Students race to create video games at game jam

Jameson Pitts

Team Gimli fuels themselves on orange soda and Einstein Bros. Bagels as they eagerly await the announcement of the secret theme at the third game jam hosted by Jolly, a local development studio.

A game jam is an event during which participants must create a video game that satisfies a particular theme within a time limit. Student teams designed multiplayer video games over the course of the weekend to present at a showcase.

Computer science senior Joshua Hurt, a member of Team Gimli, said he was excited for the weekend’s theme of “Couch Games” — multiplayer games you play with your friends on the couch.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Hurt said. “It’s like a hackathon that’s totally restricted to games. I like to make games that make you hate your friends.”

The event took place in the Gates Dell Complex, where six teams of three to five members set up laptops and game controllers around tables, each table assigned the name of a Lord of The Rings character. 

The teams were organized by Jolly, who also provided meals and instruction throughout the event.  Jolly is an Austin game studio, comprised of notable members such as the team behind Words With Friends. Technical director Karl Gluck said the Jolly team would be circulating throughout the two-day event to help teams overcome problems. 

“Something different we’re doing this time is we’ll actually be helping them with their code,” Gluck said. “We thought students could benefit more from direct interaction.”

Computer science junior Corbin Rogerson, a member of Team Aragorn, said even though participating in his first game jam was intimidating, the event doesn’t require advanced experience, since teams match experienced participants with beginners.

“Nobody cares if you make something terrible,” Rogerson said. “In the end, it’s about getting the experience.”

Barely a day after receiving their instructions, teams showed off their games at a showcase Sunday afternoon. Games ranged from Team Aragorn’s battle royale between dust bunnies and Roombas, to Team Gimli’s John Cena arena, where players jousted each other on a 2-D battlefield.

Vijay Thakkar, Jolly co-founder and chief technology officer, said game jams prepare students for the real world of game development. 

“It’s always inspiring for us too, to be around students who have that raw passion to create and make something together,” Thakkar said. “We want to cultivate it with students and hopefully bring them into the industry afterwards.”