Thoughts from a once Anonymous Imagine Cup game design judge.

Going through the mass amounts of entrants to the Game Design category of the Imagine Cup its clear there are several problems amongst students who compete.

Allow me to vent / detail some of the problems found during the recent culling of entrants.

Read the guidelines

What is asked in the specifications is what is expected. If you don’t include a video, you’re gone. If you don’t include Instructions, or if it’s not in English, you’re gone.

The specifications for an entry to the imagine cup game design is explicit and can be found here:

Common problems encountered were:


  • Videos missing in action
  • No Documentation
  • Non playable demo’s
  • Non English documentation


I can’t understand how someone who’s gone to great effort to create a game for the imagine cup would fail to read and understand the expectations!

Your game may be the next halo, but we’re not going to even see it if those criteria aren’t met.


Answer the question

As a lot of lecturers or teachers will tell anyone walking into an exam, make sure you answer the question being asked. And for many of the entrants I witness this was simply not the case.

There was one entrant who submitted a basic todolist application built in C#. wtf? Upload accident or miss interpretation of the guidelines… We’ll never know.

The Guidelines are very specific in regards to what needs to be achieved / demonstrated in the game. You’re only wasting everyone’s time if you fail to read, understand and embrace the expectations.


Video Encoding

Again, as stated in the rulebook: “Include a video screen capture of your game in action. The video should be no more than 15 minutes long”.

That doesn’t mean it also has to be 300mb. Encode wisely! There’s nothing worse than getting your hopes up about a potentially awesome game that’s over 300mb big, if when we look inside the zip file the video is 295mb and the game is only 5mb. It’s not a huge thing, but it can be disheartening for the Judge…

Also, how many YouTube videos have you seen that are 295mb? If they can do it in <30mb so can you! Your game has to include a video, but you can have it hosted on YouTube! This is a fantastic idea as it creates exposure to your game that you wouldn’t have had before. Even if you don’t win the imagine cup, chances are Microsoft groups such as @ImagineCupUS and @MSAU may even promote your game to their legion of followers (It happened this year). That’s exposure a budding game developer can really use.



As stated in the rules and guidelines: “The game must be designed for the Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming system, or Microsoft Windows Operating Systems (Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista, or Windows 7) and playable on a Windows PC, as specified in the XNA Game Studio Toolkit, for the purposes of judging. Include controls to use both an xbox controller and a keyboard

So… why were there several interesting games with high potential that caused frustration when it wasn’t possible to actually use them with a keyboard? It’s only a few lines of code extra! Why would any game developer in this situation limit their application to one console anyway? We’ve all seen the video demonstration from Teched, with the one game working on Windows, Xbox and Phone 7. It’s the future of gaming; why not get in on it now?


It’s all been done before, but!

So many people stick with the whole “Halo Wars” or “Age of Empires” approach, but it’s all been done before. This is not to say that you’re any less deserved of winning the imagine cup but it’s all been done before! The Imagine Cup is about inspiring the imagination and creating masterpieces of art and gaming revolutions. Don’t play it easy, think abstract. Some of the ones that were awarded the highest marks in Stage 1 are the most abstract concepts conceivable, but you’ll see them all eventually.


Microsoft does not want to steal your ideas!

I’ve witnessed several people go off on tangents as to why they didn’t enter because of Intellectual Property. Long story short, you’re wrong.

It’s your software Microsoft is just helping you get recognized. The terms and conditions are just a formality to allow your videos to be used / promoted by Microsoft. Microsoft has nil interest in stealing or infringing on your intellectual property, your designs, games, thoughts, whatever possible excuse you have.

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