What do you get when you combine a room full of game developers, a tight deadline, and the seeds of inspiration? You get a game jam.
The equivalent of a hackathon for game developers, game jams are a place for rapid prototyping and collaboration between coders, artists, musicians, writers, and designers. If you’re ready to mingle with other creatives, pick up a new skill, and maybe discover your next big idea, attending a game jam should be at the top of your agenda.
Many people are first introduced to the concept through the Global Game Jam (GGJ), the world’s largest organized game development event. Its focus is simple: to gather people from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels for one weekend every January with the sole purpose of developing a new game from start to finish in just 48 hours.
This year marked the 11th and biggest year yet for the GGJ with over 47,000 participants creating an impressive 9,000 games. The event ran from Friday evening, January 25th to Sunday, January 27th. It kicked off Friday with a brief keynote talk. Rami Ismail, one of the keynote speakers, set the tone of the event perfectly when he showcased his humble drawing abilities for the world. He drew a cow. He forgot that cows have spots. That was okay with Rami, in fact, it perfectly illustrated his point. What Rami wanted everyone to see was that anyone can create, and even though he wasn’t very good at it he was still having fun.
The act of creating and the idea that creating is more fun when you’re surrounded by others is at the heart of the GGJ. To aid in inspiration each year the GGJ challenges participants to create their game around a central theme. The theme for 2019 was, “What Home Means to You.”
This year Frederick became one of the participating sites in the GGJ when Adam Silcott stepped up as a local host. No stranger to the game development community, Adam is the organizer of the Frederick Game Development Meetup. He has been attending and organizing game jams ever since his first experience with the GGJ in 2015.
With more interest in game development than ever before, finding people interested in committing to a weekend of creative fun typically isn’t a challenge. The limiting factor is space. After all, there are only so many people and computers you can squeeze into one living room. Add in the need for space for musicians to record and store their instruments, and you better be ready for things to get tight. Participating in the GGJ opened up the potential for more attendees, but Adam knew he would need the right kind of space to make the event a success. That space was Cowork Frederick.
Cowork Frederick’s mission from day one has been to encourage and facilitate collaboration between professionals in the community. A recent expansion into the neighboring building provided the perfect opportunity for Adam and Cowork Frederick to think big for the 2019 GGJ. With the entire first floor of the new space at his disposal for the weekend, the way was paved for Adam to host his most successful game jam yet.
Even with the issue of space settled, putting together a large event centered around a group of strangers working together is more than one person can handle. Thankfully Adam had a good network of developers excited to help. Greg Lord acted as a co-host tackling big picture items alongside Adam while Rachel Eibling dove head first into the role of community facilitator.
Seventeen gaming enthusiasts gathered at the kickoff of the GGJ and made the first floor of Cowork Frederick their home for the next 48 hours. Musicians claimed a back room as a recording space that, aside from the snack bar, quickly became everyone’s favorite escape when they needed a break from their screens. Meanwhile programmers, artists, and writers broke off into teams of five to six. Some formed partnership on the spot while others had already met virtually via GGJ’s message board Discord.
Rachel who had been active on the message boards already had a team of multiple artists and writers in place. All of that creativity was energizing but not without its challenges. As Rachel put it, “When you work with multiple artists, you always run the risk of the work seeming a bit uneven, or being able to tell who drew what.” But her team was prepared for this. They found a way to break down responsibilities by dividing tasks into categories. One artist tackled all of the line art, while another handled coloring. This approach still left plenty of room for artists to pursue their particular interests, allowing everyone to work on a task in which they were interested.
The final result was an impressive visual novel style game called The Far Rings. The game tells the story of Athena, a doctor travelling on an interstellar transport ship. Players face unforeseen obstacles while Athena wrestles to understand her fellow passengers and her destiny. Rachel’s team was so enthusiastic about what they were able to produce at the game jam that they have continued to work on it since.
Of course not everyone met virtually before the event. The fascinating thing about game jams is the way collaboration happens almost organically. People are quick to spot how one person’s strength can contribute to someone else’s vision. Speaking to participants, a common theme was that it takes a village. The motivational push to create and the opportunity to try out a new skill around those with more experience is a huge attractor. Co-host, Adam, describes game jams as, “how you learn and get started and inspired,” and with such a wealth of resources at their disposal attendees were hard pressed not to walk away having learned something.
So what were hosts Greg and Adam up to in all of this? When they weren’t hopping between groups offering advice or making sure everything ran smoothly, they were working on developing a game of their own. Fire Flight, was Greg and Adam’s take on the theme of “What Home Means to You.” A nostalgic tribute to childhood memories of playing video games at home the game was designed in the style of old Nintendo games. Even with their focus split between running the event and helping out attendees, Adam and Greg were still able to complete Fire Flight and entered it into a showcase at MICA a couple days later.
What’s next for game jams in Frederick? Thankfully, you won’t have to wait until January 2020 to attend another one. Adam and Greg are thrilled to build on the momentum of the recent event and will continue to utilize the space at Cowork Frederick for monthly game development workshops. The next event will be Saturday, March 2nd through Sunday, March 3rd. It takes place at the start of the 14th annual 7 Day Roguelike Challenge, and building off of that theme Adam will lead a workshop on Saturday at 1:30PM covering the basics of how to create your own Roguelike game. As with the recent GGJ, participants are challenged to work on creating a new game, and all, from the most skilled to the newest developers, are welcome.