Joe Rothenberg drawing a bear for Alyssa

From playing video games to creating them

Joe Rothenberg was twelve when he learned to use the computer animation software Adobe Flash and Multimedia Fusion 2. A year later, he and fellow thirteen-year-old Austin Tompkins started a summer animation and video game camp to teach other children how to design their own video games.

“At first I think parents were skeptical,” Joe says. “But that was only on the first day. Once kids went home from the first day, we’d always hear from parents, ‘They could not stop talking about it!’ Because you got to make a video game! We did not waste time.”

The camp had spots for thirty-six students, and at only $100 per week, kids who couldn’t afford most high-tech camps could participate. It was so successful that Joe and Austin offered the camp three times per summer for seven years.

“At the time, we thought we were just teaching people to make video games for fun,” Joe says. But with the growing popularity of video games and applications, anyone now “could theoretically make a living from these skills.”

And that’s just what Joe does. Ten years after hosting his first summer camp in his parents’ “studio garage” in Georgetown, the twenty-three-year-old animator, director, and video game creator is parlaying the skills he learned as an adolescent into a new animated video game: Ping.

Joe Rothenberg

Though similar to Pong, the two-dimensional tennis-like arcade game released in the 1970s, Joe’s Mac and PC-compatible computer game adds an offensive component—missiles—to computer-based ping-pong.

“It’s like Pong, but so much better,” Joe says enthusiastically. “It’s silly and it’s fun, and you’re mostly shooting at the ball to influence its movement. It feels sort of like a sports game or fighting game but without the violence.”

Joe created the prototype for Ping when he was studying animation at the University of Southern California, but he didn’t consider its commercial viability until a group of investors offered him seed money to pursue the game. Now, the company has about $15,000 in funding, with Joe among the investors.

“At this point, my salary is nonexistent, but the process is exciting. I’m learning everything about creating a new piece of entertainment and trying to get people engaged with it.”

Currently, Joe and his team—which includes two composers, four producers, an artist, and a team liaison—estimate that about 5,000 people are aware of Ping, and they’re gearing up for a big campaign push and full launch in early 2014.

Joe already has a sequel planned for Ping and another game called Run and Jump Fred, which will merge his love for video games with animation.

“With Ping, the only real animation is the trailer . . . but with Fred, I’ll try to tie the mechanics of the game in with the story. This is something that indie game developers are just starting to discover to make video games a richer experience, so I want in on that.”

The thrill of getting one of his ideas funded and bringing it to life has significantly altered his worldview, Joe says. “In college they tell you they’re prepping to go into an industry and start a career, and even if you’re a freelancer, there will always be rules,” Joe explains. “But I think it might fit my personality a lot better to just pursue projects I enjoy. Just to do them! You can do that!” he enthuses.

“I got a little bit of backing—it’s not a huge investment or risk for them—but it could be a huge thing for all of us if we connect with a fan base.”


For more about Joe and his projects, visit joerothenberg.com.

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