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Pump up the jam: Build a game from scratch in just two days

King of Kong: NYU-Poly Game Center’s Dylan McKenzie (right), with assistant program coordinator Gwynna Forgham-Thrift. McKenzie will corral some 200 gaming enthusiasts together for the “Global Game Jam,” starting Jan, 24.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Game on!

On Jan. 24, hundreds of coders, designers, and gaming enthusiasts will gather at New York University Polytechnic’s Game Center in Downtown, in a quest to build a game from scratch in just 48 hours.

“It’s a festival of game making,” said organizer Dylan McKenzie, who works at the Game Center.

The Brooklyn video game school is holding the event as part of the “Global Game Jam,” where game geeks around the world scramble to put together video and table games based on a single central theme over the space of two days. The Game Center will host more than 200 participants for its marathon session.

Participants will get to choose their own teams, projects, and how many hours they want to spend working or napping — so long on they have something ready to showcase come Sunday evening.

“We tell people that you do better work if you get some sleep,” said McKenzie. “But we’re not telling them what to do.”

The organizers will also provide a list of places nearby that are open all night, as the building closes at midnight. Of course, burning the candle at both ends is not encouraged — but that hasn’t always stopped people at previous jams.

“The organizers say not to stay up all night,” said Ilya Zarembsky, who will be participating in his fourth Game Jam this year. “But people do it.”

The short deadline makes for an exciting event, Zarembsky said, but also means participants don’t feel pressured to produce a particularly polished final product.

“You feel freer to try stuff out,” he said. “You don’t care if you mess up.”

The event had more than 16,000 participants worldwide last year, creating more than 3,000 games. And NYU-Poly is set to be the seventh largest location this year, based on registration data.

The jam is not just for hackers, McKenzie explained — game lovers of all stripes and skill sets are encouraged to participate, and can make a board game if they are not technologically inclined.

The Brooklyn event is also hoping to get more women involved this year. A group called the Code Liberation Foundation will be on hand to provide free workshops for women before the jam, teaching basic skills in game-making software.

“Games in general have some problems with diversity,” McKenzie said. “Especially with coders.”

There are no prizes in the Global Game Jam, though the Game Center event will have a panel of judges to highlight some of the best games. But the organizers insist it is not a competition — the most important thing is that people come together and share ideas.

“Often game making and game playing can be isolating,” McKenzie said. “It’s very energizing to be around all these people who are excited about the same thing.”“Global Game Jam” at the NYU-Poly Game Center (2 Metrotech Center at Lawrence Street, www.gamecenter.nyu.edu). Jan. 24–Jan. 26 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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