Half of microsoft video game design finalists from UH

December 15, 2011

HOUSTON, Dec. 15, 2011 - Three interactive video games developed by University of Houston (UH) computer science students have been selected by Microsoft to compete in the U.S. Imagine Cup 2012 Finals this spring, dominating the slots awarded in the fall leg of the contest.

With the theme of the competition being to imagine a world where technology helps solve some of the world's toughest global issues, the UH teams were right on target with games focused on cleaning up oil spills, restoring ocean life destroyed by pollution and protecting water in developing countries.

"Microsoft picks only six teams in the fall finalist selection, so UH is dominating the finals again," said Chang Yun, research assistant professor in the department of computer science. "These teams have worked hard. For the first round of the competition, they had to submit a storyboard, and for the second, they submitted a game demo, instructions and a playable game. Now, they will continue to refine and improve their games for the final round of the competition."

The students are part of the Interactive Game Development Program in the computer science department. Yun and Jose Baez-Franceschi, a game developing instructor, are the teams' mentors.

Competing in the game design category, teams choose between two tracks - Xbox/Windows and Windows Phone. Team Wasabi Ninja was selected in the Windows Phone category, and Teams Eager Beavers PC and Zigers were chosen in Xbox/Windows game design.

Led by Yun, Team Zigers created an Xbox game called Spillville that addresses major oil spills in the ocean. The player commands a fictional organization to clean up the spills. Members are undergraduate students Michael Slater, Chris Gonzales, Sin Ng and Allison Sherrick.

Also under the mentorship of Yun, Team Wasabi Ninja created a game for Windows Phone 7, where the player takes the role of a nanomachine engineered specifically to destroy harmful materials in the water systems of developing countries. Members are graduate students Martin Le and Patipol Paripoonnanonda and undergraduates Jackchalat Chaiyakhom and Josh Riffel.

The group coached by Baez-Franceschi, Team Eager Beavers PC, created an educational game dubbed Hydrobot Adventures, featuring a robot capable of restoring all ocean life destroyed by years of pollution. During the game, the player learns about environmental sustainability, and the game brings to mind a vision of what the ocean environment will become in the future if people do not act now. Members are undergraduate Khoa Le and graduate students Hien Nguyen, Sushil Joshi and Debjyoti Majunder.

The finals will be held this April in Seattle. With six more finalist teams to be picked during a spring selection in March, additional UH teams may advance to the national finals. Teams also can enter the Worldwide Imagine Cup for a chance to make it to the international finals in Sydney, Australia, later in the year.

UH's computer science department has a legacy of success at the Imagine Cup. In 2011, four UH teams competed in the U.S. finals, bringing home first and second place in mobile game design and third place in Windows/Xbox game design. Two teams brought home second and third place in the 2010 nationals.
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About the University of Houston

The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation's best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation's fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 38,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.

About the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with 187 ranked faculty and approximately 5,800 students, offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, computational sciences and mathematics. Faculty members in the departments of biology and biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, earth and atmospheric sciences, mathematics and physics conduct internationally recognized research in collaboration with industry, Texas Medical Center institutions, NASA and others worldwide.

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