Dustin Steinhoff, Staff Writer
Coders, artists, video game designers, and video game enthusiasts from around the St. Louis area gathered at UMSL last weekend for the Global Game Jam, an event that challenges professionals, hobbyists and newcomers alike to come together and create a working game over the course of a single weekend.
The 2018 St. Louis Global Game Jam ran from January 26 to January 28 and took place on the third floor of the Millennium Student Center. The Century Rooms were open for the duration of the weekend and participants were allowed to leave or stay for as long as they pleased over the course of 48 hours.
In order to encourage creativity, each Game Jam has a theme that the participants must incorporate into their games. The theme for this event was “transmission.” This theme inspired a wide variety of unique games.
One of the groups participating in the event was a six-person team of professionals called Jokes Too Far. The members of Jokes Too Far participate in Global Game Jams to have fun and challenge themselves. Their game focused on a satellite sending transmissions from one point to another, but also implemented music into the gameplay to create a more dynamic experience.
“Every time you send a transmission, it adds a track to the music that is currently playing,” explains Mark Hall, a member of Jokes Too Far. “The more transmissions you send, the more fleshed out the music gets.”
Bryan Maynard and Sarah Blankenship created a game that Maynard describes as, “a creepy pick-up game.” The game centers around collecting lettered cubes spelling out messages that someone is trying to transmit to the player, with the initial message as a cryptic “HELP.”
While the majority of games made at the event are digital, participants are also able to create physical games consisting of boards or cards. Alexius Gandy, graduate, management information systems, has been attending the Game Jam since 2015. This year, Gandy brought her niece to participate in the event. Together, they created a matching card game called Mission Match.
With the Game Jam’s limited timeframe, the creators are always racing the clock, trying to get their game to a playable state before the event ends, presenting challenges and sometimes causing things to get overlooked. Jacob Taylor, an UMSL alumni that majored in computer science, recalls an oversight that occurred due to late-night coding.
“We were creating code to shoot projectiles and suddenly it was spawning thousands of these projectiles and crashing the Unity editor,” Taylor explained. “We had not set some things up correctly to destroy the projectiles once they collided.”
While the Game Jam’s time limitation can bring some stress, some participants find it to be a motivator to finish their game on time and make sure the scope of the game they want to make is doable in the time frame that is given.
“The time restraint is really good for trying new things, but forcing limited scope,” Maynard said. “When I am working on my own games outside of here, scope is a big problem. I never start out wanting to make ‘Final Fantasy,’ but somehow it always gets to that point. The time limit is really helpful to maintain focus.”
Many participants took the Game Jam as a chance to learn more about programs and gain experience working out of their comfort zones.
“[The Game Jam] is a good way to challenge yourself as a developer, pick up new skills as an artist, or make music,” Hall said.
In addition to the technical skills being put to use and learned, the Game Jam can also teach useful skills like communication and organization.
“This is an opportunity to work with people you do not know and to work towards a goal,” Gandy said. “With all of these events, you can learn and build upon your academic standing by participating and by fully being present in the event. We will all get better and learn through this event.”
On Sunday afternoon, the games were submitted and, as a weekend of hard work, game-breaking bugs, and aching fingers ended, all the participants can sit back and appreciate their finished products.