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Educational Feature: 48-Hour Development Contest Part II

Educational Feature: 48-Hour Development Contest Part II

March 19, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

The University of Michigan hosts an annual game development challenge, in which small teams of students have just 48 hours to develop a video game. is running an exclusive five-part series written by the contestants about their experience making a game in just two days.

In Part II, which has just posted, we hear about one of the strong front runners in the competition. The game is called Better Know a District, la Steven Colbert and The Colbert Report.

In this excerpt, student Bryan Grendel explains how he came to compete in this bizarre contest:

"My team consisted of fellow University of Michigan students Alex Soule and Steve Dewitt. Alex and I programmed; Alex composed the music; and Steve created the graphics.

This year is my third year participating in the contest. The first contest was held only a few months after I started college. Even though I had been programming for several years, starting with Qbasic back in elementary school, I had little experience in game development. Several poor design choices, including writing the game in Java and Swing, led to an incomplete game that took last place.

My second year didn't go much better. Despite having taken a couple of programming courses and being pared with an excellent programmer and artist, none of us had much game development experience. We brainstormed an excellent idea, but got too caught up in learning how to use our framework, SDL. This game was largely incomplete, and so we took last place yet again.

This year, I was determined to do much better. A few days before the contest, I sat down and made a list of various lessons I learned from the previous contests. Noting several areas that had caused problems, I went through a list of permitted game frameworks. The library I found particularly suitable was ClanLib, a C++ cross platform toolkit that wraps around SDL, OpenGL, and various system libraries. It has an impressive list of features and is fairly well documented. I was able to set it up and create a few test programs before the contest, eliminating a source of serious time problems.

8:00 p.m. After an hour delay, the contest starts. The theme is 'Honoring Stephen Colbert,' a very narrow theme and a surprise considering the previous year's theme: 'Fight.' I meet with Steve, who informs me that Alex will show up later.

We brainstorm on some couches outside the main contest room. For an hour, we talk about various gameplay designs and decide to do an adaptation of a 'catch the cat' Flash game called
Chat Noir. The game is a turn-based strategy and puzzle game; the goal is to stop a cat from leaving the game board.

We decide to use Colbert's 'Better Know a District' as our starting point. The segment features Colbert attempting to interview every member of Congress, one district at a time. The skit has appeared less frequently over time as members of congress have caught on to its satirical purpose. Our game has the player placing fans of
The Colbert Report on a game board to box in members of Congress and force them to be interviewed."

To read the complete account of the contest, and find out whether the Better Known a District team placed in the top tier, see "48-Hour Development Contest: Part II" on

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