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. In this letter Tracey thinks we should all just friggin' do it.
Dear Katie and Mark (the Kotaku writers of my heart),
While you were locked out of Game Jam Melbourne, the doors were wide open down here at the Sydney Jam. In fact, I waltzed right in this morning to be greeted by the smell of what I imagine a lightly microwaved human would smell like — it's not BO — it's the smell of hundreds of computers working harder than they've ever worked, gently cooking the people who are using them. Most of this is attributable to the SGL professional gaming competition happening in the same pavilion as Game Jam (think 400 beast-like PCs powering StarCraft II and League of Legends). As I was following the judging panel around the Jam space (can we call it the Jam Jar?), I couldn't help but imagine game developers spinning around on microwave tables...
The other thing I couldn't stop thinking about was how incredible these developers are. My mind is absolutely blown. What looked like nonsensical code during Day 1 of Game Jam has somehow transformed into fully-playable, beautifully-rendered, and wonderfully-imagined games. It has been less than 48-hours since the theme was even announced. How the hell do these people even manage to do this?
The games range from saccharine-cute puzzlers to first-person role-play games and stunning platform games. One team decided to create a game about depression and anxiety. It's a beautiful top-down game that requires the player to run around a forest collecting wood to start and grow a campfire. The area lit by the campfire represents the comfort zone of a person who is undergoing a period of depression and anxiety; the darkened surroundings represent the things in the world that attack the psyche and threaten a person's recovery. It's a game about cycles and the desperation of finding and hanging onto comfort, and it's gorgeous.
As I go from team to team, peering over the shoulders of judges and listening to developers talk about their games, I am in awe of their talent. As someone who has never grasped coding, programming, or level design, I feel a bit stupid being around these developers — many of whom are still students.
I remember talking to the founder of the IGDA Sydney and organiser of Game Jam Sydney, Dan Graf, expressing my awe at the game jammers who were doing something I could barely understand.
"I used to be the same," said Dan, who is now an indie developer himself.
"I've always loved games and wanted to make them, but I couldn't code, I couldn't program, and I almost failed high school maths — I just couldn't do it!"
I gave him a mental high-five because I myself can barely do basic sums, let alone learn a coding language.
"Then, last year, I just told myself I was going to do it. And then I did. I just taught myself to program, and now I can program."
I raised an eye brow at him — sure, it was just that easy, just "teach yourself". But Dan was dead serious.
"You just have to do it."
I'm walking around Game Jam, the scent of lightly-microwaved meat in the air. There are backpacks, pillows, monitors, towels and snacks in every corner and against every wall. I almost step on what I think is a cushion before realising that it's a sleeping bag with a game developer inside. He pokes his head out of the sleeping bag, rubs his eyes, blinks a few times, and crawls out. He's in his pyjamas and he towers over every one else. He stands there, looking dazed. After blinking a few more times, he sits down at a computer and begins testing his game.
Desks here are littered with more Pepsi Max than I have ever seen on Mark's desk, people have propped pillows in front of them and fallen asleep at their computers, everyone looks exhausted and some people are starting to looking really greasy. It looks kind of gross, but it also looks kind of awesome.
I think about Dan's words about just doing it (he'll probably have to pay Nike royalties for that). I realise that this is what Game Jam is all about. No one here really cares about winning, even though victory would be nice. It's not about competing or wanting others to fail. It's about being in it and doing it. It's about pushing yourself to see how much and how well you can do in 48-hours. It's about creating something from scratch that is your own. It's about creativity, team work, and spending time with people who love the things you love and understand why you do what you do.
So I'm thinking we should enter our own team next year, Katie. Let's make a card game that's a cross between Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering and UNO. It can be called "Indie Hipster RPG" where you collect rare vinyl to level-up and instead of armour you have access to a vintage wardrobe full of really skinny jeans. The music can be provided by a band that no one's heard of. Heck, it'll be provided by a band that doesn't even exist yet. I'll do the art, you can hand-write the text, and Mark can cut the pieces of paper into little rectangles using safety scissors.
What says you?