Making Videogames for Credit and Money: Meet Anthony Rego

Anthony Rego is pictured here with the robotic arm that helps handicapped children play video games. Rego created a video game the children can use, with help from the robot, as part of their physical therapy.

When he was a senior in high school, Anthony Rego knew he wanted to attend NJIT. He loved math and science, and heard that NJIT was a great technical school. It was also close to home and some of his older friends from his high school -- Bergen County Technical School -- recommended it.

But he didn’t know what to major in. So while filling out NJIT’s on-line application, Rego scrolled down the list of majors and closed his eyes. He opened them to see that his cursor had randomly landed on math, and he chose math as his major.  Just like that.

But when he was a freshman at NJIT he switched his major to Information Technology (IT). His friends were IT majors and more importantly the IT Department offered a Game Development Specialization. Rego had grown up playing video games – he especially liked adventures games by Lucasarts – so he signed up for a video-game programming class. He feared, however, that programming would be beyond his grasp.    

He was wrong – happily so. For the professor who taught the gaming programming class, D.J. Kehoe, had an uncanny knack for teaching students how to program.  Rego was hooked.  He would later go on to take every video-game class offered at NJIT – a total of eight classes. He mastered every aspect of video-game production, from programming and graphics to modeling and animation.   

Now a senior, Rego has had much success making video games.  Just this week, he had an iPhone app game approved by Apple. The app, called Spinning Plate: the Game, is available on the app store.  It’s also available on his blog.  He has two more game apps under review by Apple. 

For his various IT classes, Rego created five video games. He even created a customized game for children with cerebral palsy. The children play the game on a computer that is affixed to a robotic arm.  That arm guides the children’s hand movements and increases their flexibility.  Next month, a group of handicapped children will come to a lab in the Biomedical Engineering Department and, under the direction of Professor Sergei Adamovich, use the video game for physical therapy. 

Rego also helped to found a start-up company, Ironsoft Studios, which develops games and iPhone apps.  He founded the company with three recent NJIT grads, all of whom are former IT majors who specialized in gaming. 

In this interview, Rego talks about his love of gaming, his family background as well as his plans for the future. 

How old were you when you first starting playing video games and what games did you first play?  Did you ever imagine that making video games would be a big part of your college career?
I started off playing DOS computer games. I really liked adventure games, especially those by Lucas Arts, like Monkey Island and Indiana Jones, the Fate of Atlantis. I never thought I’d ever makes games. Even when I took my first game programming class, I never thought I’d be good at it.  I always thought it would be too hard and impossible to really get anywhere with.

You said the gaming classes have been the highlight of your college career.  You even noted that if not for the gaming classes, you might not have survived at NJIT. Can you elaborate on that?
The gaming classes provided a challenge unlike anything else I found at NJIT. I am always in need of a challenge academically. If a class is too easy, then I will get bored and my grades may suffer, although I have managed to maintain a 3.4 GPA.  Boredom is my major downfall, and the gaming classes always kept me on my toes.

Have your classes taught you to make an entire video game? And what is your favorite part of making a game? Is it programming?
Yes, the classes are focused on teaching students to make games by themselves. But there are some group projects you can take after you have learned how to make games yourself.  And my favorite part of making a game is definitely programming. Designing the graphics never really interested me. I usually just rush through making them.

Did D.J. Kehoe, the teacher you had for most gaming glasses, help you learn programming?
DJ taught me everything I know about programming. He taught it in a way that made so much sense to me. It was a class that forced me to understand programming in order to complete the class – there’s no simple one page applications in these classes. There is no way a student can fake his way through DJ’s classes. You can take his first programming class knowing nothing about programming, and by the end of the semester you’ll be close to an expert. That’s how good he is at explaining programming.

Can you talk about Ironsoft Studios, a company that you, along with three recent NJIT grads, started? What does Ironsoft do and what are your hopes for it?
I met and became friends with all the members of Ironsoft in the gaming classes. We ended up working on projects together in those classes.  We are now concentrating on making iPhone apps but we want to expand and also make apps for other mobile devices. We also want to make apps for game consoles as well as for PCs. Eventually we hope to make enough money so that we don’t have to work day jobs. But right now we are having a lot of fun making the apps together. All four of us work really well together and are good friends to begin with, so it’s all fun. Ironsoft is based in Allenwood, N.J.

Do your three partners have day jobs?
The three of them have good IT day jobs: Michael Del Pozzo is a battlespace security engineer for Northrop Grumman; Andrew Fernandez is a lead web designer for Northstar Travel Media; and Erik Schuckel is a digital imaging software developer for Regiscope. So we work around their jobs and my class schedule. 

Your parents both immigrated to America – your father from Portugal and your mother from Italy. Are they proud of your accomplishments at NJIT? And do they understand your studying video games in college?
Neither of my parents attended college. And they are very proud that I’ll soon graduate from NJIT. But no, I don’t think they understand the work I am doing here. Nonetheless, they’ve been extremely supportive of my academic pursuits. My two older sisters and I are the first generation in our family to attend college. It was very important to my parents that we receive an education, which, as poor immigrants coming to this country, they could not achieve. They worked hard to get where they are now and they worked hard to make our lives easier by giving us college educations.

Talk about the video game you made for handicapped children – work that was done as part of collaboration between the Information Technology Department and the Biomedical Engineering Department.
It was a very interesting project that made me view the making of video games in a different light. I never realized that video games, with the help of robots, could be used to help children with cerebral palsy. After I made games modified for these children, I no longer felt silly or immature about telling people that my main interest is making video games, which can sound frivolous.  But when I say I made games adapted for children with cerebral palsy, games they’ll soon use for physical therapy, people look at me with respect.  It also made me feel great to help handicapped children. If after I graduate I could get a job making games for them, I’d happily do that.

So what are your plans after you graduate?
I have been applying for software developer jobs, mostly in Manhattan’s financial district -- jobs for which I assume I’d make software to help the bankers. This is not my ideal job, but I am a realist and these are where most software jobs seem to be at the moment. I wouldn’t mind working a job like that for a few years so I can support myself and live in New York City.  One great benefit about being an NJIT student is that it’s so close to Manhattan, where most of my friends who graduated now live. We love to go to bars and rocks shows in NYC. I’ll probably end up working in Lower Manhattan but living somewhere in the city that’s affordable, like Astoria, an upcoming neighborhood in Queens.  If Ironsoft Studios does well, though, and I can make a living from making games and game apps, I’ll be very happy.

(Robert Florida, University Web Services)