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INTRODUCING... FRIENDS OF THE BABY
Claude is Unleashed!
Hello and welcome to our inaugural issue of Friends of The Baby, created and curated by your favourite professional Babies at Sweet Baby Inc. We’re happy to have you on board—and to have you as an official Friend of The Baby. You may already know games and media but being a Friend means you get our unique lens on things, whether it’s the latest narrative design tools or which games we’re really into these days.
You may have seen me from our other social platforms, but you may not have heard me before, simply because I am a baby. True story. I go by Claude and I’m here to guide you through the recent goings-on at The Baby. Preamble done, let’s go let’s go!
STATE OF THE BABY
HELLO! And welcome to the first-ever Friends of the Baby Newsletter! We're excited to have you!
Sweet Baby has been in operation since 2018, starting out as three of us and growing to our current team size of 16+ enormously talented folks. Together, we've worked on over 70 projects ranging from indie to AAA and everything in between, and we've got a lot more on the way. But while we're a team focused heavily on narrative, the secondary goals of SBI have always been to bring new voices into the games conversation, to build a stronger games community, and to break down some of the walls the industry builds around us. We also want to help bring some transparency to the kinds of work we do, in a space where NDAs and secrecy can often keep new and aspiring devs in the dark. This newsletter is hopefully a step towards that.
I'm also excited for this to be a place where the team can speak about craft and creativity, show off their work (both games-related and otherwise), and just generally have fun freestyling. You'll see a lot of writing, but you can also expect art, recipes, music and other cool stuff we're keen to share.
So with a promise that my intros won't always be so serious, I hope you enjoy this first issue! Thanks for signing up!
Sweet Baby Inc.
WHAT’S NEW AT BABY HQ
Here we go! Time to pull back the curtains on what happens at Baby HQ. Just like you all, I’m a big fan of the Baby, but I’m puzzled by what goes on and how and where. We’re an enigma! Well, I’m here to break the silence (legally) with unprecedented access (mostly) to everything you need to know about what’s been going on at SBI these days. Let’s take a look!
🌍 Every Project Everywhere All At Once
Since this is our first newsletter, we thought what better way to get you reacquainted with who we are and what we do by showcasing all the killer projects we’ve had the honour of working on that are currently announced or releasing this summer. Check out this amazing reel made by fellow Baby, Amy-Leigh Shaw. You might remember her from her blog post on how to create a great portfolio. She contains multitudes!
(Song: “A Sad Cartoon” by Loathe)
🌃 Announcing: South of Midnight with Compulsion Games
In case you missed it (both the official announcement at the Xbox Games Showcase and the glimpse of SoM in our reel above), we’re proud to be working alongside Compulsion Games on their latest project, South Of Midnight. This Xbox-ready beauty will be here before you know it, but in the meantime, check out this blog post by Compulsion with everything you need to know about South of Midnight and its magical American Southern Gothic world.
🍚 Must Have Rice
We’re not kidding. The office’s latest rice cooker has been getting a serious workout these days, saving many of us a trip out to local eateries (and giving new depth to the age-old ‘we have food at home’ threat that every person over the age of 2 has definitely heard before).
Lately, some of our favourite rice toppers include 3-bean beef chili, red curry with chicken, bulgogi ground beef, and black curry lentils. Personally, I couldn’t choose a favourite, and in this case, is there really a need to?
NEWS FROM THE BABYSPHERE
Time for a rapid-fire round-up of exciting updates, announcements, and launches from some of Sweet Baby's wildly talented collaborators and colleagues. 😎
🔺 Triangle Agency Goes Bump In The Night
Shh, did anyone hear that? It sounded like… an original tabletop role-playing game? From Sweet Baby favorite Caleb Zane Huett, and his incredible collaborators at Haunted Table Games??! Huge congratulations to Caleb and the whole HTG team for the super successful launch of the Triangle Agency campaign on Kickstarter! Do you have a taste for paranormal corporate intrigue? Do you enjoy an artisanal blend of horror and comedy atop a thoughtful emotional foundation? Do you dream of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and cultivating powerful reality-warping abilities? Wow that's actually really specific but good news – Triangle Agency is literally made for you! For updates on Triangle Agency and all things Anomalies, give Caleb and Haunted Table proper a follow on your social platform of choice.
☀ Sunshine Shuffles Aboard
Big shout-out to Strange Scaffold, the eclectic and prolific indie studio founded by busiest-human-in-games Xalavier Nelson Jr., for the Spring release of animal poker adventure Sunshine Shuffle on PC and Nintendo Switch! Taking cues from cult favorites like Poker Night at the Inventory, this engrossing and outrageously charming neo-noir narrative adventure comes highly recommended from the SBI crew, and packs every ounce of the wit, humor, and care we’ve come to expect from the Strange Scaffold team. Will you play a better animal-centric post-heist poker and boat decoration game with a ska soundtrack that absolutely rips this year? Gonna hit that with a confident “probably not!”
🏀 Qalling All Quantum Ballers
Finally, let's check in with friend-of-the-Baby and multi-talented, multidisciplinary artist extraordinaire Spencer Garland, who's been hard at work on his upcoming killer app for Panic's Playdate handheld, Quantum Phantom Basketball. Production on the game is nearing completion, and Spencer's been out and about running demos for aspiring QPBallers all over the Bay Area -- including a 1:1 gameplay run-through with another visionary creative, prolific director/writer/artist Guillermo Del Toro! (Hellboy DLC for QBP when? 👀) Expect exciting news on QBP from Spencer later this year.
This issue’s narrative deep-dive comes from our Baby across the pond, Amy-Leigh Shaw!
Catchphrases and Characterization
Some of the most iconic characters of all time have chattered their way into our hearts in their own very specific style: catchphrases and verbal motifs that can become the hallmark of iconic characters, when they’re done right. The Sweet Babies have been talking about their favourite character catchphrases recently, and Amy-Leigh has been thinking about what makes the best verbal motif by examining (in her opinion) the greatest ever to do it: Franziska Von Karma of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
Exactly 25 years since the release of Ocarina Of Time, Zelda fans the world over can still identify “Hut, hut, haa, hyaah!” as the trademark yelps of its protagonist, Link. Without saying a word (until much later, at least), it was a voice that cemented the character’s memorability, place in history, and endearingly defined a protagonist that had as much enthusiasm for cutting the grass as they did for taking on armed skeleton guards.
Two and a half decades on, and as the shared-audio, short-form video takes centre stage across social media platforms, now more than ever, a single vocalisation can amplify a character’s nuances in ways that echo across the planet. Throughout media, the tiniest quirk of tone or turn of phrase has the power to take on a life of its own, and permeate pop culture with all the terrifying ease of a hundred angry chickens chasing down a frightened little soul in a green hat.
Across all this time, the same idea has remained true: when a character has a distinct verbal motif that speaks to their deeper being, it can instantly connect them to people on a foundational level, by condensing universal feelings or experiences into moments of text or audio. Too often, catchphrases as a concept are characterised by their worst examples - writing led by stereotypes and meaningless direction - and not celebrated for the authentic flashes of humanity they can capture. So what is a catchphrase or verbal motif done right?
Let me approach the question by introducing you to Franziska Von Karma: a notably young prosecutor seared into the hearts and minds of every Phoenix Wright: Justice Attorney fan. She feels the weight of her prosecutor father’s formidable reputation, is deeply insecure about commanding respect, and responds to that insecurity by constantly trying to convince herself - and those around her - that she is infinitely better, smarter and cooler than anybody, anywhere.
What’s interesting is that you can learn almost all of that information about Franziska’s character, just via the very specific way she speaks. She self-assuredly introduces herself as “perfect” - a word that fans of the series will immediately recognise the mantra of her father, Manfred Von Karma, a major antagonist in the series - and begins her existence in the Ace Attorney universe by tying herself to his expectations for her.
In contrast to her father’s “perfection”, Franziska’s defining word is memorably “fools”. While Manfred is consumed by inward-looking vanity and self-obsession, Franziska looks out at the people around her, and feels frustrated and threatened. The more overlooked and uncertain she feels, the more the word crops up, leading to some of her most notorious lines, for example: “I grow tired of the foolish foolery of the foolish fools of this foolish country.”
Those lines feel childish because they are supposed to - they remind us that Franziska is a thirteen year old girl - and the beauty of her distinctive verbal motif is that it reveals the truth of her imperiousness as a defense mechanism learned from a cold parental figure. Franziska is a child, pressured to demand respect from the adults around her, and her only model for respect is the way people feared her father. So she wears his attitude like an oversized coat and shoes, and tries not to let people see that the sleeves are too long for her arms.
I consider Franziska to be a great example of a verbal motif done well - because so much is understood about her inner life and experiences through just one word and an attitude. And I think that’s an important principle to write with when defining a character voice yourself: considering the simplest and most authentic way for that character to inadvertently bare their soul to anybody listening carefully enough.
That’s not to say that creating these quirks of voice is an easy, natural thing to do... or that it should be a forced step in the process of character creation - the best idiolects grow in around your characters as you write them, and come to understand who they are. After all, how can anybody else connect with your work until you do?
Creativity is a wild thing. We've all had those moments when something flows out of our pen or typing fingers and onto the page, and we think, "Huh! Who knew THAT was rattlin' around in my brain!" Being surprised by the ideas and influences churning around in our subconscious is, for me, one of the joys of creativity. And the purpose of this section of the newsletter!
Here's where you'll find the random, not-game-related things that are filling our creative tanks. Sometimes it might be a piece of media, others it might be a conversation with a stranger, or the way a field of flowers shone in the sunlight. Because creativity is omnivorous, and we want you all to feel well fed.
This issue’s inspiration is provided by resident Baby, Paula Rogers. Take a look!
“Stepping On Fresh Snow” embroidery by Narumi Takada @nrm_takada
I am enchanted by this beautiful embroidery of footprints in the snow by Narumi Takada. Yes, I am currently melting in the Texas summer, and snow sounds pretty great right now. But I love how quietly powerful this piece is–the story it tells by letting the viewer fill in so many of the details. The beauty of this mundane sight. The impressions we leave whether we mean to or not. As a writer, it's a reminder to me that oftentimes less is more. As an artist, it's a reminder that visual simplicity and artfully applied craftsmanship can make a profound impact.
Takada's whole catalog of ingenious embroidery is worth a follow, and I hope you all stay cool out there!
PLAY THAT BACK
This issue’s playlist is brought to you by Baby-in-training, Eve Juneau.
The theme for the Newsletter’s inaugural playlist of that of American 80s nostalgia, specifically through the lens of homage. As someone who grew up in the 2000s, all I really had for reference as to what the 80s were like was the popular media from that time, as well as references and homages to it, the latter of which has taken on a life of its own in recent years. They seem to reflect an idea of the 80s rather than the 80s themselves. This reflection can range from respectful nod (Drive and Stranger Things come to mind) to campy cheesefest (such as Kung Fury and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon), and of course music has run this gamut several times over.
The music from Drive and Hotline Miami were obvious choices for this playlist - Kavinsky’s Nightcall takes first place of this playlist to set the tone, and songs by M|O|O|N, Scattle, and Perturbator are sprinkled throughout for good measure. But even songs from Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto V, and Prey (2017) find a place in this playlist, as each harken to a facet of American ‘80s that is relevant to each game (Neo-noir, Heist films, and retrofuturism respectively).
I chose this theme because of a close personal connection to this style of music. I first came across it while I was studying in university and I found that the straightforward beats and sparse lyrics were very conducive to my study sessions, so there was a significant time in my life where this genre was all I listened (and subjected my study buddies) to. Most of the songs here are lifted directly from those study playlists, and almost all of them were discovered via a movie or game tipping their hat to an ‘80s L.A. that everyone seems to want to remember: One where people wore sunglasses day and night, and the sun hung in perpetual sunset turning the sky neon colours as streetlights passed in time with the beat.
This first tip, from one of our Boss Babies, David Bedard, is all about what it’s like to read a portfolio. Bet you never thought you’d be on the other side of the hiring table, right? Well, welcome, and hopefully this helps give you some perspective!
Hey there! As someone who does a lot of portfolio reviews, I'd like to give a little bit of insight into what it's like to peruse a stack of portfolios, in order to illustrate a point.
First, you will most likely open a zip file (which means downloading, extracting, finding a folder) and find one or multiple PDFs inside. You open all of them. Sometimes, the only PDF is a CV and it contains a link to a website that is the actual portfolio. You go to the website. It has a bunch of links to Twine games, scripts, or maybe more PDFs to download. You click on all of them. Eventually, you get to some writing—and in most cases, they are big, long pieces of writing that require a lot of time and effort to "get" into. You skim a little bit, click around to the other pieces, and try your best to give them an honest shot at engaging with their work—but you did block out a reasonable amount of time to read portfolios, and you still have many more to go through. So you make some notes on that person's name, maybe a couple of thoughts like "great dialogue" or "could use better structure", and then move on to the next portfolio...
Can I be honest? It's not a great user experience. Especially in games writing, where, as we know, user experience is everything.
The number one skill a games writer should have is the ability to pitch ideas and stories to other team members in a succinct way. So if someone isn't able to tell me their story in a concise, guided manner, it's not a good sign. The portfolios that stand out are those that are self-contained and contextualized. They are within one PDF or web page, and tell me why they're showing me a piece of writing. They show me a piece of a larger whole, because they understand I don't have time to read anything over 3 pages. They show me variety in voice, but also in types of games writing (UI writing, cinematics, branching, etc). They show me that the person writing the portfolio not only writes well, but understands that the process of making a game is collaborative. When you think of the bigger picture, you start to realize that writing a brief for a mission isn’t just writing a line of dialogue; it’s also writing information for level designers, programmers, audio technicians, and more.
All this to say that it’s important to think of the person reading your portfolio as you put it together. They're the one you want to impress. Focus on your absolute best work, organize it well, and tell the story of why you should be hired through the quality of your work and your understanding of this medium. You can do it!
FOOD BABY INC
Here is where you all find out how serious we are about our rice cooker. Enjoy this one-of-a-kind recipe from our resident chef Baby (yes, he is a real chef), Pelo Brisson-Tsavoussis.
KIM’S ABUELITA CHILI
We had a fairly recent addition to our staff, and while we don’t normally assign titles or awards to people with exceptional performance, the Zojirushi rice cooker has consistently won “employee of the month” since it joined the team. We often cook a communal pot of rice at the office and slap on any number of home-made, pre-portioned rice toppers that have made a temporary residence in the freezer. Remembering to eat can be a struggle for some people, and this has really helped keep the mood and energy levels up at the office. We highly recommend this setup for anyone that struggles with eating regularly, or just wants to take some of the pressure off of deciding what to eat in a pinch.
This recipe is one of our go-tos. It’s a crowd favourite and is decidedly Tex-Mex. For the uninformed, “Abuelita” is a brand of Mexican-style spiced hot chocolate mix, but you can sub that out for an equivalent mix or follow the recipe and replace it with some cocoa powder, sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon.
1lb ground beef
1lb ground pork
2 TBL vegetable oil or lard
2-3 cans (~300ml / 10oz) of beans, drained (kidney beans and black beans are good for this, feel free to use more than one kind)
1 large white onion diced
1 green bell pepper diced
1 red bell pepper diced
4-6 cloves of garlic minced
1-2 bird chilis or jalapenos minced (if you like things a little spicy)
1 can tomato puree (~300ml / 10oz)
2 TBL soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1 TBL fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin ground
1 TBL chili powder (the mix, not straight pepper)
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tab abuelita hot chocolate mix (sub for 1 TBL cocoa powder, 1 TBL sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon)
The final touch
2 cans corn niblets (or ~3 cups frozen corn niblets)
FOR VEGETARIANS: Feel free to substitute the ground meat with a vegetable protein of your choice and follow the same steps. -OR- Double your beans and vegetables, and skip the meat frying step at the beginning.
In a large skillet or pot with a good base (to retain heat), fry your ground meats over medium-high heat with the vegetable oil and soy sauce, salt and pepper until the moisture cooks away and the meat starts to brown. You’ll want to use a wooden spoon here to break up the meat as it cooks.
Once browned, add your diced onions and fry them with the meat until soft and translucent. After the onions, add your bell peppers, garlic, fresh chili, and turn the heat down to medium. Continue to fry, stirring frequently until the peppers have softened.
Add the rest of the seasonings and continue to cook until it smells very fragrant. Be careful to scrape the pan to make sure your seasonings don’t scorch.
Lower the heat to medium-low. Add your can of tomatoes and bring them to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
Add the Abuelita hot chocolate mix and stir to dissolve. Add half of your beans. Cook this until the liquid starts to thicken a bit (15-30 mins).
Add the rest of your beans and a little extra water if your chili has become too thick already. At this point, you’ll want to taste to check your salt and seasoning levels. Add as neccesary.
Once you are about 10 mins away from serving, add your corn niblets. Bring back to a simmer and let cook for those final 10 mins. Check your seasoning one last time and serve over rice, with corn bread, or tortilla chips as you wish. Garnish with a little sour cream and fresh cilantro if it sounds fun.
We freeze this in about 150g (5-6oz) portions and serve it over jasmine rice as a quick lunch meal. Takes about 2-3 mins to heat up from frozen at full power in the microwave. Enjoy!
Thanks for hanging out with us! It was a pleasure throwing this all together for you. I’ve absolutely exceeded the legal hours I’m allowed to work in Canada, so you’ll see me here and there online until our next newsletter.
Don’t be a stranger! Have anything you think the Babies can help with? Get in touch at sweetbabyinc.com!
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