Josh Navarro shares how he turned his video game passion into a dream career.
Lucas knew just what he wanted to bring for show and tell.
While all the other 4-year-olds in his class planned to bring things like apples, alligators and avocados to represent the letter A, he had something a little different in mind.
His Avengers stickers not only represent an elite superheroes team, but also his number one idol: his dad, Josh Navarro.
“He said, ‘Dad, I told someone you work on “Avengers” and they didn't know what that was,'” Navarro said. “He was like, ‘Are you serious?' He doesn't understand that not everyone knows what Avengers are.”
That confused Lucas mainly because the Avengers have been a staple in the Navarro household ever since he could remember, but especially the past few months.
During that time, Navarro endured a four-interview process with Crystal Dynamics to earn his new role as a technical designer for the Marvel's Avengers video game.
He still remembers his excitement when a recruiter called to offer him the job.
“I was ecstatic to work on a project that I've known and followed,” he said.
Navarro is a lifelong connoisseur of everything Marvel: comic books, movies and even the video game that was released in 2020.
“I was really excited to play a game built on the characters and stories I've read,” he said. “To get to work on it is even better, because I've always been a big fan of Marvel.”
While Navarro has played video games ever since he was a child – starting with the classic Ms. Pac-Man – designing video games took much more than the push of a few console buttons.
Navarro attended Texas Tech University and graduated in 2015 with a degree in electronic media and communications. He had dreams to pursue a business law degree after graduation, or obtain a Master of Business Administration and start a business.
It was during his first job out of college at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Dallas that another side of his brain began to beckon.
“I realized I wanted to do something more creative,” he said. “I wanted to use more of my degree.”
Around that time a colleague from Texas Tech reached out to him about an opportunity in game development at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA).
Navarro knew the creative void he felt would be filled by designing entertaining and challenging video games. So, he, his wife Amberle and Lucas packed up their home and moved to Florida in 2018.
“I'm always excited to learn new things,” Navarro said. “I'm always excited about making myself a little uncomfortable and putting myself in a situation where I'm going to succeed.”
Navarro quickly became immersed in the game industry through graduate school at FIEA. That led to an internship just one year later at Electronic Arts, where he became a part of the Madden Game Play Team. His performance earned him a full-time role in 2020 after his graduation.
“I've played Madden as long as I can remember,” Navarro said, “so it's pretty cool to get to work on a game that I've played my entire life.”
Navarro went from dueling his brother in Madden to tweaking the characters' abilities and crafting narrative content, such as the prologue story that brings the player through their college experience into the NFL.
“The fact that a game gets released every year is kind of amazing with so much work that goes into it,” Navarro said.
You can find Navarro's name displayed in the credits of Madden 21, 22 and 23 - an honor only granted depending on how long you've worked on the project.
Navarro spent three years on the Madden Game Play Team, until a former coworker recommended he apply for the Crystal Dynamics position.
“Leaving everybody who I had worked with and that helped mentor me in the industry was obviously sad,” Navarro said, “but I was excited for the new opportunity.”
Navarro has worked for Crystal Dynamics for about four months and is based at their Austin studio. His first project centered on creating cinematic content for a new hero option: The Winter Soldier.
From his comic book knowledge, Navarro remembered this likable character as Bucky Barnes, Captain America's best friend who is brainwashed by the terrorist organization HYDRA. This turned him into a master of combat with an advanced cybernetic arm that grants him a degree of superhuman strength.
Marvel's Avengers debuted The Winter Soldier on Nov. 30, and while Navarro was as nervous as always to release new content to the public, he enjoyed how the troubled character was well-received by most gamers.
“He does a lot of damage, and he also has good support skills,” Navarro said. “He's just overall a really fun character to play because he fits so many of our play styles.”
But Navarro does not just side with the “good guys” at work. In fact, his favorite project so far was working on a supervillain named MODOK, the Mental Organism Designed for Killing, whom gamers can battle in the multiplayer Cloning Lab Omega-Level Threat.
“I love MODOK as a character,” he said. “But on top of that, I got to work with other people who are vastly more intelligent than I am as far as working with different cinematics. Anytime I get to work in a collaborative environment like that is immediately one of my favorite parts.”
Navarro's role on his team is similar to a co-director on a movie set. He takes the elements the animators and designers create and builds a scene. He cues the animations, aligns the sound and chooses the best camera angles and shots to make sure the timing is perfect.
When gamers encounter The Winter Soldier and MODOK in dialogue scenes, there is a good chance Navarro pieced them together from scratch.
“I was given free rein to give it my first pass,” Navarro said, “and then I worked with others, got feedback and iterated on it until it looked good.”
What is Navarro's next project? Well, Marvel's secrets are safe with him.
What he does openly speak about is how it is possible to make a living designing video games. He gives presentations to students of all ages, and his former Texas Tech College of Media and Communication professor Robert Peaslee hopes Texas Tech will be his next stop.
“Josh, in particular, is a great example of what I think we produce here at Texas Tech: humble, hardworking, persistent, resilient people who are fun and gracious to work with,” Peaslee said. “I knew that about Josh when he was a student here, and it's just great to see him getting that opportunity and recognition.”
As an associate professor and chair in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media Industries, Peaslee has paid attention to Navarro's career as the College of Media and Communication works to develop more gaming curricula.
In 2020, the college began to offer a Game Design and Culture Certificate, a 15-hour credential designed to orient students to the games industry. The goal is to develop students' skills in designing interactive, engaging stories.
“The hope is eventually that may expand up to a minor, or perhaps even another major,” Peaslee said.
The future is bright if Lucas plans to follow in his dad's footsteps as a Red Raider and video game designer.
“I never try to push one thing on him,” Navarro said, “but it's really cool to see him naturally pick up on stuff without us really pushing it.”
For the time being, Navarro will simply enjoy playing video games with Lucas and continue to be his real-life superhero. That's a high score he'll never top.
“Every dad wants their kid to look up to them, and I try to set an example for him,” Navarro said. “To work on this game he's already been a fan of, I like to see that he looks at me and what I work on a little differently now. It's cool to see.”