Research: Taylor Yust and Project Pond

When you think “honors thesis,” a mobile game app is probably not the first thing that springs to mind.  But Taylor Yust, an honors computer science student in the College of Engineering, will be submitting his original game app,  called Project Pond, to fulfill his thesis requirement. The app is fun to play and recently won second place in a competition on campus sponsored by Microsoft. Below he describes how he made the decision to develop a game app for his thesis and shows you how it works:

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One of my favorite classes at the University of Arkansas has been Hot Topics in Mobile and Pervasive Computing with Dr. Nilanjan Banerjee. As a graduate course, it was fun, challenging, and more interesting than any other computer science course I’ve taken. We weren’t just learning software basics; we worked with Microsoft Windows 7 smartphones to develop apps and technologies that are at the forefront of today’s computing industries.

The most exciting aspect of the class was developing our own apps. With my interest in game design and development, I chose to create an innovative touch-based gaming app. In the process I taught myself game programming skills and XNA (Microsoft’s game development environment and tools). At the end of the semester our apps were entered in a Microsoft-sponsored contest and, as far as I know, I’m currently in the finals among our classmates. [It has just been announced that Taylor has indeed placed second in the Microsoft Project Hawaii competition!] In fact, the game progressed so well that I’m moving forward with it as my honors project.

Project Pond is a mobile game app I am currently developing for smartphone platforms. I wanted to challenge myself as both an engineer and an artist to create a game that is engaging to even a non-gamer without sacrificing the depth that is the hallmark of any quality game. In addition, I wanted to do so while incorporating the unique utilities of today’s smartphones in an elegant and innovative manner that has yet to be attempted by mainstream developers.

Project Pond strives to incorporate a simple, intuitive user interface that will make it a joy to play from the very first touch. Gameplay revolves around touching the surface of a pond to create ripples that will radiate outward from their points of origin. The pond is filled with all manner of aquatic wildlife ranging from tadpoles to water striders that will hamper a player’s progress. The goal is to utilize ripples to interact with and manipulate these creatures to restore the pond to a healthy status. High scores that only include a player’s social networking friends will ensure to keep gameplay results relative and engaging, fostering further interest in the game and increasing the weight of repeated bite-sized play attempts. In addition, the physics related to the propagation of in-game ripples and waves as well as the AI modeling of the enemy objects could have widespread applications in fields such as education.


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