This weekend, I was honored to be a judge for the Imagine Cup National Finals. They have two competitions for students, one for Software Design and a new one this year for Game Design. Of course, I was there as a Game Design judge, as was UMBC grad and adjunct faculty member Katie Hirsch of Firaxis Games. This year’s theme was to create a game reflecting one the UN Millennium Development Goals: hunger and poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS and malaria, environment, and global partnership.

Of the 269 entries, ten games made it to the finals. I was on one of the two judging panels that met on Saturday to select the final four games to advance to the final round on Monday at the Newseum in DC. Monday included a presentation of the final four games, a showcase of all ten finalists, and keynote addresses by director James Cameron, Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie, DOE Director of Educational Technology Karen Cator. The winners were:

  • Grand prize and $8,000
    Sixth by team “To Be Announced”, a puzzle game in which you play a child in a slum, trying to find drinking water for your family. You find items you can use or trade in your quest and meet people in the slum who can help you along the way. The goal is to educate players about the struggles of the worlds poor.
  • First prize and $4,000
    Alterra by team “Coffee Powered Altruism”, a strategy game ambitiously addressing all of the UN Millennium goals. For each one, you are shown a map of a real country with dots representing population (above and below poverty, educated vs. uneducated, etc.), and you attempt to drag in job training centers or other tools to change the makeup of the population without exhausting your budget.
  • Second prize and $3,000
    RoboRecycler by team “Ifrit Salsa”, a kids game where you are a robot collecting items and getting points for depositing them in the correct recycling bin.
  • Third prize
    Antitoxin Squad by team “LeveL13”, a cooperative two-player game where you plant seeds to defeat the pollution blobs.

Teams ranged from High School students to PhD students, and games from 2D sprites to full 3D FPS. Overall, an excellent set of games and a great experience. I’d certainly encourage some of our students to try next year.

Marc Olano