A Winning Team at the MoboTurbo 2011 Game Hack-thon!

On Saturday, I went to my first-ever hackathon, the MoboTurbo 2011 Mobile Game Hack-thon + Conference. There are plenty of hackathons in Silicon Valley but what motivated me to join this one was that it was the first hackathon ever to be organized by two women, whom I happen to know and respect – Shirley Lin and Bess Ho – and staffed with all-women volunteers ( www.moboturbo.com).   It was being held at Color.com’s Palo Alto HQ.  And it was just the one day (hackathons are usually over a weekend), so I figured it wouldn’t be too intimidating.  I’m not a hacker, but an idea person and organizer.

And since this Hack-thon was just the one day, the focus was on existing teams and/or incomplete mobile game apps because at the end of the evening, teams pitch to a great panel of game industry judges.

I’ve had this idea for a spelling game for the last 2 years and the time had finally come to do something about it, at the very least, to get a demo done and see it in action. Think Tap Tap meets Scrabble.  But remember, I’m the idea person, not a
coder.  Big problem.  Going into the event, Shirley (who is also a co-founder of the APWT -Asian Professional Women in Tech) told me that team formation was not the priority and to just come and check out the action and listen to some great speakers.  So I thought, ”What the heck, sounds like fun!”

MoboTurbo Hackathon 2011

The morning got off a little slowly (started at 9 am in Palo Alto, 1.5 hours from my house btw) so I introduced myself to everyone I could and pitched my idea for a mobile game.  I knew I needed a front end developer.  And at that time of the morning, there just weren’t a lot of developers, and the ones I met already had projects to work on.  I met two graphic artists and one UX expert (all females) who agreed to join my team, and we took turns peeling off to find developers.  We found two guys who were interested in the concept, but as back end developers, they had come to learn more about games and mobile apps.  Not perfect but an excellent start.  We had me, Nina-team leader; Terry-UX; Sue and Melody-graphics; Syed and Ryan-engineers.

Terry jumped right in and started with a paper prototype to test out the concept and basic game mechanics – was the idea something that could be interesting and how would it really work.  In the meantime, we moved to a bigger table and started talking as a team to figure out what we needed and who can do what.  We focused on the developers and based on the basic idea, they both dived right in to start researching turnkey programs and talking to other developers.  Sue and Melody got to work on graphic design and creating screen theme and elements.  Terry was a roving UX expert and went off to help other teams; I went off to find the roving iOS or Android experts.

Billl Nguyen

Sponsor presentations followed by a fantastic iPad app demo to teach kids how to play the guitar.  Raffle, food, coffee, coffee, coffee, donuts and soda.

Bill Nguyen, co-founder of Color.com gave his keynote speech – totally cool, followed by Gus Tai, General Partner from Trinity Ventures with how he looks at startups.  Did I mention coffee?

Gus Tai

As the hours moved on, more people were joining the event.  There must have been 14+ teams working on projects.  But we were still struggling with producing a demo.  Co-organizer, fabulous iOS coder and teacher, Bess Ho, recommended trying Garden Salad, a turn-key game dev platform since Albert Chen, Game Design & Dev college professor and Game Salad expert was coming to speak and help out.  Other developers came by to offer suggestions.  We started preparing for alternate demo methods like posterboards, flipcharts, and powerpoint.  We settled on powerpoint since we needed a pitch overview anyway.  I was worried that Syed and Ryan weren’t getting what they wanted to learn from the day but they said they were good.

3.5 hours before demo deadline, Sue brings over Rolandas, an iOS developer from Lithuania, part of a delegation who all exhibited at CTIA in San Diego.  He didn’t want to head straight back to Lithuania and came up north to experience a bit of Silicon Valley.  He definitely hit the jackpot, apparently going to a party the night before (which was why he was so late in arriving to the hackathon – as I suspect all the late comers must have been doing) and met Shirley who urged him to come on Saturday.  We meet, I explain the project, he says yes, and we’re off.  Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

We’re all watching the app development progress and giving various feedback to Rolandas, Melody is feeding graphic updates, and Terry and I are writing out the presentation points.  I can’t tell you how exciting it was for me to see this idea that I had in my head actually come alive in a live app.  Well, artificially alive since in one day, we didn’t have time to actually create the game, only to create the demo.

I messed up signing up for the pitches and we were slotted to go 7th.  It turned out that that was all that signed up so that meant we were last.  Which was probably a good thing because we were still working, including what to name this game.  Raining ABCs.  Then it was “pens down” time.

As the designated presenter, I immediately went up to the floor for a technical test of the projector.  That ruled out my PC and most everyone’s iPhone.  Our deck got loaded onto Terry’s iPad, and the demo onto Rolandas’ iPad.  That meant we’d have to switch devices in the middle of a 2 min presentation.  After watching all the other presenters, I decided to scrap the powerpoint presentation altogether.  So there was a benefit to going later.  The drawback about going last was that after 14+ hours straight, I was pretty beat.  As I sat down at the start of the pitches, I wasn’t so sure that I could stand up again, much less remember what I was suppose to say.  Oh, and the event was being streamed live on Justin.TV and there were 3,000 viewers.  No pressure.

Really great apps by either existing teams, unpublished but existing apps, two too cute 10 year old boys learning to code HTML5 and java script (they definitely won the cuteness factor), cool 3D technology with shark graphics, and maybe one other team of two people meeting up for the first time that day like us.  Oh, and all guys.

We had 7 new people meeting up that day (4 women & 3 guys), and when I thought about it, it went swimmingly well.  We all were able to come to consensus, each had important contributions, no arguments, no rudeness, people worked hard but also were able to float in and out, meet other people, chat, listen to presenters, and became really close by the end of the evening.  And that was an amazing feeling.  So it really didn’t matter to me whether we won or not because I felt we all had experienced something pretty big that day.  Besides, all the apps looked great so it’d be hard to feel badly about any of it.

Good thing I skipped the powerpoint presentation because it took some juggling to get the demo iPad showing through the projector so I started talking through the commotion.  Then the screen suddenly lit up, I shut up, Rolandas demo’d the app, and my eyes just lit up.  I looked over to the judges table and their eyes lit up as well because, well frankly, a picture may be worth a thousand words but a working demo is priceless.  A few questions and we’re off the floor.

Judges disappear, people start talking about what a great day it was – and I heard someone say, “….and there was that lady who came in with just an idea this morning, formed a team and produced a demo!”  I just had to smile a big smile.

Drum roll please.  3rd place, the 3D Shark game (cool!), in second place…. US!  OMG!!  First place, an interactive Novel created during the day using their publishing platform and pictures taken that day to create a graphic novel with a branching storyline (like the one from the movie Big starring Tom Hanks).

We’re all so excited and tired.  And 1.5 hours from home.  It’d been a great day.

Thank you team!  Thank you judges!  Thank you Color!  And BIG thank you’s to Shirley and Bess for organizing such a successful event!

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