Duo enters Microsoft contest

Saving the environment is not an easy task, but it can be done with several clicks of a mouse in a video game created by GW students for a national competition this Tuesday.

Graduate students Mark Aoyama and Martin Smith are vying against 20 other student teams for the U.S. finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup – an international competition that emphasizes the role of technology in producing a sustainable environment. If the computer science graduates win the national competition, they will go on to represent the U.S. at the global competition in Paris.

Smith said he thinks the they have a chance of winning the competition.

“We’ve seen some of the other games, and I won’t go into details, but I like our chances,” Smith said.

Smith said he is less confident about his team’s chances at the international level, if they win this week’s national finals. There will be close to 170 countries participating in the international competition this July.

“Worldwide is another story,” Smith said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more heavy competition for that . All we can do is sort of hope for the best.”

The basic premise of “Ecoism,” the arcade-style game they created, is the revival of a planet with depleted natural resources. The players use their main resource, a hovercraft, in order to defend themselves against enemies while simultaneously trying to rebuild their environment. The players can use their hovercraft to plant trees and aim to create an environment safe from the “bad guys,” they said.

Although Aoyama and Smith said they are happy with their game now, it was not an easy road to get to this point, Smith said. They spent most of fall semester brainstorming concepts.

“This semester we actually spent more time on building it,” Smith said. “Again, we wanted to incorporate the theme into as many levels of the game as possible, so that really came into play as we were designing the game . I sort of appreciated that (Microsoft) had a theme.”

Aoyama said the competition has kept them up at night.

“We’ve pulled a few all-nighters – I’m not going to lie,” he said.

Aoyama said Team Ligersoft – the name of their production company – may not have enough time to put into game development, which could be a disadvantage in the international competition.

“For the global competition, I’m hoping for at least the top 20,” he said. “If we had more time, it definitely could be No. 1. (The game) has the ability to (reach that level), it’s just a matter of how much time we can put into it. We’ll see.”

Stephanie Reimann, marketing manager at Microsoft, said the theme of technology and a sustainable environment was essential to this competition.

“For us, it’s all about nurturing technology and you know, making sure that people are incorporating technology in their lives and using it in great ways to better the world they live in and to come up with new and great ideas,” Reimann said.

Smith said Team Ligersoft is appreciative of the chance Microsoft gave them.

“I mean, I’ve always been really interested in game development, so it’s a really great opportunity to get some recognition for a game that otherwise would be very difficult to promote considering that we’re students, we don’t have a ton of time to work on this,” he said.

Team Ligersoft will fly to Los Angeles this week to find out the results of the competition’s Viewer’s Choice portion.

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