"Game Oscars" Finalist: Through Video Games I Want to Point Out Important Topics

May 31, 2024

Few people are lucky enough to belong among the Oscar nominees, one of them is also Tereza Kotěšovcová, a graduate of Matfyz and FAMU. However, the talk is not about awards for best films, but about a prestigious competition of independent computer games. The young developer was nominated as one of the six competitors in the category of Best Student Game at the Independent Games Festival in San Francisco this year and she presented her graduate game called “Planetka”.

Tereza Kotěšovcová at GDC

How did you enjoy the Game Developers Conference, which also includes the Festival of Independent Games?

A lot! I was very positively surprised by the conference. I managed to attend some interesting lectures, one workshop, and I spent most of my time at the Expo. I tried various games and I also chatted with people at my stand who came to play my game. There were a lot of them, and they were very communicative.

I heard your stand was under siege. Have you received positive reviews for your work?

Most of the stands were under siege, and the conference was packed with people. When I saw that there was a game available, I ran off to play it, but what I enjoyed the most was being at my stand and talking to the visitors. I got all the positive feedback. It was unbelievable. People were genuinely interested in my work, they wanted to talk about it, and added to which those people were people working in the field. It's one thing to have your relatives compliment you on a game, but my knees gave under me when the compliment came from, for example, a developer from Nintendo…

The Independent Games Festival (IGF) is held annually as part of the Game Developers Conference at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco. It is the largest gathering of the independent gaming industry. The festival was founded in 1998 as a space for the independent gaming community to share experiences, opinions, and news from the industry. During the show, prizes are simultaneously awarded in several categories for the best gaming achievements of the past year, and as it is the oldest and most prestigious award in its field, these awards are referred to as the „Game Oscars“.

As one of the nominees for the best student play, you were invited to the award ceremony. How was it?

I can't think of a word other than “epic”. I felt like I was at the Oscars or something spectacular like that. It's great that this competition has a student prize, but personally, I felt like I'd accidentally wandered off to the VIP section to see all the celebrities of the gaming industry.

Did you have the opportunity to get to know your opponents?

Yes, and I also played their games. What surprised me the most was that I was the only solo developer in the student category. There were rather small teams among the nominees, whose members often had already finished their studies and established their own studio where they were completing the game that originally started as a student project.

I certainly wouldn't want to be in the shoes of judges who had to pick a winner. Especially in a category where you rate the game as a whole and not specifically for the narrative for example. Each of the nominated games was interesting for something else. How do you compare a funny game to one that handles a serious topic? How do you compare an action game with a text-based one…? I liked the winning game very much (the best student game was “Once Upon a Jester” by Bonte Avond; ed.). Besides the fact that it is, of course, a well-crafted game, it is also nicely student-like gamesome.

Has your participation in the competition changed anything for you?

It liberated me from my doubts and gave me the motivation to continue with game development.

“It's one thing to have your relatives compliment you on a game, but my knees gave under me when the compliment came from, for example, a developer from Nintendo…”

What is your game about?

In my game, you play as a small planetoid. You take care of it, discover what it can do, but most of all, you must defend it from human invaders. They land on the planetoid and try to extract it. The planetoid is a minimalist game that takes place entirely on a single screen, controlled only by the mouse and completely wordless. It is a strategy that has no tutorial. The main content of the game is to figure out how the game actually works. Because I think you feel much better about discovering something on your own than when you're being led by the hand.

Where did the idea for such a game come from?

From the need to overturn established routines. In games, you very often play as humanity, whose goal is to accumulate resources and colonize the universe. In my game, it's the other way around. You see the situation from the perspective of the planetoid that the raw materials originally belong to and that is being destroyed by the people mining them.

Is ecology an important topic for you?

Although I wouldn't say that ecology is my main focus, I'm concerned about the state of our planet like many people of my generation and I'm worried about its future. In my personal life, I try to behave ecologically and sustainably, and I carry this into my work. I think that games and other works of our generation will present this topic at least subconsciously.

How long did you work on “Planetka” and what was the most difficult for you?

It's my graduation game, which was created during my senior year at FAMU. I worked on it myself, so what was challenging was that in addition to the design and programming, I also had to take care of animation or sound design. But the most difficult thing was to find a way to bring ecology into the game in a non-violent way. I didn't want the game to be educational, my goal was to create a normal game that would make the player think about the topic. At the same time, I didn't want it to be too depressing. In the end, I added an alternative ending, where the planetoid learns to live with people in symbiosis. But this ending is extremely difficult to achieve, not just anyone will succeed. But I wanted to have that possibility – hope – to exist there.

“I went to study at Matfyz because I liked computer games and I wanted to be able to create them. In the end, I got a lot more than I expected.”

You first graduated in Computer Graphics and Computer Game Development at CUNI MFF (Matfyz), then continued to study Game Design at FAMU. What brought you on this academic journey?

The Game Design programme at FAMU opened just when I was finishing my master's degree at Matfyz. So, I thought, why not give it a try. Plus, that same year I was taking Matfyz's Introduction to Game Design course, which assured me that this was really what I am interested in.

How would you compare these two fields?

It was a very different experience. Going from Matfyz to an art school was a bit of a shock, especially compared to a bachelor's degree. While at Matfyz I was able to hide as an introvert in a huge crowd of people at a lecture, at FAMU something like this was not possible because there were seven of us during the whole study period. So, the lessons were very individual and interactive. I'm glad I was able to try out both approaches.

Did Matfyz give you what you expected from it?

I naively went to study at Matfyz because I liked computer games and I wanted to be able to create them. In the end, I got a lot more than I expected – solid mathematical foundations, but also practical experience of working with VR or algorithms for AI, which are truly useful in game development. And I'm definitely glad that I took a very detailed lecture on C#. Thanks to this, my following studies were easier in a way that I could concentrate on game design instead of fighting with a programming language.

Game development is a promising field, but at the same time the Czech Republic has already become quite a competitive environment. How does a novice developer feel about it? Is it difficult to get ahead in the field?

Breaking through as an independent developer is difficult not only in the Czech Republic. But considering how small a country we are, we still have quite a few game studios, so I believe I could find a place in one of them. If not as a designer, then as a programmer.

The gaming industry is still dominated by men. Do you feel disadvantaged as a girl, or quite the contrary?

So far, I have not encountered either any sort of discrimination or any benefits. But it is true that men predominate in the gaming industry, which affects the content of the games. However, I believe that it will change over time. For example, the game design programme has its first four graduates, and we are all girls. I see this as an opportunity to come up with new themes that will no longer revolve around shooting zombies or simulating troops…

What do you intend to do with “Planetka” onwards? Or else do you already have an idea for another game?

In San Francisco I've been getting such positive feedback and questions about continuation of “Planetka” that I am thinking about keeping this way and trying to design a few more planetoids. If it worked, it could be a fully-fledged „big“ game. But that's kind of an ambitious plan that's just in my head right now, competing with other ideas that are already starting to pile up.

Where do you see yourself vocationally in the future?

My dream is to either work alone or in a small studio on indie games. Soon, however, I see myself more as an employee in a gaming studio. Getting practical experience in the gaming industry will come in handy.



Charles University, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics
Ke Karlovu 3, 121 16 Praha 2, Czech Republic
VAT ID: CZ00216208

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