Pearl Jam [May 29, 30, 31 (Thur, Fri, Sat)]

From Thursday to Saturday marked one of the biggest events of the study abroad, the game jam. The jam was to be held in the University’s GamesLab and would have all of us RIT students working with the German students together. About 60 students showed up to the event, a number that astounded me. We were given the topic of “trans-Atlantic friendship” with an emphasis on something for small screens. We were broken off into small groups of 3 or 4 to first brainstorm potential game ideas with this theme in mind. My group came up with the idea that I would eventually end up working on for the jam. After brainstorming time, each group put their idea on the board and everyone voted for their favorite ideas. The few with the most votes then had teams built around them via volunteering, with slight adjustments made to try and balance both American and German students per team, and programmers and artists per team.

It was then that we all began to get with our teams to start hacking out our game. My team’s game was the aforementioned brainstormed one, Food Friends. The idea was that one of the biggest ways to share culture with those from another country is through food. So the premise of the game is you have iconic food from various countries falling from the top of the screen and people form different countries (denoted by wearing flags of their country as capes) on the bottom eating the food. You have to ensure that you the people eat food NOT from their country (so as to encourage sharing food of cultures) otherwise the person would get fat and explode. A rather simple game fit for smartphones and the like.

This was the first game jam I ever participated in, so I had no idea what I was in for. We had 5 American students and 3 German students, and likewise 5 of us were programmers. I immediately identified that it would be an issue for us to have so many programmers on a game that was likely to be simple to program. The first issue began with us trying to decide what to make our game in. Though all programmers, the skill sets in what programs and languages we are comfortable using differed widely between us. For some reason we initially decided to work in Unity 2D despite none of us knowing how to use it. This ended up being a practice in futility, and after a few hours of nothing we ended up swapping to HTML5 canvas with Javascript. Only me and one other person working on the code really knew Javascript well, though, which was especially awkward considering everyone but me had a laptop and could work in the same room together.

After feeling like I was doing nothing for a while, I decided I should probably just work in the computer room even if it would mean constantly having to get up and go back and forth to clarify design decisions. Unfortunately for me, this late start meant I wasn’t involved with the core code components for our game. I had a lot of fun working on the things I was tasked, such as a simple particle system, but the amount of progress that was made on the core parts were pretty lacking well into the second day. Just to be clear, I am not trying to discredit the man who was essentially taking the role of lead programmer, or the German students and American one who had to struggle with using a language as strange as Javascript for the first time. However I can’t help but feel that if I had just tried to be more of a leader instead of being satisfied as a follower I could have really helped development of our project to that point.

Despite the early frustrations including the sad prospect of my work possibly not even making it into the game, our team really went into overdrive on the final day of the game jam. Like true programmers, we all switched into crunch mode and got all of our core design and features into the game. The “art department” also did great work all through the jam and delivered to us assets we instantly got in. Our work continued to the last second of the jam before presentations.

During the presentations I was amazed to see all of the really implementations of the winning ideas from the other teams. The game jam really made me remember why I applied for the GDD program at RIT in the first place and rekindled a dying flame in my heart, so to speak. The jam had ups and downs, but in the end we had something to be proud of, and we even won fan favorite and the honor of presenting our game to King when we were to go to Berlin and visit them.  (My only regret to winning was that it meant we had to keep working on the game after the jam.) This was my favorite part of the study abroad, and an experience I won’t soon forget.

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