Pursuing passions: Sean Zlatev (12)


Hanna Hornfeld, Staff Writer

In a world split into four warring kingdoms, a disease known as the Corruption has infected creatures, causing them to attack your village. It is your job to help the villagers escape to safety. Sean Zlatev’s (12) virtual reality game incorporates all of this and more for his independent study.
The game is a fantasy adventure, set in a world where players are free to explore and interact. On Thursday, Zlatev presented this simulated world and his process of making it.
Last year, Zlatev took AP Computer Science, the highest level computer science course offered at the school. Zlatev’s teacher, Computer Science and Robotics Department Chair Danah Screen, suggested that he do an independent study in order to continue with computer science during his senior year. The two brainstormed potential projects and eventually settled on virtual reality, Zlatev said.
Before last summer, game design was one of Zlatev’s side hobbies. While working in a group to create a game at a pre-college program at Carnegie Mellon University, Zlatev realized he wanted to pursue game design seriously. “The thing that really tied the knot was watching other people react to the game we made,” he said. “Watching them go ‘Sean that’s really cool’ was an awesome experience that made a hobby shift into a passion.”
Zlatev and Screen started by creating a Gantt report, a chart planning out a project’s schedule. They laid out a precise time frame for everything that had to be done, from designing the world, to writing the story, to coding it all, he said.
Zlatev anticipated challenges despite his careful planning. The biggest obstacle he faced was an error with the game engine that he spent two weeks researching how to fix. If Zlatev had left it unfixed, there would have been a problem with lighting in the world, he said.
In his project, Zlatev combines disciplines aside from programming. Because presenting the programming itself in an interesting way would be difficult, he chose to concentrate on the creative side of his project, he said. The presentation focused on Zlatev’s process of story writing, the world he designed, and how to write your own stories for games.
Coming up with the game’s story was particularly enjoyable for Zlatev because of his love for creative writing, he said. The three main parts of creating the story were building a detailed world, designing authentic characters, and storyboarding. At the end of his presentation, Zlatev split students into groups and had them create their own worlds, characters, and storylines using the techniques he taught.
The most important feature of the game is its interactiveness, so Zlatev’s next primary focus is the controls. In the coming semester, Zlatev is going to take on the daunting task of actually coding. “To think about what the end result will be is fascinating,” he said.
For the second semester, Zlatev has also signed up for English Teacher Dr. Jonathan Kotchian’s Interactive Fiction elective. The course’s curriculum is centered around Choose Your Own Adventure-type stories, in which readers’ choices dictate the course of the plot. Zlatev hopes to be in Kotchian’s class because he will be able to tie it in with his independent study.
Bringing together creative writing, programming, and art has been an adventure for Zlatev. “It feels like I’m setting off on my own, and I’m really happy to be able to do something that I have an interest in,” he said. “It’s been really fulfilling.”