Game Jam Letters is a series of letters written by Kotaku AU about our time at Game Jam 2012, a competition where participants must create a fully-functioning game in 48-hours. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. In this letter Katie loses her boyfriend to The Beast.
I should have seen it coming. I should have known by now that the Game Jam is a sentient beast, luring in developers with promises of pizza and game-making goodness before chomping down on them with energy-drink-stained teeth. The result is sleepless nights, bleary eyes, and a crunch so intense that participants forget that there is life outside the game jam. I've watched many fall into the trap before. I thought I knew enough to keep myself immune.
So how had my own boyfriend, faithful carrier of my notebooks and Twitter-enabled gadgets, been consumed by the game jam monster?
He had spent the entirety of the jam's second day staring sadly at jammers' screens, whispering occasionally, wistfully, “I wonder if they need an animator.”
While tagging along as Giselle escorted a batch of jammers to the showers, we had struck up conversation with a jammer called David. He was in need of an animator, he said.
So late last night, when I turned and realised that my boyfriend was not behind me any more, my heart fell. I knew what had happened. I ran into one of the computer labs to find him seated at a bench next to David, as comfortable amongst David's teammates as if he had been there with them from the beginning. A 3D model of a wizard took up one side of his screen. The other was filled with a pdf instruction manual for Maya; he was doing what he called a “crash course” in getting reacquainted enough with the software to be able to contribute to David's team's game. There was less than 24 hours left till the end of the jam.
“Don't you have work at nine tomorrow?” I asked.
“Um, okay. But you won't be able to sleep without a bedroll here, will you?”
“I guess I'll have to pull an all-nighter.”
“I... I will bring you some soap tomorrow,” I said, defeated. I knew I couldn't dissuade him, but I was sure I could at least help prevent him from becoming That Guy. He nodded and agreed to walk me to my car, but his eyes flickered back longingly to that screen as we left the room.
Mark and Tracey, this weekend I lost my boyfriend to a game jam team.
Unexpected things have happened today, Mark and Tracey. Marcey? Unexpected things have happened, Marcey. [Editor's note: Oh god please do not ever call us that.]
For one thing, when I got indoors this morning, I was greeted by a band of ladies in white, led by a grinning Giselle.
“Massage Angels!” she said to me happily, before announcing loudly in the hallway that the Angels would be helping ease away the stress of the jammers in their most stressful hours. Over the next two hours, they moved between computer stations, rubbing tense shoulders of jammers as they tweaked their code and added some colour to their final games.
One group, who you may fondly remember as the Post-It Note team from my first letter, was now huddled around a bank of computers, looking back and forth between two screens.
“Our levels are on this computer here,” said one of the team members, “but our character models are over there...” He pointed to a computer at the opposite end of the bench.
I looked at the countdown clock projected on a screen. “So you have two hours and 44 minutes to combine them.”
“Well... we only have to start uploading at three.”
I wished them luck.
And then there was Shelley, the medical student, artist, and fellow locked-out person Mark described in his last letter. She'd claimed herself a corner of one lab, in which she'd set up a laptop and a scanner for her hand-drawn, fish-themed art. She later fretted once the projector screen began to flash portentously at the two-hour mark, but when I spoke to her earlier in the day, she was still pretty chill.
“I'm going to find out the name of my team soon!" she cheered.
“... You don't know your team's name yet?”
“I think they had one, but I just never thought to ask.” She sighed dreamily; she still looked half-asleep, but she assured me that her work was nearly done.
As I sat on the floor and started to type this very letter to you, a few idle jammers and fellow writers settled around me. They were passing around an evil-looking imported energy drink that I initially mistook for cough syrup. “I suspect that this contains a pharmaceutical version of speed,” said Kai Lynk, as the others looked on in a blend of horror and admiration.
“Let me try that,” said Shelley, chugging down the bottle. The countdown clock ticked directly over her head. Two hours. One hour. Half an hour.
I'd had a sleepless night before the jam's final hours – I figured that today, the jammers would be just as zombie-like as I. I had forgotten to bring my notebook (resigning myself to the Transcription Hell provided by my voice recorder), the usual car park was inexplicably overtaken by coloured tents spilling with food and people, and La Trobe Uni's security team eyeballed me disdainfully as I meekly requested directions to the visitors' car park.
But to my amazement, the jammers were surprisingly chipper; at 10am, only a couple of them were still passed out on the floor of the unofficial sleeping room.
Harry Lee, along with teammate Andrew Brophy of the now famous “Mouthbirth” collective, were bustling from room to room, cheerfully asking participants to draw pictures on candy-coloured post-it notes. I trailed them, trying to figure out the meaning of these pictures.
“We wanted to put together something with everybody who was a part of this game jam,” Andrew explained, describing a “simple score game” involving creating a circle of people's hand-drawn avatars to create a game jam team.
I expressed my bemusement at why they'd taken on this side project in the final hours of the jam. How were they going to find the time?
“We have actually already completed the game,” Harry said. “I've been working on this since the start of this jam.”
I followed them between the labs, watching curiously as people scribbled pictures to represent themselves on their post-it notes. I saw several squiggled self-portraits, a monster with giant square teeth, and even a cupcake. They were sorted according to their primary skills; piles of designers, programmers, artists, and even sound engineers piled up. Sadly, I noted that there was no “media” pile. I raised my phone to take photos of the accumulating post-it notes, reminding myself that I was simply here to watch, not participate.
But then Harry reached out to me. In his hand was a blank post-it note.
“Why don't you fill one out too?” he said, smiling. “You were a part of this as well, after all.”
I melted. Harry gestured, prompting me to draw. I began to sketch a picture of a cat.
He was right. I was involved. I was a part of this game jam community. As I stuck my post-it note onto the pile of others, I felt incredibly proud to have been a part of the gam jam experience.
** Last night I went home by myself and fed my cat and hugged her as she tried to squirm from my loving grasp, thinking, at least somebody loves me. I thought of my boyfriend, who was slaving away on some 3D models for a random game while sleep deprived and hungry, and I knew he was probably having a brilliant time. I, too, was having fun just staring at people as they pieced together what would become their games.
What if I'd had the whole experience? Sleeplessness-induced delirium, passing out on floors, and living on a diet of Mother? It may not sound like everybody's idea of fun, but I have seen the maw of the game jam monster, and really, it's a more entertaining beast than an outsider may think.
So yes, Marcey, we should definitely make games next year. Instead of staring over shoulders, our terrible development skills will be judged by others. And we will love it.
It's been unreal, Marcey.
All my love, Katie