I spent much of the weekend dropping in and out of the Scottish Game Jam, part of the larger Global Game Jam that ran from 5pm on Friday to 3pm on Sunday. The event saw artists, programmers, musicians, designers and other talented individuals both professional and amateur in a sleep deprived race to create a fully playable game in two days. In locations all over the world competitors huddled around computer screens and two days later they left their cramped cocoons of creativity, straightened their spines and walked out into the clean air of the outside world tired, but invigorated. Was it worth it? Well as one competitor said to me, “I made a game this weekend, what did you do?”.
The concept for this year was Extinction and it was interesting to see how the teams applied this relatively loose and flexible label to their game ideas. While there was a generous helping of Dinosaurs and Dodo’s (and some great Dodo based puns), some of the interpretations of the central concept were genuinely inspired. Ushering animals into a virtual Noah’s Ark with real world gestures in an Augmented Reality game was original, but the extinction of a audio wave when it meets a corresponding wave of the opposite form? Alright.
The event organisation was best described as well coordinated chaos. While the developer’s had to take an adaptable, agile approach to their programming the organisers similarly had to be quick to adapt to changing circumstances with such large numbers involved. Over a hundred competitors and around twenty teams must have been a logistical nightmare but other than an over lengthy scoring and feedback presentation which was taxing on the already tired teams, the whole event went by surprisingly smoothly. The high point for the weary competitors must have been the pizzas supplied by the sponsors. Just imagine the poor delivery boy balancing these on the back of his bike.
The best thing about the event was the sense of community that was forged amongst people who did not know each other the day before. Team members working hard and pushing themselves found out a great deal about each other and the friendships made at the event will outlive memories of what was created on the day or who won or lost. As I witnessed one team go their separate ways at the end of the night, one of them remarked, “It seems wrong to just leave James to go home on his own.” None of the team had known James existed just two days before.
The connections made didn’t exist only within teams, they formed between teams too. As ideas, code, art and even food were borrowed so too was feedback, advice and moral supported offered in return. Over the weekend there was unbelievable openness despite the fact that the whole event was a competition with some very desirable prizes. It was not unusual to see teams help others to fulfil their creative visions, even when it was to the detriment of their own efforts.
It wasn’t all smiles and double rainbows though, some of the competition was fierce. In particular, one team went out with the remit of making a single game and made a second, the sole purpose of which was to punch a rival team member repeatedly in the face. This competition seemed to exist mostly in the teams that contained more professional developers, perhaps an indication of the industry’s dog-eat-dog nature.
So what about the actual games then? While I could describe what was created and try to bring the ideas to life in words, that wouldn’t do them justice. The joy of the Game Jam is that you can see, hear and even play the games that were created yourself. I urge you to do so.
Finally, you may be interested in knowing how the CalmDownTom team fared on the day. Well I have to say they did us proud. While they may not have been the winners of any prizes, they had a fully functional game engine and an (almost) playable level as well as some top quality artwork and a truly professional sounding retro soundtrack. The team have vowed to continue to work on their project and finish it soon, but for the moment they’re getting some rest and who can blame them? When it’s ready, you’ll see their work here first. In the mean time, go and play some Game Jam games. What they lack in polish, they make up for in originality and raw potential.
And before you ask, sorry, there’s no pizza left.