As part of the university’s first Game Jam, current and prospective students participated in a friendly gaming competition that challenged them not only to play video games, but to create them. The university is planning another Game Jam in late October, an exciting and spooky opportunity for students to create Halloween-themed games.
September 20, 2022
Last summer, Myles Allan ’24 was working at a kennel, and his experiences inspired his creativity in what might have been an unexpected way: developing an 8-bit horror video game. Welcome to DogHaven was born – and eventually won the best game award at the university’s inaugural Game Jam event.
The game’s development was an interdisciplinary collaboration between Allan and some of his friends from a Building Games and Stories course he took in the spring semester. Allan wrote the game and did most of the level design, and his classmates worked on the program and created the music. He says getting their game recognized at Game Jam later this summer was a “huge personal achievement.
“I loved making a game with complete creative freedom,” continued Allan, who is studying English. “I’ve made quite a few indie games in my classes, but there were usually limitations on themes and structure, so it was great to have free rein to create whatever type of game I wanted. I’ve also enjoyed working with people of different talents and fields and learning how different people bring different things to the game development process. Learning to create something in a strict time frame was fun.”
“I was really overwhelmed”
An immersive and exciting virtual experience, Game Jam allowed participants – dubbed “Jammers” – to spend 48 hours creating their own video games. With the motto “Back to School”, the event aimed to be a fun and collaborative experience for students with a passion for games, including those developing a game for the first time.
“The Game Jam was an opportunity for us to build a community of people interested in making games in a limited time and based on a theme,” said Shaily Menon, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Sciences at the University and Vice Dean for Interdisciplinary Initiatives. “It allowed participants who didn’t know each other to form teams and then work together and engage each other in problem solving and rapid prototyping and testing of solutions. These are types of skills that students need to use more often as they encounter and tackle global and complex problems.”
The event, held just before the start of the fall semester, included high school students as well as incoming freshmen and returnees. At the end of the virtual event, four games were recognized for Best Artistic Game Design, Most Creative Game Design, Best Game Coding/Programming, and Best Overall Game.
“The Office of the Provost has enjoyed supporting the development of new programs in areas that match student interest with faculty experience and the needs of local industry,” said Christine Shakespeare, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Policy and program coordinator. “The success of the first Game Jam shows that we can push into new disciplines where innovation lies ahead and where we as a university need to move quickly.”
Attendees also heard from members of the university community, including Bryson Gundry, an esports resident practitioner and assistant coach. He brought his esports background and passion for gaming to the table. He also managed the Discord platform that hosted the event – and most of the game jams and esports. He wanted to create a welcoming place for beginners, especially as many of the jammers had no game development experience.
“I was really blown away by the quality and effort that each group of students put into their games,” he said. “The games had stories, characters and even soundtracks, all of which were unique, and I could see the amount of time and effort each group of students put into creating these games. It was great to see students with different strengths in specific areas coming together to create a cohesive, definitive and playable game at the end.”
“The Building Blocks for Her Career”
As part of the event, students were divided into teams, in many cases with people they had never worked with before, to create a new game. As with Allan’s team, the event encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration and allowed students with different backgrounds, skills and interests to bring their passions and talents to the development of their games.
“There are different teams looking for a variety of different roles, whether it’s in game design, music design, story design, or even artistic design,” explains Gundry. “If a student is interested in making games, designing games, or even making music, they should attend. This is a great opportunity, even for students with no prior gaming experience, and there are many resources available to help them.”
Striving to make gaming fun, exciting and inclusive, the university offers four distinct and distinct curriculum options: an MS in Esports Business, which is offered entirely online and is taught based on the professional experiences of many (industry-based) faculty members in program; a focus on game design and development as part of the BS in Computer Science; a BS in Esports and Gaming; and a BA in Game Development and Interactive Media (starting Fall 2023) that will bring together students from a variety of disciplines to study the many intersecting dimensions of esports and games, such as Music, Illustration, English, Sociology, Psychology, Health Sciences and economy. On the extracurricular side of college life, one of the largest and most robust student organizations on campus at the student-run Esports Club.
“The Game Jam concept is a fantastic way to show students the experiences they will have at university,” said Matthew Fleischer, Associate Director of Student Admissions, who attended the event. “From an admissions perspective, we are talking about students with different interests and experiences. These students had the opportunity to create their own games and collaborate with current developers and professionals in the field. Game Jam provided a great understanding of how their education will form the building blocks of their careers and future.”
“Video games are an amalgamation of all kinds of art”
The Game Jam also featured industry professionals and developers who shared their expertise and advice, worked with the student groups, provided technical support while they learned to code, and helped them build a community during the event. Industry experts included Philip Levine, associate professor at the university, and Nate Lombardi, founder of online magazine Comic Book Curious.
It was Allan, the English major, who initially invited Lombardi to attend. Allan interned at Lombardi over the summer, helping with the online magazine’s social media, writing articles for Lombardi’s website and networking with esports teams across the country.
“I was thrilled to be part of a talented group of students,” said Lombardi. “I learned a hell of a lot from the other mentors.”
The university is planning another game jam for this fall. Scheduled for October 29th and 30th, the event will have a Halloween theme. Allan is already looking forward to participating and looking forward to creating something new with his teammates.
“I’m a writer studying English, so I’ve always been passionate about storytelling,” said Allan, who hopes to develop a new game as part of his thesis. “For me, gaming is the next level of literature after the film and television age. Video games are an amalgamation of all kinds of art: design, storytelling, modeling, acting, programming, and myriad other roles. I love how games push the boundaries of art and media and tell stories in unique ways.”