Nerd Culture

Game Designer Eric Torres on Connecting Through Phoenix Comicon

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 7. Eric Torres.

Eric Torres built his own world. 

It's called Rynaga, and it's full of colorful characters, stories, and places. He's even mapped it. And you can go there, too, through the Phoenix designer's boardgame Iconica, which blends strategy, chance, and card play. Since its 2007 release, the game has garnered attention from Wired, GeekDad, and Penny Arcade, among other online gaming sources.

But the road to Rynaga has been a long one. The Tolleson-raised creative, now 41, says it's crazy to think back on how got to this point in his career. "I mean, my family didn’t have much money growing up," he says. "I moved out of my house at 17 and had all sorts of tough jobs — grocery cart guy, warehouse bro, delivery driver, bug exterminator."

At 23, he and his wife had a newborn son. And at 26, Torres graduated from art school. "Sometime later, the art school I attended closed due to shady recruitment practices," he recalls. "I remember thinking my degree was worthless at that point."

He got past that notion, however, and promised himself that he would live up to the potential his teachers saw in him. "Those teachers are my heroes now," he says. "I don’t take for granted the measure of success I’ve had. There’s no magic formula. For me, it’s all been a combination of hard work and determination."

Both have paid off. Torres now works as art director for a global tech company, leading creative work alongside other designers and collaborating with agency partners. "During off hours, I run a small studio, Specimen Design, through which I imagine and publish otherworldly fictions, games, and artifacts," he explains. "We share these creations online at my Etsy shop and at local in-person events such as Phoenix Comicon."

It's in meeting people at events such as Comicon and Phoenix Design Week that Torres stays inspired. In fact, it was at the 2016 Comicon that Torres had one of the greatest moments of his career. That marked his ninth year exhibiting at the covention, but it was the first tim he and his son, Gavin, held a panel on game design and shared behind-the-scenes experiences from creating Iconica

"It was a blast," he recalls. "People were excited and asked lots of questions. Some of our supporters even cosplayed as characters from Iconica! Giving a presentation with my son was the best feeling I’ve ever experienced in my career – fatherly pride blended with a satisfying sense of accomplishment."

Among Torres' next projects is a new game, one he's working on with some fellow AIGA Arizona members. They won an AIGA Innovate grant to complete the project,  which will, per AIGA, expose underserved high schoolers — particularly those of Hopi and Navajo descent — to the field of design through a multi-player game called Parallel - Game of Design.

It'll be yet another chance for Torres to connect with people around the Valley — and potentially across the country.  

Well, I was born here. So I guess that means I came to Phoenix naked and with pretty much no personal possessions!

I make art because it’s just a natural part of who I am. I grew up watching PBS shows and being exposed to folks who championed artistic expression as not only a form of entertainment, but as a vital part of our development as humans. I spent lots of summers doing arts and crafts projects at home or at the public library in Tolleson. These days, after a hectic day on the job, I recharge by imagining various stories, doodling characters, or moving a personal project forward in some way.

I'm most productive when I’m not “multitasking,” I get more done. For me, multitasking is a sure-fire way to be less productive. So I strive to get things done efficiently when I’m in production mode. Whether it’s for my employer or for myself, executing with focus is critical.

My inspiration wall is full of... well, it’s more of an inspiration book shelf I guess. I collect books featuring various artists I admire such as Erte, Charley Harper, and Brian Froud. I’m also really into classic fiction. I’ve been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune again. Some might think fiction is nonsense. That’s okay. Real life is nonsense too.

I've learned most from talking with people about their stories and how they came to be who they are. I’ve gained valuable perspectives from collaborating with folks who are in professions other than design, such as engineers, mathematicians, and writers.

Good creative work should always begin with a creative process. Being more process focused, rather than results focused is important to me. When we take time to refine how we get work done, it leads to continuous improvement.

The Phoenix creative scene could use perhaps more initiatives geared towards encouraging local design entrepreneurship and connecting creatives who make their own indie products. Sharing stories within this community could lead to lots of new opportunities for mentoring others and knowledge sharing in general. Maybe even apprenticeships??? Who knows.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
43. Monique Sandoval
42. Nayon Iovino
41. Daniel Davisson
40. Andrew King
39. Michelle Moyer
38. Jimmy Nguyen
37. Tiffany Lopez
36. Kristin Bauer
35. Donna Isaac
34. Douglas Miles
33. Sierra Joy
32. Francisco Flores
31. Amy Robinson
30. Julio Cesar Morales
29. Duane Daniels
28. Kelsey Pinckney
27. Ben Smith
26. Rembrandt Quiballo
25. Corinne Geertsen
24. Tess Mosko Scherer
23. Slawomir Wozniak
22. Elly Finzer
21. Josh Brizuela
20. Amy K. Nichols
19. Angela Johnson
18. Grant Vetter
17. Michelle and Melanie Craven
16. Erick Biez
15. Leah Marche
14. Lisa Von Hoffner
13. Amada Cruz
12. Amber Robins
11. Xandriss
10. Steven Tepper
9. Bentley Calverley
8. Lisa Olson
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski