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MDM Student Team Runner Up In Niantic Beyond Reality Developer Contest

Nov 20, 2019 By Crissy Campbell

We’re pleased to announce that a team of MDM students and faculty was runner up in the Niantic Beyond Reality Developer Contest. Up against 9 other teams—mostly professional game developers—the MDM team was the only student team in the contest.

Niantic is an augmented reality games company located in San Francisco, known for games like Pokémon GO and Harry: Potter Wizards Unite. MDM alumni Scott Looze works at Niantic and introduced the competition to the CDM.

The Niantic Beyond Reality Contest was a 4-month hackathon where 10 developer teams were challenged to explore geospatial AR and create an augmented reality game using the Niantic Real World Platform. Niantic provided funding and access to the tools and services it uses for its own products.

The MDM team was made up of 7 students—Abe Nito (Project Manager, Communications Manager + UX), Anna Ya Qi Xuan (2D Artist + UI), Chris Pien (Lead 3D Artist), Fan Wu (Project Manager + UX), Gabriel Reis e Silva (Backend Developer + Lead Programmer), Jater Xu (Unity Programmer + Sound Designer) and Zara Khan (3D artist)—and two faculty supervisors—Bill Zhao and Rachel Ralph.

The team pitched Novagarde to Niantic, a multiplayer tower defense game. Novagarde is a geospatial augmented reality mobile experience where the player collects resources, builds towers, and goes into battle. 

What is unique about the game is that it leverages geo-location—players must go outside and explore to find pieces to build a stronghold. It is also unique in that it’s multiplayer. Players must work collaboratively within their team while competing against other teams. The goal for Novagarde is to build towers and defend territories.

The teams were brought to the Niantic HQ at the Ferry Building in San Francisco back in summer for a 3-day boot camp to learn about the platform. They then had 4 months to create their game.

With the team in school full-time (and eventually in full-time jobs) it was a challenge to reach the milestones, with many long evenings and weekends spent working on the project.

Fan and Abe were responsible for scheduling, team communication, and management. Rachel managed and led the team’s direction. Gabe built the geolocation system and game framework. Chris and Zehra built the 3D models. Anna designed the game UI and 2D assets. Jater and Bill built the AR multiplayer gameplay and Jater spent a lot of time making the game soundtrack—even receiving Niantic’s praise on the music.

Once the team delivered all 4 milestones (and passed!) the team returned to San Francisco in mid-October to present their game.

While in San Francisco the team led 7 judges through a working demo of the game, where the judges collected resources, built towers and the hardest development task: played in AR multiplayer (!).

CDM Team at Niantic HQ

Niantic Judge Testing CDM Game

Judge testing Novagarde AR mode.

"Although we didn't make the top 3, our team learned a lot," said faculty supervisor Bill Zhao. "It was valuable to work alongside other talented developers. It was a great learning opportunity for our students and helped them to not just make a prototype but also pushed them to learn how to make a polished project."

Rachel Ralph added, "even though we didn’t win the prize, getting to participate was a huge prize in itself. We made the Top 10 in an international competition. We competed against professional teams and full companies. We got to make our game and learn new software. And we got to work as a team seeing a product from beginning to end."

Read Niantic’s press release about the contest.