Well, what can I say except wow, awesome, brilliant?

We’ve just wrapped up the first We <3 Games weekend, held in Rochester and it was, quite simply, incredible.

BACKGROUND

As readers of my blog will know, I often run half-day hands on labs and weekend camps around game development for the Xbox 360, Windows and Windows Phone 7. Usually, the weekend camps are entertaining and educational in nature, but when I visited Rochester Institute of Technology late last year and met with Professor Andy Phelps, I realized that wouldn’t work there. RIT’s game design department includes XNA as a compulsory first year course, so introducing the students there to, well, XNA, would likely not go down well.

So, we collaborated on a new plan – Professor Phelps was super keen to have a Microsoft event on campus so we both really wanted something but it was going to be something different.

The new plan? A 48 hour challenge to build a game over a weekend. There are other events like this around the world, the most famous one being Global GameJam but we wanted to make this one focused on Imagine Cup to promote participating in that greater competition. With the dates we settled on being February 11-13 so we leveraged the proximity of Valentine’s Day and came up with the theme of We <3 Games.

As is the case with every new thing I try I was a little nervous about whether it would work or not, but it turns out that this set up works brilliantly. With the university providing a safe venue complete with machines with dual monitors and Xboxes connected to each, and Microsoft providing some prizes for incentive, and taking care of the catering side so that students were fed, the We <3 Games event was fully populated – we had 60 places, and asked the students to register on the Imagine Cup website as formed teams before they showed up. The result – 56 students were there at 5pm on Friday ready to go (one team from Cornell had travel issues and had to bail at the last minute). Usually at free events you’ll have no-shows – sometimes up to 50%. So having everyone turn up that could – that’s impressive.

But what’s more impressive was that out of those 56 students, we ended up with 14 teams presenting to us on Sunday afternoon, 40 hours later, with games that had been created for Windows, Xbox and Windows Phone 7, and even a browser-based game. Most teams were made up of 4 students, so quick math should show that we had around 50-52 students with us right through to the end. Now THAT’S incredible.

THE EVENT

Friday kick off at 5pm, Sunday judging at 2pm. In between, pretty much, was just students coding, designing, storyboarding, testing, creating graphics and audio, collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other and just being completely awesome. Extra bits:

  • We ran an initial session talking about Imagine Cup and making sure everyone had the software.
  • A Business Development session about Windows Phone 7, presented by the awesome Andy Beaulieu.
  • An introduction to Windows Phone 7 Silverlight/Blend development session that showed off some very cool and very easy to use physics – in Silverlight – on the phone.
  • A relaxation lounge with a Kinect and Dance Central which was – as it turned out – only used occasionally because the students were so focused on their games.
  • A bazillion square miles of pizza, baker’s dozens of kaiser rolls, Oreo cookies, almost more soda than we could handle and Pocky for a little extra sugar hit.


THE RESULTS

So, how did they do? Pretty darned awesome. Fourteen video games of all shapes and sizes. Some highlights:

  • One team from RIT built a Windows Phone 7 game completely using the emulator until the last minute where they borrowed my phone (none of them owned one themselves) to do their final testing – and got it working great. These guys came third which came with a HTC Surround phone of their very own to develop on.
  • The team from Cornell building a four player multiplayer game about environment – multiplayer is a challenge that adds complexity – particularly when you only have 2 days to get it done. Second place for the Cornell team means they walked away with a Kinect to take back with them.
  • The team from Ithaca decided to build an incredible health-themed game in HTML5 – a technology that none of them had looked at previously. When a team so solidly ties to the theme, has a solid presentation, had a game that’s fun and has some nice innovation points and also showcases a talent to learn while doing so – this deserved first place which included an Xbox 360 + Kinect bundle which they are planning on using in the computer gaming club back on campus.

In fact, that latter comment applies to quite a few of the students. A number of the teams were using this weekend as not only a chance to win some prizes but to try things they haven’t done before, to try technologies and techniques out and stretch their knowledge.

Other quick highlights:

  • Shout out to “Team Jeff” – made up of a student who built a game single-handedly.
  • A team that built a game about cheat codes which was a really neat creative idea.
  • Teams built 2D, 3D, RTS, Adventure game, platformers, shooters, and puzzle games.
  • Unique game ideas that really intrigued me.

WHAT’S NEXT
What have we learned? Without a doubt, this is the start of something beautiful and I’m already planning out what the next one will look like and how we might be able to scale it out to other locations around the country.

I’ll upload some more pics soon.

I really want to take the moment to thank all of the staff at Rochester Institute of Technology, and particularly Professor Andy Phelps for making this happen and even going to the point of designing some very cool shirts for the event, Professor David Schwartz for being the event king that he is and making this one of the smoothest events I’ve ever had the pleasure of being part of, and Professor Steve Jacobs for going the extra mile and taking me on a tour of the very very awesome National Museum of Play which includes a whole floor dedicated to the history of video games.

A reminder that we have a game camp at Pace (check my previous posts) on Feb 25-27 which is filling up fast.