Local developers converge on world’s largest game jam
Imagine being told that you had to produce a video game with a team of people whom you have never met before. Now imagine that you must create your video game from scratch in less than 48 hours, and you will be competing with hundreds of other teams worldwide hoping to produce a better video game than you.
Forty Calgarians will happily be accepting this challenge to participate in this year’s Global Game Jam taking place Friday through Sunday.
Last year's participants frantically brainstorm ideas for their games at the beginning of their 48 hour, adrenaline fuelled odyssey.
Photo Courtesy of Laurie Gloge
“Building a game in 48 hours really inspires your creativity,” said Mark Hazlett, a local Calgary game developer. “You can’t really take your time because you know that you are on such a tight deadline. It gets you to think outside the box and create something that you wouldn’t normally think about creating.
“There’s so much pressure on you to get a game done in 48 hours and it really gets you going. It’s a lot of fun though, and that’s why we keep coming back.”
The first event under the Global Game Jam name was held in January 2009, and included more than 1,600 participants in 23 countries. At the end of the inaugural 48-hour event, 370 finished video games, and hundreds of very tired video game lovers emerged.
“I heard of Global Game Jam through my daughter, who at the time was in Austin, Texas,” said Laurie Gloge, the venue co-ordinator for the Calgary event. "She was really into video games and she and her boyfriend stumbled across the event.”
After watching her daughter participate in Austin over a live webcam feed, Gloge wondered if Calgary was represented in the event. As she had suspected, Calgary was not on the list of participating cities.
“Of course Vancouver and Montreal (Canada’s two major video game hubs) were participating, but not Calgary,” she said. "We’ve got a growing video game community here, and I really wanted to start something up here.
“Now that we’ve participated in one event, I say that it’s like a pajama party. We have a lot of fun, but by Sunday night a lot of people are tired and are ready to go home.”
In 2010, the number of participants increased to 4,300 in 39 countries – with over 900 video games being produced by the Global Game Jam community.
Participation is projected to increase again this year, as the 2011 event already has 173 registered sites in 44 countries with over 3,700 people already registered.
In order to prevent cheating, the theme that each game must incorporate remains a mystery until the event launches in each time zone.
Last year, the theme each video game had to incorporate was deception. Each time zone also has sub-themes to make sure that cheating between time zones could not take place.
“In the beginning, people were twittering and posting the theme and the parameters online,” said Evan Kawa, a 25-year-old local video game developer, “so the sub-themes were added last year so people in the time zones that started later couldn’t cheat.”
After arriving at the event, teams of five or six are quickly formed so that everybody can hit the ground running and make the most of their tight deadline.
“Last year I was a student at SAIT and I thought it would be a great opportunity to participate in an event where you get to make video games,” Hazlett said. “It turned out to be a great opportunity."
Kawa said that since he was recently out of school, it wasn’t uncommon for him to work under such stressful conditions. “We basically lived off of junk food and energy drinks…. it was pretty much sheer adrenaline that kept us going."
“We were in a bit over our heads last year,” he said. “Our game had fantastic artwork but we didn’t have much very much time to get everything in."
“This year I will probably be taking the reigns as a programmer, but I want to take on a project that is a little less ambitious. We don’t know the theme for the games this year yet, so I can’t really do much planning.”
Jamming for a Common Goal
Gloge said, “It really just gives them an excuse to work on a deadline. They get things done that they didn’t think they were capable of. "
“You get to deal with people from all sorts of different backgrounds, and you can make a game that everyone can enjoy. That’s what is so great about the event.”
In addition to meeting people with similar interests and a shared love for video games, the work environment and team-building situations are very similar to those in the work environment today.
“Because of last year’s event I had something else to add to my portfolio, which is always nice,” Kawa said. “But the big thing is the people that I’ve met. I made a few friends last year and it’s always nice to meet other people who are into the same stuff as me."
Participants in last year's Global Game Jam event listen closely to the parameters and rules that they must adhere to in their 48-hour weekend event.
Photo courtesy of Laurie Gloge
Since Calgary is not a central hub for video game development in Canada, Kawa and Hazlett said that game developers don’t really have anywhere to go to meet fellow developers, designers and programmers. The Global Game Jam offers them an opportunity to meet new faces and see who’s who in the Calgary game developer world.
“There’s a very scattered community of developers in the city, and this event brings a lot of us together,” Kawa said. “The best part is the people you get to meet – that’s why I love it."
For Hazlett, success was right around the corner. He and two fellow 'jammers' decided to create their own video game development company called iCOG Studios, a local Calgary company that was founded last year after the Global Game Jam event.
“For my team (Global Game Jam) was the first time any of us had ever built a video game,” Hazlett said. "We had zero experience and didn’t know very much about game development."
“We learned a lot and had some fun last year…. We’re working on our first game right now and we’re really excited to get that out there.”
Taking Calgary Seriously
Gloge said: “Ultimately we want Calgary to be taken seriously by the video game community. We don’t want to become Fort McMurray South and only have people come here to get their education and leave.”
The general public is welcome to come down to Mount Royal University to see the jammers in action.
The viewing of the final products will be at 3:00pm on Sunday in room T107 at Mount Royal University.
For more information on the Global Game Jam event visit http www.globalgamejam.org
Editor's note: This story has been updated