vincent lucero
Vincent Lucero

The path to the gaming world has been an interesting one for recent University of Washington grad Vincent Lucero.

See, Lucero has always had a passion for technology. He was a Hewlett Packard Scholar in high school and landed a job with Xbox Live at Microsoft during college.

But soon enough, Lucero knew he no longer wanted to spend his life coding. He gave up his HP money and four-year internship, and switched his major to business in order to focus on something much more interesting to him: the gaming industry.

Yet Lucero began to notice a disconcerting pattern in the corporate business space.

“I found the culture to be extremely corporate and bureaucratic,” he said. “They hire extremely bright individuals who are then forced to do menial tasks and ‘work their way up the ladder’ by grinding through years of work. I found that many were forced down this path because they want financial stability and have a natural risk aversion given student debt.”

Lucero then entered the Summer Venture in Management Program at Harvard with this notion of the business world, but that soon changed.  

“This experience changed the way that I thought about business, and further cemented my passion for being a driving force in the business of games,” Lucero said of the Harvard program.

It all came together during his senior year of college. Dave Girouard, former SVP of Google Enterprise, approached Lucero and asked if he wanted join the pilot class for his new platform, Upstart, which helps startups raise money in exchange for a small percent of their income over 10 years.

“After seeing so many of my peers go into consulting jobs and then hating it, I saw this as an opportunity to differentiate myself and follow my passion while also working full time at Google,” he said.

Lucero took advantage of Girouard’s offer. While he works during the day at Google+, the former engineering student is now in the process of pursuing his dream: developing a video game.

Super Squirrels

Through funding from Google execs, one of Yelp’s founders, and other big names in the tech world, Upstart has helped Lucero and his team begin to develop Super Squirrels, a nature game that brings real-world issues to the table.

super squirrelsThe game follows four squirrels — Chip, Ash, Twig, and Red — on their adventures around the forest. Players must help the woodland creatures overcome obstacles that are indicative of actual environmental issues. The game is intended to convey that the world is much more complex than we often think.

“By having multiplayer content as well as engaging environmental information, we want to teach both kids as well as adults what the world’s really about,” said Lucero, who has done work for Microsoft and Google.

The natural environments and animals in the game are all factually accurate, and Lucero plans to give players the option to play in four different locations: the Northeastern Coastal Oak Forest, the California Redwood Forest, the Mount St. Helens Regrowth Forest, and the Northern Boreal Forest.

“Ideally, we will provide parents with educational content that they can discuss with their child as they play the game,” said Lucero on his Kickstarter page. “For example, the parent can choose to be notified when the child enters a new forest, and they can talk about the new animals.”

Lucero remembers playing and learning from games such as The Oregon Trail, Zoombinis, Carmen San Diego, and Math Blaster when he was growing up. All of these games were fun, but also had an educational message. This is what drove Lucero to begin working on Super Squirrels.

“When I contrast this to today’s mobile games like Angry Birds, I see a lack of meaningful content,” he said.

Lucero said his dream job is to “be the next Disney and work with a team of developers and artists that are passionate about making high quality games with an important message.”

His only problem, he said, is that right now, Super Squirrels doesn’t have the capital, size, or scale to change the way people think.

Super Squirrels will be available on iOS and Android, and Lucero plans to continue developing it as he receives donations on his Kickstarter campaign. Currently, the campaign has 36 backers and has received $1,280, with nine days to go.

Previously on GeekWire: Microsoft IllumiRoom turns entire room into video game

Reach Lily Katz at lily@geekwire.com or on Twitter @LilyKatz

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