The rush of running CS competition.

SciOlyGameOnSolon

This weekend I had a great opportunity to run a Game On event. This is a Computer Science event that was finally brought in by Science Olympiad this year. The event is held in a standard Sci Oly event format. In and out in 50 min, limited to none of external/prepared materials, no Internet. Student’s work is graded according to a well detailed rubric. A special theme for the games is announced at the beginning of the event. The insanity of this proposition is in the following. We are asking a participant to create a game with the following elements:

  • Introduction screen with play instructions and short game story
  • Game play must include scoring and an exit event
  • Debriefing screen clearly indicating results and allowing to replay the game.
  • Game needs to have user controlled sprite and autonomous sprites
  • There has to be an interesting background
  • There have to be sounds. The more the better.
  • All of the content is developer created and judged on game mechanic, applicability to the theme and quality of the used resources (media) produced by devs with a mouse and a microphone on the spot.
  • Oh and did I mentions IN 50 MINUTES form a blank screen?

As Solon team happens to be a frequent visitor to National competition a number of national teams drive out to participate in this event. We had 48 teams sign up for the “Game On” event with 46 teams participating.

As you might gage from the image the event is a high speed pair programming competition with one individual driving and another person talking them through. Copilot keeps track of time, completeness of requirements per rubric and throws in any creative solutions as they pop into their mind. The room is completely abuzz with students walking each other through sequences, throwing in suggestions, recording sounds and even whole vocal melodies for background music.

As a lead organizer I was given an opportunity to come up with a last minute theme as a twist on this already challenging endeavor. I wanted to be quite specific in a just a few words, so I created a theme “Going Orbital”. This assignment resulted in a few categories of games:

  • Space invaders – vertical or horizontal interpretation with objects either evading the shooter or simply flying across the screen. Theses were normally considered low on the applicability scheme unless they at least had movement inertia applied to the main character.
  • Fly up the screen to get into space – object avoidance game as the main character flies up the screen. Normally would be considered pretty low on applicability level especially if the main character would not be affected by gravity. None of them appeared to have any kinship with moon lander
  • Asteroids clone – There were a few of those one of which I found having a terribly addicting gameplay and couldn’t stop playing it simply due to the object motion balance. These were sadly rated pretty low on the theme especially if there was no inertia or object deflection involved.
  • Random game in space – There were few that simply placed game in a space theme making it just applicable enough to not be disqualified.
  • Games with objects floating through trajectories or orbits – these were often times the cream of the crop games with variable level of originality and playability. There were planet lenders , orbital planet defenders

As we ran the scripts to pull students’ work from lab computers between the events it struck me that I essentially signed up to check homework for 46 teams in the few hours we have before the award ceremony. The conveyer belt of playing many games and grading them against rubric ensued. There were plenty of students that have done well by simply building a solid full workflow game that was close to the requested theme. An interesting trick with in the event is the completeness and usability of your product. This – I feel – gives a good insight into UX in such a short period of time. There were a number of games that were wonderful, but fell short on the experience completeness side and lost points while being a superior gaming experience.

We ended up running a total team of 6 people in order to complete the scoring. Two double teams of scorers and tally team that counted up totals and main section scores for tie breakers. We worked to the wire being the last scores to be submitted into the awards ceremony. This was most certainly an enjoyable and grueling experience that I am planning on  enjoying some times early in the spring.

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