For one summer in the mid-2000s, a not insignificant portion of the game designer Robin Hunicke’s day involved placing a Nintendo Wii disc into an envelope and posting it to Stephen Spielberg’s boat. Spielberg was on holiday at the time, taking a break with his family from sweltering Los Angeles and production work on the film adaptation of Herge’s TinTin. There was no time to break from Hunicke’s game BoomBlox, however, whose deadline was approaching. Besides, Spielberg’s original idea for the game – a kind of anti-Jenga involving knocking down towers of blocks – came about because he wanted a non-violent game to play with his children. He was happy to receive builds through the mail while on holiday, where his kids could pitch in with the feedback.
Hunicke’s path to this moment was unorthodox and unexpected. She grew up near the mountains in Saratoga Springs, New York, close to Vermont. Her mother taught maths and weaved. Her father was a nuclear engineer. They lived on a street alongside 20 or so other families, all with children of similar ages. In the summer Hunicke and her friends would build forts in the forest, and race twig boats in the frothing river. In the winter there were board-games and NES. It was a playful, often idyllic childhood, she recalls. Each summer during high school, Hunicke would be sent to art camp, where she’d paint and build.
One year Hunicke and her father built a grandfather clock. It had been, rather befittingly, her grandfather’s project originally. He built the base from African red hardwood then, upon realising the scale of the job, shipped the materials to his son and granddaughter to finish. Hunicke’s father ordered the clock mechanism from Germany. The finished clock still lives at her father’s house. Every time she returns home she listen to the rounded tock of the mechanism. “It fills me with joy,” she says. “I love the experience of seeing something you’ve made come to life.”