Wednesday, April 21, 2010

UH video game program students hit national competition

The University of Houston gaming program is excited to be the only school in the US to have two teams participate in this weekend's US Imagine Cup in Washington DC. The two teams will vie for an $8,000 grand prize against competition from Yale, USC and other schools:

Team Ifrit Salsa is comprised of graduate student Daniel Biediger and undergraduates Alaa Gharandoq, Jesus Hernandez and Arifur Sabeth, who qualified with their game RoboRecycler. The team’s mentor is computer science instructor Chang Yun.

RoboRecycler is a game centered around the idea of sometime in the future developing a recycling robot. Gamers play a character that controls a robot armed with a claw and poker that collects paper, glass, plastic and metal and then sorts them into appropriate bins for each. The recyclable items differ in point value and ease of collection, so gamers have to play smart to maximize their point totals. Up to four players compete to collect the most trash, with each level presenting a different setting, such as a park or a beach. The students wanted to reward in-game behaviors that would possibly translate to players recycling outside of the game, teaching children that recycling is easy and fun. They plan to develop the game further beyond the Imagine Cup competition, one day hoping to eventually create an actual recycling robot.

Graduate student Yu-Chao Chen and undergraduates Reggie Tye, Paul Diaz and Syung Whan You, known as Team Level 13, created a game called Antitoxin Squad. The team’s mentor is computer science instructor Jose Baez-Franceschi. In Antitoxin Squad, the goal is to destroy pollution through bioremediation, where biological agents, such as algae or plants, are used to neutralize contaminants in polluted soil or water. They basically react with pollution to change it into something that is less harmful to the environment.

“Players fire cleansing plant seeds at crawling, dirty globs of pollution while dodging the toxic goo the globs are throwing their way,” said Tye. “At each level, the pollution globs become more powerful, while the players acquire more potent weapons. The game’s seven levels reflect the planet’s seven continents, and the graphics and game elements on each level reflect that particular region.”

The Imagine Cup is an annual competition that draws thousands of tech students competing in several software categories such as game development. The best will continue the battle in the International Imagine Cup later this year in Poland.

Since 2007, UH has offered computer science students courses in interactive game development and graphics. Not a stranger to this competition, a UH team finished in the top 20 in the international round in 2008.

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