Swinburne Games Lab Game Jam
“If the wheel is already invented, don’t reinvent it.” – a rule that Kevin Choo, a Games and Interactivity student from Swinburne University of Technology, deems as the most important rule in game jamming.
Kevin participated in the recent Swinburne Games Lab Winter Game Jam; a 48-hour event where aspiring game developing students join together in small groups to create and pitch a video game. Participants test their knowledge against one another to create the best game they can with as little resources as possible. And the most important resource is time.
“It is an experience dominated by the pressures of the time allocated. You have to search the mind for whatever parts you can find, in that short amount of time,” Mr Choo said. Kevin believes the time limit fashions a need for shortcuts and eliminates luxuries of thorough testing. Therefore, it is an environment where you are subject to your own and your group’s mental, and eventually, physical limits.
After attending the Winter Game Jam on Sunday 7th July, scheduled as the last night of the grueling weekend, I witnessed a mixture of around 30 students and colleagues gathered in a computer lab. They were divided between those frantically pacing the crowded room as they added the finishing touches to their game, and others who watched helplessly as a game-breaking bug was replayed over and over again.
A platformer game revealed its level design by shooting sand with the use of fluid touch controls on the iPhone system; a multiplayer tablet and PC war was waged between an angel and a demon; and a player was encouraged to enter an ethereal form to possess enemies in order to survive. The products of the jam did not seem anything like my anticipation of Superman 64 renditions.
These games, amongst others, were all created and pitched in 48 hours and, although they may not have been as polished as each group would have liked, definitely had proven to show potential.
A family reunion
It would not be far off to liken the event to a family reunion. As agitated as the environment was portrayed, there was a strong sense of togetherness. And unlike the family reunion analogy, every group agreed that the weekend was actually fun.
“It was inspiring to see you all commit to this in the spirit you did. Great outcomes, and more importantly, a great sense of community” posted Andrew Trevillian, current lecturer for the Games and Interactivity course at Swinburne University of Technology and a former Senior Designer at Bluetongue Entertainment, on the Winter Game Jam organising Facebook event page.
Whilst I was waiting in a small lecture theatre along with participants awaiting the results and, in turn, allocation of prizes (movie tickets ‘disguised’ in new Macbook Pro packaging), it was inspiring to witness such an amalgamation of like-minded passionate videogame developers celebrating not only as students and colleagues but as friends and members of a tight-knit community.
Creating a stronger community
It is this encouragement and opportunity of working together that events like the Winter Game Jam help contribute to the strength and future development of the future of videogames in Melbourne and around the world, Mr Trevillian said.
“My students work in groups on projects throughout the semester, but putting them in these pressure cooking situations allows them to galvanize relationships with the peers that they’re working with and strengthen those relationships through practice.
“This is crucial to their learning, moving out into an industry where things happen quite quickly.
“So the stronger the relationships are with the people that they will go on to work with – their future employees, employers, friends and/or contractors – the more productive those relationships are, and the stronger the industry will be when these guys start common practicing.”
Adding to the culture
Swinburne University of Technology Games Lab and the Swinburne Games Lab Winter Game Jam are but a part of the Melbourne-wide culture, embedded with the drive to promote growth in strong game development communities.
As Neil Rennison, founder of Tin Man Games, told Pocketgamer.biz, it is the close community extended in Melbourne’s entire development scene that no doubt is a crucial part of the success of Melbourne’s indie and mobile prowess.
“We’ve been helped by the growing participation in the indie dev scene by people like Tony Reed at the GDAA who have embraced the new start-up culture in the city and do so much to help the smaller teams as well as the big companies.
“Add to that the amazing efforts of Giselle Rosman, who tirelessly runs – voluntarily, I might add – the Melbourne International Game Developers Association (IGDA) chapter, which is such a champion to all the local devs, enabling us to meet up and share our thoughts, ideas, successes and failures.”
To complement the praise, it is of no surprise that Giselle herself made an appearance as a judge on the night. She was joined alongside a panel of other influential figures in the industry, which included Andrew; Steven Conway, a Senior Lecturer in Games and Interactivity at Swinburne University of Technology; Harry Kaloyirou, an Associate Producer at Twiitch; and Harry Lee, Co-director of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival and an independent developer at Wanderlands (you can read more about Harry here).
Originally created to provide a fun experience for fellow classmates by students Nicholas McDonnell and Josh Sommerfeld, the Swinburne Games Lab Game Jams have proven to participate in and project the powerful and rich culture Melbourne’s videogame industry has to offer.