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Published: 23 Jun 2011 04:44PM (Singapore)
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Engaging gameplay against drugs
All-girl group Team Nozione trumps over 20 competitors to emerge champions of the first-ever Flash Games Competition organized by the National Council Against Drug Abuse and Central Narcotics Bureau, in collaboration with DigiPen Institute of Technology – Singapore. Find out more about their winning entry and other interesting projects.
By Haikal Jamari
Gillian Tan and Theresa Cheong of Team Nozione. PHOTO: Haikal Jamari
When Singapore Polytechnic students Gillian Tan, 18, and Theresa Cheong, 18, first pitched their game idea to their classmates, nobody thought they could win the inaugural Flash Games Competition.

Competing in a traditionally male dominated arena of game development as an all-girls team with minimal knowledge of computer programming did not make the competition less daunting either.

Those hurdles certainly did not stop them – also known as Team Nozione (Italian for notion) in the competition – from clinching top spot.

Theresa Cheong of Team Nozione working hard with her digital sketchpad. PHOTO: Haikal Jamari
Armed with a digital sketchpad, guidance by DigiPen Institute of Technology's gaming expertise and a zest of energy, the Nozione girls were hard at work since January, sacrificing their after-school hours to intensify the interactivity and fun elements of their game concept.

Titled The Right Choice, their game is an interactive visual novel-styled role-playing game.

The players will be presented with choices for the character Jeremy to choose after finding out his brother is abusing drugs.

The concept stemmed from an online social simulation game popular among youths.

By choosing such a genre, Miss Tan hopes it will hit off with their young target audience too.

She said: “We had to make sure it (the game's message) is direct but not to the extent that they (the target audience) might think we're shoving it down their throats.”

Adding on to the excitement, mini-games which involve beating a time limit to find evidence and solve puzzles about anti-drug abuse are also embedded in various stages of the game.

The outcome of the game is determined by the choices made by the players, enabling them to see the consequences of their actions when dealing with drug abuse.

One of the challenges that the girls faced during the game production was to balance the computer programming aspects of the game with what they were more passionate about: the game's art and story development.

But with their strong teamwork and camaraderie, they managed to overcome it well.

The girls have been classmates since late 2009 and their similar interests have made it easier for them to work together and bring up disagreements.

Interestingly, their classmates have often joked about them being a “package” when being selected for group projects – either put both of them in a team or don't pick one at all!

They joined the competition to gain exposure in the gaming industry and aspire to pursue a degree with DigiPen Institute of Technology, as well as work at game development companies.

During her free time, Miss Cheong puts herself in the shoes of a game critic for the games she play, analyzing what she does not like in a game and exploring how she would change it.

“Games are very interactive and (the players are) involved. It leaves a deeper impression and there is always something to learn,” she says.

Miss Tan and Miss Cheong both feel very proud being the only female team to reach this far in the competition and accomplish the winning title.

Their lecturer, Mr Loh Chi Yong, gave them the thumbs up:

“Traditionally, 80 to 90 per cent of gaming courses are made up of guys, but the female students tend to do very well.”

But to achieve the winning formula, it does not matter whether one is male or female.

“It's really about the passion and interest,” said Miss Tan, “there's no point in competing in something you have no passion or interest in.”

Miss Cheong agreed: “Don't be afraid to do what you're passionate in, at least give it a try.”

A close-up of one of Team Nozione's digital sketches. PHOTO: Haikal Jamari
Two teams from the Institute of Technical Education emerged as second and third place winners in the competition, proving that they are as good as other tertiary institutions.

Representing the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) as the competition's first and second runner-ups definitely made the guys from Team E.L.A and Team Triforce proud.

They hail from ITE College Central (MacPherson) and ITE College West, respectively.

Alvin Seow, 17, Lee Eng Chuan, 22, and Maung Nay Oo Linn, 22, make up Team E.L.A.

Maung Nay Oo Linn, Lee Eng Chuan and Alvin Seow of Team E.L.A. PHOTO: Haikal Jamari
“This shows that we can be just as good as students from polytechnics or universities,” said Mr. Lee.

Their game - Escape From Drugs Land - is described as a 'virtual board game' that comprises of quizzes, mini-games and puzzles, each with an anti-drug message.

In other words, think of it as Neopets meets Snake and Ladders – two wildly popular games, the former among the young and the latter among the young at heart.

From the slick and visually stimulating graphics of the game, it is apparent that the team paid a lot of attention to the animation and graphic design elements of the game.

It goes without saying that it was their most favorite part of the game production process.

Their toughest challenge was adhering to the tight schedule they were given.

For that, their school and DigiPen were extremely supportive, working out ways in which the guys could manage both schoolwork and the competition.

Team E.L.A presents their game to Dr Roberto Dillon. PHOTO: Haikal Jamari
If time was not a factor, the guys said they would have designed more mini-games to increase the player's engagement with the game.

Being fans of action strategy games like Warcraft and Defence of the Ancients (DotA), the guys had to make sure the games were not too violent.

“We've came a long way and we got to learn (about game development) in a fun way,” said Mr. Lee about the entire experience in the competition.

Even though their course was established as recently as 2008, ITE College Central (MacPherson) has been actively encouraging their students to participate in such competitions to gain exposure.

In fact, Team E.L.A was one of the seven teams from their class who submitted entries into the competition!

Like the girls from Team Nozione, the boys hope to pursue careers in game development.

Brandon Woo, Tan Jia Hao and Eric Eng of Team Triforce. PHOTO: Haikal Jamari

For Team Triforce's Tan Jia Hao, 18, Eric Eng, 19, and Brandon Woo, 18, joining the competition was so that they could “impact the lives of youngsters” and “do something good for society.”
A screenshot of Team Triforce's 'Jump Jump Rescue'. PHOTO: CNB.
Hence, they created a game that caters to a wide range of audience who can play it whenever they like.

In “Jump Jump Rescue”, players have to navigate a skyward-moving character and steer clear from coming into contact with drug obstacles.

“The concept is simple but the message is clear and our lecturers told us it's attention-grabbing” said Mr. Eng.
Indeed, coming into contact with drug obstacles will let players see the different side-effects of various drug abuse, such as loss of control of the character and blurred vision.

The challenges they faced were similar to Nozione and E.L.A, in terms of time constraints and familiarity with graphic design softwares like Photoshop over computer programming ones like Flash.

DigiPen Institute of Technology's Karim Fikani giving advice to Team Triforce. PHOTO: Haikal Jamari

Jointly organized by the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) and Central Narcotics Bureau, the Flash Games Competition was designed to engage tech-savvy youth to create games that promote and raise awareness on anti-drug abuse.

The panel of judges was formed by representatives from the organizers as well as collaboration partners Media Development Authority (MDA) and DigiPen Institute of Technology – Singapore.

The top three teams and DigiPen Institute of Technology personnel after a hard day's work. PHOTO: Haikal Jamari
One of the judges, Dr Roberto Dillon, who is a professor at DigiPen's Computer Science/Game Software Production and Design department said:

“It was not so easy for the judges to choose (the top three) teams.”

“There were heated discussions (among judges) as the quality and ideas presented were quite good,” he said.

Want to get a feel of what the games are like? Be sure to visit the Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign 2011 Exhibition from the 24th to 26th of June at Toa Payoh HDB Hub Mall, where you could try out “Jump Jump Rescue”, “Escape from Drugs Land” or “The Right Choice.”

Also look out for the prize presentation ceremony and the building of a record-breaking binder structure during the event!

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