XPrize Connect Competition Featuring John Xu

Nathalie Leung

Harvard-Westlake Middle School student John Xu ‘25 recently took home the grand prize from participating in a game developing competition. The organizations in charge of hosting the event are XPRIZE Connect and XPRIZE.

Xu coded a 2D platformer/adventure style game where the main character explores a forest in search of hope, fighting enemies that try to block the way with special perks. The game’s name is “Whisper of the Past” and the game’s art is in a gray-scaled color style consisting mostly of the colors grey, black and white.

He mentioned that there were some topics and rules that he had to follow in order to compete in this competition. There are multiple tracks and types of award that are split into two categories: The gaming engines (the software used to develop games) and Choosing one of the themes provided: Environment, Equity or Exploration.

He said that he only knew the Unity Game Engine well enough to make a game in it and had to choose that as his topic, but since his game also included elements of exploration he ended up with two topics.

In terms of developing the actual game, Xu listed four different programs he used to help him. He used Photoshop to draw and represent the assets that were presented in the game such as trees, bushes, buildings and the like The Unity Game Engine helped him manage assets, physics, collisions, scripts, animation and lighting and in another software called Visual Studio he programmed the code for the game in C#. Lastly, he recorded and edited with Audacity to come up with the sound tracks, music and other various sound effects in the game.

“I have done previous games similar to this but the amount of code in order for everything to work is quite challenging. I needed to keep track of spawn points, player preferences, player movement, enemy movement, enemy attack, player attack, boss movement, boss attack, music, sound effects, visual effects, and etc.,” Xu said..

Xu said that he wishes to participate again in the future in hopes that they will host another competition and does recommend it to others that are interested in game development or coding. He also mentioned that XPRIZE also provides great resources over the span of the competition for any inexperienced participants to learn coding and get familiar with game development, so someone shouldn’t worry if they are not good enough they can learn and still have fun.

“It was very fun and challenging, for sure. I learned so much about programming and game dev in the process! It was super awesome,” said Xu.

XPRIZE is a nonprofit organization, founded by Dr. Peter Diamandis, that launches incentivized prize competitions to solve society’s grand challenges. XPRIZE Connect is a new learning initiative from XPRIZE that democratizes access to learning through technology, empowering the next generation of innovators to follow their interests and develop skills for the oncoming, fully digital world.

Harvard-Westlake Middle School Students Derek and Andrew Esrailian ‘24 are Advisory Board Youth Members at XPRIZE Connect, and the Code Games Challenge was their first initiative. As many believe that the future of education is tech, their mission is to motivate young people to design and develop original video games.

“The next generation is our future, and it’s on us to democratize access to the tools they need,” Executive Director of Education & Learning at XPRIZE Dr. Emily Musil Church said.

The competition gives young game makers ages the opportunity to win one of multiple cash prizes by taking on the challenge of creating an original video game about any topic or make a game about a given topic to win a Grand Prize.

However, the challenge is only open to individuals between the ages of 10 to 18. There is a junior and senior division for this competition, and Xu participated in the Junior Division. Entrants between the ages 10 to 13 compete in the Junior Division, and those between the ages 14 to 18 compete in the Senior Division.

Given the challenge of designing a game, young designers are motivated to be innovative and come up with creative problem solving. Contestants are also exposed to the iterative and collaborative design process and the game creation process more broadly. In addition to the benefits of designing and developing any game, the challenge requires the creator to learn about and develop a deep, systemic understanding of that topic.

Link to XPRIZE Connect: https://go.xprize.org/
Link to the competition: https://www.codegameschallenge.org/
Link to the official rules: https://www.codegameschallenge.org/public/Rules.aspx