Meet the Winners: Noah Ratcliff and Pamela Pizarro-Ruiz

As we gear up for the long Labor Day Weekend, most are planning to relax and unwind, or perhaps to attend a barbecue or two. After all, how much can get done in a weekend? The answer: a whole lot if you’re High School team winners Noah Ratcliff and Pamela Pizarro-Ruiz. They spent a sleepless 48 hours from design to final completion on Fog, their entry to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

Fog is a puzzle game where players uncover parts of a mysterious world as they light up a screen covered by fog. In each level, the player connects torches using his or her five senses to explore the world he can’t even see. Once lit, the screen clears to unveil a beautiful part of the world.

In an impressive display of youthful enthusiasm and stamina, Pamela and Noah developed Fog during a 48-hour online game jam, the Ludum Dare competition. The competition’s theme was announced over the weekend and the two had until Monday morning to come up with a concept and design a complete game around the idea of “Minimalism.” Most entrants had through the end of the day on Monday…but high school beckoned.

When asked about what transpired during those fateful 48 hours, Noah confesses that he doesn’t remember much. “My vision is kind of foggy now, pun not intended, I think that caffeine and lack of sleep blurred my memory. Or maybe I blocked it out.”

Pamela, however, has more memories from the experience. “It was basically a constant stream of Noah and I making levels.” We initially tried to portion it out based on our skill set. Noah would do all of the coding and I would do all of the art and design, eventually however, we were running out of time so I had to do all of the level design! But it was fine, I run on enthusiasm!” Eventually, Pamela handled all of the art assets while Noah developed the game in C# with XNA.

Before the competition, the pair practiced their process on old themes but they went into the jam cold. This was their first collaboration and Pamela’s first foray into game design.

The judges were inspired by Fog’s revolutionary gameplay; the game felt completely original and produced visceral emotional responses from many players. Amazingly, it took the pair just half an hour to come up with the idea. “Once the theme was announced, we spent about 30 minutes just researching minimalism, minimalist art, and minimalism room design. That’s how we decided that you wouldn’t need see more than you needed to see to solve each puzzle,” Noah remarked.

When asked why they choose to make their first collaboration so frantic, the two commented that it didn’t feel that way. Pamela says, “I’d seen Noah try game jams before and it looked like so much fun to work with that community. I was Noah’s emotional support through his first game jam and I really wanted to try it out!” The pair were friends from their school’s Tech Club and, when not frantically developing games, describe their interests as “typical teen stuff.”

When not programming, developer Noah likes to swim, hang out with friends, and play video games. Pamela, the team’s artist, confesses that most of her time is spent drawing. When not filling up sketch books, she can be found playing clarinet in the school band.

Noah has been coding since he was 8 years old. His dad was in college and taking a course on visual basic. After his dad showed him the language, Noah was hooked on object oriented program and began learning more and more about coding and website development. “I’ve grown a lot and made a lot of applications since then, but I’ve only been designing games for about a year.” He hopes to go to college for Interactive Media Design and eventually work at or own his own indie game studio, “I like working in small teams and seeing the game’s big picture.”

Pamela, meanwhile, was a novice to game design before the STEM Challenge. Although she loves to play games in her spare time, Pamela is more focused on drawing, illustrating, and photography. “I love playing games, but I don’t have too much time to play because I’m always drawing; I’ve filled up over 29 sketch books.” However, she loved working on Fog so much that she is now exploring game design careers. “I used to want to be an illustrator but now I think that it would be crazy awesome to be a video game designer!”

The pair has spent their summer further developing Fog to release it commercially. They were always planning on adding more mystery to their game, but the STEM Challenge gave them renewed energy to follow their dream. They can’t wait to work with their school’s Tech Club to help other budding designers and we can’t wait for Fog’s commercial release! And, until then, we’ll be watching their wonderful gameplay video.

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