When 17-year-old Brent VanZant looked up at the night sky while on vacation in New Mexico this summer, he didn’t just see hundreds of stars—he also saw the inspiration for an original video game design. “I thought it would be cool if you could control the height that an object orbited a planet and built my game off that idea,” says Brent. Thanks to that fateful gaze upward, the Los Alamitos, California native was inspired to create Orbit Arena, winner of the High School GameMaker category of the 2016 National STEM Video Game Challenge. In Orbit Arena, players dodge asteroids and collect points all while navigating their orbit around a planet.
“I became interested in learning how to make video games when I was in middle school,” says Brent. After attending an introductory game design summer camp, Brent was encouraged to dig deeper into the field, challenging himself to program playable games that would keep him—and other players—engaged over time. When he’s not making games, Brent enjoys hanging out with friends, solving puzzles, swimming, designing in Photoshop, and playing video games. After high school he’s interested in studying computer science and business, and hopes to work in either artificial intelligence development or video game design when he’s older. “The advice I would give to aspiring designers is to not be afraid to experiment with abstract and or new ideas for games,” says Brent. “Experimenting as much as possible is the best way to stumble upon ideas that are fun and engaging.”