Kristine Tilos, a recent graduate of the Game Design program at VFS, is no stranger to a fast-paced life. Before she even completed her last day at VFS, Kristine had already realized every new graduate’s dream: she landed an industry job in her field of choice, at one of the, ahem, hottest video game developers in Vancouver—Hothead Games. Kristine was kind enough to answer some of our burning questions about her time at VFS and what the transition was like from classroom to studio.
Congrats on the new job! Where are you from and what were you up to before coming to VFS?
Kristine: I’m from the Philippines, and spent ten years of my adolescent life living as an expatriate in Malaysia. I worked as an Inclusion Teacher for a kindergarten child with special needs in the International School of Kuala Lumpur. Before my family was repatriated back to the Philippines, my parents applied for Permanent Residency here in Canada. We moved back to Manila and I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, majoring in Psychology and Education. We got our PR documents a couple months after I graduated, then migrated here.
I’d never been to Canada prior to the move, and didn’t exactly know what to do, or pursue next, since I didn’t have the necessary paperwork to teach kindergarten here. I knew that the first thing I needed was to get work experience here in Canada. With luck, I landed a job at IKEA as an Admin Specialist for Ikea Food Services within two weeks of arriving in Vancouver.
What made you want to pursue a career in game design? Were you always interested in this kind of work?
Kristine: I’ve always been fascinated by computers and video games and have always been obsessed with technology. I played a lot of PC games growing up, and owned a PS and PS2. I had a Gameboy, Gameboy Advanced and a DS. It was a rather serious addiction to video games and I got myself into some homework-related trouble and a few groundings because of it. I’m much better now, though.
I’ve always been obsessed with art too, and used to get in trouble in elementary school for doodling and drawing all the time. I started dabbling with digital art in high school and worked as a freelance graphic designer for a couple of years after graduating. I also used to read and write a lot. I seriously considered pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at some point, but decided that it was better suited as a hobby.
Despite my passion for video games, I never imagined I’d actually find myself in the Video Game Industry. If you told me I would be two years ago, just before I moved to Canada, I would’ve laughed and never believed it.
Why VFS? How did you find out about the Game Design program?
Kristine: While working at IKEA I made friends, who introduced me to their friends. It was through that process that I met Damien Le Lievre, a Game Design TA at VFS. He told me about the program, and about scholarships, and I immediately knew I had to apply. I knew it’d haunt me, and that I’d think about it and wonder “What if?” for the rest of my life if I didn’t just take the chance. So I contacted John Robertson (Senior Admissions Advisor) for more information, and he gave me a tour of the GD campus.
My parents had flown to Calgary at the time, because they were trying to figure out where to settle down and wanted to see if Calgary was a viable option. I arranged a second campus tour with John to show my parents around as soon as they returned. My family, who had decided to move to Calgary, agreed to support me on the condition that I got the full scholarship amount. I submitted my application for the scholarship.
There was about a week or two of anxious waiting, followed by John inviting me over so we could talk about the result. He told me that there was both good news and bad news. The bad news was that I could only get half the scholarship amount I was hoping to get. The good news was that I could receive the full amount if I decided to start in August instead of October.
I couldn’t really keep it in at that point. I started to cry in the meeting room, just out of sheer joy and disbelief. Whenever I think about my life and how I found myself in the Games Industry, even now, it’s hard to keep my emotions in check.
What was your experience like in the program? What was the hardest thing about it? What was the best thing about it?
Kristine: My experience in the program was nothing short of amazing. This has easily been the happiest year of my life to date. I’ve never felt more challenged and fulfilled. My class has been through so much together, and we’ve accomplished so much. It’s crazy how fast time flies, and at the same time, thinking back—it’s crazy how much you can cram into a year.
It was a very challenging experience. There is so much to learn, and despite the fact that VFS curriculum is already crammed full of highly relevant courses, there is always more that isn’t taught and this is no fault of the school. A year is not a lot of time to teach all that there is to know about Game Design. I took the initiative to learn as much as I could on the side, while juggling the crazy course load. The year is a lot of long days and sleepless nights. This one-year experience is all about what you choose to make of it, and how hard you push yourself. It’s so worth it.
The best thing about it is the people that you find yourself surrounded with. Students from all sorts of different backgrounds, likely with the same geeky interests and hobbies as you. Teachers that have worked in, or currently work in the Industry. Mentors that work with you in the development of your Final Project, who impart so much knowledge and treat you like peers.
My time in Pre-Production and Production was particularly dear to me. I worked on a flying game called Nuts for Gems (available on the VFS arcade!) with some of the most talented individuals I know. The other members of my team were Luciana Abe, Pedro Cardial, and Liam Semeniuk, and we were mentored by Justin McGuire (a designer at Electronic Arts). Our time together has strengthened our friendship. We all grew together and learned more about game design through this project. It was awesome—we delivered what we set out to make. We made a game! We won the Best Final Project Award! I will definitely miss my time as a student at VFS.
What was life like after graduation? How did you find out about the position at Hothead Games? What was it like starting so soon?
Kristine: I was really lucky.
A friend of mine, Kramer Solinsky, the QA Associate at Hothead Games, whom I met during one of the First Fridays (a GD student-alumni socializing event at a nearby bar on the first Friday of every month) recommended me for the position at Hothead. He is a GD alumni and we’d become good friends during my time as a student. I had my interview with Hothead the day after my Industry Pitch and Play Night. It was a Friday and they told me that I would have to start on Monday. That Sunday, I got an email with the news that I didn’t land the position, but that they’d keep my information on file, which was fine—I still had Employment Prep and Portfolio Development classes for three weeks before we graduated. A week and a half later I got a call from Hothead telling me that there was a new opening, and that they wanted me to fill it. It made my day.
It was a little strange starting work even before graduating. I remember packing up my stuff that Friday (the same day I signed my contract), and thinking back on the life-changing experiences of the last year. I remember thinking just how much I’d miss it. Hothead gave me the day off for my graduation, so I got to celebrate adequately.
It’s been great so far at Hothead. I’m doing QA with a team that consists of other GD alumni, which made it really easy for me to integrate. I feel right at home.
Do you have any advice to share with new students? For people thinking about a career in game design?
Kristine: Making games is very different from playing games.
It’s a very challenging year, and what you’ll get from it will depend on what you put into it. Push yourself hard, but know your limits and don’t burn yourself out. Take a break from work every now and again (this is harder than you might think). Be a sponge, and learn all that you can from the teachers and mentors. Don’t be afraid to try things out of your comfort zone. Even if you have no interest in Art, or Code, or whatever, learn it—if only to understand how it works so you know what others are doing.
Team work is important! Making games is all about working with a team. Leave your ego at the door. Be open to other ideas and don’t be a jerk. Chase the fun of the games you make, and don’t be tied down to the designs that are on paper.
Socializing is a must! Networking is important! But don’t do it just because you want to get a job. You should do it to make friends, and to surround yourself with other creative people who you can learn from and be inspired by. Spend time with others and get to know them.
And have fun (seriously)!
Thanks for speaking with us Kristine, and best of luck at Hothead Games!