Pickerington Central students win National STEM Video Game Challenge
Two Pickerington High School Central students recently merged creative and technical talents to win a national video-game design contest.
Careers in video-game development might be in the offing for Central juniors Pamela Pizarro-Ruiz and Noah Ratcliff, who are both 16.
Last April, the duo went two days without sleep as they crammed, or "jammed" in the gaming parlance, to create "Fog," a video puzzle game where players uncover clues to navigate a world where visibility is low, but harbors hidden beauty.
That effort, which matched Pizarro-Ruiz's artistic talents with Ratcliff's computer code-writing prowess, originated from 48-hour online competition, Ludum Dare, which encourages people to develop video games from scratch in a weekend.
From there, Pizarro-Ruiz and Ratcliff entered their game prototype in the 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge, conducted by the New York City-based Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media.
According to organizers, the contest is designed to motivate interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) among students in grades 5-12 by tapping into their enthusiasm for playing and making video games.
Nearly 4,000 designs were entered into the National STEM Video Game Challenge, and Fog was selected as the overall winner for high school students.
"When I got the text that we won, I started running laps around my room," Pizarro-Ruiz said.
In addition to the sense of accomplishment, the two students each will receive laptop computers for winning the contest.
They also earned a $2,000 grant, which they chose to split evenly between Central's Engineering and Art departments for classroom equipment and to support the departments' club activities.
"I was the first one to get an email to say we were finalists," Ratcliff said. "I saw it at 6 a.m. and it didn't really dawn on me.
"When I kind of realized what was going on, it was really exciting for me."
Friends since middle school, Fog represented the first video gaming collaboration between Pizarro-Ruiz and Ratcliff.
Ratcliff, an avid gamer, previously participated in "game jams" in which he attempted to program video games to be played by others.
"My interest in video-game design stems a lot from my interest in video games," Ratcliff said. "I also have a passion for entertaining people."
That work inspired Pizarro-Ruiz, who said she prefers to watch gamers for entertainment and to absorb storylines within games.
"I don't have a lot of money on me so I don't play a lot of games," she said. "I'm basically the person who watches people play.
"I'm kind of interested in the combination of how the game is played and how people react to the games. I like games that have a good story."
Pizarro-Ruiz also is an artist, and infused her drawing talents with Ratcliff's technical expertise to create Fog.
"In our category, we actually wrote the game and made it playable," Ratcliff said.
"Pamela did the art and the level design, designing each level with a different environment.
"Each level had to be hand-drawn and I did all the programming. It was a combined effort."
After winning the national competition, the duo are exploring options for expanding Fog and getting it published to make it a "full-on" game available for purchase.
The experience also has encouraged them to pursue video-game development as a possible career path.
"I've been eyeing a career in video-game design for some time," Ratcliff said.
Pizzaro-Ruiz added, "I'm actually thinking about pursuing game design, but to do that I'm going to need to learn code."