Toronto Global Game Jam a success

The third annual Toronto Global Game Jam came and went this weekend, leaving many game developers and enthusiasts exhausted, yet inspired, by the end of the unique 48-hour event.

Organized by Troy Morrissey of D.A.R.C. Productions Inc., and Randy Orenstein of the Toronto Skillswap - alongside a handful of volunteers - the game jam got underway Friday evening at George Brown College. Focusing on collaboration rather competition, the Global Game Jam is designed for basically anyone with a passion for gaming to come in, and create something over the weekend.

As the bustling crowd shuffled into the lobby on Friday, stories were shared, hugs were given, and one would have forgotten that these individuals were gearing up for a weekend full of sleep-deprivation. The reality was undeniable however, the event wasn’t going to be a breeze, and aside from the obvious time constraint, global game jamming veterans and newcomers alike, had lots to prepare for.

“For veteran jammers, testing their own limits is usually the biggest challenge for them,” Orenstein explained. “They will try and shoehorn in that little bit more. For new jammers, there are a lot of challenges. Learning how to adjust to the time frame and making a game that’s actually functional by the end of the weekend is probably the biggest challenge for them.”

Morrissey hopes those who participated are able to not only use their new found skills for game development moving forward, but apply them to other barriers they may encounter in the future.

"If what you accomplish in 48 hours can be applied to every day of your life, then you will achieve greatness," he said.

Andrew Ellem, who has worked at EA Canada in Vancouver, HQ Interactive in Tokyo, and Ubisoft in Singapore, was one of the many attending the jam for the first time. Entering the event solo, Ellem had a solid idea as to what he wanted to work on.

“This was an opportunity to focus on one little idea that I had, and beyond that, the social aspect of it all, it gave me a chance to meet the local gaming community,” he said.

By Sunday, his little idea blossomed into an intriguing concept with the help of the Oculus Rift. Beeping and booping on a laptop monitor next to him, Ellem’s creation attracted several fellow jammers who donned the Oculus headset, and delved into a world focused on sound.

“I guess technically it’s not really a game,” he admitted. “It’s centred around echo-location, so you can’t actually see anything, but you can see sounds. You go through the world creating sound, which allows you to see the world.”

The Oculus Rift turned out to be a hot item at the jam. In the midst of all the designing, programming, and coffee drinking - provided for free by Starbucks - many participants got a chance to try a game on the Oculus called Spindrift. The virtual-reality space-simulator, designed by FrostFire Games, puts you in the cockpit of a combat-pilot, where you’re free to test your first-person shooting skills against swarms of enemies. The gameplay was complemented by some slick visuals, which nailed the deep space atmosphere. Massive asteroids loomed over your ship as you flew by, the sense of speed was evident as you hit the accelerator, and though the objective was to blast enemies away, it was hard not to find yourself simply gawking at the scenery in between combat.

The finished game will allow you to earn bounties and build the ultimate star-fighter. Game jam floater, jam veteran, and founder of FrostFire Games, Tyler Moore, was excited to show off one of their team’s projects from the Virtual Reality Jam last summer. He credits the game jams he attended in the past for allowing him to move on to projects like Spindrift, and hopes this year’s Toronto Global Game Jam instills the same confidence in other game enthusiasts as well.

“When I’m developing on my own, I’m hesitant to use new technology because of the uncertainty,” he said. “‘How long is this going to take to figure out? I should stick with what I know.’ But at a game jam I try new things, and if it breaks it’s not a huge deal. It’s really helped with my other projects.”

Though a large portion of those in attendance were programmers, a handful of them were artists, hoping to extend their game making skills beyond their strong grasp of a game’s art design. Moore attributes the higher number of artists entering game jams to the ongoing evolution of game development.

“Every year that goes by, there’s a new set of libraries, new set of tools, new set of engines, and it becomes a lot easier to make games. Ten years, even five years ago, it would have been impossible to create some of the things we’re creating today. We’re very blessed with the tools we have.”

Emma Burkeitt, a student from the Ontario College of Art and Design, was attending the Toronto Global Game Jam for the first time with her teammates Saffron Bolduc-Chiong and Alanna Predko.

“We have an art-heavy team, so that’s going to be a challenge as programming goes,” said Burkett before the game jam started. Chiong added getting her 3-D models to work properly was another obstacle she was looking forward to overcoming. All three agreed that experience was the biggest prize they were hoping to walk away with by Sunday.

“There’s a lot of theory, and technical learning programs you can do in school, but you really have to be making things in order to get better at it,” explained Predko.

As the closing ceremony drew closer and closer, there were a lot of people reaching critical levels of exhaustion.

“I can’t wait to go to sleep,” or “I can’t wait to eat something besides chips,” could be heard on a regular basis throughout the hallways. Despite extreme fatigue, the excitement could be felt across the two top floors the game jam encompassed. Final products ranged from puzzle-solving games and multiplayer shooters, to games that relied on sound and asked you questions.

If you’re still trying to get a grasp of what these jams are about, it could be summed up with a special occurrence, which took place during the closing ceremony. Josh Southern and Darryl Barnhart entered the jam under the team name, “I’m a Pretty Princess”. To finish off the the closing ceremony, it was revealed the team "I'm a Pretty Princess," got married the day before. The heart-warming announcement was met with a deafening round of applause, resulting in a picture perfect ending to this year’s Toronto Global Game Jam.

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Josh Southern (left) and Darryl Barnhart