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Highlights from the Stanford Global Game Jam

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Monday, February 3, 2014
Global Game Jam

By Paul Zenke and Carlos Seligo

Last weekend, 15 Stanford students and staff members participated in the 6th annual Global Game Jam. Teams gathered around the world, at 450 independently organized locations, to design and build games from scratch in 48-hours. The theme this year was: We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

On Friday at 5 pm, I kicked off the Game Jam with a few quick exercises to help the participants get to know each other, select a role (project manager, story artist, coder, sound designer, etc.), and brainstorm narrative, visual, and game mechanic concepts.

This culminated in a pitch session, where each group tried to sell their ideas to recruit others to join their team. Afterwards each pitch group received feedback in the form of “I Like”, “I wish”, and “What if”. The groups then had some time to incorporate the team’s feedback into their concept before pitching their game again.

Each group interpreted the theme differently. One group’s initial concept was for the player to be lost at Sea, forced to complete choose-your-own-adventure puzzles where the goal was to discern one’s shipwrecked hallucinations from reality. In another game called “God Complex” a player could visit plagues, meteors, fires, floods, and earthquakes upon hapless believers, but all this suffering was intended to help them survive a coming apocalypse. One of Carlos' ideas started out as a player hopping from star to star to find a way to Earth, like the Little Prince, but quickly transformed with the help of the group into a game where a couple looked up at the night sky and argued what they saw (...is that a constellation or a character from the film 300?).

Although Saturday and Sunday were much less structured than Friday evening, Carlos and I tried to help participants build consensus while they prototyped, play tested, iterated, and polished their concepts. Every hour the team would briefly come together so each group could show their latest work, give each other feedback, and name one specific thing they would try to accomplish in the next hour. Counterintuitively, it was discovered that small groups of programmers and artists were more productive than larger groups with more resources, because they were able to make decisions more quickly.

The Global Game Jam was a worthwhile experience and we look forward to participating in the event again next year. Until then, we’ve already begun brainstorming ideas to improve the event in 2015.

Stanford’s Global Game Jam participants would like to thank Stanford University Libraries and Academic Computing Services for their generous support.

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