In their haunting and elaborate game design, Washington, DC-based teammates Owen Cain (age 15), Doanna Nguyen (age 16), Gabriel Stevanus (age 16), and Tochi Ukegbu (age 16) ask players to step into the shoes of someone who recently took their own life, and has been given a chance to explore the life of someone else to see why life is worth living. With a moving soundtrack, original art, and a fully-realized 3D world, Intervene won the High School Team Open Platform category of the 2017 National STEM Video Game Challenge.
The team’s initial interest in the STEM Challenge came from an internet search, with Tochi hoping to avoid the necessity of finding a dull summer job. “I asked Doanna if she could help me find a competition involving programming, because in my mind spending time immersed in that type of project would probably be more valuable than the average teenage work experience,” says Tochi. “[After finding the STEM Challenge,] as a group we agreed on a game concept that was simple but memorable,” Doanna adds. “It’s a concept that stays on your mind and asks you to ponder.”
Working together using the Roblox game engine, the team labored diligently to bring their idea to life. For Owen, time management was an important takeaway from the development process. “At the start, with a deadline months away, it seems like you have unlimited time, but if you’re not planning things effectively time can run out much faster than expected,” he reflects. In his free time, Owen enjoys reading and playing video games. He plans to study astrophysics and theoretical physics in college.
For Gabriel, creating Intervene was an interesting extension of a long-held interest in game design. “When I was five years old, I used to lay in bed planning the details of new games in my head, but nothing had come of it until now,” he says. Gabriel’s hobbies include reading fantasy and science fiction novels, playing video games with friends, and training in Tae Kwon Do. After graduating, he plans to study engineering.
Despite the completion of their original game design, programming remains a self-described obsession for Tochi. In the future, he plans to study computer science and artificial intelligence. “It’s not an understatement to say that AI like machine learning is the future of technology,” Tochi explains. “It’s already proving itself today; it’s here and well integrated into your daily life, whether you know it or not.”
A major source of inspiration for Doanna is her mom. “She came to the United States from Vietnam as a widow, with no background in English, and raised me all by herself,” Doanna shares. “I find her story and experience very inspiring.” After graduating from high school, Doanna plans to enter a STEM field, and is interested in learning more about veterinary science and concept design for video games. Especially as an artist, Doanna has found the practice makes perfect—and encourages other aspiring designers to adopt a similar mentality. “If you don’t like an element of what you’re creating, keep trying until you love it,” she recommends.