Game pulse: National game creating event brings SU gamers together, creating games revolving around heartbeat theme in 48 hours

Senior Michael Thal did not sleep much this past weekend. Instead, he spent hours creating music for a video game produced in less than 48 hours as a participant in the Global Game Jam.

This year’s international video game theme was a heartbeat. Thal’s group decided to make a game that incorporated how to keep the heart healthy. Similar to Tetris, healthy pieces of food fit together and disappear to give the player more points.

“I decided to go with happy-go-lucky music for the healthy food pieces and to switch to evil sounding music when the unhealthy foods like ice cream start falling,” said Thal, a student in the Bandier Program for Music and the Entertainment Industries.

Thousands participated at about 300 locations as part of the worldwide Global Game Jam, said Scott Nicholson, the School of Information Studies technology professor who played a leading role in organizing the event. Groups ranging from one to seven people collaborated to complete four playable games by noon Sunday, when every game worldwide had to be uploaded onto the international Global Game Jam server.

With brainstorming and developing complete, Thal was one of about 20 other participants Sunday who filled the basement of Hinds Hall to play the newly created video and board games.

The event began Friday at about 3 p.m. when keynote game designers announced the theme of the event, Nicholson said.

He described the process the groups must go through: brainstorming ideas on the first night, sorting through different possibilities the second day and finally celebrating their finished product the third day.

He said many game ideas are often abandoned on the second day to pursue others that are simpler.

“Each group has that different a-ha moment,” Nicholson said. “It’s exciting to watch each group realize what they’ve done to create their game on such a short period of time.” 

Participants worked on developing their games on Friday until midnight, Saturday from 8 a.m. until midnight and finally on Sunday from 8 a.m. until the international deadline at noon. Nicholson said the SU games, along with more than 10,000 others uploaded from Game Jam sites around the world, are available for any player to access and play from the Game Jam website.

After all of the games were completed and uploaded, an award ceremony followed at the iSchool café, where every participant was given a certificate for participation. The game developers then played their games until about 3 p.m.

“It’s always surprising how quickly these games come together,” Nicholson said.

Seventy-five percent of attendees were students, half of them undergraduates, Nicholson said. He also said there were many members of his organization, the Game Designers’ Guild, which focuses on bringing together members of the Syracuse community who are interested in game design. Nicholson said there were even some who attended the event who he had not met before and who must have seen advertisements for it.

“Some of the people here have never been to SU campus,” Nicholson said. “It can expose them to what goes on here.”

One of the goals Nicholson said he would like to work toward for next year’s Global Game Jam is to collaborate with other nearby communities like Morrisville that also hold Game Jams.

Although this is the fifth year the Global Game Jam has been held at SU, it is the first time it has been held in the iSchool, Nicholson said.

Ari Abramovsky, SU graduate student and member of the Game Designers’ Guild, helped organize the Global Game Jam.

He said in the previous two years, the event has been held in SU’s education building. There it was a bit more formal, he said.

In the iSchool building this year, it was more disorganized in many ways since there was less space to work. This environment helps promote the purpose of getting people together who are interested in games as an education medium, an art form or a transformative tool in a sort of pressure-cooker environment, Abramovsky said.

Carolynn Steele, an English and textual studies senior, also participated in the event. She said she would defiantly encourage other students to participate in the future.

She said seeing so much talent and interest in developing games inspired her to move ahead with plans to create a general game interest group atSU with the support of ETS professor Chris Hanson and Nicholson. She said she would like to make this group open to the State University of New York College of Environmental Studies and Forestry and SU students, as well as members of the community who are passionate about playing and developing a wide variety of games.

Although there have been game clubs at SU in the past, Steele said they usually focused on one individual game. She said she is hopeful her club can provide some of the same benefits as the Global Game Jam.

Said Steele: “It’s just a fantastic experience. You get to do what you excel in and work with other people who are amazing at what they do.”


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