UCR’s Gamespawn hosts Global Game Jam, a conference for game developers novice and expert alike

By: Alexandria Esteban, CW and Alexia Aguilar, CW

On Friday, Jan. 31, UCR’s game development club Gamespawn hosted the 12th annual Global Game Jam (GGJ), which the official website described as “the world’s largest game jam event (game creation) taking place around the world at physical locations in over 113 different countries around the globe.” At the Jam, teams of game designers and developers collaborated to produce a video game within 48 hours.

Jacob Tan, a third-year computer engineering major at UCR, stated that the Global Game Jam “gave me the chance to meet other people who enjoy making video games and it exercises all the things I learned in class.” The GGJ is a unique opportunity for people to practice experimental game development around an annual theme not excluding anyone based on their skill levels. 

From Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, the turnout at the venue in Winston Chung Hall at UCR had “near 100 attendees, with the sign up increasing to 120 to accommodate for walk-ins,” stated Annika Kirman, the secretary of UCR’s Gamespawn.

College students and non-college students alike from all neighboring communities were welcomed to attend UCR’s venue. Martha Bohen, a second-year computer science major at Chaffey College, stated that she was “encouraged to enroll in the UCR Game Jam by one of (her) professors.”

Some hackathon veterans praised the quality of UCR’s Jam. Emily Richardson, a fourth-year visual communications major at Cal Poly Pomona compared UCR’s Game Jam to UC Irvine’s. “UCR’s is better,” she judged, “they offered more food and a bigger building than UC Irvine’s.” Nine rooms were reserved in Winston Chung Hall for participants to work in and for workshops to be held. The rooms remained open for the duration of the 48 hours. Each room was spacious and perfect for the programmer’s laptops and other equipment.

During the opening ceremony, a series of videos promoted healthy tips to remind everyone to get plenty of sleep and take breaks.

According to the introduction video, it is not uncommon for participants to lose themselves in their work. By including these videos, the organizers hoped to maintain the fun aspect of the Jam and avoid seeing people overwork themselves. Those who came from neighboring communities were encouraged to bring sleeping bags and pillows. They were also allowed to use the showers at the gym. The introductory video also released the theme for the games this year: “repair.”

Teams formed and so began the planning phase, each with their own unique takes and twists. One group made a game where a wizard had to fix his spellbook to regain his spells. Another group designed a game where players were in charge of running a blacksmith’s shop.

Once an idea was settled on, the groups split up the roles based on each member’s strengths and interests. Roles usually include programmers, writers, artists, sound managers and modelers. One of the teams, Team Defense Team (TDT), however, consisted entirely of computer programmers. Since they lacked an artist, the art that they used for their game was purchased online rather than created on the spot. 

Veteran or greenhorn, the developers were all in good spirits and collaborative as they worked diligently in their groups. However, despite the health video show in the opening ceremony, there were still people who pulled at least one all-nighter that weekend. Every group had until 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 2, to turn in a finished product.

On Saturday, Game Jam veteran Daniel Martin, a cognitive science with a specialization in design and interaction major from UCSD, stated that he “stayed awake for 24 hours. Some people won’t even sleep until Sunday.”

While people can participate in hackathons online, attending the GGJ at a host school is special in that it is meant to encourage individuals to stay on-site. Participants could have experience in online game jams but the GGJ’s memorable aspects come from attending the event in person. The official Global Game Jam goes as far as to remark, “Participating in GGJ from home is sort of like listening to a tape recording of a concert. Yes, you can get the general idea, but it isn’t even close to the experience of being there in person.” 

The event was planned well before the arrival of the participants. Gamespawn organizers Yishan Luo, the event coordinator, and Yvette Chen, the outreach coordinator, admitted that they had been working on the details for this Game Jam for about a year. The sponsors that helped fund the event include companies like Adobe and Black Stone. Their careful planning and funding made it possible for them to provide everyone with free food. An assortment of timeframes were scheduled for the organizers to distribute breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the span of those few days. The food available at the eating sessions included Dominos Pizza, Subway sandwiches and burgers from The Habit. 

Throughout the weekend, participants could also attend workshops led by experts who helped with developing difficulties. In one of the workshops, “Intro to Unity,” participants were shown how to make a Flappy Bird clone from scratch. In “Team Collaboration,” tips were shared on how to function as a well-rounded team. On Saturday, Feb. 1, organizers held a “Chill Time.” Though this wasn’t technically a workshop, this gave participants a chance to unwind after hours of working on their games.

By noon that Saturday, many of the teams were making steady progress on game completion, working late into the night to avoid working at all on Sunday. By then, many games only needed final touches before being submitted. 

During the closing ceremony, each team presented their final products before giving a brief game demo. Though the games were short and simple, they all seemed to be operating to the point that they were playable. Once everyone had presented, every participant was given a free shirt that had a design of a girl surrounded by items that represented the common roles in game development teams. 

After the ceremony, groups were invited to present their final products. The presentations of each game brought delight to all the developers as everyone cheered on the results of everyone’s hard work. Then teams were encouraged to play each other’s games. None of the games were overly detailed but, nevertheless, participants were supportive of one another and proud of what they accomplished.

The event was not without faults, however. Diane Ngo, president of UCR’s Gamespawn, revealed that next year they “plan to make arrangements with the Student Rec Center prior to Game Jam.” This year, there was an issue with non-UCR participants being unable to access the gym showers without an escort from a UCR student so by talking about the situation with someone from the gym the organizers hope to avoid this problem next year.

Plans for printing and distributing parking permits were also discussed. Ngo noted that “some students had a hard time finding free parking during the weekend.” By distributing parking permits ahead of time, the coordinators hope to avoid this issue in the future.
Gamespawn is also offering other ways to get involved in game design on campus, such as through their Hacknights for video game projects every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Orbach 140 through February. They also hold workshops, socials and host guest speakers, all meant to supply knowledge and experience to students looking to enter the creative gaming world.

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