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Teen Scores Big with Online Game

Lake Braddock sophomore co-develops animation game for Internet site.

Who would have thought that the stick figures scribbled in a student’s notebook would come to life and earn money?

The brainstorm of Charles Yeh, a Lake Braddock Secondary School sophomore, has turned into money and acclaim. He has developed an online game called "Animator vs. Animation."

Charles, 15, was impressed with an animated film he discovered on the Web site AtomFilms.com. It was the second short for the director, Alan Becker, a teen from Ohio. "His films were very popular online," said Charles. "I’ve heard that some art universities have shown his films as examples." He e-mailed Alan and asked him if he wanted to create a game with him based on the film.

After a few e-mail exchanges, they agreed to collaborate. They e-mailed and instant-messaged back and forth over six months. He worked on the programming code, using Adobe Flash software, while Alan did the graphics. "He would send me an animation and I would bring it to life," said Charles.

They also tested the game, which pits an invisible animator against a feisty stick figure on a computer screen. As the animator, the user must choose drawing tools as weapons to fight.

HAVING PREVIOUSLY contacted Atom Films, Charles suggested that they submit their creation to the company, a Web site that is one of many entertainment divisions of MTV Networks.

As things are wont to do in the Internet world, somehow word spread that the creation was in the works, and other game sites contacted Alan and Charles to request the game for their sites. They chose Atom Films because it had a larger online presence than the other sites.

Along with their fathers, the two teens negotiated with the company. One of the major points of negotiation centered on exclusive rights. Atom Films offered them $10,000 for the right to have "Animator vs. Animation" on that site exclusively for six months, plus royalties.

Atom Films had a quality assurance team test the game and provide suggestions to the co-creators.

The game was launched in August 2007 and has been played more than 6.5 million times, becoming the second most-played game on AtomFilms.com. It was also chosen as Adobe’s Site of the Day on Oct. 29, which increased Web traffic to the game.

Web games, especially those based on Flash, have become very popular. Simon Carless, publisher of Game Developer, a trade magazine, explained the increasing ease of creating games. "Just about everyone has Flash installed on their browser ... and the Internet is a really easy way to get [games] out" to the public.

He said that some Web sites that allow the games to be played for free are experimenting with "micro-transactions." Once the game catches on, "then we’ll give you another 10 levels for $1."

With the game’s success, the teens developed a special edition of the game in December. "We suddenly had so many more ideas afterwards," said Charles. "We added more features … and another survival mode where the stick figures clone themselves every minute."

CHARLES AND his family have lived in Burke for more than 10 years. He takes advanced placement computer science in school. His father, Thomas Yeh, also a programmer, described Charles as "quiet and conservative."

Over the years, although Thomas Yeh often saw his son at the computer, he was surprised to see that he taught himself the skills to create games. "Charles spent a lot of effort on the game," he said. "He handled everything on his own."

Atom Films has sent the first of the contracted quarterly royalty checks, plus the initial payment for the game. "He got his own bank account," said Thomas Yeh, of his son.

The exclusive rights terms in the contract end this month. Charles and his co-creator have yet to decide the next outlet for their game.

In addition to playing tennis, kendo — Japanese sword fighting — and violin, Charles has started a club at Lake Braddock Secondary to teach other students how to create games with Flash. "Most of my friends are new to this," he said. "It just takes patience to learn."