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Microsoft Imagine Cup (U.S.)

Team Co-Founder and First-Place Winner

The annual U.S. Imagine Cup competition gives students across the country a chance to compete against each other to come up with the most creative solutions to pressing world problems. The 2010 competition focused on the Millennium Development Goals—a set of eight quantitative human development goals that each of the UN member states has agreed to try to meet by 2015. A few of the eight goals are: eradicate extreme poverty, reduce child mortality, and ensure environmental sustainability (each has a quantitative definition).

A screenshot of game-play in Alterra, which makes it apparent that Chris and studied computer science—not graphic design.

In our senior year of college, Chris Riederer and I decided to compete in the game-design category of the U.S. Imagine Cup. We both had an interest in international development and economics and we wanted to create a game that would teach the player something about why the Millennium Development Goals will be hard to achieve. We tried to create a game that was entertaining enough to sustain the player's interest but that was serious enough to convey some factual information.

Our game, called Alterra, puts the player in the shoes of a national development policy-maker. In each level of the game, the player is assigned a country in which to play, and a budget with which to purchase "development interventions," like teacher training, bed-net distribution, and basic medical research. Each of the interventions has a different effect on the country's development indicators, which the player can see in real time on an indicator "dashboard." Unexpected events, like natural disasters and migrations from neighboring countries, upset the player's careful plans.

We wrote the game in C# using Microsoft's XNA game development framework. Our game took the "first-place prize" in the game design category (behind the "grand prize") at the U.S. Imagine Cup finals in Washington D.C.

Slides from the presentation we gave to the judges on April 25, 2010 are online here.

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