At the Skillpoint Alliance in downtown Austin, a crowded room of tech whizzes and video game enthusiasts is cordially buzzing, awaiting the kickoff of the Global Game Jam, an annual weekend of creative collaboration in making video games held in cities around the world.
The Global Game Jam, which is held annually in Austin in January, has teams create and present a playable game within 48 hours of being given a central theme, which is unknown to the participants before arrival. The theme this year was the soft sound of a heartbeat. In response, the ideas ranged from music-driven platform games set to the pulse of a heartbeat, to role-playing games driven by fantastical narratives. One pitch was a game that put the player in control of a small nanobot swimming through the veins of a dying hospital patient, combatting clots while racing against the pace of a slowing heartbeat. Another concept was a zombie survival game in which the player’s heart rate increased when zombies came close.
“The Global Game Jam is not a competition,” Bryon Lloyd, the treasurer of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) in Austin, said. “It’s a celebration of making games.”
Lloyd is also the host of this year’s annual Global Game Jam. At Skillpoint Alliance, he said he educates children and teachers to use computer software, while striving to push kids toward secondary education tailored to game development on the Science, Technology, Engineering & Math Council.
The crowd at the Global Game Jam ranges from 15-year-old programmers to game industry veterans who have worked at big-name development studios like Gearbox and Bioware. UT students in the Electronic Game Developers Society, or EGaDS, also attended the event. EGaDS President Leo Schnee said the Global Game Jam prepares participants for the video game industry.
“People make professional connections,” Lloyd said. “The Global Game Jam is a major indicator of whether someone wants to be in the game industry.”
John Henderson, the chapter secretary of the IGDA in Austin, said that attendance at the Global Game Jam frequently leads to the industry, but should not be seen as a straight shot.
Chris Mika, who is the treasurer of EGaDS, said the success of other EGaDS members is proof that the organization succeeds in its purpose.
“Early members have gone on to create software called GameSalad, [which is] a free game-making tool,” Mika said.
Similarly, Schnee has been offered a position at the San Francisco based game company Zynga, where he will work following his graduation.
Ultimately, the goal of the Global Game Jam is to help aspiring game developers realize their dreams, Lloyd said.
“It gives you the opportunity to make something rather that dream about it,” Lloyd said.