Meet Alwin Ventura: a Recent Graduate who Makes Video Games for Cell Phones

2006 graduate Alwin Ventura

Alwin Ventura loves his job: He works as an associate producer for a video-game company -- Skyzone Entertainment -- that specializes in making video games for cell phones.  He’s worked games such as Animal House, Twinkle Town and Dungeon and Fighter.

Skyzone hired Alwin, who graduated in 2006, to work as a quality assurance (QA) tester. It’s the job of a QA tester to test video games for software bugs.  But after three months he was promoted to associate producer, where he focuses now on high-level game designs. Before getting a job at Skyzone, he worked as an Integrations Game-play Specialist at Microsoft-Massive Inc. His job there was to test and place advertisements in video games. 

Alwin is of a generation that was weaned on video games. He’s played since he was a child and when he was 10 years old he made a video game -- a simple adventure game.  Computing was his boyhood hobby.  The way other boys become infatuated with bicycles or sports or cars, Alwin became infatuated with his computer.  He was always disassembling his computer to see how it worked, or upgrading it so he could play ever-more advanced video games. 

In high school he read gaming magazines, one of which wrote about how video game companies were starting to hire college graduates. He knew that’s what he wanted to do -- one day work for a video game company -- but he wasn’t sure how to do it.  Could he study video game design and production in college?  In this interview, Alwin talks about how enrolling at NJIT helped him achieve his goal. He discusses his job -- what it’s like to make video games for cell phones and blackberries -- and offers advice to students who want to turn their hobby -- playing video games -- into a career.      

Don’t most people play simple games on cell phones, or are you working on more advanced games?
I am currently helping my company by writing up some high-level concept games that would still be simple to play. Complicated games don’t really work on cell phones due to technical issues with mobile devices, but we’re definitely looking to break the casual mold, especially since there is now a surge of touch screen devices coming out that will allow for more advanced games. 

You make games for cell phones. How is that different from making games for PCs?
Making games for cell phones generally has a much shorter development cycle.  But that depends on the game. Take a game like “Prey.”  Compared to the PC version of the game, the mobile version has less content (less game levels and fewer enemies), whereas the PC version has many levels and each level takes an hour to finish -- with a multitude of enemies to fight.  Cell phone games are smaller in comparison to their console equivalents.  Also, the screen size for mobile-device games are smaller and trying to put as much content on them as you can on a PC version is technically impossible.

What was it like working for Microsoft-Massive, where you worked testing and placing ads in video games?
That was my first job in gaming, and I got the job by luck.  I sent my resume to a recruiter who said she had the perfect job for me. I got the job and she was right. I learned a lot of QA testing, but my main job was to test ads to see if they work and to place the ads in video games.

The gaming companies would send us a new build of a new game to see if our ads would work within that game.  The best part of that job was getting new games on my desk before they came out, such as Transformers: the Movie, the video game based on the film. I worked on that. I would find the scene in the games where the ads would work best.

And how did you get the job at Skyzone?
I had a contract to work at Microsoft for a year, and after that, and after a few months of unemployment, I got lucky again. Another recruiter said she had a perfect job for me at Skyzone. I applied and got a job there as QA tester. After a few months I was promoted to Associate Producer, my current job, which I love.

What do you love about it?
The best part is seeing my game concepts come to life, when one of my ideas becomes part of a game. When I actually see it come to life on a phone or a blackberry, that’s a thrill. I have a lot of ideas to throw out, it’s a creative environment, and we make the games directly for huge companies like Verizon and T-Mobile. We make games and pitch them to those companies. It’s hard work but great fun. 

You mentioned you owe a great deal of gratitude to adjunct professor DJ Kehoe, who teaches many of the classes in the Game Development Program. 
I owe Professor Kehoe so much. If not for all the classes I took mostly with him, I would not be working in this industry, an industry I love.   It’s an industry that’s difficult to break into but DJ taught me what I needed to know and also convinced me that “programming isn’t that bad” (when I was a student I was intimidated by programming, but he helped me through). His gaming classes (and Nick Smolney’s classes, also) taught me what goes into making a game, especially the hard work (and the crazy fun) you go through during the development process. The “Game Design Jams” that both professors held were memorable because we students would create games off the top of our heads…and that was always a good hour or two gone (snicker).  In the DJ’s classes, I learned the various aspects of gaming (3D modeling, Game Design, Design Architecture and Level Design).  I would strongly encourage any NJIT student looking to work in the games Industry to take ALL of the gaming classes offered at NJIT and then find your niche.

Can you explain why you came to NJIT, and what you studied here?
I chose NJIT with hopes that it had a program that would teach me about the gaming Industry.  It didn’t start out that way.  Information Systems was then the closest thing they had then to gaming, so I majored in IS.  Fast forward to my second year in college, when I realized that “just programming” was not the path I wanted.  Then I heard that the Information Technology (IT) Department was developing a Game Development Program and I immediately jumped on it.  I switched my major to IT with a concentration in multimedia so I could take all the gaming classes.  It set me back a year of credits but it was well worth it, considering how much I learned.  So am I happy?  Well, I probably won’t be happy until I hear about a master’s degree program at NJIT called “Game Development.”  If NJIT were to offer such a master’s, it would be deluged by game-loving students.  Here’s hoping that NJIT makes it happen.

What advice do you have for current NJIT students or young people in general who love games and want to work in the industry?
I’ve never forgotten a line I read years ago in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM):

To work in the games industry, you have to be half rocket scientist, half rock star.”

What I took that to mean was that in making games you must work with both sides of your brain: the logical side and the creative side.  Also, you should learn as much as you can by yourself, whether it be mastering 3D modeling, game design or programming or even writing a story for a game that seems outlandish. 

You should also play a lot of games. But don’t just play them.  LEARN them, analyze them like mad.  Think about what made pulling off that head shot on an enemy, or placing that Tetris piece so much FUN.  Games are all about FUN. They could have a deeper meaning but they mainly aim to entertain.  If you can’t figure out why you keep turning on your console to get in a few more rounds of gaming in before bed, then you don’t understand what makes that game fun. So learn about your favorite game.  Figure out what makes it tick, and then you might come to realized why it’s your favorite game and why it gives you so much pleasure.  Then you’re off to a good start.

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)