In the Employee Spotlight series, we are highlighting the diverse and exceptional talent here at Jam City.
Meet Aja Signor, a Lead Game Designer for Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. To deliver creative and compelling game designs – especially for a game as renowned as Hogwarts Mystery – Aja draws inspiration from the world around her, focusing on human behavior and what moves the human spirit.
What drew you to Jam City?
The games. I’m a huge fan of bubble-shooter and match-3 games and Jam City had advanced both of those genres in a player-centric way that I wanted to be apart of.
For example, in Panda Pop, the game team added a lantern-themed power-up mechanic to the bubble-shooter space. I loved how they leveraged a core puzzle mechanic with a super intuitive and exciting gameplay innovation that ended up being exactly what the genre’s players really wanted. I knew working with the intelligent people that lead to that kind of innovation was going to be great for me, both personally and professionally.
Describe your role on the team.
I direct and drive the content design process for the narrative, features, and events in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. It’s an interesting mix of game design, movie directing, and management.
I work with the narrative team and game director to help ensure that the story and choices are engaging for players, while still remaining executable by the other content departments in time for us to release that part of the story to players. I also design what people do in the Hogwarts classes and work with the writers to make sure each of the activities is really fun. Additionally, I work closely with the other game designers on the game’s features and events to help ensure compelling and healthy content growth for the game.
Then I translate those designs and the narrative into visual direction for art, animation, and content implementation teams. Together, we figure out how to nail the drama, mood, look, and feel for everything that ends up in game. It involves a lot of storyboarding, and I even act out character animations, camera transitions, and timings for the teams. So, when Rowan gets knocked down the stairs or McGonagall smiles at you after you get a quiz answer correct, I—at one point—acted that out for the team!
What advice would you give young designers about breaking ground in the gaming industry?
Firstly, play and be open to designing all types of games. Just because you love racing games doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy making puzzle games. Every type of design helps you hone your craft and become a better designer. I often find that the games genres I haven’t played before teach me more about game design than the games types I’m familiar with.
Secondly, design for players and not for yourself—people can tell! Look to work at a place where the creatives there set out to do the same thing. There’s no room for ego or personal taste in games you make for other people.
Lastly, I encourage young designers to have a body of work. Show it to as many people—and in as many ways—as possible. This industry values what you have executed upon versus what you can talk about.
Where do you draw inspiration from when you set out to create unique game designs?
I draw inspiration from anywhere I can get it. I read a ton; I watch a lot of great visual media; and I love to go to travel and people watch. I find that to entertain people, I need to discover what inspires and moves them about entertainment or life in general. What hits them at their core and why? What misses and why? All of those answers influence the decisions I make moment-to-moment as a game designer.
What do you think makes Jam City stand out in a trailblazer in the gaming industry?
Jam City has a fervent focus on the players. At every level of the company, we’re asking what players want and how to give it to them at the best quality possible. I have not met anybody here who is working to churn out games only to make a quick buck. There’s a passion here for creating high-quality entertainment experiences.
What advice would you give other employees about how to succeed in their role?
I measure success by how useful someone is in meeting and exceeding their team’s goals. Be a creative problem solver and help figure out ways that people can do things faster, better and smarter, wherever possible. Any intelligent person can have a great idea, but success is driving that great idea towards execution no matter what obstacles stand in your way.