The assemblage of ladies that make up Brooklyn band Vivian Girls pretty famously have their fingers in a ton of pies — Cassie Ramone has a side project band with Woods bassist Kevin Morby called The Babies, Fiona Campbell plays with Coasting, and “Kickball Katy” Goodman jams with Cat Power’s Gregg Foreman in All Saints Day, as well as with solo project La Sera. Now, it seems, Goodman is branching out beyond the music sphere into the tech world.
The other week, Goodman revealed her passion for coding with the release of a text-based computer game called “VIVIAN GIRLS DECIDE-AN-ADVENTURE-THAT-IS-ALL-YOUR-OWN-FUN-TIME-GAME!!,” a choose-your-own-adventure jam that centers around touring with the Vivian Girls.
The game, which is a pretty simple little deal, was hardly a lark for Goodman, however, as she tells Hive that it’s only the first effort in a much more intense foray into the tech scene. Yup, like M.C. Hammer before her, Kickball Katy is looking to launch a startup. However, instead of just being the face of said mystery company — like many celebrity investors — she wants to go elbows-deep into the ones and zeroes.
Hive hit up Goodman to find out more about how she got into coding, as well as her plans for Silicon Valley domination.
How did you decide to start learning how to code?
Me and my friend, we were going to be doing a startup company — like web development stuff. When you start up a company you need to have a web developer — it’s good to co-found with a tech person. So we spent a couple of days — not that long — trying to find a tech person to be on our team who will be just as passionate about the project as we are.
But that is hard to do without any money. So why would anyone else want to be involved? Because it’s a lot of work. The sheer quantity of time that we’re going to be dedicating to our new project is going to be intense, and anyone who isn’t personally involved isn’t going to want to do it. And we didn’t know any tech people that would want to do.
So we spent three days trying to find somebody and then we realized that that was not going to happen. So basically we said, ‘Screw it, let’s just become tech people.’ So we’ve been studying coding and we’re teaching ourselves how to code.
Crazy. So you’re not even taking classes? You’re just teaching yourselves?
Yeah, well, there’s a lot of online books about how to code, because that’s what people who code do — code websites about coding. So there’s a huge quantity of information online that can teach you how to code yourself.
What sources are you using?
Well, I just finished this book called Learn Code The Hard Way. It wasn’t super easy, but it was fun to go through the whole book and do it exercise by exercise. And I’m going to start doing this — there’s a bunch of different code school sites online, so I’m just going to do a bunch of them. Right now I’m doing Ruby and I’m about to move forward to Ruby on Rails.
My game is written in Ruby. It’s so funny because I coded the game in Ruby and I put it online and a lot of people played it. Most people were like, ‘This is awesome! I haven’t done this before!’ And then about one percent of people sent me an email just being like, ‘Hey, just wanted to tell you that I know Ruby and your code is kind of disgusting.’ My code is very poorly written. Kind of spaghetti code. Very redundant. There’s so many ways to make it better. Right now I’m making a new game that is way more elegant codewise.
“I think that this text-based adventure game is kind of the lo-fi equivalent of lo-fi music.”
Did you have any experience with computer stuff before?
I did take computer science in high school. But that was like 10 years ago. But I guess a lot of the same concepts still hold true. I majored in physics. That wasn’t computer programming, but I’ve been doing science and math for years. I guess that’s just want I’m into in general — kind of nerdier stuff. I mean, I can code in HTML, but I never really learned new languages. Technology moves so quickly — they’re always coming up with better languages.
You said you were launching a startup — has it started yet, or is it just in an ideas phase?
Oh, no, it has not started yet. I can’t talk about it yet, because it’s not a thing yet. But it’s going to be a thing. Definitely.
So you’re making more games, right? You’re making one for SXSW?
The name of the game is ‘Katy’s Day Out.’ Have you seen the movie Baby’s Day Out? It’s like a lot like that, where you have to help me get around SXSW and you keep losing me. I feel like that’s something that happens a lot at SXSW. This March will be my eighth year in a row going.
Me and SXSW have quite a history together. I feel like I owe it a game. It’s always an adventure. It’s going to be a lot longer and lot more involved than the first game I had. It’s kind of writing itself, because I have so many funny stories to work from that have actually happened to work into the plot.
Do you have one that you can share?
I don’t really know… I have so many good time stories. Let me think… The last year the funniest thing that we figured out was that we started taking rickshaws from show to show with all of our gear on them. I don’t know why we never thought of doing that before. It’s pretty fun. I think I’m going to put that in the game.
Those are crazy. They’re like $20 per ride.
Yeah, but it’s easier to get around 6th St. without a car, so to get a bike person to wheel you around is pretty fun. Like pile all your amps and stuff. It looks funny when you’re riding down the street in a rickshaw full of amps and guitars and stuff. Last year we were on rickshaw and we were going to a show and we rode right past Nardwuar. It was the most bizarre moment that has ever been. I love him so much.
Will the game be text-based?
Yeah, I think I’m going to keep it text-based. I don’t think I’m going to make a web application, because I think half the fun of it is you have to download the file and then run it in the Terminal program. If it was just a website I don’t think it would be as magical.
What’s the process for writing that kind of game? Do you take suggestions at all from fans?
For the first game I didn’t take any suggestions at all for it, because I didn’t even know that I would put it out. It was one of the exercises in the Ruby book that I was doing. I was doing it as a homework assignment, to practice Ruby.
Sometimes you don’t even realize that people are going to enjoy something so much. And it’s usually the things that you’re not expecting people to like are sometimes the things that people like the most. So that’s cool when that happens. You’re like, ‘Really? You guys like this? All right.’ I thought it was going to be three nerds emailing me like, ‘Your code is messy!’ I didn’t think that other people would enjoy it as much as they did. I didn’t realize that no one really did anything like that.
I’m known for lo-fi music and I think that this text-based adventure game is kind of the lo-fi equivalent of lo-fi music.
Any reason why you did it for Vivian Girls and not La Sera?
No. Vivians Girls has toured so relentlessly for so long that the game just wrote itself really quickly. Where with La Sera I haven’t really toured that much in comparison. So when I decided to make a tour game it was second nature to make it Vivian Girls. But this next game is actually La Sera because it’s going to be about me at SXSW.
Speaking of Vivian Girls, are you guys going to put out a new album this year?
I don’t think so, no. We just put out one a year ago and I think we’re going to wait for a while. La Sera has a new record coming out in March and I’m pretty sure [Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone’s band] The Babies is going to have a new record. We’ve all been so busy with other things.
And no more lineup changes on the horizon?
That makes it a little easier to plot more choose your own adventure games. Do you have any more ideas aside from the SXSW edition?
Not particularly for Ruby text-based games, but I have a lot of ideas for other things I could develop. This text-based computer game thing was just me doing homework, and people seem to enjoy helping me do homework more than I thought that they would. But I have a lot more ideas for things I’ll be doing that are text-based from now on, just because I enjoy that stuff. Coding websites. Doing frontend and backend design. That’s what I want to get into now. But I’m just kind of a nerd in general, so it’s not that strange that I’m getting into this stuff.
Where do you get your tech news?
I read Hacker News. That’s it. Actually there was this article on there the other day about ladies learning code, which is this thing they do in Toronto. They rent out a space and if you’re a lady you pay like $40. It seemed to be really successful and it’s a way to get girls together to learn code.
It seems like kind of man’s world where a lot of guys have difficulty explaining computer science concepts to women. Everyone gets nervous and it’s not the best way for a lot of women to learn. There really isn’t a good environment for women to learn code without feeling alienated and weird and different, so my friends were joking that we should start our own ladies learning code in L.A…. At ladies learning code we would have green tea, we wouldn’t have Monster Energy drink.