Faculty Friday: Tim Samoff’s Diligence as a Game & Program Director

For Tim Samoff, MFA, developing Azusa Pacific University’s Games and Interactive Media program was much like creating a video game. His dedication to God’s plan for his life mirrors the engagement, exuberance, and perseverance that one must use when moving to the next level.

Growing up in Ventura County, Samoff always loved changing the rules of board and sports games while playing with his family. He often drew maps and mazes of game ideas, but never imagined acquiring a professional career in the gaming industry. Samoff envisioned becoming a graphic designer or architect due to his love for drawing. However, after taking classes in both fields at Moorpark College, using computers to design for the first time, he realized that such careers did not fulfill his desire to create.

While working at Jiffy Lube and strengthening his skills as a guitarist on the side, Samoff noticed a job board advertising a junior graphic designer position. Although disinterested in the field, Samoff was compelled to discover the role for a company he was unaware of, and his curiosity led him to join an up-and-coming business making sounds for synthesizers. At 19-years-old, Samoff became the eighth person hired at the company. As computers began to change the software industry, he became a major influence as the organization transitioned into a video game company, where he worked on more than 40 games over the next 10 years. Samoff’s ideas tucked away in his journals finally came to life, and the spark he had for inventing games was able to shine.

Samoff returned to school at The California Institute of the Arts to earn his BFA in Experimental Animation in 1999, when a former professor from Moorpark College reached out and asked him to teach multimedia classes at the school. Samoff taught for two years, then moved to Kansas City, Mo., where he gained experience in a multitude of areas, including web design, videography, special effects, user experience work, and serious game design for Sprint, making learning and development games for the company’s employees and users to better understand new devices. When the recession hit in 2008, he was laid off, and pursued contract work temporarily. In 2009, old colleagues from Moorpark College reached out asking Samoff to build a game design program. He moved back to Southern California, devoting nine years to the development of a highly successful program. Students who graduated from Samoff’s program have gone on to work for major gaming corporations, such as Nintendo.

In 2018, Samoff began his career at APU, bringing his eagerness, passion, and talent to generate the gaming program that has given students the resources and opportunities to pave their way in the video game industry. “One of things that sets APU apart from other schools is that our freshmen start making games during their first semester in our program,” he said. Their enthusiasm to create games that incorporate depth and storytelling are what make teaching a rewarding career. Samoff has made many changes in the program in order to give students the most impactful education.

Last spring, the first cohort of the game design program graduated. “Those students are exceptionally resilient, worked together to solve problems, and pulled together an impressive capstone project which earned several video reviews online by independent players,” Samoff said. He recalled the College of the Arts Industry Spotlight, where students dressed up, snapped photos on the red carpet at Warner Bros. Studios, and presented the games they poured their hearts into.

Samoff’s experience at APU has been formative for his understanding of pursuing one’s vocation. “Many students come here with the certainty that their calling is to create games, and they do everything to fulfill their goals, serve God, and be a force of good in the industry,” he said.

When asked what advice he would give to students who hope to become difference makers in the gaming field, Samoff said, “Design with a purpose. The games that are the most memorable are the ones that have a deeper meaning. Approach creativity with the desire to communicate your story and what stirs inside you.”

He added that students are capable of doing whatever they put their minds to, and to always continue learning. “You can’t rely on anyone else’s motivation. It has to be your own.”

Reflecting on his lifelong adventure of creating games and finding joy in teaching, Samoff remembered a time during his early career when he strayed away from his faith. “I was around so many different people and began making a lot of money, but when I reconnected with Christianity later in life, I realized how important it is to remain faithful,” he said. Samoff strives to serve as an example of staying rooted in one’s morality, especially in an industry that can easily strip goodness away. “Seasons of doubt happen in life, and we shouldn’t necessarily regret our experiences, even the bad ones. Instead we should view each one as an opportunity to learn and grow in our faith.”

Samoff’s life has taken him through levels of adventure, trials, discovery, and victory. Like a video game that continues to draw the player in, Samoff’s drive to fulfill his calling for Christ and equip students to pursue their dreams, makes his story one as captivating and inspiring as a game’s hero.