Bachelor of Creative Technologies graduate Claire Barilla was recently named by MCV Pacific as one of the Top 30 under Thirty in the Australasian Games industry - a MASSIVE achievement for someone who has only been involved in Game Development for four years!
"That was very exciting, I feel so honoured to be recognised, and lucky that I am on a list with so many amazing friends, mentors and amazing game developers I admire," says Claire of her industry success thus far.
But how did Claire get to where she is in such a short amount of time? We caught up with her to find out more about her journey at Media Design School and what's she's been up to since graduating in 2016.
Before starting her studies at Media Design School, Claire had qualified as a Graphic Designer in South Africa. It wasn't until her father moved to New Zealand and suggested that she come over to study game development that she considered re-training in game development.
However, when she first started her game design degree with a different tertiary provider, she found out it wasn't all it was cracked up to be:
"When I started, I discovered that the university only offered a single paper on game design in the second year of the degree, so most of the work I ended up doing was a re-do of graphic design. Then my dad found Media Design School and when I visited the university, I found that they had a much higher standard and the course was centred around game development."
One of the most exciting opportunities that Claire was given during her time at Media Design School was an invitation to pilot the Media Design School Studios programme. The itsfine team first came together during an assessment for one of their second year papers.
During a rapid prototyping paper, Claire and the itsfine team made the prototype of Split, which is described as "...a beautifully minimalist puzzle game where players must divide themselves to explore, solve and create."
"Our team worked really well and the game had a fairly solid mechanic. After taking it to a few meet-ups we had a huge amount of interest and people started asking when the game would be released. This drew the attention of the MDS accelerator programme," says Claire
With encouragement from some of their lecturers, the five students involved in the project decided to create an indie games studio, itsfine, in the hopes of further developing their initial prototype for Split through Media Design School’s industry accelerator programme, Media Design School Studios.
"We were the first team to get given the opportunity to commercially develop a game through MDS Studios and, currently, the only team to release a game through this program. This allowed us to show off our games on commercial and professional game development platforms."
So, what were the most valuable lessons that itsfine learned as part of the accelerator programme?
"One of the biggest things we learned from this program was sometimes you just have to go through and do it. It was a lot of hard work getting a game to market and in spite of both our successes and failures we learned a huge amount from the accelerator,"
"No one is going to give you the magic key to success, it is something you earn through headstrong determination and hard work. Our team worked very hard - while some of there other students were going home after lectures, we stayed and worked. Your commitment, not just to your own work, but to your team as well, will speak the loudest," says Claire.
Claire's determination to succeed and willingness to help others garnered her a reputation in the New Zealand games industry as a hard worker. Before finishing her Game Art degree in 2016, Claire had already landed a job with PikPok, one of New Zealand's leading game publishers in Ad Operations.
"I manage relationships with my companies partners, negotiate deals, and design placement systems. It has been a lot of fun learning about a whole different side of game development. My job is not really something that can be taught; many people think that there is only art or programming in game design, but there is an entire side of production that is a crucial component of game development."
Claire's experience with itsfine played a major part in her decision to work in the production side of the games industry: "during my time in the accelerator program I was the only member of my team who worked on all of these additional production tasks and that's why I wanted to work in production instead of art when I finished," she says.
For anyone considering studying the Bachelor of Creative Technologies with Media Design School, Claire has the following advice:
"Don't forget the soft skills! I chalk up a good chunk of our success to our soft skills, our ability to work as a team, to communicate, to compromise, to put ourselves out there and move out of our comfort zone,"
"The game development industry is very small, doubly so for New Zealand, and everyone knows everyone. Volunteer, go to conferences and meet-ups, help others, as that is how people get to know you in our industry,"
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Claire has this to say: "Work well with your team ... and don't be a dick."