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Video Game Design Team from Ithaca College Advances to Microsoft's Global Technology Worldwide Finals

 ITHACA, NY — Of the more than 88,000 international high school- and college- student teams registered to compete in the 2011 Microsoft Imagine Cup, only 124 will gather in New York City, July 8 to 13, for the Worldwide Finals, and one of them is from Ithaca College. The team of Ashley Alicea, Marc Howard, Corey Jeffers and Evan Marinaro — creators of the video game “Embryonic” — is the only American team in the Game Design (Web) category to survive the global regional competitions.

At the finals, 124 teams representing 73 countries will present their creations to a panel of international judges in answer to this year’s Microsoft challenge: “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems.” The 13 technology categories include Game Design, Digital Media, Software Design and Embedded Development. All entries were required to be built on Microsoft platforms in nine areas of interest. Based on the United Nations Development Goals, those areas range from Ending Hunger or Poverty, Achieving Primary Education for Everyone, and Improving Maternal Health — the area chosen by the Ithaca College team.

Calling their team “IC Squared,” the team members began their collaboration as members of the Game Developers Club, advised by Dennis Charsky, assistant professor of strategic communication. The four computer science majors developed “Embryonics” in February at the regional competition at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where they had 48 hours to flesh out the concept and apply the technology.

“We looked up and down the list of UN Millennium goals and thought Maternal Healthcare wasn’t going to be as popular as solving world hunger and poverty, so we decided to make a web game on that using HTML5,” said Jeffers.

The trouble was, no one on the team was familiar with that software. So, in addition to designing the new game, the team had to learn a totally new program.

“That put them behind the other teams,” said Microsoft representative Andrew Parsons. “They didn’t start designing the game until Saturday. The other teams started Friday. But the fact that they eventually won the competition showed how good they were at embracing new technology.”

Based on the style of an Asteroids arcade game, “Embryonic” offers three levels:

  • The primary level places the player in the role of a physician who has to knock out measles bacteria invading the womb. Players have to be especially careful to hit the marauding germs without hitting the developing baby.
  • Demanding an awareness of rudimentary genetics, the second level challenges the player to match DNA base pairs in a way to ensure the newborn won’t suffer from genetic diseases.
  • In the third level, players must eliminate invading toxins in the digital umbilical cord so nutrients can freely pass through the cord.

A two-minute video demonstration of “Embryonic” is available on YouTube. Search for “icsquared.” There is also a link at

“We hope that by improving overall awareness of the issue and the potential issues that arise, we could help enact change in policy,” Jeffers said. “An educated population has been shown to have improved standards of living.”

At the finals, IC Squared will be competing with game design teams from Bulgaria, the Philippines, Poland and Slovakia. The members of IC Squared will also meet Microsoft’s corporate vice president of strategic and emerging business development to evaluate the game’s marketing potential.

“Microsoft takes no ownership of the students’ creations,” Parsons said. “It’s their intellectual property to do with what they will.”

The efforts of the IC Squared team foreshadow the college’s new program in Emerging Media, which draws from the innovation and professional practice in media and communications at the Roy H. Park School of Communications. The new major will reinforce those skills with the research and computational expertise of the computer science department in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

For more information, contact John Barr, associate professor and chair of computer science, at or (607) 274-3579.