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Pomona College Students Create Slinky Bomb, Win $25,000 in Computer Game Contest

Three Pomona College students created a new computer game that “secretly” teaches physics concepts to middle school students and captured the $25,000 first prize in the national Hidden Agenda computer game design contest.

The goal of the contest, now in its fifth year, is to inspire college students to build entertaining games that teach middle school subjects. Final judging was based on 70 percent entertainment and 30 percent educational value.

This year two Pomona entries made the final five. The winning entry, Slinky Bomb, was built by Alexander Haro, Class of ’08; Tim Brown, ’07; and Kurt Ude, ’09. The game teaches physics through a series of ball-in-the-cup puzzles that demonstrate properties such as motion, acceleration, energy and angular momentum. Among the creators’ motivations, according to Haro, were both the prize money and the fact that Pomona teams had finished in the finals three times but never won.

The team estimates that development took about 400 hours with most of that packed into a three-week period. Brown notes that, “The last night of work was pretty crazy. We decided to add in voice-overs at roughly midnight and had them in by 6 a.m., while adding the hints features and sounds. We were hyped up on caffeine and throwing tennis balls against different surfaces to record sound effects while trying to add as many cool features to the game as we could before submitting. It was hectic, but fun!”

“The three of us had already been up for basically three days straight,” explained Haro. “Yet, somehow, we managed to have one of our most productive nights then. During that time we were able to implement the hint interface, record the voice overlays, and fix a lot of long-standing bugs.”

More than two dozen teams entered the contest, and the five finalists were invited to Austin, TX for the final judging, which included testing by middle school students.“The first day was awesome, said Brown. “Hearing and seeing the kids' excitement with the game was incredibly rewarding but it was also great to see the teachers really enjoying it. It was nice to see that our game was actually fun to play and appreciated by teachers, learning experts, and professional game developers at the same time.”

For Haro, “The memory that sticks out most was when we first arrived to the contest playing area. All of the kids were playing the games on the computers and most of them were playing Slinky Bomb…. A boy stood up and asked us, ‘How did you make Slinky Bomb so awesome?’ The fact we had built a game was an accomplishment, the fact that the kids enjoyed it so much took that sense of accomplishment to a whole other level.”

The contest judges were: NCsoft, a game development company; a team of instructional designers from the University of Texas and Enspire Learning; Marc
Prensky, a digital game-based learning consultant; and the teachers and students from the Camp Wired program in Austin, TX, which teaches middle school
students how to create video games.

The second Pomona College team making the Hidden Agenda finals consisted of Charles Zhou ‘08 and Edward (Ed) Burns ’08, who created CheMeteor in which
players create chemical-based missiles to defend the planet.

The Hidden Agenda contest is sponsored by the Liemandt Foundation, a nonprofit family foundation dedicated to furthering education through technology. Among
their goals is the hope that winners will go on to devote their talents to developing educational games when they graduate.

Slinky Bomb has already been installed on over 4500 computers, which have been given to underprivileged middle school kids in urban areas through a partnership between the Liemandt Foundation and the nonprofit Computers for Youth