Game Jam Letters: My God, It's Full Of Stories!

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 Mark discusses the incredible Game Jam stories hidden at every turn...

Dear Katie and Tracey,

I’m locked out. It’s a common theme. When I first arrived at Game Jam on Friday the doors wouldn’t open for me. They close automatically at 5pm so I just smeared my entire body against the glass door like Dustin Hoffman at the end of The Graduate. Made sense at the time. I know the man on the other side of the door could see me, but he just kept talking on his mobile phone like I didn’t exist.

I understand the reasons why. Katie alluded to it in her first letter. At La Trobe University, where the Melbourne Game Jam is being held, all of the doors are on this sadistic alarm cycle. If a door remains open for a certain amount of time then —

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE…

That’s the noise it makes.

“Hi, my name is Mark Serrels, nice to mee—

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE…

So the doors must remain closed, lest blood and other important brain fluids leak from our earholes.

I’m on the outside looking in

It becomes a familiar feeling after a while. As an observer you’re involved, but not really. I make it my job to watch keenly, try and find the stories and bring them to life somehow.

And Game Jam is just full of stories.

There’s organiser Giselle Rosman and her two children, darting around energetically like kids from a Studio Ghibli production. They’re actually way more involved than me. They provide QA (quality assurance) and Mr Dinosaur Man actually asks the older sister to provide his game with the kind of visceral scream that only an eight year old could provide.

The younger girl is only six years old. We fight over the Game Jam jellybean stash. She doesn’t like the yellow ones and that’s fine by me.

And then there’s Shelley. On Friday we were locked out together. She caught me pounding the glass doors Hoffman style and headed to registration at the same time.

Shelley’s actually a first year Medical Student and a closet artist. She’s also really nice. About half way through Saturday I spot her sitting in a corner surrounded with her own art work.

“My team are up in the back,” said Shelley, when I sat down to catch up. “We’re sort of working by ourselves a bit, and then bringing it together.”

I ask her to explain the game she’s working on. She tries, but like an idiot I can’t follow her train of thought.

“You should go and play it,” she said. I could sense exasperation.

“I can play it?” I ask, in a ‘gee-whillikers-mister’ kind of way.

“Of course!” She laughed.

And now it’s my turn to explain the unexplainable.

The game is Whirlstrom, at least that was its name last time I checked. The game is about circular motion. You are a thing, in the water, making constant circles you are not in control of, the only ability you have is the ability to make another circle.

The purpose of the game is simple — jump from one circle to another new circle, but the minute you create a new circle to traverse in, a bad guy appears, following the path you just created. If you crash into the bad guy the game is over.

Sounds awesome right? Well, probably not on paper, but the best compliment I can pay Whirlstrom is this: when the game was being explained to me, in much the same way as I’ve written above, I went completely blank. But, whilst playing, it took me less than three seconds to completely understand it, and fall head over heels in love. What an intriguing idea, and so well executed.

Game Jam is a million stories waiting to happen, and a million stories waiting to be told. That makes it a beautiful thing, a place where literally anything can happen. In every corner, on every laptop, something magical is in gestation.

Once more I peer over my laptop, like a curious ferret. On the surface very little has changed — the room was full of folks bashing on keyboards two hours ago, and the same men and women remain, eyes riveted, silent aside for a few barked orders.

It’s a privilege to be here, a privilege to be inspired by these people. They’re creating a video game in 48 hours, which is incredible — but what can I do? I can only do one thing — try to capture their stories as best I can, and write them as succinctly as possible, so you can fully understand how fascinating it is to watch a creative impulse take hold and manifest itself into something tangible — because, ultimately, that’s the magic of Game Jam.

That and the stories.

Enjoy the rest of Sunday guys!

Mark


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