Back in 2009, an interest in animation led Litchfield, Ohio native Zack Harmon, 17, to start experimenting with interactive design in GameMaker. Over six years later, his passion for programming has evolved into a self-proclaimed addiction—and resulted in an award-winning video game. Zack’s game, Gongbat, features an ancient creature that battles evil by harnessing the power of sound, and took home the High School Gamemaker award in the 2015 National STEM Video Game Challenge. “The entire game was created over 10 months,” says Zack, “in and outside of study halls and taking up 90% of my free time last summer.”
Inspiration for Zack’s game stems from a love of arcade classics like Super Mario and Galaga and a penchant for science fiction films like Star Wars, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Back to the Future. As a dedicated artist, Zack enjoys a variety of creative activities, including playing guitar and drums, composing music, painting and drawing, and experimenting with sculpting and paper mache. He also enjoys coding websites, taking photos, and spending time outdoors.
Zack plans to study game design or graphic design in college, and aspires to launch his own design business when he’s older. “I would love to front a small team developing quirky, innovative games that make it big,” he explains. Zack discovered the STEM Challenge on the last day of registration, and worked quickly to put the finish touches on his labor of love.
“The most valuable lesson I learned is simply to have fun designing,” says Zack. “With the hundreds of other projects I’ve worked on, I had so many ideas at the beginning that there was never enough time to implement them,” he explains. Gongbat was different because most of the game’s features were created on the fly, relying on rapid prototyping. While certain items or features were ultimately cut from the final game, Zack relished the fast-paced creation process. “Now thousands of people are enjoying playing my game; it’s the biggest payoff ever,” says the teenager, who plans to create a sequel to Gongbat featuring a time-altering gong in the future.
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