Microsoft’s annual Dream.Build.Play Challenge invites developers to create games for Windows Phone or the Xbox 360 and compete for cash prizes and fame.

I had the chance to spend several long hours judging (read: playing) the games in this year’s contest. Today I have the pleasure of announcing the winning 2012 Windows Phone developers and telling you a little bit about them and their games.

This year’s content received more than 300 entries (see all submitted games here), which we narrowed to 40 finalists and finally to today’s winners. All games were evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Fun factor: Does it make you want to keep playing?
  • Innovation: How creative and technically unique is the game?
  • Production quality: Is it polished?

Picking winners was tough work. All the judges were amazed by the quality and variety of games developers submitted this year. Many looked incredibly promising. I encourage you to check out all the finalists and winners, including Xbox 360, on the Dream. Build. Play site.

So, the winners are...

Grand Prize: $20,000

clip_image004
Smirkers 
clip_image006

The Gameplay
The Smirkers are moody creatures. Your objective: Keep them happy! In each level you will get a number of Smirkers with different moods. You play the game by firing green Smirkers at the other Smirkers to change their mood. Colliding with a green Smirker will improve the mood whereas colliding with a black Smirker will worsen it. A level is cleared when all the Smirkers are green and happy – Watch a Demo

The Developer, Kenneth Bugeja

clip_image002[4]I am 28 years old and live in Malta, a sunny little island in the middle of the Mediterranean. I am a self-taught hobbyist game developer with no academic game developing background. I am an accountant/auditor by education/profession so it's pretty much unrelated to game development unless you count "playing" with numbers as creative. I have always been attracted to game development, and still remember "modding" the Qbasic game Nibbles on the 386 to add additional levels.
With Smirkers I've tried to take a simple idea and include some puzzle elements to keep the players engaged. The most important thing is to increase the number of levels in the current release. It's difficult because you need to keep them fresh so that the players do not get bored. After that, I have a couple of ideas for a V2 including explosions (an evergreen), traps, power-ups and maybe some updated graphics.”

-----------------------------------

1st Runner Up: $10,000

clip_image004

Pixel Blocked!

The Gameplay
Put your mind to the test with over 180 creative puzzles, all designed to challenge your spatial logic. The object of this simple yet challenging puzzle game is to fill in the missing blocks in the outlined image. Shoot blocks against an initial foundation to start and advance through increasingly difficult levels - Watch a Demo

The Developer, Daniel Truong (@damnitruong)
“I grew up in Winnipeg, in Canada, before moving to Vancouver to pursue my dreams of becoming a video game developer. My passion for making games has always manifested itself in weird and interesting ways. As a child I started making board games in my sketch books. In high school, when I began learning how to program, I started making and sharing my first games written in Turbo Pascal and Visual Basic.

clip_image006[4]

clip_image002During my time at university, I started up a programming club for like-minded developers to make games for the Nintendo DS. I graduated in 2009 from Simon Fraser University with a Specialist Major in Software Engineering and concentrations in Computer Graphics and Information Systems. After working for industry giants such as Radical Entertainment and Electronic Arts, I decided to leave the comforts of a large studio for the creative freedom of being an independent. Pixel Blocked! is my first game as an indie developer. It is a labour of love.”

-----------------------------------

2nd Runner Up: $5,000

clip_image004[4]
Alter Ego
clip_image006[6]

The Gameplay
You control a hero who has a phantom twin, his alter ego. When the hero moves, the alter ego moves too in a mirrored fashion. You can switch between the hero and his alter ego a limited number of times in a level. To complete a level, you need to collect all the jumping pixels - Watch a Demo

The Developer, Denis Grachev (@RetroSouls)

clip_image008I live in a small city in Altay, Russia. I've been developing games starting at school since 1998. The idea for this game comes from a while back. I've been thinking about it since 2007 and made a prototype I called MegaRunner. Then I developed AlterEgo for the 8-bit computer called ZX Spectrum (for those who remember) and later ported it to PC, Linux, Windows Phone. Some of my friends also ported it to NES and MSX. So far, I have developed many PC games, two for Windows Phone and two for Xbox (which I’m still hoping to publish one day when my country is supported.)
Windows Phone was a natural move for me, as I had done some XNA games before. Targeting the phone was really fun and it's a nice feeling when you see your game running on new device. For all game developers, I’d just like to tell them one thing: do what you like to do and have a good time twice—while you build your game and while you play with your game!
I’m working already on AlterEgo 2, so stay tuned, it will be amazing!

-----------------------------------

3rd Runner Up: $2,500

clip_image004[6]
Cradle To The Grave
clip_image006[8]

The Gameplay

Crafting, Weapons, Zombies… and a baby!? Create defenses and new weapons to hold off enemies and escape the crafty enemies. The world is being overrun by brain hungry zombies! It is up to 3 survivors to hold off the undead and escape to safety. With 100’s of weapon possibilities, players are challenged to craft new items and create a wall of destruction against would be evil-doers – Watch a Demo

The Developers, Jason Zielinski & Simon Jäger (COLTRAN Studios)
clip_image010JZ: I am Jason Zielinski, but most know me around the game space as "JZ".  I grew up in southwest Michigan, moved to the city around 10 years ago, where I attended school and chased my dream of working on the Mortal Kombat Legacy at Midway Chicago.
clip_image008[5]SJ: I am Simon Jäger, I am 19 years old and I live in the northern part of Europe, Sweden. I recently graduated from three years of technical studies and just now started my next journey to get a Master of Science degree in Computer Science. We came together in 2009, when I made a post on the XNA forums searching for somebody to create art for a game I was interested in creating. JZ needed a developer and would willingly trade skill sets to see our visions come to life. And thus, COLTRAN Studios was formed.   
JZ: This game started in the usual incubator of a very lite, simple idea. Basically, I said to myself "What if we just had this type of gameplay, pretty elemental, and added some new age ideas?"
Then I ask Simon what he thinks and if there is any merit in the idea. This is where the magic happens, because if we are both genuinely interested, we know this could have potential, otherwise we just move onto the next idea and keep the wheels turning. We knew we were heading towards mobile as well, so once this idea started, I began digging into successful and favored mobile titles to pick them apart and try to understand their appeal. This, our indie status, and very minute amount of development equipment, put us inline to develop on the Windows Phone platform.
SJ: Today we are working very hard to create more content for Cradle To The Grave. We have a lot of ideas and goals with the game that we wish to work with. So I believe we are going to be busy with it for quite a while, as we have way too much that we wish to create (in a good way).”

-----------------------------------

Congratulations to the winners, and don’t forget to check all the promising entries, among the 20 Windows Phone Finalists!