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SA students head to Imagine Cup in Seattle

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Following a heavily contested world semi-final involving 150 student projects from 64 countries, two second-year students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) find their team – Digital Interactive Games – listed among the 33 top teams competing at the 2015 Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle, taking place from 28 to 31 July.

Imagine Cup is a global student technology competition that provides opportunities for students across all disciplines to team up and use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications, games as well as integrated solutions that have the potential to change the way we live, work and play.

The South African leg of the competition is co-sponsored by Microsoft South Africa and Department of Science and Technology.

“Microsoft Imagine Cup empowers tertiary education students of all ages and skill levels with the tools, programmes, and instruction to turn innovative ideas into reality. Whether they’re building a game, designing an app, or launching a project, Imagine Cup will help them develop their idea and boldly bring it to life,” says Clifford De Wit, developer experience director at Microsoft South Africa.

Digital Interactive Games consists of two students, Jason Cross and Nicholas Jordaan, who are both second year students studying Software Development at NMMU in Port Elizabeth.

The team’s project is called PYA Maze of Gods and is a 3D Labyrinth style game that has been built to challenge the player’s problem-solving skills, reaction time and their ability to overcome the obstacles. For fans of fantasy, the game involves in-depth lore along with detailed character profiles. In the game, PYA, is the name given to the realm of the gods.

They both share a passion for game development and met each other in the first week of varsity, when Jason decided to put together a team in the hopes of making a game. Nicolas was one of the first people he approached in support of that cause.

To get the programming ball rolling both budding game developers taught themselves Unity Personal Edition (formally known as Unity Free) and Autodesk Maya. During their first year at varsity, the pair entered PYA Maze of Gods in the local round of the Imagine Cup, making them the first-ever first-year students in South Africa to not only compete and win at the local level of the Imagine Cup, but also progress from the global semi-finals to the world finals.

“This phenomenal achievement reassures us that South Africa is on the right path of developing skills in software development that is able to compete with the rest of the world. Initiatives such as Imagine Cup provides an avenue through which to develop future IT entrepreneurs who will soon be creating jobs for the youth,” says Dr Quentin Williams, strategic research manager at the CSIR’s Meraka Institute.

Cross explains their drive in the following manner: “Don’t be afraid to go into something you truly have a passion for or to take the initiative for what you wish to do one day. Don’t wait until someone offers it or you get taught how to. There is a ton of resources available for anyone to teach themselves as well as exciting opportunities like Imagine Cup. So just go, learn and make sure you have fun doing it.”

Cross and Jordaan are looking forward to going to Seattle for the first time and competing in the World finals of the 2015 Imagine Cup.

“It is the greatest feeling either of us has ever experienced career wise. We could never have dreamed we would make it this far in the competition, but we are honoured to have the opportunity to represent South Africa in this category,” says Jordaan.

He adds that they also cannot wait to meet and learn from all of the Microsoft officials and hopes that this experience will help them start their own game development company. Previous winners of the South African leg of the Imagine Cup has gone on to do exactly this.

For instance, 2007 Imagine Cup winner Devin de Vries and his colleagues managed to build a successful and thriving business around their winning entry called “Where is my Transport”, which provides commuters with up-to-the-minute information and timetables for taxis and buses, directly to their smartphones.

“Like previous winners of the Imagine Cup have shown, technology can be a powerful tool for addressing local development challenges and we believe that the youth of the country can be important partners in this endeavour,” says Jeanette Morwane, director: ICT and services industry at the Department of Science and Technology.

According to Cross, Digital Interactive Games plans to build on its achievements. “We want to expand our team to keep pushing our limits and develop games to the best of our abilities.”