Some households may discourage an overwhelming passion for playing video games as a child. In Joe Grubb’s house (Class of 2006), this was not the case.
“I have a picture somewhere when I was about two years old sitting on my dad’s lap playing the Intellivision (game console). I was lucky my parents looked into it and supported my gaming interests,” Grubb said. “I looked forward to the weekends when my parents would take me to Movie Warehouse to rent a new game.”
Grubb spent much of his formative years at Morehead playing video games, whether “Space Quest” or “King’s Quest” from PC floppy disks or playing popular Blizzard Entertainment video game franchises. like “World of Warcraft” and “Diablo.”
Now, Grubb doesn’t just play games from Blizzard Entertainment. He oversees their popular games as the company’s lead game designer.
“I, at 10, would freak out to know that he grew up designing video games,” Grubb said.
When the time finally came for Grubb to go to college, he decided to attend Morehead State University. He followed in the footsteps of his mother, Debbie Abell (class of 1977), professor emeritus and former associate provost and dean of graduate and undergraduate programs, and his father, Jeff Grubb (class of 1977). While his goal of designing video games for a living was clear, he admittedly had no definite way to take it to the next level.
“I just didn’t know how to go about it,” he said. “I was always decent as an artist growing up, so I thought I would try to use art to get into the industry.”
Along the way, Grubb received invaluable guidance and experience from the faculty of MSU’s Department of Art and Design. Although MSU did not offer 3D digital design courses, he did several independent studies under art professor Gary Mesa-Gaido. Using this experience, Grubb completed Academy of Art certificate training to get into 3D and then went on to further 1:1 independent study with Mesa-Gaido to create several fully 3D projects, from initial sketch to final 3D video. Plus, in an industry where gamers appreciate the finer visual touches, he immediately thinks back to classes with the late art teacher Deeno Golding where he learned about graphic design and attention to detail.
“I’ve never been more careful cutting a rug than I was in Deeno’s classes,” Grubb said. “Every. detail. mattered.”
After attending MSU for two years and graduating with an associate’s degree in college in 2006, he attended Carnegie Melon University (CMU), taking classes at its entertainment technology center, and switching from art and design to game design.
“It was great to combine what I learned from MSU with what I was learning at CMU,” Grubb said. “I had an artistic background, so communication with the artists was easy because we had a common language. I also had a strong background in graphic design, which helped me a lot in the design of the user experience.”
After earning a master’s degree in entertainment technology from CMU in 2008, Grubb landed his foot in the door with a video game design company, Cheyenne World Entertainment, in Arizona. He reportedly works as a designer for various game companies across the country, including Gazillion Entertainment, Tencent Boston, Inc., and Kabam. As Kabam’s lead designer, he worked on “Star Wars: Uprising,” a game accepted as official “Star Wars” canon.
“It’s kind of crazy to know that I created part of ‘Star Wars’ history,” he said.
In 2015, Grubb went on to create a digital collectible card game (CCG) with Dire Wolf Digital. From 2018 to 2021, he served as lead designer for Big Huge Games, where he played a key role in the design of the combat strategy game “DomiNations”. This ultimately led to Grubb getting his current job at Blizzard Entertainment in May 2021.
As the lead game designer for games like “Diablo Immortal,” Grubb said that instead of designing the finer details himself as a member of the design team, his main role is to “maintain the 10,000 foot vision and empowering your design team to execute that vision.”
Grubb said that whether it’s communication skills, attention to detail, a tough skin for criticism or a strong work ethic, the lessons learned and relationships formed at MSU l helped realize what could be his dream job.
“I’ve been a big fan of Blizzard games for a long time. Even back when they made games for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System),” he said. “There are a lot of great studios that make great games. But, yeah…Blizzard was my personal ‘I made my dreams come true.'”
To learn more about MSU’s Department of Art and Design programs, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/art, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 606-783-2766.
College can change lives and communities. A higher level of education increases tax revenue, lowers unemployment and even improves health outcomes. Learn more about the KY Council on Post-Secondary Education at kyhigheredmatters.org.
Photos: Joe Grubb (Class of ’06, right) is a lead game designer for Blizzard Entertainment, where he worked on popular games like “Diablo Immortal” (pictured above).