THREE DAYS, TWELVE HOURS. THE FIRST ALBERTA GAME JAM

The first annual Alberta Game Jam has come and gone — giving three cities a taste of the awesome future in developer networking and growth. Developers in Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge came together to run a gauntlet of self-imposed crunch. I was at the Calgary location to act as support and representing Direct Play, so I decided to write my impressions. We had about twenty people turn out, plenty of experienced and new jammers alike. If any participants of the jam read this know that I think you’re all super stars; you came out and worked hard to make something special.

First things first I have to thank Craig Pfau of Alberta Makes Games for putting the site together. He is always amazing at finding locations and organizing some great jams over the years I’ve been jamming in Calgary. Without his support jams would not be the same in the city.

“What Lies Beneath” was the theme that splashed across the reveal video, filled with scenes from games and movies featuring exploration, archaeology, and discovery. It was an awesome opener for an Alberta based game jam, giving a throwback to the history of Alberta and it’s work in paleontology.

The jam started Friday at five pm, after the topic reveal there was about twenty minutes of brainstorming where we ended up with five really cool ideas being presented; a mining game based on mars, a Tamagachi where you raise Cthulhu, a noir game where you search for secrets hidden with the crowd’s individual pasts, and one that was a cross between 3d Dot Heroes and Dragon Warrior. The creativity on display by the Calgary site was amazing.

Quickly the teams separated and got to work planning out their prospective games; some went straight to pixel and code, others to dinner to discuss their wish list. One team huddled around the white boards and furiously scribbled ideas and plans while others sat talking with some notebooks. The plethora of styles was fascinating to observe, something you don’t really get to see when you’re in the thick of it and planning your own game.

The second day saw everyone getting into the thick of it with art assets were being pumped out, code being hammered away, even a few sound engineers wandering around getting samples from various locations. A hub of activity with some remarkably talented developers; by four in the afternoon we were even seeing the starts of a few primary game loops forming. It’s astonishing how fast things can come together in a jam — with everything working against you all of the devs worked short term miracles.

Finally around six Craig brought the promised pizza and everyone had a short break to eat and mingle before it was back to the races. At this point I should mention Zugalu, one of the other sponsors, who showed up in person with doughnuts and coffee for the jammers. It’s really inspiring to see the level of support that the community brings to events like these and to fostering the game dev community in the province.

Third day was where the crazy multi layered crunch started, someone described the game jam as self imposed crunch and then on top of that there was even more scramble to get things together and working before the deadline. Now we were seeing some surprisingly mature game loops and the triage of features or ideas that just were not feasible to do in the last 12 hours of the jam.

Now game play was pretty common, able to test out entire levels in some cases. A few even had the majority of their game already complete and were working on adding features and buttoning up bugs.

In the end everyone submitted a great game, there were some really polished examples that you wouldn’t think were made in forty eight hours. The level of craftsmanship on display is a testament to the bright future for Alberta game development. We need to continue to foster these innovators and truly build the community up so that these amazing people can show us what they can really do with some time.

So what can we expect next time? I think we’ll see more people, more games but still the great community and event. If you’ve never been to a game jam and are interested reach out to your local community, join an online jam. If you’re interested in development and don’t know where to start these people will help you. Get out there and make something great.

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