“Final Four” of Game Development

In a year of tremendous success in national competition — with UMBC teams vying for titles in the “final four” of men’s soccer and chess — another team of talented UMBC students is heading to a U.S. championship, this time in video game development. Microsoft is flying four Retrievers to San Francisco, where they will pitch their project to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in the software giant’s Imagine Cup worldwide technology competition.

UMBC’s students will compete against teams from the Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Houston and University of Southern California. The team that claims the national championship will compete internationally for the chance to bring its game to market and a prize of $50,000.

“Everybody is really excited about the game,” says Michael Leung ’16, computer science, the team’s lead, who has received congratulatory notes and well wishes from leaders across Maryland. UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski recently highlighted the team’s work in an opinion piece for CNBC, where he wrote, “As the students vie for the honor of representing the U.S. internationally, they’re also showing us the future of teaching, learning, and careers.”

The game, called HueBots, features vibrant, friendly robots of different colors designed by Erika Schumacher ’17, and animated by Jasmine Martin ’15. Both are visual arts students with an interactive media concentration. The concept, programming, and music are the work of Tad Cordle ’16, computer engineering, with assistance from Leung. The game asks players to solve a series of increasingly challenging puzzles that revolve around the bots’ affinity for color-matched objects in a maze.

“Even people who don’t like puzzle games like HueBots,” Leung shares. Martin reflects that the game is positive, friendly, fun, and engaging, in contrast to the other three games in the national finals, described with terms like “mortality,” “combat,” and “domination.”

The teammates met for the first time in Fall 2014 through UMBC’s Game Developer’s Club, mentored by computer science professor Marc Olano. Olano founded and oversees UMBC’s game development track in the computer science and electrical engineering department. He’s familiar with the Imagine Cup, having previously judged the competition’s game entries.

Read more at UMBC: Gaming Gets Real.