At Gameheads, we believe we have the best students of any tech program in the Bay Area. Therefore, starting this month we will be doing a monthly column called Student Spotlights. This month we want to honor one of our vets, Ciarra Matthews who has been having a phenomenal 2017 year. Ciarra is the Art Designer for Team Halls High who just won the 2016 ESA LOFT Innovation Fellowship. She is scheduled to graduate from UC Davis this year with a B.A. in Design. She also just won the WomenIn AIAS Scholarship, “a collaborative effort to attract, retain and advance women in the Interactive Entertainment industry by supporting education and professional development programming.” Hot off of her trip to Las Vegas for the DICE Awards, here are some words from one of our first Gameheads. 


Name your favorite video game(s):

Transistor has eye-catching art and gorgeous sound design. But it’s the stories that keep me playing. I love story-based games, which this has and it’s gorgeous. Also, I’ve loved Pokemon since I was a kid. My earliest memories are of playing it. I used to be extremely competitive and I talked a lot of mess. It was an exciting time to play a few years ago. Pikmin was my first Nintendo game. It really put me into a whole new world of challenging and interesting video games. It had a lot of original content and ideas.


Name the first video game you played:

My dad was really into old stuff, so it was probably an arcade game, but I don’t remember the specific name. I do remember he had me playing even before I could talk. It was a brightly colored game with birds involved.


How long have you been with Gameheads?

I’ve been with Gameheads since fall of 2015. I was invited by Gameheads before the program even started, in its pilot phase.


What team are you a part of and what game are you making?

I’m a member of Team Halls High. We’re making the Halls High game. It’s a coming of age based game played from the perspective of a Black high school student who is failing history until he receives supernatural help. From there, you play through two levels that we’re still designing. There’s also a dungeon crawler side game. You study Black history through the game.


How did you come up with this idea?

Our story designer came up with the idea before I joined Gameheads. I am the art director so I mostly do art. Doing art for video games is a massive project. You need background for the game. You need character animation. All the characters need to be animated. You need cut scenes for the game. Even the user-interface system has to be designed.


What’s the best part of building the game?

Knowing that I can is exciting. You’re bringing various people to work on the same project. We’re making something someone can sit down and play. That’s pretty cool. The product is definitely the coolest part.


What’s the most challenging part of building the game?

Communicating is hard. It’s hard to coordinate when we’re all so far away and we don’t get to meet face to face very often, especially during the school year when everyone gets busy.


Who is/was your mentor?

Lisette Montgomery. I learned exactly what I need to do to get better, what I need to present to my future employer to be hired. I also learned the basics of good design, especially for a game.


Why video games?

It’s a great medium. There’s a lot of ways to grow. People play for different reasons. I like story-based games. Others like the action or game play. It works when you have a good amount of both.


What is your tech superpower?

I’m good with Photoshop. It’s mostly what I use for game developing. I’m trying to learn Unity now.


Where do you see yourself in the future?

I plan to release various video games and see where it takes me. I’d like to work for a good company. I’m looking at Double Fine in San Francisco.


How is Gameheads helping?

Gameheads is giving me the resources to do the things I want to do. I networked with people who I’m sure will make it in the industry one day. Gameheads also gave me my Adobe subscription, which I use to do my art. Without the subscription, I couldn’t to do my artwork because I couldn’t afford it.