Last month XMG Studios and The National Post, along with sponsors Microsoft, KPMG, Telus, triOS College, Doritos and Flip Video presented the first Great Canadian Appathon. A national event, this development marathon was open to Canadian students who wanted to develop a new app for Windows Phone 7. There were six hubs open across the country at UBC, trIOS College, Carleton University, Nova Scotia Community College, University of Waterloo, Concordia University and Telus House Toronto for those who wanted to develop together in person. Each hub location had development mentors from XMG Studios to give guidance and assistance when needed, and we ventured out to UBC to meet up with Adam Telfer, VP of Game Development for XMG Studio.
The competitors were given resources for building their apps, which could not be started until 5pm on the Appathon weekend. These resources included engines, physics and compiling. Email support was available for those who were not able to participate at one of the hubs while hands-on guidance was given to those at each of the hubs. The app being developed had to be a game, and XMG Studios would gain a non-exclusive license for publishing. At the end of the Appathon coding period on Sunday, all apps were to be submitted online to begin the review process. Each team was limited to creating one game, and by the end of the competition period, 50 games were completed by approximately 300 students on 100 teams.
In talking with Adam Telfer, we learned that the Appathon was the brainchild of XMG Studio President and Founder Ray Sharma, and was borne of the internal jam hackathons held at the studio. The hackathons are an opportunity for the studio’s personnel to show off their skills without fear of office politics or bureaucracy getting in the way. There were no boundaries put in place and creativity was encouraged. One of XMG’s latest releases came out of a hackathon, and as I’ve played the game, I can safely say that Adam’s 99 cent Cows vs Aliens is fun, challenging and addictive. Adam told us that the game took two days to prototype and two weeks to develop, which goes to show what can be accomplished in the right studio atmosphere. By the way, at the time of our interview with Adam, the studio was actively hiring, I encourage you to check out their career page to see if there’s an opportunity for you at XMG.
While XMG has not yet released a title in the WP7 Market, it is very active in the iOS and Facebook sectors, with a view to publishing in the Android Marketplace as well. As the studio pushes towards the expanding markets for casual games, Adam remarked that the WP7 platform has good dev support and follow through, although there does need to be improvement particularly for independent developers in regards to player achievements and discoverability. He felt that offering more features may not be the best answer in moving the casual and mobile game market forward, noting instead that a better alternative could be to make all features available to all developers, which would in turn give more options to the end user, resulting in more downloads and purchases, thereby benefiting all sectors of the marketplace.
While at UBC we also had a chance to talk for a few minutes with Team Sheldon (yes, the team was named for the venerable Big Bang Theory’s own Dr. Sheldon Cooper), a group of UBC computer science students who were working through the challenges of working with an emulator, and whose game ultimately went on to take second place at the finals.
First prize for the Appathon was a cash prize of $25 000.00 plus the chance to interview for a 3 month (non-guaranteed) intern position at XMG, the National Post or Telus, along with an LG Optimus 7 smartphone (excluding phone plan). The second place team would receive a $10 000.00 cash prize along with the smartphone. In addition to the top two prizes were 25 category prizes, with each winner being presented with $1000.00 cash.
Based on a scoring system of 20 points, the games were judged on many quality points, including innovation, art, design, polish, fun and entertainment factors as well as stability to name but a few. Any ties in the score would be broken by ranking in the innovation standings. As the games passed through the stages of judging, scoring would start anew, again with any ties broken by the innovation standings.
Three teams would ultimately be chosen as finalists and flown to Toronto for the big prize announcement, which was held this past Thursday at Yonge and Dundas Square where the games were previewed to both the public and local media on giant screens. Each of the three finalists played their game live for the judging panel prior to the final placings being decided.
While the top game will gain a publishing guarantee in the WP7 Market, all 25 of the entries stand a good chance of being published if they prove to be of quality – however, all of the entries are co-owned with the Great Canadian Appathon, and cannot be individually published right away.
Prior to the awards announcements, I had the opportunity to ask each of the three finalist teams a series of questions, read on to learn more about the three top teams and their humourously quirky yet awesome answers :
Team Name: Team Masheen – winners of the $25 000.00 First Prize
Team member names with school and area of study:
1. Stephen Baden: University of Alberta, Computer Science
2. Pieter Parker: NAIT, DMIT
3. Jeremy Burns: University of Alberta, Electrical Engineering
4. Tyler Ste. Marie: NAIT, DMIT
Name of app: Super Punch
Synopsis of app & its purpose: The game starts as our main hero, Super Punch, is delivering the final blow to his arch nemesis. Super Punch has been locked in combat with Dr. Competent for a while now and he wants to make this final hit count. To do this he calls upon the aid of four fellow heroes (Gust Girl, Opto, Chipotle, and Rhinofly) and purchases power ups to make his super punch even more effective with hopes of launching Dr. Competent into the stratosphere or even space!
Motivation to make this particular app: Our team was influenced a lot by retro super hero designs and movies like The Incredibles for our game. The scene where the hero delivers the final blow has always been a powerful moment in any super hero story and we really wanted to capture this moment and build the game around it.
Challenges faced in development:
- First time using XNA/Developing for Windows Mobile
- Not everyone had PCs
Collaborate in person or online: We gathered in the basement of a friend’s house who kindly hosted us for the entirety of the weekend as we worked on the game and provided us with food, computers to develop on, and good company.
1. Pencil and Paper
2. Windows Phone 7
3. XNA Game Studio
Plans for prize money:
- Invest it into further game development endeavours
- Jacuzzi suits
Future plans to work together on another app: We have some neat ideas that we are definitely going to be exploring further. We will also be launching a website portal that people can play our games at.
Plans upon completion of school:
- Most of us are close to completing school and we all want to turn our passion for playing and making games into a full time gig.
- Move out of parent’s basement
Experience gained from participating in the GCA:
- How to connect a Windows Phone 7 to a PC.
- How to disconnect a Windows Phone 7 from a PC.
Anything you would like to add: We will be launching a website to showcase our games soon, so keep an eye out for that!
Team Name: Sheldon – winners of the $10 000.00 second prize
Team member names with school and area of study:
- Mahdi Tayarani Najaran – UBC – Computer Science
- Ben Sheftel – UBC – Computer Science
- Eason Hu – UBC – Computer Science
Collaborate in person or online: In person
Name of app: Valley Raid
Synopsis of app & its purpose: The game is about flying a fighter plane through obstacles, aided by a limited number of missiles. You can shoot anything on your way, from health, missile and fuel boxes to rocks. We wanted to take advantage of features specific to mobile devices, like the multi-touch screen, but also provide the thrill of fast paced 3D gaming.
Motivation to make this particular app: Growing up, River Raid was one of my favorite games, which is why we thought of bringing it back to life, but this time with a 3D flavor. I don’t recall any epic battles over a river, but we all do remember the valley chase scene from Star Wars, which explains the setting: a valley!
But our main motivation was to get the best we could out of a 3D game in 48 hours, all from written from scratch. We wrote our own physics system, game logic components and effects system, and also spent time optimizing them for mobile phones. We’re both happy with the final game, and the fact that there is so much more we can add to it.
Challenges faced in development: Time was the most important factor. A highly complex but half implemented game is nothing compared to a fully tested and polished simpler game. Our goal was big, and we had to work fast. Additionally, we had to learn and quickly adapt to XNA and C#. I have to say, if it weren’t for XNA, we could get no where near where we did. XNA takes care of the things all game programmers dread: writing the core math libraries, object importers and sound systems!
Tools used: Visual Studio 2010 – Blender – Photoshop
Plans for prize money: We will decide once we win. We’re just so happy to have made it so far.
Future plans to work together on another app: Yes, we have everything you’d want in a team. We’re on the lookout for any game project.
Experience gained from participating in the GCA: For most of us it was the first time writing a game for mobile device, and so little time to learn. The great thing about a 48 hour event its you get to see all the phases of developing a game, from start to end. You learn then that half the game is creating it, half of it testing and tuning the fun.Team work was at its best. Each of us took a few responsibilities and delivered the expectations. We all like game programming, and we had lots of fun along the way.
Team: Resistor5 – winners of the Most Technically Challenging Game Play Award
Team member names with school and area of study:
- Michael Darwish – McGill – Computer Engineering
- Michael Hoffman – McGill – Computer Engineering
- Marek Zaluski – Concordia – Computer Science
Collaboration: We spent the weekend working together in person, and used source control (SVN) to keep our code organized.
Name of app: Plasmium
Synopsis: The evil Geoids have invaded space. Fling plasma to blow them up as they fly by. Score combos to get awesome powerups.
Motivation: The idea started as a combination of two simple ideas. First, with no artist on our team, we decided to focus on shapes and colours in our visuals. Second, we wanted to take advantage of the touch interface and we had the idea of using your finger to fling projectiles. After some brainstorming, we had the basic design for Plasmium.
Challenges: We faced a couple of challenges along the way. First, we had no artist. As a result we focused our efforts on procedural graphics such as particle effects. Second, we didn’t initially have access to a phone. We had to develop our game entirely on the WP7 emulator. We prepared a stress test, in the hopes of running it on a phone available at the contest hub, to get an idea of how many particles the phone could handle. We also wanted to see how well our gameplay mechanic worked on the phone. Thanks to the XMG representatives at the hub, we were able to get access to a phone on Saturday.
Experience gained: We gained experience in working collaboratively and under pressure. We learned to make the most out of our tools and to build on the advantages of the WP7 platform.
Tools used:Visual Studio 2010, Windows Phone Emulator, Paint.NET, SVN
Plans for prize money: Tubs of chocolate and stacks of pizza. Not together though.
Future plans to work together on another app: We have a few cool design ideas. Nothing fleshed out yet.
Anything you would like to add: Creating a good game design is harder than programming it. We put a lot of thought into our design. We’re very happy with how it turned out and we’re absolutely thrilled to be in the finals!
Further Category Awards, each with a $1000.00 cash prize, were presented to:
* Most Technically Challenging: Harmony
* Best Art/Aesthetics: Super Bacteria
* Best Multiplayer: Turns
* Best Application Concept: Hold-it
* Best Original/Experimental: AR Tower Defence
* Best 3D Application: Parallelity
* Best Casual Addictive: Car and Target
* Best Sound: Space Curling
* Wild Card: Trajectory