Gotta work fast: Programmers, artists unite in 48 hour Game Jam

February 20, 2016 - 3:29pm
Team Ham Jam participates in the 4th University of Saskatchewan Game Jam competition.
Lasia Kretzel/CKOM News
Team Ham Jam participates in the 4th University of Saskatchewan Game Jam competition.

With computers in front of them and sleeping bags behind, University of Saskatchewan students compete to create the best video game in 48 hours.

For two days, students from a variety of disciplines worked, ate and sometimes slept in the university computer labs to create a unique game from scratch in the fourth Game Jam competition. Judges then rate the games and award prizes based on best art, best portrayal of the competition's theme, and best game over all.

"Like a music jam, when a band gets together and plays together and sees what happens, this is similar. Just a bunch of artists coming together and seeing what happens," co-organizer Jason Bowey said.

Third year computer science student Clinton Galbraith and his team Ham Jam productions have participated in every Game Jam so far.

"It's a good way to practice making whole complete programs which we don't really do in school," Galbraith said.

He said the team's first two hours of planning involve a lot of yelling as they clamor to get their ideas written down on the white board. They then use their unique skills to bring the programming, animation and music to life.

While a participant's goal is to create a game, the event is also meant to develop the local gaming community. Organizers even provide a novice programming engine so non-programmers can participate without having to know much, if any coding.

Ham Jam's Brooklyn Bitner is majoring in studio art, but she's always had a passion for video games. For the past four competitions, she's used her talents to bring her team's games to visual life.

"Gallery art isn't my style. I like actually seeing my art moving around and people actually get to play with it instead of just stare at it," she said, adding the time limit is the greatest challenge. "It pushes the limits to see how fancy I came make something in so short a time."

Because of the fast deadline, most of the games are simple two dimensional platform games.

"No one will be making Call of Duty, but this is a good opportunity to just throw together some ideas and see if your idea's fun," Bowey said. "Nothing will be polished perfectly, but it's a good starting point for getting a prototype done."

In keeping with this competition's theme of humanity for versus machines, Ham Jam has created a game where players must figure out who among them is an android and then they have five minutes to destroy the robot or lose.

Some teams, such as Noodlecake, have gone on to form full production studios. Bowey hopes other games could end up on digital commercial platforms where people around the world can buy them.

Once the computers have been powered down and competitors have caught up on their sleep, their games will be available on the Game Jam website for the public to play free of charge.