Diary: And Then There Were Three

Cleaning water in an African village, inspiring people power in the streets, combating disease-carrying mosquitoes, learning to recycle, developing new crops and overcoming pollution. That’s just a few of the ways I saved the world yesterday.

At the Imagine Cup in Poland, I’ve been judging the Game Design finalists. Six teams of students from all over the globe showed us their games designed to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. We looked at their games, played them, and then voted on the top three.

You can see the three successful teams pictured right on stage after the announcement.

Belgium won through to the finals with a puzzle game called Shift where you help an African village – cleaning its water supply, growing crops for food and export, and managing waste. The puzzle mechanics had you trying to occupy tiles on a grid, shifting whole or partial lines in your favour while trying to block off the enemy. I particularly liked the way you had to juggle the demands of playing four puzzles at once, all while the clock was ticking.

The Phillippines’ entry, a stylish game of resource management called Wildfire, also made the cut. Drawing on the way social media enabled the citizens of Manila to survive catastrophic flooding last year, their game had you recruiting people in the streets and distributing them to various rescue efforts around the city. It looked like a more abstract Mirror’s Edge, but played like Pikmin meets Little King’s Story.

France, too, qualified for the top three with their Green Game, an action-adventure where you controlled three characters each equipped with a distinct but complementary array of skills. With an island to explore, characters to talk to and quests to take, this was perhaps the most traditional game on display, but it was technically impressive and addressed the competition themes in mature fashion, the latter exemplified by the way there’s always the temptation to take an easier yet environmentally destructive approach.

The judging process wasn’t easy. Personally, it was hard enough trying to determine my own top three. But when you’re just one of five judges, trying to reach a consensus made for some lively debate. We each had our own perspectives, our own priorities, our own views on what makes for a good and interesting game.

Of course, that the quality across the board was high didn’t make things any easier for us. One game that missed the overall top three was actually one of the judge’s favourite game. Another title was one judge’s favourite and another judge’s least favourite.

Thailand, pictured above right, missed out despite producing a casual and very polished arcade game about recycling. You could imagine, with a bit more development time, it sitting comfortably on Popcap’s site.

Mexico, right, gave us a Zelda-inspired action-adventure that seemed well-tailored to a younger audience. They also, as you can see below, had some of the best swag of the entire competition, including a custom-made plush toy mascot.

And finally, Brazil delivered a fun mini-game collection presented with some gorgeous artwork and character design. What was really impressive, however, was the way your performance in one mini-game would affect the challenge of the next – e.g. beat the mini-game about deforestation and you won’t have logs blocking your progress in the next mini-game about water pollution.

Tomorrow we see the top three teams present their games one final time before the other judges and I choose an overall winner. I have a favourite, but to be honest all three of them would be worthy winners. Debating with my fellow judges exactly who that will be is going to be a seriously exhausting process. Saving the world is a lot more difficult – and more fun! – than I had expected.


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