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On your marks, get set – jam!

Posted by on 04/12/2018

For the love of the game … jammers collaborate at this year’s Global Game Jam in Melbourne. Jammers hard at work on their creations.

Making modern computer games is a big business. Large creative teams, in some cases several hundred strong, may labour on a single game for years at a time.

One movement, however, is challenging the industry norm. During an annual weekend-long event held around the world, the Global Game Jam challenges game creators to conceive, design, build, test and deliver a complete game, all within 48 hours.

Game Jam 2013 was officially opened at 5pm last Friday, when a diverse mix of professional computer game designers and amateur hobbyists gathered in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne – and then later in Adelaide and Perth – for the unveiling of 2013’s Game Jam theme: the creative seed from which every participant must work.

While previous themes had been simple words and phrases, 2012’s was more abstract: an image of the Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail.

True to that image’s symbolism, the games produced that year were centred on life and death, cycles and rebirth.

For 2013, the gathered participants, or ”jammers”, collectively furrowed their brows as the theme was revealed – not a phrase, nor even an image, but a sound: the soft rhythm of a human heartbeat. Deep in thought, the jammers walked to their work areas and began two full days of intense creativity.

Some worked alone, some in tight-knit teams, and others in groups of opportunity that had formed between strangers only that afternoon.

For many participants, the Game Jam venue would be their home for the remainder of the weekend. Organisers provide computer equipment, meals and shower facilities, and those attending are advised to ”pack as if you’re going camping”. Late at night, assorted jammers can be seen sleeping on inflatable mattresses or curled up on the floor under their work desks.

To those outside this community, such an intensive event might seem baffling. Why dedicate a hurried and breathless 48 hours to rushing a computer game through a complete creative process that usually takes months, or even years?

The organiser of Melbourne Game Jam for the past three years, Giselle Rosman, cites the event’s core values. ”The key ideals behind the jam are innovation, collaboration and experimentation,” she says. ”This is the fifth Global Game Jam, Sydney’s fourth and Melbourne’s third, and I am always amazed when I see what the jammers create. I love seeing the original ideas these teams come up with, then they work together.”

Speaking at midnight on the second day of the event, with two-thirds of the strict time limit already passed, Rosman is exhausted. In Melbourne 130 people took part, all of whom needed to be fed, hydrated and washed. ”Breakfast tomorrow is 180 eggs and eight kilos of bacon,” Rosman says, counting out items on her fingers. ”Dinner tonight was 40 kilos of roast lamb and 14 salads. Dinner last night was 72 pizzas.”

Despite the organisational headaches, Rosman is content. ”It’s a magical event to be a part of,” she says. ”We provide working space, food and drink, then say to the jammers, ‘You don’t have to worry about any of that – just go and make some lovely games.”’

For Michael Irving, this Game Jam is a baptism of fire. As a fledgling computer games journalist, Irving covered the 2012 event as a reporter but was so impressed by what he saw that he decided to become a participant the following year. Late on the Saturday night, with Sunday’s deadline looming, he reminisces on what inspired him to become a jammer.

”For a long time I’ve been interested in making some kind of interactive fiction,” he says. ”It’s something I’ve attempted in the past, but it never turned out as I wanted and I never finished it. I figured I could either keep on thinking about it and never actually do it, or commit to the Game Jam and see if the tight framework would push me in the way I needed.” Irving smiles wearily and adds: ”That deadline is providing the kick in the pants that I need to get this done.”

On Sunday afternoon, following a New Year’s Eve-like countdown to the official end of Game Jam, the remarkable fruits of this massive creative endeavour are shared.

Together, Sydney and Melbourne have produced almost 70 complete games, and the community buzzes with enthusiasm as participants play with each other’s work.

The interpretations of the theme range from the literal to the extremely abstract. In one, the player is shown a stylised heart complete with arteries and flowing blood, and given the task of fighting off viruses and blasting away choking cholesterol. In another, a cartoonish astronaut navigates a maze in which deadly hazards appear and disappear in time with a constant heartbeat.

Tone also varies. One solo effort is text-only, interactive stream-of-consciousness writing, a disquieting peek inside a disturbed mind. This contrasts starkly with a game in which the player controls a man whose arm has been severed, and who uses jets of squirting blood to both jump and attack monsters.

Over a hard-earned drink on Sunday night, Rosman muses on her experiences. ”I have trouble remembering exactly how I got into this job, how I came to say yes to such a crazy thing,” she says. ”At the end of the event, though, I always end up wanting to do it again.”

The games created during the weekend can be played at globalgamejam杭州夜网/games/2013.

James “DexX” Dominguez is Fairfax Media’s gaming blogger. Read Screen Play here.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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