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SLU Launched Path for Meta VR Game Designer

by Megan Favignano Mansouri

Travis Hoffstetter (A&S ‘05) started his college career at Saint Louis University unsure of what major or career path most interested him until a study abroad experience in Beijing helped him reflect on what he wanted to do in life.

“That opportunity to go out and explore the world and get away from everybody and everything I’ve known, to get back to what’s important and come back focused — that was really rad,” Hoffstetter said. “I met my wife the second semester of that trip. It was a big journey for me.”

Now a lead designer for Meta in the San Francisco Bay area, Hoffstetter uses game design to help build the tools needed to create the Metaverse.

Travis Hoffstetter and his three children pose in jackets and hats at sunset in front of a body of water with mountains in the distance.

Travis Hoffstetter (A&S ‘05), poses for a photo with his three children.

Starting at SLU

Becoming a Billiken was a natural step for Hoffstetter, whose parents met in high school and attended SLU together. His mother worked as a professor in the School of Medicine, and his younger brother, Barret, also attended. 

“I came into SLU with really wide eyes,” said Hoffstetter, who earned a master’s degree in interactive technology with a level design specialization at Southern Methodist University after earning a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at SLU. “I started off as computer science and premed at the same time. So I was taking all these computer science classes and biology classes and I was pledging a fraternity. Then it crashed on me, and I had to make a decision about which way I wanted to go.”

His computer courses spoke to him more, leading him to drop his premed classes. He joined Phi Kappa Theta and focused on enjoying being a college student. Then, he studied in Beijing for 10 months.  

The resources were there at SLU to help me get this going. There wasn’t a predefined path for me to go down, but I was able to work with professors. I certainly didn’t take a straight path to get here.” 

Travis Hoffstetter (A&S ‘05) 

He had always been good at video games and, after reflection, decided to explore that as a career path. Around the time he returned from study abroad, his father heard a radio ad for the master's program in level design, a subset of video game design, at Southern Methodist University. Hoffstetter made that his goal. To prepare, he took art classes at SLU and developed a portfolio site with a video game pitch. 

“The resources were there at SLU to help me get this going,” Hoffstetter said. “There wasn’t a predefined path for me to go down, but I was able to work with professors. I certainly didn’t take a straight path to get here.” 

Milestones to Meta

 He considers his role at Meta to be his latest career milestone, but the first was The Bourne Conspiracy, the first game he worked on. He was living in San Deigo near the beach, surfing before work most mornings and using the skills he had been building for so long.


Travis Hoffstetter (A&S ‘05), and his son in wetsuits on a beach.
Travis Hoffstetter (A&S ‘05), and his son pose for a photo on the beach.

The next step along his path was his first critically acclaimed game: a 2013 Tomb Raider reboot that was well-received by the gaming community. 

“It was the first time I had just destroyed myself at work, working until 5 in the morning. I was totally 100 percent invested in that game,” he said. “It opened a lot of doors for me, as well.”

He leveraged that background into his current role at Meta, allowing him to do something a little different. 

From their home base in California, Hoffstetter, his wife, three children and the family goldendoodle spend a lot of time enjoying the state’s beaches, mountains and vineyards. And, of course, they enjoy playing board games and video games. 

Travis Hoffstetter (A&S ‘05), poses for a photo with his family inside a cave.
Travis Hoffstetter (A&S ‘05), poses for a photo with his wife and three children.

Hoffstetter said that shifting to social VR has been exciting but also a little scary, allowing him to go places where game design hasn’t been before. He’s working on game content for headsets and mobile devices. In past roles, Hoffstetter had an impact on one game. Now, his work impacts a wide variety of games and a platform.
 
“You’re not going to get anywhere unless you put yourself out there and let it roll,” he said. “You only have one shot at it. If you really want it, you need to go out and get it with everything you’ve got. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it can happen for you.”


Alumni Advice for Billikens 

Meta VR Game Designer Travis Hoffstetter (A&S ‘05) 

What advice do you have for current students interested in game design?


"You’ve got to be hungry and don’t give up. You have to go out there and you have to try. You’ve got to go and network with the game-developer community in your area.

There is a group called the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). They connect professional and aspiring game developers through local chapters in cities worldwide. If you join your IGDA local chapter you can start to meet up with people. Or you can blast people and say. 'Hey, I’m hungry, I want to do this awesome thing, I'm not sure exactly how to do it. Can you give me some advice?' And people like me, who struggled and didn't know, nine times out of 10 will respond because we can smell somebody who's hungry and wants it." 

What advice do you have for game design hopefuls about to graduate?


"If you’re close to graduating, I would say look where your skillset is right now. If you’re an engineer, you might be close. If you can do 3D math, then, alright, you might be able to get in. If you are more of a designer or an artist, then you're going to have to demonstrate your skill set. I would think about what is the shortest path for me to demonstrate that.

For example, Fortnight has an island-creator tool right now. So you can make your own Fortnight island. You can make a racing game, a fighting game or anything within the Fortnight universe. You can make something like that and show it off to people. When you go to get a video game job they want to see the goods, they want to be able to play it for themselves. So how can you demonstrate that or demonstrate that you have a specific skill that will let you grow into that role?"