The Global Game Jam was one of the coolest events I’ve ever participated in. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, “Game Jam” refers to the gathering of game developers for the purpose of planning, designing, and creating video games in a short period of time. Most game jams happen over the course of a weekend. This particular jam was called the Global Game Jam because people from all over the world were encouraged to participate. People setup event sites in their local area that other game jammers can join and attend. In Montreal alone there were 4 or 5 jam sites that you could go to.
A link to all of our games:
Chas and Ian: https://globalgamejam.org/2014/games/resonance
Me, Zach, and Jak: https://globalgamejam.org/2014/games/lotus
The location I went to was The Montreal Game Jam hosted in the École de technologie supérieure (School for superior technology, or ETS). We arrived to the game jam a little behind schedule so of course the place was already packed with people. In total about 140 designers, developers and creators joined in just this one location. Everyone participated and worked together; from game hobbyists to professionals to students. All were equally involved and on the same playing field.
At about 6:30 PM the introduction and keynote began in an auditorium. We were in Montreal, so of course almost everything was in French. Thankfully they had little slides in English highlighting important information. Most game jams revolve around a theme of some sort. This theme can be anything from a certain sound, quote, movie,- what have you. The entire introduction ceremony was preparation for revealing the theme that the entire globe would also have. The suspense was pretty intense. After several keynote speeches from industry professionals (that were actually in English, huzzah!), and the rules, regulations, and guidelines were disclosed, we were all ready for the theme. And this year’s game jam theme would be…
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
Wait what? Certainly a very deep and meaningful theme, but we didn’t have too much time to worry about it yet, because we had to form teams! The team marketplace as it was called was super confusing (not helped by everyone speaking French). I was with my group of friends and we had two options. Go by ourselves or form our own team. What hit me even harder was the fact that I might be working with strangers. People who I’ve never met before in my entire life. We would come together to create a game. That was a crazy feeling. It was a mixture of anxiousness, butterflies, excitement, and fear.
We had no idea what we were doing, though. Ryan, Chas, and Ian wanted to join random teams and work with completely new people while Zach, Jak, and myself weren’t sure. Our lack of decision made our decision for us. The three of us who weren’t sure ended up wasting too much time making a decision and we formed a team together. While we formed our team the others who were team-less lined up by their profession with a bunch of other people and given a number. People with the same number were grouped together and that was their team! A little bit into team forming two programmers came up to us and asked us three if we would want to work with them. Thankfully they both spoke English really well because we do not speak French. Our team now consisted of two French programmers; Guy and Fredric, two artists, Zach and myself, and Jak taking over design. Once we decided we registered our team with the staff and started brainstorming ideas!
After several hours of bouncing ideas off of each other, we finally decided on our first idea: a game based on how a child sees and interacts with their toys in a playful environment. Awesome! We all stayed at the jam working until about 4AM. The 6 of us decided to take the 30 minute walk back to the dorm with all our computers and equipment in the freezing cold to catch some sleep before we start it all over again in a couple of hours. We could have slept in the auditorium but this option did not appeal to us. Waking up bright and early the same morning — nearly 11:00AM — we headed back into the madness. Everyone working elbow to elbow on their games.
Everyone seemed very lively, considering most of them got less or even no sleep the previous night. Talk was high and spirits were even higher. This is the spirit of the game jam after all! I continued to pump out art for the game, working closely with Zach. Several hours of working produced some really good results. We had some environmental art done, the programmers were programming and the designer was designing. Everything was perfect. But of course then we hit a slump. It was maybe midnight or so. The time was already starting to meld together. We’d been there for 12 hours and we were running out of fuel and energy drinks. I myself had several Mountain Dews, Red Bulls, and Iced Teas to power me through the night thus far, but they were already taking their toll. We lost the idea and scope of our game. It was turning out to be no fun at all. On top of that, our two programmer friends slowly lost hope. They ended up leaving our game and creating their own game, which was fine. We didn’t blame them because of how terrible our brain child was turning out. They still sat next to us and provided good company for the remainder of the event, so that was nice.
At 2AM we weren’t sure what to do. We continued working though. I animated our main character that Zach had dreamed up and created some props, while Jak was now taking over the burden of two programmers that fizzled out.
We spent a long time watching a pendulum that was next to our table area. It was mesmerizing. It goes around the circle once every 33 hours or so based on the earth’s rotation. When it passes an element on the periodic table of elements it lights it up. It does this all the way around the circle until it gets back to the beginning. We gave a couple of cheers when it occasionally light up the next light on the circle. At 3 AM everything was awesome! We worked throughout the night with zero sleep. I admit I dozed off at the desk a couple of times though, but sitting up in wooden chairs with a desk for a pillow didn’t exactly allow me to get any sleep. We worked and worked and worked until 6AM when breakfast came out. Just some cereal and bagels, but our first meal in a long time. It was delicious. With this new fire in our belly we contemplated our situation.
Our game was still overwhelmingly awful. How the heck can we fix it?
“Multiplayer! Multiplayer games are fun! What else is fun? Shooting games! Shooting games are entertaining!”
But we were quickly running out of time and we were all tired. Was it a good idea to change our entire game? We had nothing to lose! We changed it from a boy having an imaginary adventure to a multiplayer battle arena. We dropped the theme in hopes of discovering something actually enjoyable. AWESOME! Zach and myself scraped probably in total 10 hours of artwork we had made for our old game. Those characters and animations we made? Gone and useless. Several of our props and environment pieces? Useless! But that’s the fun part! We had about 15 hours left in the jam and time was going fast. But who cares? This is what game jams are all about! Having fun! After a handful of hours in a slump we broke free!
With this new idea of a battle arena, we got a second wind. New characters were made and implemented. New user interfaces were created. Jak did some programming magic to make our game awesome! We continued working hard. I stopped drinking sugary energy drinks for a valid concern of my wellbeing. I switched to water. The deadline was fast approaching. We would occasionally check in with our friends and their progress. We still needed to polish the game. Last minute additions were added. Music, sound effects, and a quick tutorial screen. Everyone around us was wrapping up their own games too. 3:00 PM arrived. We had all been awake for about 30 hours or so and we were exhausted. But we were done, and we pulled it together to create a seemingly fun game. Was it fun? We were to find out soon enough.
Judges came around to judge and critique the games. They were all industry professionals working at big companies like EA, Ubisoft, Eidos, and many more. Two of them played our game, and really liked it. “This style of game is going to be hard to match” they said. Our hopes were really high. After they were done playing our game they went off and talked quietly with eachother, marking notes on their clipboard. It was terrifying to see them writing and scribbling comments about a game we had basically thrown together and changed so many times over a couple of hours. All of our work boiling down to one moment. During this time other people came over to test our game, too! They had heard it was really neat to play!
The feeling that other people liked the game we created was one of the best and most accomplishing feelings I’ve ever felt. It was truly one of a kind. They were having fun with something I helped build! Giddy is only a little bit of what I was feeling; exhaustion is another.
We ventured around the building, stopping to chat with people here and there about their games. Everyone’s games were really impressive. Most of them fun and creative! But wait, we’re still not done! We need to go to the judging ceremony! After hanging out and chatting with other developers for a couple of hours, we all went to the debriefing at 6:30. Of course this was also all in French, so we had a hard time following along. At the ceremony the judges introduced themselves to everyone. Each set of judges had to choose their favorite game out of all the ones they judged. Lots of French was spoken, and I didn’t quite understand most of it. But when I saw the folks who critiqued our game get up on stage, I got really excited. What if we win? What if we get a prize? Our game could do it. It’s really neat! After our judges were done their spiel they got down to the nitty gritty. Naming off names of games. Talking about how all the games they saw were really awesome and impressive (Some of the judges spoke English, so that was helpful). THEY SAID OUR NAME! But what did it mean? It was in French, did we win anything? I’m not sure! I wait for a little bit. I look at Jak and Zach. They’re not sure either. A couple of seconds pass. It feels like an eternity. The judges stop naming off names. Should we go up to the stage? They continue on. Turns out we got a notable mentions, but didn’t actually win. BUT THAT’S STILL AWESOME! We got a notable mentions in a country we’ve only been in for a couple of weeks, surrounded by people who speak French, pitted against probably 20 other games. SWEET! We still got a prize, too! We went up on the stage, and got to choose a couple of video games and blu-rays we could leave with.
We hung out for a bit after talking with some of the other people there. We packed up our stuff and made the long, cold walk home. We ended up being awake for about 38 hours straight, only getting a total of 4 hours sleep between Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I’ve never felt more at home than at the Montreal Game Jam. It was an awesome experience. I was thrown out of my comfort zone and I learned so much and had way more fun than I thought I would.
– Matthew Therrien, Game Art Major, Spring 2014