On the 29th of January 2010, a number of amateur, student and hobbyist programmers, designers and artists gathered for the Bristol element of the Global Game Jam. I was lucky enough to attend this Mobile Pie hosted event and see the behind the scenes workings of how a rag tag group of video game creatives make a game in 48 hours.
Walking through the doors of the Pervasive Media Studio and beginning my ascension of the spiral stairs to the studio space, I am greeted by a mechanical voice, triggered by my entrance, toying with me to play a game of Simon Says. Immediately I realise that there is geekery afoot. I’m greeted by Richard Wilson, a Garibaldi and Horlicks man, his voice is calming, low and soft spoken. While we saunter to the interview space he tells me that they were ‘lucky enough to find a great venue’ for GGJ, as the studio has always been interested in providing support to new talent and emerging industries. ‘And after all’ he reminds me ‘games are often at the very forefront of technology’.
He’s obviously happy with how the event is going, with a very healthy turn out from the South West’s developers of the future. I asked him why he thought people liked Global Games Jam and for him, this is clearly as much about networking and making contacts as it is creating a game in two days. ‘Lots of people form their own indie games companies based on the people they meet’, he tells me ‘and recruitment is a big deal for us, talking to people that are passionate about games is important’. He’s talking of course about the company for which he is a director, Mobile Pie, a very much up-and-coming independent game studio based in Bristol, about to launch their latest endeavour ‘B-Boy Beats’ a rhythm action break dancing game for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
‘As a small studio we always say if we’re going to fail, we need to fail really fast’ says Richard, explaining to me that this is what Global Games Jam is all about; rapid prototyping, that the designers simply don’t have the time or resources to waste on mechanics that won’t go anywhere, ‘and it’s good to learn from these guys how they deal with this very quick process’. The entrants seem to understand this, ‘it works or it doesn’t’ says Tom, a student at Sheffield Hallam University and participant at GGJ, ‘you’re forced to cut corners’. Both he and his fellow academic Lee had the tired look of the modern student, a tiredness borne of late nights and hard graft in front of a monitor. When I asked Lee why this kind of creative environment appealed to them, he told me that ‘we’re both programmers, it’s what we enjoy’, ‘you go in looking at a blank screen, typing lines, at the end you get the pleasure of converting those lines into something’. Tom agrees, ‘it’s the kind of stuff I’d be tinkering around with on a weekend anyway, here I get to do that with others, in a group’.
Lee notes that ‘when we had a tally of who was available for which teams, there was a real lack of artists’ though Tom and he both apparently saw this as a blessing, as they felt the hardest part of designing a game in such a limited amount of time was ‘trying not to listen to those people who do visuals and sound’ as they wanted ‘too much’, trying to implement mechanics and ideas these coders couldn’t realise in the 48 hours provided. ‘So what is the design priority?’ I ask, ‘It should be fun’ was Lee’s instant response, ‘you should be having fun every single second you play the game’. ‘Is a game made here’s only purpose to be fun?’ I enquire, ‘can they not be centered on an artistic experience?’ ‘our choices of sound and level design are artistic but the main priority is definitely fun’ reinforces Tom, they clearly have a unified approach to their design. Their piece ‘Leading The Blind’, a two player title in which Player 1 is tasked to navigate a small map with only sound as a guide, whilst Player 2 tries to mislead them every step of the way, would go on to win a judges award when myself (on behalf of Midlife Gamer) and a select handful of expert judges were asked to adjudicate.
Tom and Lee leave the room, keen to get on with their project, with Richard then introducing me to his colleague Will Luton, wherein we talk a little more about the Jam, the state of the UK games industry and ‘indie’ gaming in general. You can hear this interview below…
Overall, the quality of work produced at GGJ was incredible, each entrant demonstrating considerable talent and flair for their chosen medium, but don’t take my word for it, you can play them all via the following links;
Leading The Blind – http://globalgamejam.org/2010/leading-blind
Flippy Gets Lost – http://globalgamejam.org/2010/flippy-gets-lost
Hell’s Bells – http://globalgamejam.org/2010/hells-bells
Sense Of Deception – http://globalgamejam.org/2010/sense-deception
Deception Wars – http://globalgamejam.org/2010/deception-wars
My lasting impression of the 2010 Bristol Global Game Jam would be of camaraderie and passion, people who love to make video games getting together to challenge themselves, whilst providing essential contacts for those eager to make their way into an increasingly closed and clique driven industry. Mobile Pie should definitely be extremely pleased with the opportunity they’ve provided here and if the games produced at the event are any indication of what to expect from the UK’s young developers, Britain’s game industry has a very bright future indeed.
You can find more information about the Global Game Jam here – http://www.globalgamejam.org/