The Windows Experience | McGill Students are making it to Microsoft



    Read Henri-Charles Machalani’s interview on his recent hire as Program Manager at Microsoft and his experience through the interview.

    First of all Henri, why Microsoft?

    Growing up, I always wanted to create products that could change the world. I constantly questioned the status quo and looked for more efficient ways of doing things. Now, I’m continuously daydreaming about what the future will be like and I strongly believe that innovative technology can enhance society and our lives.

    At Microsoft I will be part of a team that is defining the future and creating products that will impact the lives of billions of people. I will be joining the Windows team.

    Why the Windows team? What draws you to it? 

    As I mentioned earlier, my goal is to impact the world with products I help create. Windows has over 1.3 billion registered users. This means that as I help launch a new version of Windows, I will be impacting over 1/7th of humanity.

    How many people can say that?

    Another reason is that we are in the middle of a paradigm shift. We are moving towards touch-centric computing and this will involve drastic changes in the upcoming versions of Windows. I want to be part of this movement and help reimagine what the future of computing can be.

    Let’s talk a bit about the process, how was the interview process?

    Unlike other large companies, Microsoft’s interview process is discussion-oriented. Our discussions involved a mix of design problems, technical problems, past experience and interpersonal skills.

    I went through five different interviewers and this included a lunch interview. I was interviewed in the offices of each interviewer, which allowed for a more relaxed atmosphere. My interviewers were kind and asked relevant questions to the PM role. Overall, my interview experience was smooth and enjoyable.

    How do you see the prospect of moving to Seattle?

    I’m actually excited to move to Seattle. I’ve heard great things about it and during my short visit there, the people around me were friendly. Another great thing is the warm temperature in comparison to my hometown (Montreal). I will definitely miss my friends in Montreal, but will visit them as often as possible.

    How do you think you can leave an impact in the company?

    By bringing new ideas that will help set Microsoft apart from the competition. By presenting a different point of view on how computing can be tailored with the user-experience in mind. By identifying problems that can be solved through technology and by bringing us closer to the future we dream of.

    You can also be part of the revolution Microsoft is bringing with its technology.

    Register at http://www.microsoft.com/university

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    The First Round for Windows Phone Game Design is easy but the deadline is Valentine’s Day!


    valentineStarWarsIt’s not too late to enter the Windows Phone Game Design category for Imagine Cup, just register and submit a summary of the game you plan to build before 23:59 GMT February 14th

    Warning! 23:59 GMT means 19:59 Atlantic, 18:59 Eastern, and 15:59 Pacific so I suggest you get this submitted on the weekend or by end of day Monday so you don’t accidentally miss the deadline because you lose track of time zone differences! (Those times are based on my math which may be incorrect)

    The Canadian Imagine Cup Finals are hosting two categories: Windows Phone Game Design and Software Design. The first round deadline for Windows Phone Game design is just around the corner, Tuesday February 14th! You know you can build a phone game, I’ve spoken to many of you who have already done it! If you have been thinking about it, or you have registered but not yet submitted your summary. Here’s what you need to do. A full description of the requirements and instructions to enter round one can be found here

    Download the Game Summary Template (example) or the Game Storyboard Template (example) You only need to fill out one OR the other. This document basically needs to describe the game you are building. This round is not judged, it is simply a way for us to find out how many teams are entering and what they plan to create. But submitting your Game Summary or Storyboard by midnight GMT February 14th is mandatory!

    The Game Storyboard should contain at least four image panels and at most 20 image panels

    The content of your game must address a social cause connected to the Imagine Cup 2012 Theme: “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems”.  There is an example of a completed storyboard here.

    A couple of little things to be aware of when you submit your entry

    • You must submit your summary as a .zip file
    • the .zip file size cannot exceed 50MB, so if you are including images, keep an eye on the file size

    Because we want to be able to share information about your entry with judges (and if you advance to finals, with the public) we require a few extra details as well.

    • a thumbnail image to represent your entry
    • a title for your game (title must be in English – according to the worldwide rules)
    • A description that describes how your submission adheres to the Imagine Cup 2012 theme, the description must be in English and cannot be more that 600 characters including spaces. Tip: You can re-use the text from your Game Summary documents
    • A list of the technologies used in English

    I know there are lots of students in Canada who can built great phone games, I’ve seen some of the games you have created! Register and submit your idea for the Game Phone Design and maybe you will be on stage at the Canadian finals representing your school!

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    Step outside for a while – Meet the makers of “Indie Game: The Movie” a Sundance Film Festival Selection


    Indie Game: The Movie - A Video Game DocumentaryEver wondered what life is like for an independent game developer? Microsoft Student Partner Jessica Pellow interviews Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky about their film “Indie Game: the movie” a film selected for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival that follows the stories of four game developers.

    Bruce Mau, a Canadian designer, said “To invent something you have to be removed from the world. In order to have liberty to imagine something better, you need to step outside for a while.” This seems to be fit the premise of the new documentary film Indie Game: The Movie, a film which at its core is a story about imagination and perseverance. Indie Game follows four developers at the various stages in their projects and captures the trials, tribulations, and the human element behind game development.

    Indie Game: The Movie is the creation of Canadian filmmaking duo Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. In addition to the initial idea, they are behind the producing, directing, cinematography, editing, and writing that went into this film. For over a year they have gathered the stories that make the film what it is and were kind enough to answer a few questions about their film, the world of gaming, and what makes them passionate.

    To start with, do either of you play video games?

    LISANNE: James has been a lifelong gamer. I got into games through this project. I wasn’t much of gamer before.

    JAMES: I grew up on games.  All events were plotted and personally valued in terms of their proximity to Arcade machines.  A trip to the Grand Canyon was considered a waste of time ... unless it had a Double Dragon machine in the gift shop lobby.  In which case:  Best. Trip. Ever.  This went on for a long time ... until it didn’t.  Something odd happened.  The magic kinda stopped for me.  It could’ve been growing older, drifting away from childhood things.  It wasn’t until I was introduced to independent gaming that the magic came back to games for me. There was that sense of childhood discovery returned in indie games. 

    From what I understand, this project was sparked because the province of Manitoba reached out to you to do a documentary of a game developer. What was it about working on that initial project that attracted you to the gaming community?

    LISANNE: We were commissioned to do a series of documentaries on people in new media in Manitoba. One of the docs was on a programmer/designer Alec Holowka, who made Aquaria, with designer/artist Derek Yu.The story was about the making of their game and their eventual-winning of the Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival.

    In talking to Alec, we learnt about his creative process and how his personal experience of making it basically shaped the feel/tone of the game. That was really compelling to us.

    What was your impression of the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco? In some of your interviews in the past you've drawn parallels between game development and film making as both being forms of storytelling. Do you feel that filmmakers and game developers have a similar sense of community?

    JAMES: After the short doc on Alec, we ended up at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. There we found the Independent Game Summit, and we just saw this whole room of similar people with similar stories of making games.

    The games were interesting, looked amazing and they were reaching millions of people online. It felt like there was this sort of thing happening. There was this energy in the room. Everybody was sharing. When they were sharing, they were sharing about their games but really they were sharing about themselves. That whole idea of the game as an extension of personal expression was something that was interesting to us and something that we hadn’t really thought about. That’s sort of what kicked it off.

    LISANNE: I think that we identified with feeling of working on your own, on your own thing. It was the DIY spirit that attracted us to it. We hadn’t met any other creators like this. We just hadn’t in the film worlds we were exposed to. We thought what theses people are doing is really interesting and inspiring to us - even though we don’t make games.

    Being so fully immersed now in the gaming community, do you feel that this prolonged exposure has changed anything about you as individuals and/or filmmakers?

    LISANNE: I think, seeing all the examples of hard work and perseverance in the indie game world helped give us confidence and propelled us to finish our big project.

    It was life-changing to watch the developers in the film, go through what they went through, and come out of it.

    In the film you see the developers, go through a wide range of emotions. They go through challenging situations. It’s tough to make something on your own. But, I think there’s value in seeing people go through that. It’s motivating, because, “if they can do it, I can at least try”.

    What impact do you feel your film will have on gaming development, whether it be indie game development or more mainstream?

    LISANNE: We hope it will have impact with all gamers, but also people that don’t necessary identify as gamers. We tried to make the film satisfying for people in the gaming community, but also accessible enough that your friends that don’t understand, yet, will get it. It was a tough balance, but we think, we hope, we achieved that.

    Now that you've fully dived into the world of gaming, have you stayed part of the community? Do you feel the release of this movie has guaranteed you a place among the gamers of today?

    LISANNE: We talk game community every day. We get lots of e-mails and tweets. We try to respond to everything. We get such a thrill out of reading e-mails from kids (they are really kids) who were inspired to start making games, in part, because all the clips we released. That’s an amazing feeling.

    You've had the opportunity to be exposed to some very talented and passionate game developers now. Have you considered or tried making a game or app yourselves? If you did make a game, what would your game be about?

    LISANNE: Nope! Mainly because we were so consumed with making the film the past year and a half. When the dust settles, if would be great to try to stretch our brains around an idea. But, really the talent for that stuff lies with the guys in the film.

    What suggestions or advice do you have for students interested in developing games?

    LISANNE: All the developers from the film would say - just start making stuff. The more you create, the better you get. And, that’s experience as well.


    Indie Game: The Movie is an official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival. Visit www.indiegamethemovie.com to see trailers and learn more about the film.

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    Tips and Tricks from Students: Windows Silverlight Phone App “Wine Cellar”


    Simon Carpentier a student from École de Technologie Supérieure shares a few great resources and tools on storing data and barcode scanning he discovered while building his first Windows Phone App

    Want more tips and tricks from students? Check here.

    Could you briefly describe your application/game?
    Wine Cellar is a Windows Phone 7 app designed for Québec's wine enthusiasts. Scan the UPC code of your bottle or enter it manually and get information such as the price, origin and appellation. The app stores your wines so you get a nice database of your favourites. Right now it's pretty basic but I plan to update it so you can add additional information to a wine (tasting notes, how many bottles you have in your cellar, etc...)


    Did you use XNA, Silverlight or both?
    It uses Silverlight only. It's not a game so there was no need for XNA. Maybe one day I'll add some animation to make thing prettier, but I think Silverlight is more suited for this kind of application.

    What was your banging your head against a wall moment?
    I have a web development background so I'm used to having full control over my database from the server side. I had trouble with data services when came the time to add tables between updates. The app crashed because the database schema wasn't the same from one version of the app to another. I thought I would need to maintain separate schemas and migrate the data from one to another manually.

    Did you ever solve that issue?
    After a little search, I found there's a built-in DatabaseSchemaUpdater class made exactly for this scenario in the WP7 SDK. It's also very well documented on MSDN

    If you had to build this same app again from scratch, what would you do differently?
    I think my app is ugly. Starting from scratch, I would take my time to learn WPF and XAML correctly with Microsoft Expression or ask a designer friend to "prettify" (© Susan) my app. The best I could do was to buy a 10$ graphic and use it as an icon.

    Any nice suprises?
    Besides the SDK being really easy to install, I never really expected the Isolated Storage and Data Binding to work at first try. Well it did and I was shocked on how simple it was.

    Did you leverage the mobile platform?
    The app uses the camera and Windows Phone 7 Silverlight ZXing Barcode Scanning Library to scan barcodes of bottles right from the phone. That's something a PC wouldn't do and I don't usually drink my wine around PCs.

    Did you leverage the touch screen?
    No, not really since it's not a game. I respect the metro design principles though so my app reacts the way a user would expect.

    Did you have a favourite feature?
    The Model-View-ViewModel project template of the WP7 SDK helped me get right into developing. I easily learned my way through the development stack.

    What is one thing you think you did really well in this application?
    The navigation between the pages using query strings. I pass the ID of the wine right in the Query String when I call the wine details page. With the OnNavigatedTo event, I load the data so there's no need for tombstoning or keeping application state.

    Are you publishing your application/game?
    Of course! It's available right now here

    Where can I learn more about your app/game?
    The source code is available at Codeplex.

    Who developed this application?
    I did, it took about 2 days to build from scratch with no prior WP7 knowledge. I'm graduating in IT Engineering this semester from ÉTS. I also have a personal website where I showcase my other projects and ramble about technology on my blog.

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    Tips and Tricks from Students: Windows Phone Game “Flipper”


    395197_375835345775252_332666150092172_1496010_1649989891_n[1]Three students from Ryerson University: Kowsheek, Anthony, and Alexey (akaThree Red Cubes)  build their second Windows Phone Game and share what they learned along the way.

    Check out more tips and tricks from students here

    Could you briefly describe your application/game?

    Flipper is a simple and addictive puzzle game where you flip triangles to complete squares. As you progress through the game you should watch for the special squares that can help you. Gain points, compete with players around the world, but watch the clock!

    Did you use XNA, Silverlight or both?

    In Flipper we chose XNA over Silverlight. The reason we chose XNA is because it gives more flexibility in certain aspects. For example, customized screen navigation logic because most of the times it differs between games. Also it allows you to use the same technology across the entire game unlike in a XNA-Silverlight mix application. Developers using XNA know that it’s a beautiful framework to work with. It gives developers a great amount of raw power over the platform so that they can create awesome games.

    What was your banging your head against a wall moment?

    There was a moment when the game was lagging while scrolling up. We tried profiling it, we tried decrease the resolution of our assets, we tried banging our heads. Nothing helped. Then we realized the scrolling was too fast and due to the OS limitation of 30Hz, the movement seemed to be lagging.

    The bottom line is you have to always remember that you are developing to a mobile device which has some limitations. That means that sometimes you have to do your homework before writing code.

    Did you ever solve that issue?

    The solution to that problem was limiting the top speed for the scrolling, which actually worked out nicely. The final result was a nice range of speeds for the scrolling effect. You can experience this in the game by dragging vertically across the screen.

    If you had to build this same app again from scratch, what would you do differently?

    Some of the reviews we got from Windows Phone users included a great number of ideas to improve the game and its experience. We would take this knowledge and build it in the game from the get-go providing for a better experience for the gamers. However, some of the changes can be pushed with an update and that is why the feedback is always useful. In fact we have created an application called metrX for the phone with the intention of helping users and developers communicate.

    Any nice surprises?

    In the new version that is currently available on the Marketplace, we've implemented system color as the part of game's theme. Discovering the ability to have access to some of the phone resources from XNA was a bit of a surprise and it was quite easy to implement.

    We were also surprised and pleased that people enjoy the concept of the game and find it rather addictive. We received 25 reviews to-date and the average rating is hovering around 4.5 stars. We were trying to build a simple and addictive game and we think that we've succeeded.

    Did you leverage the mobile platform?

    Since Flipper is a quite simple game, it did not leverage any of the phone sensors unlike some of the applications that we've published previously.

    Did you leverage the touch screen?

    Yes we took the full advantage of the touch interface with both tap and drag gestures built into the XNA Framework. The API that XNA exposes for the touch interface is quite easy to work with and it can be used to provide a nice experience in games.

    Did you have a favourite feature?

    We have taken an advantage on our own API for a platform called Lead. It's an online cloud-based leaderboard that we have developed with ASP.Net MVC framework. We use this API in our game and it's been a great success. You can find out more about it here. We've talked about it and its technologies on the Canadian Developer Connection blog.

    What is one thing you think you did really well in this application?

    The game idea. We were able to build a great experience with Flipper and it is something we are quite proud of. Something in those chain reactions accompanied by flipping sounds, the endless game-play and the simplicity of it makes the game addictive and enjoyable to play.

    Are you publishing your application/game?

    Yes we published and updated the game over the last few weeks, it's available for download and we're pushing updates every so often to keep improving the game and its aesthetics.

    Where can I learn more about your app/game?

    We have a Facebook page where we post about updates and our Youtube channel has videos of Flipper and some of our other applications.

    Who developed this application?

    Our team members are from Ryerson University and we run a company called Three Red Cubes Inc. We have been developing applications and games for the Windows Phone since its release. Sudoku3D was the first game we released as a team and we're looking forward to building many more quality games and apps that Windows Phone users can enjoy.

    You can find us on Twitter and Facebook.

    Picture: Kowsheek (left), Anthony (centre), Alexey (right)


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