Ocoee resident and University of Central Florida sophomore Luis Santiago, 24, recently received a Gaming Endowed Scholarship from the Electronic Arts gaming company to further his education in the gaming design industry.
“(Part) of my family is from Honduras, so it makes it a lot more awestruck that I actually won something,” he said. “It’s not often I get to have something like this. It wasn’t until I saw the article that I realized ‘Wow, this is real.’”
The scholarship recognizes those students who either have overcome adversity or are striving for the inclusion of others who have been previously underrepresented in the profession.
Santiago was one of two UCF students — and only undergraduate — who received the scholarship. He describes himself as someone who speaks, talks, breathes and eats games.
“I’m a full-blown video-gamer,” he said. “I’ve been playing ever since I was a kid.”
When he was 7 or 8 years old, Santiago saw his mother, Jenny Turcious, playing “Super Mario World” for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
“I always liked to watch her play video games,” he said. “I saw her playing on the TV, and I was like ‘Mommy, can I play?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ (My siblings and I) followed suit, and we started playing it. We beat the game so many times. From then on, we’ve been playing video games nonstop.”
Despite his passion for video games, Santiago did not always want to be a part of the gaming industry. Originally, he explored becoming a restaurateur, chef or even a bartender. This changed halfway through his high school career. He had an assignment for a class that tasked him with choosing his dream college and narrowing the subjects down to see what was of interest.
Santiago chose video game design.
“My research showed how much the average pay is annually, what tools they usually use and the type of recognition they usually get,” he said. “That got me enticed.”
But regardless of pay, Santiago did not choose his career path because of potential earnings, but rather because he wanted to leave his mark in the hearts of many and within the gaming world of video games.
“I don’t mind much about making that much money; I’m more into showcasing my art, my creation to the world,” he said. “I want to impact the newest generation after me to join the gaming industry — that’s what I’m hoping for.”
Prior to attending UCF, Santiago was a student at Valencia College, where he earned an associate’s degree — which he chose to continue pursuing at UCF — and an associate’s degree in Digital Media and Motion Graphics.
Throughout his college career, Santiago has been employed, dividing his time between school work and his part time jobs he needs so he can pay his bills.
“I work a pretty decent job at the Target near here (the Target at SoDo),” he said. “I tend to be a little bit of a workaholic; I work about 20 to 25 hours a week. It’s a little nerve-wracking trying to balance everything out, (but) I’m one of the hardest workers in my family.”
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Santiago already is developing a few game ideas based on games he used to play when he was little such as “Clay Fighters,” “Punch-Out!!” and “Zombies Ate My Neighbors.”
“It’s more bringing back the nostalgia I had when I was a kid,” he said. “I want to bring back the old video games with a new twist. What I’m really itching to do is bring back that stop-motion fighting game that has been around since … the Nintendo 64 era.”
To do so, he spends about nine to 10 hours a day perfecting his graphic skills in 3D modeling, asset-making such as weapons and accessories, level improvement and building design different levels within a game.
During his years as a video game design student, Santiago has discovered good storytelling is the key for good video games. That’s what makes gamers fall in love with them.
“You cannot make a good game without a good story; that’s what I’ve been taught,” he said. “The story is what makes the game unique from others.”
Santiago is set to graduate in spring 2025 and already is exploring internship opportunities in the gaming industry.
An interesting fact about Santiago? He has been learning how to teach English as a second language and has a dream of heading to Japan to teach the language while also working on a gaming company. Who knows? Maybe he’ll even create his own Pokémon in the future.
“I see the United States and Japan on equal footing as gaming juggernauts,” he said. “I grew up playing Pokémon, so it’d be great if I ever get to create a Pokémon. It’d be a neat thing to wake up one day and say, ‘I actually created a Pokémon, and it’s actually in a Pokémon game.”