Published on November 25th, 2014 | by Aliya Tyus-Barnwell


Sarah Northway Interview

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Northway Games iconSarah Northway is the developer of the Rebuild franchise for PC, Android, Mac and iOS. I played it and loved it, as have others at Hardcore Droid so we caught up with the globetrotting developer in Africa for an HD interview.

HD: You worked with Three Rings before striking out on your own. Looking back is there anything you miss about it? What are you glad not to have to deal with anymore?

Sarah: The only downside to working at OOO (Three Rings) was the commute. It was a wonderful place to work, a beautiful office full of brilliant people doing cool things. I do miss working with a team and having that atmosphere of creative energy, and most of all miss working on projects much bigger than myself. I love having full creative control on Rebuild, but there are things I’d love to do with it that just aren’t possible with such a small team.

HD: I noticed your company’s name changed from Sarah Northway to Northway Games. What motivated you and Colin to change the name of the company? Has your fame taken on a life of its own?

Sarah: I’m still as vain as ever; I’ve always wanted my name on a game franchise like Sid Meier… but honestly there are a lot of people working part time on Rebuild 3 now, including my husband Colin. I also wanted to be able to publish Colin and Rich Edwards’ Deep Under the Sky under the same company name, though my part in that game was pretty small (I only worked on the ports).

Northway Games at Pax Prime

HD: Considering the Gamergate disaster, can you tell us what it’s been like being a woman in the game development business? Is there an instance where you felt at a disadvantage or discriminated against in a male-dominated field?

Sarah: I don’t often speak up about being a woman in game development because for me it hasn’t been a problem. I know people who’ve had a much harder time of it though through no fault of their own, and I know discrimination continues to be a serious issue both inside the games industry and from gamers (as we’re now all painfully aware thanks to gamergate). But I’ve always gotten support and respect from my male peers through my whole career as a programmer. When gender comes up, it’s usually “I wish we had more female devs like Sarah.” I’ve heard this a lot in the last couple months; it seems like the one good thing to come out of gamergate has been an increased awareness of how few women are making games and discussions on what we can do to change that.

HD: I understand Brainsplode made the transformation to Deep Under the Sky after diving in Honduras. Any plans to work on another project inspired by places you’ve lived while globetrotting?

Sarah: Absolutely. My game ideas keep featuring unusual ecosystems inspired by the wild jungles and deserts we’ve been in lately. I’m fascinated by the bugs and animals around us and how they evolved to fit some bizarre niche in their particular environment. There are these beetles in Namibia who collect dew on their backs and stick their butts in the air to drink it. I want to make a game about that.

I’d also like to make a game about wealth inequality, which is hard to avoid thinking about when travelling in poorer places. I’m massively privileged to be able to fly on airplanes and visit other cultures and eat in restaurants and play videogames. I think we all need to be more aware of this, as well as what the shrinking middle class and exponential rise of the 1% means for us westerners. I’d like to express this in a game without being too preachy or boring. It’s a tall order.

HD: What’s the Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville final release for Android looking like these days? Is there a final release date?

Sarah: I’m aiming for March 2014… maybe April for the mobile versions. There’s an Android beta now that you can download if you preorder direct from, but it runs a little sluggish compared to the PC beta.

HD: I’ve played it actually, it runs pretty smoothly on my Galaxy S5. I’m really looking forward to the final build. What are Northway Games plans after Rebuild 3’s final release?

Sarah: Take a long vacation, maybe play some video games or sit around and do nothing for four or five days. I am seriously looking forward to it already… but it won’t last long. Next I’m going to jump into prototyping new games, and will probably do one or two content updates for Rebuild 3 later in the year.

HD: Any thoughts on a Rebuild 4? Where do you see the Rebuild franchise going in the next few years?

Sarah: I’ve been saying if I do a Rebuild 4, it will have to include multiplayer. It’d take place many years after the infection when the zombies are all bones and dust and not so scary, when human culture has gotten all weird after a couple generations of decay. Swing back to totally gory graphics, double the art budget. But I’ve got too many other ideas flying around right now that I want to try out first.

HD: You seem to enjoy group gaming. Do you have a group game on the horizon you want to make?

Sarah: Colin and I keep mulling over an Artemis-like game, designed to be played live in one room with a group of people who each have a computer/tablet/phone. Everyone has a different role on the ship or submarine or mech or whatever, but they’re super interconnected so you have to yell at each other to coordinate what you’re doing. Every time you play, you get better at working as a team, and you get deeper into the world.

HD: What’s your dream project, given unlimited funding?

Sarah: I’d like to write an MMO that feels unbalanced and wild and exploitable when you play it, where player-driven communities and economies thrive and the most fun is had by meta-gaming the system. Something like EVE Online. But with Pokemon.

HD: When you last spoke with Hardcore Droid, you mentioned prototype games floating around Northway. Do you have a favorite? What is the next big new project on the horizon?

Sarah: I’d like to do a big prototyping extravaganza next year after Rebuild is out. Something like six months, a different game every month. I’d like to finally make something in Unity, try 3D and play around with my own art, so it’s going to be a lot of fun and learning even if the games themselves don’t turn out. I’ve got ideas for a game where you chop paths through a jungle, run a colony on mars, control a hive of bugs, search for your lover in a ruined land, etc etc. All pretty big game ideas, so I’ll prototype a small piece of each and see how it goes.

The bug one is my current favorite; it’s a mashup of Sim Ant, Don’t Starve, and Viva Pinata. You explore a zoomed-in up close world with your flock of weird little pokemonish bugs. Each subspecies has skills that are useful in different environments so you want to breed them or collect new ones that fit a certain niche. Maybe you want all fast flying bugs to avoid enemies and pass over water, or some deadly fighters and other sturdy haulers to carry the bodies of your foes back to your nest to eat. When food sources run out, you pick up and move somewhere else where you face new problems.


HD: Where do you see yourself and Northway Games in 5 years?

Sarah: I bet we’ll be deep into making a very large game by then. By our standards, “very large” is maybe a 3-year, 4-person project. I’d like to keep our team small and flexible so we can keep travelling. I’m guessing by then we’ll stop bouncing around quite so much and have settled on a few places to return to every year. We just haven’t found them yet…

HD: Any other updates, projects, upcoming games/projects from husband Colin or from yourself that you’d like to share with Hardcore Droid’s readers?

Sarah: Not yet, but keep an eye on for updates.

We will. In the meantime, I’ll content myself with the Android beta of Rebuild 3.

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About the Author

Aliya Tyus-Barnwell's first system was the old gray box known as the NES. Experience taught her that the assessment "hardcore" is not limited to games like Thrill Kill, and she's no longer ashamed to admit the cuteness of games like Dungeon Defenders. Now she writes techy news for Digital Trends and hones her fiction with the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers.

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  1. Pingback: Interview With a Game Designer: Sarah Northway | game designer

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