Today we start a new “Tech Student of the Month” profile to feature a student whom we feel is doing something rather extraordinary using the Microsoft platform and toolset to develop software. For December we have selected Daniel Van Tassel, an exceptional senior at the University of Utah who is majoring in computer science. To find out a bit more about Daniel’s story we spent some time discussing his experiences over the phone in an interview. Even before graduating college, Daniel has already developed an Xbox Live Indie game, is working on his second mobile application, has competed in the Imagine Cup twice and has spent two summers here in Redmond for Microsoft internships.
Van Tassell was raised in Roosevelt, Utah where he first began experimenting with programming in middle school on graphic calculators. In high school his interest in computers and software expanded as he took Java and SQL courses at the local university through an extension program. By the time Daniel entered college he knew his interests were in programming and he made the easy decision to enter the University of Utah Computer Science program as a freshman.
As a sophomore, one of Daniel’s software professors introduced the class to a six month course using XNA Game Studio to develop games. Throughout the course students followed the development pipeline that real game studios use. Daniel found the XNA tools simple and easy to use. “Having such great tools makes it so easy to completely get moving,” said Van Tassell. “With the best tools you can make the best products.”
During his junior year, Daniel continued to explore Microsoft technologies by developing a Windows Mobile application that blocks calling and texting while driving. Van Tassel and his team worked on the project as part of the 2009 Imagine Cup. The team made it to the US finals in Boston and won the Mobile Development Award. They even talked to some insurance agencies that said they would give a discount on auto insurance to drivers who were using the app!
As part of a senior project Van Tassel joined a team of 10 students to create an Xbox Live Indie game. Daniel was assigned random team members from different disciplines in the university and took his role as the technology lead. The team decided to create a true 3D keep-away game called “Beware of Dog” using XNA Game Studio (see trailer video below). At the end of the semester the team showcased their game to members of the industry including employees from Disney, EA games and Microsoft. After getting great feedback they decided to submit “Beware of Dog” to the Xbox Live Arcade using XNA Creators Club (now App Hub). The community is currently testing the game and you should see it in the Xbox Live Marketplace by next month.
Even today, Daniel is continuing to leverage XNA Game Studio. He and his team are competing in the 2011 Imagine Cup by building a game for the newly released Windows Phone 7 platform. The competition is still going on so we don’t want to give too much away about his project but we’re sure they are working on something great that hopefully we’ll be able to see in Seattle this spring. If you would like to compete in this year’s Imagine Cup you can register here.
With school wrapping up Daniel is starting to think about what he is going to do after college. He wants to find something in the entertainment industry that makes use of his technology skills. We wish Daniel the best of luck in his job search this spring and hope he’ll stay in touch as he continues his exploration of technology.
Microsoft makes all of the tools that Daniel used available to students at no cost through the DreamSpark program. You will find XNA Game Studio, Visual Studio and all of our developer & designer tools available for download. We also waive the membership and submission fee for students to submit their Xbox games and Windows Phone 7 applications to the marketplace. If you would like to compete in the Imagine Cup this year the Spring Round began on November 16th and you have until February 15th to make your first round software design and game design submissions. Learn more about the Imagine Cup.