Current and future Paradowskians, be warned: Cameron Samimi has a hard time curbing his enthusiasm, and he’s barely sorry about it.
As one of his closest collaborators, Ethan Michalicek, put it, “I've never not seen Cameron eager to try something new.”
Whether he’s building project-specific hardware or trying out a new restaurant, Cameron is driven by an unrelenting passion to explore and master the unfamiliar. In Cameron’s mind, his seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm is his greatest strength and a huge annoyance to anyone he works with—especially when something challenges his grand vision.
He recalls one of his first projects, a farming game he made during his time as a Paradowski intern. Cameron disagreed with something about the user interface. He doesn’t remember exactly what the issue was, but he does remember endlessly bickering with Associate Creative Director Tony McAley about it.
“During projects, I’ll catch myself thinking about things that someone else has to handle and have to reel myself in. But that doesn’t mean I’ll shut up about it if I think it’s important.”
Luckily, we at Paradowski celebrate enthusiasm far more than we fault people for it, even if they’re being “stubborn asses” (to quote our subject).
In conversing with Cameron over lunch, it became clear to me that he doesn’t spend too much time dwelling on the past, which makes sense for an Interactive Experience Developer who spends most of his days focused on where our industry—and our clients—are headed.
When I asked him about his high school experience, here’s what he had to say:
“Thinking back on it, high school is such a small blip in the life of a human. Not caring about high school is probably for the best. If you haven’t moved on from high school, you might have peaked.”
Cameron was born and raised in the west suburbs of St. Louis. His parents, both born and raised in Iran, immigrated to the U.S. just before the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. With two older sisters who’ve always been a life phase or two ahead, Cameron experienced the unique joys of having three moms: one biological mother and two self-appointed, honorary ones.
That said, having older siblings did come with its fair share of perks. Cameron was the final recipient of all hand-me-downs, including video game systems. His first inherited console was a Sega Game Gear, a “fat Game Boy” that required six AA batteries. He later acquired a Game Boy Color and Nintendo 64 by the same means.
“Video games is just this perfect blend of everything. It has writing, it has good story, it has good visuals. The menu and loading scene can even be well designed, and I would appreciate that and be happy to just sort through a menu.”
Video games continued to be a key pastime and source of escape through Cameron’s teen years, much to his parents’ dismay. But he never thought of them as anything more than that.
“I didn’t really allow myself to explore anything I was interested in during high school. I always knew that I liked video games and things that look nice but didn’t realize it was a possible avenue of revenue.”
With his parents’ wishes in mind, Cameron spent his first college semester at St. Louis College of Pharmacy, during which he learned pharmacy wasn’t for him (the hard way). The following semester, he found himself at St. Louis Community College to focus on graphic design, which he describes as “the best thing I could have done.”
After two years at STLCC, he made the leap to Maryville University for their Interactive Design program. Between being asked to lead Maryville’s AIGA chapter and becoming one of the first students to pursue a video game design emphasis, Cameron is quick to credit his professors for his success there.
“It was really validating to have people encouraging me to do well at things that are important to me.”
Even with the push into video game design, Cameron still didn’t necessarily see himself working as a game designer when he graduated, but he was gradually starting to see it more as an achievable goal and less as a pipe dream.
“What I was thinking was ‘I like design, and video games have a very large design element.’ But I wasn’t planning on being a game developer.”
With a glowing letter of recommendation from one of his Maryville professors, Cameron was brought into Paradowski as an intern in the summer of 2018. A few months and a few interactive experiences later, Cameron was thrilled to accept a position as Paradowski’s first Interactive Experience Developer.
“If you think your design is really fucking cool, it doesn’t mean anything further than that unless other people like it as well. Good design has to do something for other people.”
With the interest of potential users in mind, Cameron’s time is split between working on client projects and experimenting.
“We explore a lot. A lot of what we do feels like play but with a purpose. We’ll create something that’s just for fun but has the potential to be a client product.”
But sometimes, “play” is the entire point. For now, Cameron is focused on crafting experiences for clients with specific goals in mind, but our interactive design team hasn’t written off the idea of creating games for games’ sake.
“There’s a whole market for really simple, fun games on the App Store, so we could make that sort of thing. All we’d need is design sense and creativity, which we have.”
Cameron’s philosophy is that a lot of different things can make a game great—sound, feedback, personality—but ultimately, a great game is addictive.
Cameron is fond of story-driven games that offer something gamers haven’t seen before, such as the Uncharted series. But that’s not to say he’s above simpler games. Right now, he’s playing a sand dune snowboarding game on his iPhone that’s noncompetitive and feels meditative.
When asked why he chose to bring his talents to Paradowski instead of, say, a video game design company, he doesn’t hide that it has as much to do with his coworkers as it does the variety of work.
“I knew that I was stumbling onto a place that doesn’t exist a lot. I could have easily ended up at another design firm where everyone isn’t so nice.”
In fact, being surrounded by good people who’ve believed in him and offered him opportunities is a recurring theme for Cameron. Perhaps he can thank his parents and their constant reminders to choose his friends wisely.
“Good people help each other, and I’m lucky that those people end up being in my life.”
For the foreseeable future, Cameron can be found testing and tweaking whichever project has his undivided attention at the moment. Eventually, he’d like to be a creative lead so that he can selfishly contribute to as many parts of a project as he wants and unselfishly support his entire team, but he isn’t in much of a hurry to get there. In the meantime, he’s working on self-checking his enthusiasm so that he doesn’t overstep, but for someone as consistently excited Cameron, it’s easier said than done.
“I’m not sure there’s else I know I like. But I know I like this. So why try anything else?”
A brief detour before we park:
Anyone who’s visited Paradowski’s main office—an inspired oasis in an otherwise confused and confusing suburban office park—has experienced the unique pleasure of getting lost trying to find it. If you haven’t visited, there are two ways to get to the office from the street: One takes you by a publicly funded mountain bike training course, while the other is riddled with anthropomorphic sculptures that I can only assume narrowly missed the cut at The Louvre. If you’re as neurotic as I am, you would know that the latter takes about 10 seconds longer than the former.
On our way back from lunch, I noticed that Cameron chose the slightly longer sculpture route but politely refrained from comment to avoid coming off as a complete psycho. As if he read my chemically imbalanced mind, Cameron rationalized his choice right away.
“I know that this way is a bit longer, but I think it looks a lot nicer. So I prefer it.”