Saint Patrick’s Day weekend is over, and now that everyone has endured the punishing karma from overdrinking that is the hangover, wouldn’t you rather have been making a game that weekend instead? That was what over fifty participants did at the Dawson Game Jam, and over three days of working in the beautiful board room in Dawson College, they kissed the Blarney stone for good luck and came out at the end of the rainbow with beautiful games and a good idea of the experience they might have at Critical Hit this summer. (Okay, I am done with horrible Saint Patrick’s Day metaphors, I promise!)
The jam started off Friday evening with a short talk by Charlotte Fisher, the TAG jam coordinator and one of the co-directors of Critical Hit, who gave a quick introduction to the jam and its theme of “cataclysm” (which, because of the lack of a projector, was masterfully acted out by Gina Haraszti, TAG coordinator for dramatic effect!). A few guidelines from Tanya Short, Creative Director of Kitfox games, were read out detailing how to create a game under the pressure of a game jam time limit,and then the participants were ready to go. Once the people without groups had found their kindred gamemakers and formed groups, everyone was really excited to create something, but some were a bit worried as to how to get started. That’s where Jessica Rose Marcotte came in! Her improvised half-hour long workshops on pixel art and sprite sheets, Construct 2 and Audacity were hugely popular with theattendees and really gave them an idea of how to start on their games. These workshops also gave them the chance to pitch their ideas to Jess and ask her opinion on what the best program would be for what they wanted to complete. While it was a completely spontaneous offer to conduct these workshops, Jess pulled them off incredibly well and really gave the participants the inspiration they needed.
While Jess was surrounded by eager students, Xin Ran Liu from Kitfox Games quietly dropped in with other members of the groups who were not attending the workshops and helped them brainstorm. He even helped form a sort of impromptu group with myself and a participant whose partner hadn’t shown up to help bounce ideas around for how to create a planetary survival board game. (Don’t worry, the partner eventually appeared!) Once everyone was really fired up and ready to start putting all of their skills to use to bring their ideas to life, we had to say goodnight to our workspace in Dawson until Day 2.
Because of the explosive nature of the theme, it could have been assumed that the atmosphere at the jam would have mirrored its dynamic nature. But instead it seems as if the stress and worry that so often blooms into terse words and raised voices was all channeled into these disastrously themed games. The morning of Day 2 was quite serene, with people focused on their work, munching on muffins and fruit and the beautiful bright sunlight streaming in through the large windows in the space we were so graciously given. Things picked up around lunchtime when mentors Sean Gomes and Jonathan Venne came in, and their enthusiasm about the teams and their creations was infectious. More mentors came in throughout the day, including Rebecca Cohen Palacios from Ubisoft, Osama Dorias from Gameloft and Nick Kornek from Concordia’s own TAG Lab. They were really great at providing clear feedback to the groups and helped to puzzle out any issues surrounding gameplay and programs, peppering their feedback with stories about the video game industry, Critical Hit and the TAG Lab. Dinner came and went, and with a nice little candy pick-me-up near the end of the night, everyone packed up and headed home to rest or get a couple more hours of work in.
Like Day 2, Day 3 started off with a very calm atmosphere, with a couple of bugs in Construct 2 handled by Charlotte who flexed her programming muscles and got those games functioning. At 2:56 pm the Space Jam theme song (now forever known as theme song of TAG-affiliated jams) was played, with people eagerly excited to see what other groups had done. Mentors, participants, family and friends were all invited in from the freezing weather outside to look at everyone’s game and hear about the participants experiences.
This game jam was a wonderful experience because of its relative lack of cataclysmic events (except for in the games, of course). People were able to focus on the work that they had to do instead of worrying about all of the work they hadn’t gotten to yet because of the emphasis from the beginning on decreasing the scale of their project. Tanya Short’s words from the beginning of the jam hit home with a lot of them and made them focus on finishing their game instead of ending up with a larger unfinished one. Having the game jam over three days encouraged people to return home for the night and gave them the chance to change their surroundings. This helped give them a fresh outlook on their work and time to think about it in the comfort of their own homes. All in all, the Dawson Game Jam was a catastrophe-free event that gave its participants a relaxing place to make games and a good idea of the open, inspiring and collaborative space that the Critical Hit program this summer will be.
Don’t forget the application deadline is April 1st! For more info visit: www.criticalhitmontreal.ca/apply/