You're a conflicted zombie that yearns to be human again. Now you've got to dodge grandma and babies in an 8-bit side-scroller. Now you're Vimberly Koll, and you have to stop Poseidon from raining down on the Global Game Jam. At the end of Global Game Jam Vancouver, teams of developers, 3D artists, level designers and sound engineers conceptualized and created these games (along with a number of others) in less than 48 hours. Building a game in a weekend is no small task, so only the best and brightest game developers in the world converge on over 300 sites in 63 countries to show off their skills.
For the fifth annual Global Game Jam, more than 16,000 participants committed a weekend to learning from and collaborating with their peers in a worldwide game development hackathon. I was lucky enough to get to sit in on the action in Vancouver, and I thought I'd give you a glimpse into how participants make game development magic happen in such a short period of time.
Day 1 (Friday Night): The Brainstorm
More than 260 participants poured into an open study area of the Life Sciences building at the Univerity of British Columbia to build the next best distraction ... er, video game. The event kicked off with a keynote from Brian Proviciano, a game development prodigy, who shared his history and offered sage advice for those interested in the industry. Following a comical 20-second idea pitch session, the caffeine began to flow and the brainstorm commenced.
Inspiration could come from anywhere, and a perfect example is the "Poseidon" game I mentioned above: GGJVancouver organizer Kimberly Voll had sprinklers rain on her office a few days prior to the event, so someone decided to make a game out of that situation. This year, the Global Game Jam introduced an interesting twist that they called "diversifiers." Diversifiers are side-challenges for extra credit, and two of my favorites were "Atari Age" — the game has to be smaller than 4kb — and "May the (Web) Force be With You" — the game has to run in a browser.
Fast-forward two hours, and as you look around, you see storyboards and scripts being written, characters being born, and a few intrepid developers starting to experiment with APIs, game engines , and external controllers to find some additional flair for their final products. You wouldn't expect a game made in 48 hours to incorporate an iOS Eye Tracking API or the Leap Motion gesture controller, but these developers are ambitious!
As the concepts are finalized, team members rotate in and out for sleep, and some even go home to get some rest — a good idea on the first night since everyone usually pulls an all-nighter on Saturday.
Day 2 (Saturday): Laying the Foundation
It was cool to walk the aisles and peer over peoples' shoulders as musical scores, wrangled code and character models were coming together. However, the scene wasn't all smiles and hugs; a few groups were wrestling quirky bugs and integration issues, and in some cases, they ended up having to completely reboot their approach. Day 2 set the course for all of the teams. A few teams disbanded due to disagreements or unfixable bugs, and some developers peeled off from their teams to follow an untamed passion. In the Global Game Jam, there are no rules ... only games.
Day 3 (Sunday): Sleep, What's That?
By Day 3, the building starts feeling like a college dorm during finals week when everyone is staying up all night to study or finish their comp-sci assignments (I know it wasn't just me...). Running on various vehicles of caffeine, teams worked heads-down all day to meet their 3pm deadline. Sighs of relief and high fives were exchanged when the games were submitted, and the event concluded with a pizza party and demo session where everyone could see and share the fruits of their labor.
As I left the conference, teams were given the opportunity to showcase their games on the big screen to a chorus of laughter and applause. It was an awesome experience, and I'm glad SoftLayer sponsored it so that I could attend, take it all in and meet a ton of outstanding up-and-coming game developers. If you're into making games (or you've thought about it), check out the Global Game Jam one of these years.
Just don't forget to bring deodorant ... for your neighbor's sake.