Five USC Games Students, Alumni named Forbes 30 Under 30

Napoleon Martinez

This month, five USC Games students/alumni were named Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2017 in the category of Games. In celebration of their success, USC Games has asked our awardees to give insight into their response to the award, what their trajectory looks like, and how other students and developers can learn from their success.

Lishan AZ

A current MFA third-year student with the Interactive Media & Games Division, Lishan’s vibrant contributions to the program inspire her compatriots to push themselves to greater heights. Her second year project THE LOCKER – a physical storytelling experience wrapped in an escape room’s ideology –  was a 2016 Indiecade Selection; Lishan also contributed to the Winteractive Selection DOWNTOWN BROWNS, an interactive webseries exploring the lives of WoC living in Los Angeles.

What does it mean to you to be named a 30 Under 30?Lishan AZ

It feels great to give family something positive to call each other about. I think my mom’s reaction alone was enough to get me through the year–she literally told me (once she stopped shouting with excitement) “I have to call you back, I’m too happy to be on the phone right now.” Haha.

On a more serious note, making the 30 Under 30 list is an encouraging sign that folks are seeing the work I do as relevant and valuable. I’m hoping that this exposure will help me continue to do the work that I believe is most important.

What do you think has enabled you to succeed that can inspire other up-and-coming developers/designers/students?

Find like-minded creators who will keep you sharp. I’m blessed to have met other designers and artists of color who are deeply engaged with social issues in their work. They inspire me, challenge me, and hold me accountable in unique ways because they understand where I’m coming from in my work. The people that will help you grow don’t always fall into your lap–be intentional about seeking out your peers, and make time to build with them on a regular basis.

Even considering your recent recognition, what are the next challenges and goals that you will face as you grow even more into the future?

I’m currently working on my MFA thesis project, Tracking Ida, which is inspired by the pioneering investigative journalism of Ida B. Wells in the 1890s. It’s an educational game that will launch in high school classrooms in Watts, Los Angeles this March. Players solve puzzles, comb through historical archives with the help of a phonograph, role-play as investigative journalists, and harness social media to spread awareness about an issue affecting their community today.

I’ll be graduating this coming May, and am currently seeking funding to expand Tracking Ida and bring it to more classrooms next year. My goal is to create transformative experiences for education, discovery and social awareness.

If people want to contact you or get a look at your work, how can they best connect with you?

You can check out my work at itsLishan.com. I also recently joined twitter, hit me up @LishanAZ.

Natalie Gravier

A graduate of the IMGD MFA program (2016), Natalie’s love of Southern California’s history and culture inspired her to craft, as her thesis project, a VR travelogue exploring the region’s rich setting. An exceptionally talented graphic designer and 3D modeler, Natalie’s positive personality and dedication to the craft has lead her to work with an increasingly impressive collection of industry luminaries.

What does it mean to you to be named a 30 Under 30?Natalie Gravier

It means that I feel grateful, and should always feel grateful, for those that helped me get to where I am today. I couldn’t be the person I am at this moment without the family, friends, mentors, and co-workers that inspired me everyday to healthily push myself to my creative limits.

What do you think has enabled you to succeed that can inspire other up-and-coming developers/designers/students?

Paper and pencil. The clarity of mind I get when there is as small a barrier as possible between me and my thoughts has helped me to design through a lot of problems and challenges. Taking it back to basics can actually elevate you in surprising ways. Also, never saying no (to an extent). Take on as many projects as you think you can, without compromising the quality of your work for each of those projects. Throw yourself at as many things as possible so you can discover who you are creatively and professionally.

Even considering your recent recognition, what are the next challenges and goals that you will face as you grow even more into the future?

I have a big, personal investment in the virtual reality world which I am continuously working at. I hope to continue to nurture this passion and grow with the rest of the VR community; we’re all still figuring it out, and it’s totally worth it, but it’s all about taking it one step at a time. One question I always ask myself is, how is what I make going to be beneficial to our larger community? These are projects I’d like to work on now, including getting involved in giving back to my neighborhood and to Los Angeles through my craft.

If people want to contact you or get a look at your work, how can they best connect with you?

The best way to contact me is to e-mail me at natgravier@gmail.com. You can see my work at www.nataliegravier.com.

James Earl Cox III

A third year MFA student with the IMGD, James is a vibrant character in our community who brings a sense of fun and levity to everything he does. His infectious charm and dedication to community engagement have helped him to truly distinguish himself within the program; his clean style and unique aesthetic leads him to make every experience unique and absolutely worth playing.

What does it mean to you to be named a 30 Under 30?James Earl Cox III

Since 2012, I’ve been working towards making 100 games in 5 years. As of writing this, 81 of the games have been made, and the challenge ends in summer of 2017. 30 Under 30 is a wonderful outside validation of this 5-year goal. I embarked on this journey with ample passion and drive, but both can be misguided, so it’s vivifying to know I’m creating in a positive direction.

What do you think has enabled you to succeed that can inspire other up-and-coming developers/designers/students?

A lot of my success can be attributed to a strong personal understanding of the medium. All of my videogames are created according to my definition of “game.” So rather than emulate others that exist; games I make are used to investigate the boundaries of what-a-game-can-be. Break the mold, not because you want to be edgy, but because you know where the cracks are and you genuinely want to test the limits.

Even considering your recent recognition, what are the next challenges and goals that you will face as you grow even more into the future?

Containing and sustaining expanded projects. The longest project I’ve made took roughly 6 months. Still a decent amount of time, but the gameplay lasts only 30 minutes. I will be releasing commercial games, and I’d love for those to be long-form.

If people want to contact you or get a look at your work, how can they best connect with you?

Most of my games can be found on my website www.Just404it.com. I’m reachable through Twitter at @Just404it and on Facebook at Facebook.com/JamesCox. I recommend playing You Must be 18 or Older to Enter, Temporality, EnviroGolf, and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

Yuting Su

Graduating from USC’s IMGD MFA Program in 2016, Yuting is unique in a very specific way: her positivity and joy is infectious, making her a natural leader and collaborator. A mother and friend, Yuting’s work is consistently unique, encouraging play at all levels of life. Her medium defying projects delight, while their high level of polish reinforces her dedication to quality work. Interested parties can find out more about her work on OCTOBO at playoctobo.com, or learn more in her IndieCade Selection article here.

What does it mean to you to be named a 30 Under 30?Yuting Su presenting Octobo

For a creator, and designer like me, we often make things because we believe in our artistic vision. Being named in the 30 Under 30 list is very encouraging, and is enlightening to know the public recognize the vision and all the hard works I put in my projects. It really motivates me to live up to the honor and continue with my passions.

What do you think has enabled you to succeed that can inspire other up-and-coming developers/designers/students?

Work smart, think smart and believe in your own work. Do not procrastinate and keep moving forward. Keep doing and making things instead of just sitting on your options.

Even considering your recent recognition, what are the next challenges and goals that you will face as you grow even more into the future?

Turning a creative project into a commercial reality is no small task!  I am to create a profitable game company that can turn out more and more projects that push the limits of mixed media interaction.

If people want to contact you or get a look at your work, how can they best connect with you?

Email suyuting.c@gmail.com.

Khaled Abdel Rahman

A Project Manager for Google and graduate of the M.S. Computer Science Games degree from USC, Khaled was a key part of the design team behind the smash success POKEMON GO. While he was not available for comment at the time of this article, his work has been an inspiration to students across the USC Games family.

He is currently paying his education forward by teaching computer science classes within the USC Viterbi Engineering School.