What a video game 'world builder' does in a workday – The Lily

Science & Technology

Welcome to The Work Day, a series that charts a single day in various women’s working lives — from gallery owners to stay-at-home parents to chief executives. In this installment, we hear from Kimberly Kreines, a video game world builder who recorded a workday in December.
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Name: Kimberly Kreines
Age: 39
Location: Seattle
Job title: Senior world builder for Firewalk Studios
Previous jobs: Just a month ago, I was working as a full-time novelist (hopefully, my fantasy novel will be forthcoming in late 2022). Before that, I was a world builder, creative game designer and writer for “Magic: the Gathering.” Previously, I was a screenwriting professor, screenwriter and script supervisor in Los Angeles. And before that, I was a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist.
What led me to my current role: It’s been an incredible ride getting to where I am today. At times beautiful, at times heartbreaking, as often inspiring as it was devastating, and overall, wholly and utterly unpredictable.
If you had asked me at any point along the way “where I saw myself” in 10 years, five years or even just one year, I would never have come up with anything resembling where life took me. My answer would have been based on a linear prediction, the logical next step I thought I would take in my career. But I’ve learned that’s not how life works; life isn’t logical or linear, it’s chaos and change and challenge.
[ What a sommelier in New York City does in a workday]
I began my journey deep in the science sphere, writing algorithms that translate neural impulses into mechanical output used to control robotic devices. And honestly, I just couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen if the technology was just a little more advanced. I found myself wanting to spend more time daydreaming and writing science-fiction stories about the technology than I wanted to spend developing it.
Having been addicted to writing since 5, I ultimately decided (in part thanks to the perspective I gained from dealing with a debilitating and rare illness for years) to surrender to life’s magnetic pull on my soul. I allowed myself a chance to pursue my passion, I went off and got a Master of Fine Arts at Solstice. That program and those people changed my life in the very best of ways.
Another pivot in my trajectory led me from Boston to Los Angeles, where I dove into the world of screenwriting and experienced the powerful magic of on-set collaboration. There’s nothing quite like the high from working with a team of incredibly passionate and talented people to make something stunning together.
But this was years ago (before #MeToo), and L.A. was L.A., and I was a young woman. I won’t go into it here, but I will say: “Me too.”
What happened to me in L.A. had a deep impact on my confidence and the value I put on myself and my work. At some point, I decided I didn’t want to subject myself to that environment any longer. But at the same time, I didn’t want to give up the creative collaboration I had come to so love.
That’s when I found my way up north to Seattle, home to Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes the iconic trading card game “Magic: the Gathering” (my literal favorite game in the world).
I found a creative home at Wizards, writing episodic fiction, building the worlds of the Magic multiverse, working with artists, game designers and other creatives that fed my insatiable appetite for creative inspiration. I loved so many things about it.
But it’s no secret that the game industry can be a challenging place for women to work. I left that job with a new panic disorder, anxiety, depression and shattered self-confidence. All I wanted to do was hide. That was a low.
But as my grandma always said, “This too shall pass.” In time, I willed myself to get up. I started to claw my way out of the hole I had fallen into. I did a lot of work to manage my panic attacks. And slowly, very slowly, I worked up the courage to try writing again. I wrote for myself, fictionalized and fantastical stories about all the things that had happened to me. I cried, a lot. I raged. Rage was good; it wasn’t depression.
I decided to try writing a book. I succeeded. It was messy and utterly imperfect, but it was a book I had written and I was proud. I began to feel alive again. I started working on revisions.
And then I was hit by a car. I almost died. My body was broken. It took two years of daily physical therapy to get anywhere near the mobility I once took for granted. This experience fundamentally changed me again (of course it did, that’s what life does). It empowered me. Why? Because I now know what I am capable of. I know I am strong, incredibly strong. I know that “they” were wrong. All of them. About everything. And I try to remember that every day. I try to believe in myself. I try to channel the bravery I know I possess into my creative career.
[ What a chief executive for a health-tech company does in a workday]
That’s the mind-set I was in when this new opportunity came my way. Firewalk Studios was looking for a world builder for their new AAA multiplayer video game. I was hesitant at first, but I ultimately decided that I was ready. I took the job. A big factor in my decision was the culture Firewalk Studios is striving to create. I’ve only been here a month, but I feel like I can thrive here. In part because of the environment and in part because of who I am becoming.
I am daring to dream again. I have some big dreams and hopes for one, five, 10 years in the future. And the truth is, I don’t really care which ones come true. I just am so grateful that I am loving who I am now and that I have yet one more opportunity to learn and grow. I’m ready. I’m ready for the joys, I’m ready for the challenges, and I’m ready for all the surprises.
How I spend the majority of my day: Short answer: world building.
Longer answer: The best way I can describe world building is that I get to play god. I get to literally create a new world. I get to decide what goes in it. I get to decide what it’s like. I get to decide who lives there. (Of course, all with the collaboration and approval from the rest of the incredible team designing this game.)
World building is all about establishing the details of a fictional place, creating a robust history for it, constructing a scaffolding that comprises dozens of different cultures, societies, species, flora, fauna, races, rituals, religions, conflicts, art styles, sports, landscapes, architecture, anything and everything that goes into making this new never-before-seen world feel real.
A world builder does a lot of research, draws on a lot of random knowledge accumulated over the years, and makes up details on the fly. This is the perfect job for me. It allows me to utilize my logical/science/research brain and at the same time tap into my boundless creative potential. I didn’t know world building was a thing one could do until I started my job at Wizards, but when I found it, I knew it was “my thing.” I feel so lucky to have this opportunity to world build at Firewalk.
8 a.m.: Wake up. Get no more than two steps out of bed before I’m greeted by the sonorous wail of my cat, Moriarty, as she says good morning.
8:20 a.m.: After getting dressed and ready for the day, I eat breakfast. Full disclosure, today I was preparing my usual oatmeal, yogurt and cranberry parfait, hoping it would look all lovely for the photo and I ended up spilling the vast majority of the oatmeal all over the floor. At least I had enough left for breakfast. Photogenic or not, it was delicious.
8:30 a.m.: I eat and check emails, responding to any looming creative questions from yesterday while I entertain Moriarty with morning games.
9 a.m.: Officially put on my work shoes; this has taken on new meaning during the pandemic. No longer cute boots or fancy flats, my work shoes are pink sneakers so I can spend some of my working hours walking on the treadmill at my standing desk. I usually start the workday with whatever document or handoff I had left unfinished the day before. I rev up my mental engines and get ready make something awesome for our game.
10 a.m.: Narrative stand-up. I hear what my team has been up to and share my own work. We help each other with anything we’re blocked on.
11 a.m.: A presentation! I have to pitch my world ideas to all the Firewalk stakeholders.
12 p.m.: Lunch walk. I take advantage of living in West Seattle. I feel so lucky to live here. I can’t get over the beauty of the mountains and ocean (especially having come from the Midwest). I am grateful everyday for the world around me, the place I live, the natural beauty of it all. I spend my walk letting creative ideas percolate. Or, if my husband happens to have a free lunch hour, then we walk together and chat.
4 p.m.: Creative work. Writing. Brainstorming. Researching. You know, doing the world building thing. At my walking desk until Moriarty demands I sit so she can cuddle on my lap while I write. I won’t complain.
6 p.m.: Pencils down. I try to end the day on time. I try to honor the importance of spending quality time outside of work. I strive for balance, but it can be hard to walk away from the cool-stuff-making sometimes.
6:30-7:30 p.m.: Workout. I hop on the elliptical and read a good book to distract me from the sweaty part. I’m currently reading “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir, the author of “The Martian,” and I am 1,000 percent in love with this book.
8 p.m.: Walk around the neighborhood with my husband. We share stories of our days. Shiver in the Seattle winter rain and talk about where we want to travel next. Hawaii?!?
9:15 p.m.: Dinner. It’s leftovers tonight. We made way too much Bolognese in the slow cooker this past weekend, but then again can you ever have too much Bolognese? (Answer: No.)
10 p.m.: I play video games and hang out with my husband. Moriarty snuggles with us while we play. I’m playing “Immortals Fenyx Rising” and loving it.
11:30 p.m.: Dessert and show time. I snack on Ben and Jerry’s Topped Thick Mint straight out of the container while watching something light that we hope will make us laugh. “The Great North” is a new one we’ve been liking, but I’m never against rewatching favorite episodes of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” or “Parks and Recreation.”
12 a.m.: Bedtime prep, then reading time. Moriarty snuggles with us while I read aloud in bed. This is a nightly ritual my husband and I have had for more than 15 years. We’ve read scores of books. Currently, we’re reading “Dawnshard” by Brandon Sanderson.

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