BEAVERTON — Someone on Mauritius, an island 1,200 miles off the southeast coast of Africa, is playing Space Bandit, an internet game created by 14-year-old Ryan Stephen. Russians, Turks and Paraguayans are also among those avoiding aliens and voyaging to space ports.
It’s the worldwide reach that amazes Ryan, a 14-year-old self-taught computer whiz at St. Cecilia School here. He has already designed two applications that were accepted and marketed by Apple for the iPhone and iPad.
“That’s the best part. Someone across the globe knows my name,” Ryan says.
Like Apple’s innovative founders decades ago, Ryan finds it pure joy to meld technology and art. He creates the look of the apps and even composes the music for his games. He gets help on sound effects from 10-year-old brother Sam, who has a knack at using his mouth to create chomps, crashes and explosions.
Ryan, who will attend Jesuit High School in the fall, has long been interested in computers but decided last summer to get serious. He began experimenting with coding and game design and came up not only with Space Bandit, but with Minutes, a time charting application that allows people to log how long they have spent on certain tasks. “He’s always been really tech savvy,” says Amy Stephen, Ryan’s mom and the science teacher at St. Cecilia. Ryan’s dad has computer know-how and has done some teaching, but Ryan is self-motivated.
As for most inventors, the path to success included foiled attempts and frustration. Apple has turned down a few of his offerings. But Ryan is not afraid to fail because he knows one loss is not the end.
“I learned very quickly it’s an evolution of ideas,” he says. “I’m OK with that. That’s my kind of personality.”
Ryan is not a millionaire, but earns some pocket change from his work — about 69 cents of each 99 cent app that sells. He is learning about business along the way, discovering that 99 cents is a “sweet point” — low enough to draw buyers but high enough to earn reasonable profit.
Ryan paid Apple a $100 developers’ fee and aims to earn all of that back soon, plus some. He has a good chance. Space Bandit just won a prize from an online education site. Minutes was featured on the website of an autism organization.
Ryan keeps large files with ideas and pieces of ideas. He knows they may come in handy on a future project. One piece of code allows a smartphone or tablet user to mimic the behavior of water droplets running along a surface. A game in process has airplanes dropping boxes toward a creature perched on floating log below. The aim is to maintain balance as packages plummet onto the wobbly log.
Of all that it takes to develop and market an app, Ryan most likes doing the artwork. He is fired up by creating pieces of art and seeing how they fit together.
Ryan is a fan of digital tablets in schools. St. Cecilia was an early adopter and Jesuit students will all have iPads beginning next fall.
“It really excels what you can do,” Ryan says.
His classmates ask him about his latest experiments and sales. St. Cecilia teachers have cheered Ryan on and purchased his apps.
Ryan does not spend all his time on tech projects. He plays drums in the school band and is a distance runner for CYO and a club team sponsored by Nike. But at times, when he is logging in miles, his mind works on the next digital innovation.