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. In this letter, Tracey discovers Game Jam Sydney.
"Well, I have no idea where we are." My dad has offered to drive me to Sydney's Game Jam because its Rosehill Racecourse location is awkward to get to. "What do you mean you have no idea where we are?" I say in a high-pitched voice that is almost breaking. We've been in the car for a while. I'm kind of sweaty. "Didn't you say you used to work at Rosehill?" "Yeah, I did," my Dad replies. "Back in 1986."
And so begins my first Global Game Jam, stuck in a car circling Sydney's South-West in search of a racecourse.
Pizza? Ice-cream? Purple dinosaurs? What the blast is going on over there, Katie? There isn't even a sign of a pizza box over here at Sydney Game Jam; the only ice-cream I see is the one in my delicious dreams, and there is a definite absence of dinosaurs. The Sydney Jam seems to be made of slightly different ingredients to pizza-heavy Melbourne Jam. Maybe you guys are strawberry jam and us Sydney-siders are marmalade. Going by your description, the two jams seem very different, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Game Jam Sydney is held in the Rosehill Pavilion, which sits right next to a racecourse. No horses are racing today which, for the sake of the cleanliness of my shoes and the aromas in the air, is a blessing, according to my dad. I walk into the pavilion this morning with my little notepad in hand, glad to have finally arrived at the right place only to find that I am probably not in the right place. For a start, there are around 400 people here, and I know that there's definitely fewer than 400 participants. There's meant to be 130 or so. Most of them are lugging massive computer towers. Everyone looks fresh -- there are no bleary-eyed jammers rubbing their eyes and walking around in pyjama pants -- and everyone is only starting to set up their computers. I know the jam was meant to have started 20 hours ago, so this definitely doesn't look right. Where are all the sleepy game devs!?
To my relief, I am in the right place -- I just need to walk further into the pavilion. Most of the floor space is taken up with the professional gaming tournament -- the Sydney Gamer's League (SGL). Cordoned off at the back of the pavilion are the rows of computers and developers in pyjama pants that I'm looking for. They look tired. They look focused. They're completely in the zone. Yep, I'm definitely in the right place.
I thought it would be difficult coming to Game Jam halfway into the event because everyone would be tired and the last thing they'd want to do is talk to a journalist. I'd anticipated aloofness, I'd expected people to tell me to go away, and I was positive I'd be on the receiving end of much eye-rolling. To my surprise, even the most sleep-deprived of game developers are lovely and willing to share their ideas.
The first team I speak to is named "Ouroboria".
"We're not even sure if we spelled it right... or if that's how you pronounce it," one of the team members says.
The team explains their game to me -- it's inspired by The Game of Life, there's strategy involved, and it draws on the ideas represented by the Ouroboros snake: infinity, evolution, the circle of life. The team of four sits there coding away, telling me things are going to plan. Just before I leave them I ask how many hours they've slept.
"Heh... sleep. Yeah..."
I guess they're a bit tired right now.
"Two of us do software engineering in the finance sector and I do some work for a game company."
I'm speaking to Dominic Gurto and Matt Fan, two programmers who have decided to take a rather literal approach to the theme -- their game requires the player to lure an NPC snake into eating itself -- a kind of "Reverse-Snake".
"At first we were thinking we should make it metaphorical but we thought that this game mechanic would be the most interesting," says Gurto.
It's been 20 hours and neither of the developers have slept. Despite being sleep deprived and being surrounded by fellow devs who have fallen asleep at their computers, Gurto and Fan are in high spirits.
"This is fun! No where else would you get this experience," Fan says.
"If you're working on a project for uni or work then it's an obligation and it might not be what you want to do, but here, you have creative control; you do it because you want to do it. It's great."
This seems to be the sentiment shared by most of the developers here. They don't have to go through this, they don't have to stay up for 48 hours to push out a playable game, nor do they have to go without ice-cream, but there's just so much enthusiasm and passion for game development among these people that Game Jam seems to be the perfect place for them.
As I'm sitting here typing this letter to you, I'm reminded of the time when Mark and I were planning our Game Jam coverage. We were sitting in the Kotaku board room trying to figure out a way to write about Game Jam that hadn't been done to death.
"Oh, I have the BEST idea!" said Mark (he believes he has the best of everything -- just ask him!).
"WE should enter Game Jam!" he said, his googly eyes wide and... err... googly.
"Oh, that's a sweet idea!" I said. "Do we know how to make games?"
"Maybe we could join a team!" he suggested.
"Yes, and drag them all down."
"Hmm," he said. "We don't have any skills, do we?"
"No, Mark. Unfortunately we'd just be derpin' around and someone would want to kill us by the end of it."
We both decided to not enter Game Jam.
Being here makes me wish I did have some game-making skills, not so much because I want to be a game developer, but because Game Jam genuinely looks like a lot of fun. It's like a school camp, except you don't need to go outside and teachers don't force you to climb rope and no one gives you a wedgie. So... I guess it is nothing like school camp. But it's fun and I'm slightly envious of those with the skills to take part.
So what's happening down there? Are you alive, Marky Mark? Have they fed you any more pizza and ice-cream? (They just served lunch up here and there were VEGETABLES. Vegetables are not ice-cream *sadface*) What games have emerged and, more importantly, what's the hygiene situation like?
I'm gonna go wait for my dad to pick me up now.
Tracey "T-Bone" Lien <3
P.S. There is no Wi-Fi here so I cannot use my laptop. I've borrowed one of the Game Jam computers to write this, but these PCs don't recognise my camera. As such, you will have to make do with these pictures I found on this amazing Internet Thing called "Google Image".