Gautam, a JLS Middle School eighth-grader, is working on a game that challenges players to match colored circles falling onto the screen with a multi-colored ball in the center. His friend and fellow JLS eighth-grader Kevin Frans is building a survival game involving colored bullets or balls.
The middle-school students are among 100 unpaid teens this summer creating iPhone games at MakeGamesWithUs, the brainchild of 20-year-old Ashutosh Desai and 21-year-old Jeremy Rossmann.
The pair are friends from their high school days at Menlo School, where Desai, at 16, sold 50,000 copies of his "Helicopter" game in the App Store, netting $35,000.
He recalls it as a "super-great experience.
"I got to learn more about computer science and I got to make some money as a 16-year-old," Desai said.
"But foremost was having thousands of people all around the world pay for something I created and writing positive reviews."
Last year Desai and Rossmann decided to take time off from college — UCLA and MIT respectively — to build games and make some money.
But in the hits-driven business of iPhone games they quickly realized that gathering a larger pool of game-makers would boost their odds of a big win, hence their offer to the students.
Desai and Rossmann provide interns with tutorials on game-building, help with coding questions, assistance with custom art, music and packaging and publishing games. If an intern chooses to publish through them — which they're not required to do — the founders take 30 percent.
"We only make money if what we taught you is useful. If it enabled you to build a successful game, then we make money," Desai said.
After running group sessions since last summer in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and at Menlo School, UCLA and MIT, Desai said they have shipped 17 games, declining to elaborate on whether he and Rossmann have made any money.
For students who know some programming and already love to fiddle, the internship offers an alluring way to spend the summer, with a possibility of profit.
On the front patio of the Palo Alto house last week, friends and recent Gunn High School graduates Meera Parat, David Bell and Lisa Yan sat together working on their games.
Yan heard about the internship from her Gunn computer science teacher and told Bell, who told Parat.
"It's surprisingly easy to apply," said Bell, whose game involves a thief trying to sneak past security systems to steal a painting and make an escape.
"We've all made simple stuff in the computer science classes — you should definitely take computer science before you do this."
Yan's game challenges players on pop culture, asking them to identify, for example, a movie poster with the text removed.
Parat described her game as "similar to 'Dance Dance Revolution,'" but on an iPhone.
Desai said he and Rossmann recruited at high schools and colleges, accepting about 100 of 160 applicants for internships in the Palo Alto and San Francisco locations. Students are asked to stay a minimum of four weeks and commit to completing at least one game.
"Be prepared to grind, and we'll make sure you have fun while you're at it," the recruitment website promises.
Luis Garcia, a recent graduate of Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto, heard about the internship from the school's coordinator for summer programs.
"I decided to go with this because it's a fun, interactive internship," said Garcia, who's working on a game involving a chicken running and trying to evade attacks from humans.
Sixteen-year-old Stephanie Campa of Los Altos Hills, who has her learner's permit, typically drives with at least one of her parents to the internship. Campa learned about the program through her computer science class at Menlo School and is working on a game involving dragging a ball to a goal — with 50 different levels of complications.
Gautam and Kevin — whose bike ride to the internship takes him 30 to 45 minutes each way — are the youngest game makers, whose ages range from 13 to 23.
Kevin said his productivity in coding is boosted by listening to Green Day, or whatever comes up on his iTunes shuffle, while he works.
"Kevin started two weeks after me, and he's already 1,000 lines of code ahead," his friend Gautam said.
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