While most University of Virginia students took a break from academic assignments earlier this month, third-year computer engineering majors Daniel Epstein, Andrew Gaubatz and Nicholas Loffredo spent a weekend in an intensive video game design competition in Harrisonburg.
Epstein and Loffredo, both from Fairfax County, and Gaubatz, of Norfolk, placed second in a field of 11 teams in the second annual Rosetta Stone Game Jam Competition held Jan. 7-9. The national competition had two categories: one for students and one for non-students.
To win the language-acquisition software giant's competition, each team had to create a game incorporating the themes of "ink," "exploration" and "layers." They had only 36 hours to complete the project.
Their game was a sort of "tower defense" game, Gaubatz explained.
"The basic idea is that you're a notepad and have all these ideas. There's another notepad who wants to steal your ideas," he said. The object of the game is to defend yourself and the pages – or "layers" – of your notepad by firing ink blots at the enemy notepad.
The technology used to develop the game was "showing off what we learned in the past three years," Gaubatz said.
The game was built with Microsoft XNA, a game development library that is able to create a game for a PC that can then be easily rewritten for an Xbox game system or Windows cell phone.
For second place, each team member received a MacBook Air computer and a year's subscription to Rosetta Stone Version 4 TOTALe. First-place winners went home with a 27-inch iMac and the one-year software subscription.
The trio met in U.Va.'s Student Game Developers organization, where Epstein serves as vice president and Gaubatz as treasurer. They learned about the competition two years ago and decided to enter.
Epstein, Gaubatz and Loffredo competed in the competition's first year, but did not place. After an additional year of coursework in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and design experience, they were more successful.
"Last year we were a lot more focused on features," Loffredo admitted, adding that this year the team used its time more wisely, starting by laying the foundation of the game first, and then adding special features with the remaining time.
As each team only had 36 hours to complete their project, the groups toiled away until the wee hours of the morning to finish their designs.
"It was definitely the longest any of us had stayed up," Eptstein said. Gaubatz agreed, noting that Rosetta Stone paid for each team to stay in "nice hotel rooms, even if we were only in them for six hours."
In addition to lodging, Rosetta Stone also paid for participants' food for the weekend, and covered the travel costs for placing teams.
Looking into the future, Epstein, Gaubatz and Loffredo are all interested in pursuing careers in software design, possibly game design in particular.
For now, however, they are focusing on their coursework and responsibilities within Student Game Developers so that they can participate in the competition next year, and maybe even go home with first prize.