Meet the Winners: Seong-Hyun Ryoo

by Allison Mishkin
September 3, 2013

Seong-Hyun Ryoo is a swimmer, artist, budding filmmaker and a very talented game designer. An 8th grader from Georgia, he seems mature and responsible for someone his age, speaking with a level of composure one would not expect from a middle schooler.

That said, the strong sense of discipline that became evident during our interview helped him clinch the Best Middle School Gamemaker game in the 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge. Seong-Hyun believes that games can be used to convey emotions and for complex storytelling; he aimed and succeeded in doing just that.

Seong-Hyun has always loved to create things. From a young age, he was drawing or designing new tools. Every time he would watch a movie, listen to music, or play a game, ideas of his own would pop into his head. “I don’t want to just absorb other people’s media. While I do like watching other people’s videos[or playing their games], it doesn’t make me feel as proud or accomplished. Creating something of my own is intensely gratifying. It is rewarding to see someone play or watch something I made, and the best part is getting feedback to make my work better.”

After dreaming of creating his own media, at 11, he finally had his chance. A computer class’s final project required him to make a film, but he was disappointed that the class never substantially edited the videos they filmed. Seong-Hyun did what any creative mind would do, and taught himself the rest.

Always one to push himself to learn more, Seong-Hyun spends much of his time researching and testing new tools and effects. He learns by tinkering with computer programs and firmly believes it’s important to practice extensively with an effect or trick before sharing it with others. “I now spend most of my time testing out the tools to see how rich I can make my films. I center small movies on an effect or test out a new engine. It is so cool to discover new things.”

The same creative curiosity that helped Seong-Hyun teach himself movie-making later came in handy when he decided to create video games. Unlike many other winners, Seong-Hyun was never a very active gamer. Until about a year ago, his parents only let him play video games when they were away on vacation. But for the 11 months out of the year when he wasn’t playing, he was reading about independent designers and the art of game design.

This knowledge of the game design industry came in handy when, one summer, while away on vacation, he discovered an incredibly innovative developer’s website. He loved gaining insight into the creator’s design process while simultaneously getting to play a game. “As I saw what games could do and how diverse video games could be, I began getting so many ideas for them. I began writing them down and drawing themes and knew that I needed to create my own.”

Seong-Hyun began searching for tools and programs where he could make his own games. He looked at many tools, but found many of them too simple, too complex, or too expensive for a middle schooler. Eventually, he found Gamemaker (link) and knew it was the right platform for him. “I loved that there was room to grow and teach myself design principles while still turning out a professional-quality game. There were so many diverse games made using the tool that I knew I had to learn it.”

He applied the same “practice makes perfect” work ethic from filmmaking to his study of game design. He began by studying tutorials and playing other designers’ Gamemaker games. Serendipitously, his limited gaming experience is what allowed him blossom into a creative mastermind. “I would look at other people’s games, but I’m not good at playing games so my difficulties with their levels helped inspire me to make clever hacks and make them both better and more intuitive.”

As his game design experience grew, so did his desire to prove himself. He knew that sometimes games won science fairs and decided to find a game design competition to enter. His first search sent him directly to the STEM Challenge — and the rest is history.

After learning about the competition, Seong-Hyun spent about a month brainstorming ideas and then an additional three and a half months in development. His game, Rare Earth, was inspired by his favorite genre of games, pixel platformers. “I really wanted the player to feel accomplished after completing my game, so I gave them that sensation by never fully telling them how to solve a level. I used keys and cut scenes to encourage exploration and help players learn for themselves.”

We certainly felt accomplished after completing Rare Earth and can’t wait for his next game….and neither can Seong-Hyun, but he wants to continue learning from other designers, just as he always has. “I’m looking at places where I can submit games to get more feedback. I want to enter the online development community because I believe that other players and designers can help me strengthen my own skillset.”

Eventually, Seong-Hyun hopes to be a movie director or an indie developer. He wants to keep getting the gratifying feeling of inspiring someone else. “I know that if I work in a smaller company I can have the creative control and freedom to keep learning and creating in whatever way I see fit.”

We love how passionate Seong-Hyun is about practicing his skillset– and if you want to take a page from his book and download GameMaker, you can do so here!

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