 10 Studios, throughout the course of the program and have even continued meeting with her every six weeks post-camp. 

“I had been thinking about opportunities to work with groups and support the next generation of industry developers when I saw an article on our company intranet about Game Camp launching in New Orleans. I remember how hard it was both breaking into the industry and understanding what development was like,” said Ali. “I’ve always enjoyed seeing others achieve and mentorship has been a meaningful avenue for me to express that joy in the industry. I hope Ghost Garden Games has enjoyed their experiences with me as much as I have learned from them.”

Ghost Garden Games officially became an LLC in December 2020. “We left the first Game Camp feeling really confident about going out and making our studio dreams a reality,” said Nastasi. Since then, they have moved into their own studio space within a technology park and have blossomed into a nine-person team.

However, according to Nastasi, the team quickly became aware that although Echo was fueled by passion, it “was a little overambitious for [their] current skillsets and goals.” Consequently, the Ghosts sat down in their Baton Rouge studio space and began to evaluate their next steps.

 “We got inspired from something we noticed that Supergiant Games did with their latest release, Hades.  They took different systems from their various games...Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre… and perfected them for Hades,” said Nastassi.

The team decided to implement that strategy in their own work, and they have shifted their focus from Echo to Headspace. Headspace is a narrative, point-and-click, couch co-op game. The objective of Headspace is to solve a mystery inside the human body by exploring the left and right brain perspective to allow two players to collaborate and solve a mystery together. The studio is currently in the design and prototype phases for Headspace and will bring it to Game Camp New Orleans 2022 in hopes of getting feedback from Xbox Game Studios mentors.

“Ultimately, we decided to enroll in Game Camp 2022 because we are so much more organized as a studio now. We have such a greater idea of what we are doing, and we’d love to walk in and learn and focus on some of the areas we did not get to focus on the first time,” said Nastasi. “For those interested in developing games, this is the best opportunity to receive one-on-one guidance from professionals in the gaming industry.”

Xbox Game Studios Game Camp details can be found at xbox.com/gamecamp. Stay tuned to Xbox Wire for the latest news on Xbox Game Studios.

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