Sapient - Imagine Cup

Game inspired by Pratchett’s Discworld could net UK students $50,000

A computer game inspired by Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld could win four students in the UK $50,000 (£34,000) and a mentoring session with Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.

Riccardo DeLuca, Michael Harty, Thomas Mahoney and Ciaran Harty will compete at the Imagine Cup World Finals next month in Seattle after winning the UK national final and a global semi-final.

The team, called Sapient, will enter the game they created – Hex World – which sees a character called the tourist travel through various worlds made up of hexagonal shapes that are constantly changing. The lead character is armed with an umbrella and explores forests and dungeons, completing quests.

The game, which has been in development for around a year, includes “grass tiles that can be blown up, jump-pad tiles that can launch objects into the air, spike trap tiles that can eject spikes, and many more”, the team said. It has taken a “great amount of inspiration” from the hugely popular Discworld series of fantasy books, which have sold more than 80 million copies in 37 languages.

Sapient will compete in the Games category from July 26-29 against eight other teams from Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, Bahrain, South Africa, Spain, Russia and South Korea. The winners of the group will then go up against the victors in the Innovation and World Citizenship categories. One team will then be crowned Imagine Cup Champions, win $50,000 and a private mentoring session with Nadella.

The four UK entrants are all current or former students at University of South Wales, studying computer game development, and have been working together for around four years.

DeLuca said: “Hex World was a game I designed last year, and it never stops amazing me to see how far it has come since then. I have spent countless hours programming various systems into this game that have brought its world to life. To see the world shifting and pulsing is something I never tire of. This is a project I have put my heart into and cannot wait to see how much further it can go.”

Sapient - Imagine Cup

The Sapient team

The team were told about the developer competition by university lecturers last summer and originally worked on another game, before that was abandoned in favour of Hex World.

“We had been told about the Imagine Cup in our university lectures and thought it would be a phenomenal opportunity to get involved with a Microsoft-hosted competition. It was something we just couldn’t let slip by us,” the team said.

“So over the summer we started meeting up every week to create a video game that would be good enough for the Imagine Cup. We were initially making another game other than Hex World, but realised its scale would make it too difficult to make in time for the competition. However Riccardo was working on another game at the time and we all decide that this game had much more potential and a more manageable scale than the other, so we all starting to work on it to make it into the game it is today.”

Sapient - Imagine Cup

Hex World

The game won the UK national final in April – an event the four found “intimidating”.

“When we saw who we would be in competition with we were slightly nervous. [But our] presentation went very well, and when watching all the other presentations from all the other students we were really enjoying the amount of passion they all had for what they were doing in their projects.

“When we won we couldn’t quite believe it, standing up there really felt like all the work we had put into this game had paid off. We also recently won the world semi-finals, and that took us all by surprise. Needless to say we were all rather ecstatic. None of us can really believe how far this game has gone, something that was just an idea a year ago is taking us to Seattle on a world stage.”

After the tournament, they plan to “keep developing this game and bring it to market”.

Sapient - Imagine Cup

Hex World

Speaking about the Seattle competition in general, Pablo Veramendi, Imagine Cup Competition Manager, said: “I never stop being awed by the forward-thinking and unique solutions that a fresh, young perspective can bring to the technology industry. These developers are poised to do great things, and I for one can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

The event will be livestreamed online on July 29.