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Global Game Jam: A Sleepless Weekend Making Games...

IndieCity community manager Scott MacKintosh takes us through the 48 hour development jam

Global Game Jam came to a close last weekend, with some 1500 games created by over 6500 participants over 48 hours. A passionate and productive event, GamesIndustry.biz asked Scott MacKintosh, community manager for IndieCity, for an insight into the frontline organisation and sleep-deprived development process...

If you know any indie devs, students or people that tend to spend evenings and weekends tinkering with game engines or code, then you might have some idea of what I went through last weekend. The Global Game Jam is an annual get-together of developers, designers, artists, amateurs, professionals and students. Participants work in teams to produce a complete game in 48 hours, based upon a given theme. Time and resources are limited, but creativity is in plentiful supply.

From a couple of people in a Polish bedroom to hundreds of jammers at the Nordic Game Jam in Denmark, jam sites can be hosted by anybody with the urge to form a gathering. You can specify if your venue is open to all, will be available for the entire 48 hours, even down to whether you'll be supplying food. You're not pressured to put on any level of grandeur for a jam, the act of hosting even the smallest of events is celebrated.

However, one of the major problems for hosts is finding a suitable venue. The venue should, ideally, stay open for the full 48 hours, have good internet connectivity and be able to power all the equipment people bring along. If you're hosting a small jam in your house then there's no problem, but when you want to cater for more than a handful of people any number of problems spring up. We were lucky to have found great hosts in Birmingham City University, which has run similar events in the past. This experience was a great help in tackling any pitfalls that could have affected the smooth running of our event.

Even once you've got that major hurdle out of the way, though, there's still a lot of organising to do. Blitz Games Studios supported me with a great team of people who sorted us out with sponsorship from bluegfx and Audiomotion. This meant we were able to provide food, snacks and drinks for the jammers over the weekend, as well as some great t-shirts and goodie bags.

Registration of participants was all arranged via the Global Game Jam website. It contains all the information that jammers and organisers alike will need, and if any further complications arise the main organisational team is fantastic at answering questions. They even host weekly IRC meetings for organisers to attend and ask any questions they may have, and logs of the conversations are posted online afterwards so everybody has access to the information.

The start of the actual event came around pretty quickly, and before I knew it we were piling boxes, bags and bodies into the back of the car, hoping to get to the venue before the participants. As it turns out, jammers are a keen bunch and they arrived earlier than we'd anticipated, but we happily managed to kick off the jam early. We had a short talk by Andrew Wilson of Birmingham City University and Philip Oliver of Blitz Games before showing the keynote speech and revealing the theme for the weekend. The main Global Game Jam organisers keep both keynote and theme pretty secret until the last minute, so no one knew the guest speaker for this year was Keita Takahashi – who took an abstract look at design methods – or the theme of the jam: extinction.

The groups formed rapidly, with a team from Nottingham Trent University Dev Society coming pre-established and a group specialising in board games eager to get started. The rest drifted and merged together naturally and had just sat down to their brainstorms when we interrupted with an impressive mountain of pizza. We sat happily eating and chatting, breaking the ice and starting the weekend off on a great note. I managed to stick with the design and development until 6am, when my brain short-circuited and I had to get a couple of hours sleep.

I awoke to some teams having fully-functioning games already at hand – which was impressive considering the timeframe and lack of sleep. The room was decidedly silent by the middle of Saturday morning, only being disturbed when the board game team returned from their full night's sleep. The day continued in a Red Bull induced blur, barely stopping for the next mammoth pizza delivery.

Come Sunday there were people sleeping on desks, under tables, on beanbags or hunting for another cup of tea. 3pm snuck up on the teams as they tried to finish up their games. Last minute bug fixes, features... even level designs needed completing urgently. Once the deadline came, the games were uploaded and a sigh of relief swept through the room. Jammers wandered between groups to catch up on progress and anecdotes, sharing their experiences and feelings as the weekend drew to a close.

A panel of judges examined the games; Paul Taylor of Mode 7 Games, Daniel Jones of Binary Tweed and our very own IndieCity, Andrew Wilson and Mark Sharma of Birmingham City University, with joint winners being announced as Faceless and Retro Revenge. Faceless was a team consisting of design and programming students from Birmingham City University, along with one professional. Retro Revenge was made up of Nottingham Trent University Dev Society students.

The event was hailed as a huge success by organisers and attendees alike, with the students gaining experience in teamwork on a practical project with multiple disciplines and amateurs gaining new skills and making some contacts along the way.

Nearly a week later and I haven't recovered fully. I'm getting too old for this, but I will definitely be going back and doing it again next year. The Global Game Jam is a great experience for students, professionals and those who have never made a game in their lives. If you're looking for a wonderfully creative atmosphere surrounding fantastic people, then here it is.

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