There is one place in Europe where herds of people rush in to get the chance to play the newest games each year. This magical place has booths, freebies, food, plenty of lines and for the first time ever it was also the place we hosted our recent GameJam.
Yup, that’s right, this past week we hosted the very first Jam at Gamescom! It was busy, crowded and noisy but plenty of fun and I got to experience how three teams battled it out to create a playable game in 96 hours. Perhaps for some this doesn’t seem like a long time but trust me, at the biggest European trade show of its kind participants had bigger things to worry about. Teams combated sleep, hunger and one another as they created their quick masterpieces based on the theme of childhood games. Of course, like always, we gave the competitors food and plenty of energy drinks to keep them going and most importantly awake. However, in the end there could only be one first place… Nevertheless, the overall winners were the guests and participants who took away the experience and bragging rights of competing. Yet, before we go on describing and praising the winning game it’d be best to give you an inside look of the event includingthe challenges and details. Like, what exactly is a GameJam anyway?
Opposite of what the name might suggest, a GameJam isn’t a gathering of gamers playing to see which one can stay awake the longest. On the contrary, it is an event where a team of developers and graphic artists unite with the purpose of making an awesome game in a limited time. This means: no sleep, little energy and full concentration for what seems (paradoxically) an eternity and flashing moment. The purpose of a GameJam is to show spectators the creative and technical process of creating a video game. It is in the spirit of education and appreciation of games that we host events like this and to give developers and artists a platform to highlight their skills. Unfortunately for our teams this particular GameJam had specific outside factors that were unique to the venue and that proved to be obstacles in their creation.
If you have ever been at Gamescom you know how loud it can get…people are excited to be playing new games for the first time but the long lines harbor a special kind of anger and noise. Add to this the swarm of individual conversations, shouts, music and announcements and you have an environment louder than a pre-teen concert. Unfortunately for our teams the booth also had the misfortune of being placed next to the Techno Forever booth. As you can imagine we worked with an unhealthy doze of techno music at ear-tearing volumes throughout the day. Thankfully for me (and the teams) someone created ear plugs otherwise I would be deaf by now… This wasn’t the only obstacle between the teams and their concentration however. Adding to the over-the-top noise were the visits of politicians, journalists and curious Gamescom attendees. Creating games in 96 hours requires a lot of mental strength and self-control but when you add outside factors like the ones our teams faced, it can be almost impossible to remain disciplined. Thankfully the teams beat the odds and all of them released a playable version by the second day.
Even though I was impressed by the team’s ability to remain dedicated in their work (I couldn’t have given the circumstances) what fascinated me the most was how different each game was. Despite having a fixed theme each team unveiled surprisingly diverse games, ranging in graphics and playing styles. For me this demonstrated the ingenious originality that goes into making games. It also added to visitors‘ curiosity as they enjoyed watching the progression, one game even changed from its initial theme into 2d sandbox game in two days. When all was said and done the participants finished three games: Toy Hunt (download executable), Haunted House (playable online) and Pillow Castle (download executable) .. All their work and effort payed out on Sunday afternoon when the teams released their final versions and the winner was announced. In my head the lights dimmed, the crowd silenced and Toy Hunt was crowned the winner of this GameJam.
I can imagine by now you must be very curious as to how each game was different. Don’t you fret, I will give you all the juicy details: Each game was created with a particular concept in mind, each reflecting the individuality of each group. The team behind „haunted house“ centered their game around a classic situation: three kids trying to retrieve their soccer ball after it crashed into a haunted mansion.
The player has to maneuver through the house using the different skills of each character while fending of ghosts. On the other hand, the creators of „Pillow Castle“ created a game with the plot of a child with an overactive imagination whom creates a fantasy world with his sister as the main villain.
The purpose of the game is to fend the price in the castle (cookies) from the sister by building a castle from found objects . The winning game, „Toy Hunt“ had a different theme with simplicity and competition being the main focus.
You have two teams (one boy and one girl) with a sandbox and the main goal is to collect more toys than the other team in your own sandbox. Your character gets slower as more toys are in your hands in order to increase competition.
As you can tell I had a blast at Gamescom, enjoying the booths and watching as the teams created their games from scratch. It was very interesting and I hope to go again next year, only this time with the hope that it will be bigger.