Informatics students win Microsoft Hack-a-Thon

Patrick Siu and Matt Garrett, first-year Informatics students, decided to participate in the Microsoft Hack-a-Thon even though they had never programmed in XNA. In spite of this handicap, their team's mobile game application, Wrangler, won the popularity award as judged by their peers.

Microsoft invited university students to the Redmond campus on February 11 for a 12-hour coding marathon designed to create mobile applications for Windows phones. Developers were on hand to answer questions from the dozen teams that participated. The local contest was part of Microsoft's national Big App on Campus event, created to encourage young software developers to use their platform and to help Microsoft scout for talent.

"I saw the Hack-a-thon as a fun learning opportunity to get experience making Windows Mobile applications and have the chance to network with developers and other students," said Siu. "Thankfully when we ran into problems or roadblocks, we had experienced developers help us out figure out what went wrong. Overall the whole experience was a blast and hey, we got free food and swag, so who can argue with that?"

The team, which also included Rafael (Sunny) Rodriguez, an electrical engineering student and Sanjana Prasain, a computer science student, created a game in which a player uses a virtual dog to herd sheep into a pen. The game becomes more complex each time the player succeeds until it is impossible to achieve the goal.

Siu and Garrett used vector math to construct the behavior of a sheep's encounter with the dog. In addition, they contributed their project management and group collaboration skills learned at the iSchool to keep the team on task. Garrett added the graphics.

"We designed a gaming app because we knew the core game mechanics could be built within the 12-hour limit," noted Garrett. "I think it was popular for two reasons; it was a finished, although simple, product, and it made people laugh."

The win not only gives the team bragging rights, but they were awarded an Xbox Kinect Bundle and a Nokia Lumina 800. They submitted Wrangler to the national contest and will hear results next month after the public votes on the entries.