Game Jamming

looks at a type of competition that takes game development to the next level

Image: Pol Clarissou

Image: Pol Clarissou

2:22 AM is a game created by RoboCicero as part of a game jam on the theme of public access TV. It presents the player with a series of interesting vignettes, the order of which changes with every playthrough. The only instructions given for the game are:

An experience. Play alone. Play at night.

2:22 AM turns the player’s laptop into on old fashioned telly, complete with quivering colour bars and crackling static in the background. The first level I came across was a dream-like scene: in the centre of a dimly lit room, hovering above a small cubed platform was a replica of the moon. My movement had been restricted – all I could do was look around. I mistakenly thought that I heard voices coming from behind, and so stood completely still, refusing to turn around and see. After a short while the tension got to me, and I pressed the P key to move to the next scene.

The second scene was even darker. In this particular scene the player must perform the simple task of slicing up a sausage. However, having taken off the final slice of sausage, the knife remained suspended above the hand that had been holding it in place. So I clicked once more, and before the knife could slice through the hand the screen faded to black.

Between vignettes the user is shown short clips of seemingly mundane objects (a showerhead, a kettle boiling), however half two in the morning these only add to the creepiness of the experience.

2:22 AM is just one of many games created during a game jam. A game jam is effectively a game development competition sped up. Participants must create a game within a set time frame, and are often given a theme to work with. In the case of 2:22 AM participants were given a month to create games to the theme of ‘late night public broadcasting’. The requirements seem constricting at first, but actually help to channel the creativity of the participants.

Even the Stars is another example of a great game produced during a game jam. Pol Clarissou and his fellow developers were given two weeks to build games to the brief ‘the space cowboy’. The result is a beautiful game in which the player can travel the universe, with gameplay being a mix of text adventure and space flight simulator. The player’s time is spent travelling from planet to planet, stopping off here and there to examine abandoned cities, ruins, mushroom forests and the like. As time goes by, the little spaceship’s pilot grows old and eventually dies. At the end of the game, you’re presented with a map of your travels throughout the universe, which you can save as an image file if you like. Despite only lasting around fifteen minutes, Even the Stars is a poignant little game that is impressive when the context surrounding it’s creation is taken into account.

Game jams have become a great source of unique experiences such as 2:22 AM and Even the Stars. Competitions such as Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam, both of which give developers only 48 hours to come up with a game, are growing with people from across the world getting involved. At the last Global Game Jam, there were 28,837 registered participants, creating 5438 games between them.

After discovering these little gems, both of which are free, part of me wonders why gamers have to spend so much on titles that often don’t live up to the hype. Game jams show that it is possible to come up with brilliant games even with a deadline looming over the developers. It seems that as long as developers are given creative freedom, something new and exciting will be produced. While these may only result in indie games, to me, game jams across the world are an encouraging sign that game development is opening up rapidly.