It’s Week 5 of Term 1, and we thought it was about time for us to sit down and have a chat – “we” being Janel Jolly and Anna Prein, from VFS Game Design‘s Class 33. Being both recipients of the Women in Games Scholarship, we wanted to learn more about each other, and what we thought of the program. So, let’s start!
Janel Jolly : Hey Anna! I’ll go ahead and start with the first question. What attracted you to the Game Design program at the Vancouver Film School?
Anna Prein : I’ve been living in Vancouver for about 5 years now, and a former roommate actually applied for the same Women in Games Scholarship a few years back. Once I had finished having my existential crisis about doing an unrelated undergraduate degree and then committed to pursuing game design, VFS was the first school I thought of.
In the past year, I started actively going to events in the community here, like Full Indie, and I kept meeting VFS Game Design graduates who were all intensely positive about their experience and who urged me to apply. I think that was definitely the biggest push! What about you?
Janel : That’s great that you were able to meet so many alumni. For me, I heard about VFS when I was searching for schools for 3D Game Animation 7 years ago. I decided to go with a local school at the time, but when my career plunged me into more of a design role, I realized how much I loved that whole process. I looked for educational opportunities and recognized VFS. Their reputation had grown and the quality of student work was really impressive. After attending the Game Design Expo and Open House, I knew that this is where I wanted to be.
Anna : So you started off doing 3D game animation, then. Was that your main interest when you first entered the industry, and were you interested in 3D for games specifically, or was that just a happy accident?
Janel : My main interest at the time was creating great art for games. I have a strong artistic background across multiple mediums that I wanted to build on. My education was catered more to 3D games, but I loved 2D, so I made sure to study vector on the side. I thought I’d be content with being an artist, but I unexpectedly found great joy in the designing process and with aiding communication between multiple disciplines. Design is tough, and it’s something I want to specialize in.
I’ve seen some of your artwork; it is great stuff. Do you think your artistic skill will be a big strength in the program? What do you think will be your biggest obstacle?
Anna : Thanks! I’m sure having some kind of art skill is going to help, but I’m actually far more interested in the coding side of things. I think that’s probably the biggest obstacle — I’m really afraid of getting pegged as “the artist” and missing opportunities to work on code. It’s a bit funny: my mother spent years telling me I should go into programming or web development, while I was dreaming of going to art school. Here I am now, trying to jump from art over to coding. I think those will be the two streams I ultimately choose, too.
And speaking of streams, we’ve all been discussing them quite a bit in our Term 1 class! I hear they’re going to get shuffled around a bit, but have you more or less decided on any, or is that still up in the air for you?
Janel : Good question, it’s one I have been asking myself a lot recently. I don’t have any programming experience and I know it is a critical skill to have in order to communicate ideas, so I would like to take that route. For my second stream I was naturally going to pick game art, but Victor Kam from Level Design 1 threw me a curve ball. I never expected to like Level Design so much! Now I’m conflicted of which one to pick… both are great streams.
It’s hard to believe we’re only on the fifth week of term one. Are you surprised by the amount of work we’ve been given? How are you managing your time and stress?
Anna : Oh, boy. The workload isn’t too surprising. I’d even say it’s less than I expected. I’m still working part-time, though, and good time-management is more important than ever. It’s hard to keep yourself from getting burned out if you never relax, so I try to get all my work done before I go home. That way, I feel free to just cuddle up with some tea in the evenings and work on personal projects. Because I enjoy most aspects of school and work, it’s not particularly depressing or discouraging.
I think we’re all at VFS because we love games (I hope!) and we want to be involved in the process of making them, which of course begs the question: what kind of games interest you?
Janel : It’s so crazy to look at the games available now, and the games I had when I was a kid. Back then I was obsessed with playing cards games or board games. If I had no one to game with, then I’d be on my Nintendo console playing Zelda, or on my computer playing Frogger. I was really fortunate because my parents never discouraged me from playing games. They were always lovingly supportive and even showed interest in what I played. I didn’t get into first person shooters or online games until I was in my teens. Now that I’m almost 30, I can pick up any type of game and find something to appreciate about it.
When I was growing up, I didn’t game with a lot of girls because I simply couldn’t find them. I’m very excited that women are becoming more involved as an audience and as developers. What are your thoughts on this? What positive influences do you think women have on the gaming industry?
Anna : I guess I was lucky, because I grew up surrounded by girls who enjoyed video games. It wasn’t until university that it became apparent to me how few women were actually involved! There’s potential for a whole new array of experiences to be shared with larger audiences, and the inclusion of more women and other groups into this industry can do nothing but good for us all. Traditionally, it feels like there’s been a push to distinguish “games for women” and “games for men.” I’d really like to see that line disappear, and be more inclusive of all groups in all games.
What do you think is the biggest influence on you when designing games, or even thinking about them (person, game, book, anything)?
Janel : Hmm… Like a lot of people, I tend to look at my personal life experience when creating game ideas or constructing the feel of the game. Not necessarily on specific past events, but the emotional and sensory experiences associated with them. When I don’t know where to look, I tend to look at our everyday heroes — random people who have inspired others through good deeds or unexpected accomplishments — and try to better understand what makes them so fascinating. I believe everyone has been on an incredible journey at one point in their life. You just need to take the time to listen, and you’ll quickly find some kind of inspiration.
I know the journey you and I are taking here at VFS will be a hard but rewarding one. I’m really looking forward to the future! What are your aspirations for after you graduate?
Anna : In a perfect world, I’ll graduate VFS, magically secure funding, and start a tiny studio. In reality, I’m well prepared to take a different path, but I would prefer to stick to smaller teams and more intimate projects. Even if it takes me a few years, I’m determined to make my dream come true. Bigger companies are great places to learn skills, but I prefer the more personal vibe of the indie community. What about you?
Janel : The real deciding factor for me is the company’s attitude about their people and product. There has to be a strong mutual passion that echoes throughout the development team. After all, we’re trying to entertain people! I find that there are a lot of companies in Vancouver that have this kind of enthusiasm. United Front Games, East Side Games, Relic… they are all different but never short on passion. Ideally, that is where I want to start working. I’m building my network now to try and achieve this.
Well, I think that sums up our little introduction for now. Thanks so much Anna! I look forward to working with you, and to someday see you reach your dream.
Anna : The same to you! It’ll be interesting to see if our viewpoints change over the course of the year. We should definitely do this again and see how things have gone.
Janel : I definitely foresee another conversational between us in our future, hopefully after we pick our streams. Jolly, signing out!