ATEC Team Capsizes Competition with Video Game Made in 48 Hours

Esteban Bustillos, staff writer for The Mercury — the student newspaper at UT Dallas — wrote this article.


ATEC juniors David McCullough and Brandon Blakemore accept their first-place trophies from André Thomas, the creator of Chillennium. (Photo by Glen Vigus)

ATEC juniors David McCullough and Brandon Blakemore recently won first place at Chillennium, a video game design competition held at Texas A&M University that attracts collegiate game developers from across the country.

Students from 11 universities had 48 hours to create a game centered around the word foofaraw — a noun that means a great deal of fuss or attention to a minor matter.

McCullough and Blakemore first heard about the contest through the Student Game Developer Alliance at UT Dallas. Several teams from UT Dallas competed in the contest, including a team with SGDA president Grant Branam.

“We didn’t really know what to expect going in, but it was my first game jam, so I was super excited anyways and we had a lot of interest,” said Branam, who received the invitation for UT Dallas participants from Ben House, Chillennium’s director.

A caravan of about 20 UT Dallas students traveled to Texas A&M to compete against teams from schools such as Ohio State, West Virginia, UT El Paso, Baylor and Texas State. Nearly 250 students transformed an auditorium in A&M’s equine complex into a game studio with long rows of tables filled with custom computers.

“The first few hours I was really hyped,” McCullough said. “I was looking around like, ‘This is really cool.’”

For several hours McCullough and Blakemore, aka team Bee Chill, brainstormed multiple concepts — from a game about cats to a hotel manager taking care of guests to a cooking game.

Don't Rock the Boat

Play the Winning Game

Download “Don't Rock the Boat” for free and watch a video of the game on Bee Chill’s website

Rules of the game:
You are a waiter on a cruise ship. The sea is rough and the cruise-goers are thirsty. Despite dangerous working conditions, you must keep these vacationers refreshed.

Key commands:
Press the “W” key to move up.
Press the “S” key to move down.
Press the “A” key to move left.
Press the “D” to move right
Hold the spacebar to refill cups and waiter’s pitcher.

Download and play all the video games created at Chillennium.

“We were trying to focus on the minor thing but making a big deal about it,” Blakemore said.

The team landed on its winning concept — a waiter serving water to customers on a cruise ship in a turbulent sea — at 3 a.m. on the first day of the competition.

In “Don’t Rock the Boat,” game players guide a dapper waiter up and down the ship’s rocking deck, dodging crates, chairs and people. Players monitor meters that track how much water remains in patrons’ cups. They must refill cups before they are empty and keep the waiter’s pitcher full, too. If they fail to serve even one customer before they run out of water, they lose.

Time was a precious commodity, so McCullough and Blakemore only slept about four hours a night at Chillennium. Contestants could rest in a large room, but McCullough opted to sleep with just a pillow and blanket on the marble floor of the auditorium and Blakemore slept in his car.

The pair split up the duties of making the game. McCullough focused on engineering and art for the game; Blakemore designed the game level and sound.

“From the beginning, it’s really just getting stuff moving on the screen, getting the core mechanic in so that we could build off that,” McCullough said. “And then from there it’s like, ‘OK, well now we need a win-state or a lose-state.’ Then once we had that, it’s like, ‘OK, now we need a menu and a tutorial.’”

After working through the 48 hours and multiple setbacks, including a power surge that fortunately did not wipe out all of their work, Bee Chill turned in the game. McCullough and Blakemore said they didn’t expect much — maybe third place at best because they ran out of time to perfect the game.

“We were bummed out,” Blakemore said. “We thought it was just average or whatever.”

Before announcing the winning team, McCollough said the judges cleverly — but also confusingly — calmed the crowd down by saying, “be chill.”

“Right after [a judge said ‘be chill’], with no tone difference, [the judge says] ‘Bee Chill,’” McCullough said. “And no one says anything, because everyone thinks he’s still saying ‘be chill.’ So I stand up and I go, ‘Bee Chill?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, team Bee Chill!’”

McCullough credits attention to detail for “Don’t Rock the Boat” taking first place.

“Something that’s really important that a lot of people kind of miss in game development is game feel or polish, just making individual interactions within the game fun,” he said. “So there’s just a lot of visual feedback.”

In addition to taking home the trophy, McCullough and Blakemore won access to professional game development programs, $50 in Steam cash that can be used on the PC gaming network and tickets to South by Southwest, courtesy of a SXSW representative they impressed.

Crowd Favorite

ATEC students Kyle Ruffin and Hannah Barnes, and computer science ATEC students Veronica Liu and Alex An won Crowd Favorite for their game LAIKA. (Photo by Glen Vigus)

Knowing that they went up against developers from across the country and beat them is still sinking in for McCullough and Blakemore, who plan to use their experience at Chillennium to help further their careers.

“This is our crowning achievement,” Blakemore said. “We’ve been working to be acknowledged, and this is kind of the first sign that we’re doing something right.”

UT Dallas team Spicy Ketchup — ATEC majors Kyle Ruffin and Hannah Barnes, and computer science and ATEC double majors Veronica Liu and Alex An — won Crowd Favorite at Chillennium for its game LAIKA, in which the game player guides a dog through the cosmos.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].