Computer science students advance to semifinals in Microsoft competition
Randal Staewen and Sean Howard, known as team Solipsoid, will represent the United States in the game design category of the Microsoft Imagine Cup World Semifinals. They are one of the three U.S. teams to make it to the semifinals, with the two other teams representing the innovation and software design categories, respectively.
Team Solipsoid’s game, called “Unnatural Selection,” is set in a futuristic world where a war between machines and organics ends with the victory of the machines. The machines, however, eventually get bored and begin to recreate life inside an aquatic test facility.
“The player takes the role of a rapidly mutating aquatic species that tries to eat everything it can to grow large enough to escape,” Staewen said. “Players control the path of evolution through their diet and unlock further mutations by completing objectives. With its real-time multiplayer component, you can play alongside your friends and compete for the limited food supply, so your friends are also on the menu.”
Staewen asked Howard to join the team in late Fall 2013 after the two had learned how to use the Unity game engine together during the previous summer. This game engine is the software framework the two used to develop “Unnatural Selection.” The teammates embarked on the Imagine Fund program in early February, with a mentor assigned to the pair to guide them through the process of building their company and product from concept to idea.
“The program was intense, with two-hour video conferences twice a week for 10 weeks,” Staewen said. “It’s been a good experience for many reasons. I’ve learned how to talk about this game with people who aren’t familiar with games. The ability to communicate is essential if I want to get the support needed to successfully launch this product.”
Dr. Chang Yun, an interactive game development instructor and research assistant professor in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, was also credited for the student’s success.
“Our professor, Dr. Chang Yun, has been a huge support for us,” Howard said. “He had Randal and I submit our game to the Imagine Cup in the first place. Dr. Yun would give us advice in what Microsoft looks for in the quality of games and how to achieve that quality.”
The duo plans to publish the games on Steam, a digital game store for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms with forums, an update client and store code redemtion as well as other platforms.
“We intend to release the game by the end of summer, hopefully on Steam, but if not, on several mobile devices like Android, iOS, and the Windows store,” Howard said.