Chicago's games community was a pretty big deal for a while. From Midway to PC Gamer, we had a darned fine run, up until the cultural abomination of the late '90s (no matter what Sean thinks about Mambo No. 5 or the Thong Song). But times got hard, and it seemed like all the talent moved to Seattle, Boston or the Bay. Midway went bankrupt. EA Chicago closed up shop. The shining star of Chicago games seemed to be (wait for it ...) Golden Tee. Now, after years of decline, the second city seems once more to be rising from the ashes—or at least that's the idea.
While cities may burn in the course of just one night, they aren't rebuilt in a day. Networks of gamers and developers are forming. Universities are starting to pay more attention to games as craft, business and art. Mortal Kombat lives again, and Sands himself championed F.E.A.R. 3 (by Day 1, which has offices in Maryland and Chicago).
One promising piece of the rebuilding effort is the local IGDA chapter, which relaunched earlier this year and has been incredibly active, hosting panel discussions, training, and, now, a game jam.
Now look, I'm a Chicagoan. As such, I realize that I suffer from an undying sense that things are getting better—maybe not always in government, but certainly when it comes to sports. We tend to be certain that every sports trade will make "this our year." Or that, failing such year ownership, "Next year. Next year's our year." Keeping this in mind, I understand that, even if Chicago isn't poised to be the next #1 game dev city in North America (though the top 5 may be within reach), the town's starting to do alright for itself. Anyway, this article is taking up Fringe Busters' spot today, so you're probably waiting for me to get to the games.
The theme for the inaugural Chicago Game Jam was "chaos theory." Three games made it out of the jam alive.
Team: Team Sweet
Judge's Choice winner
Look, I already made the Prodigy joke while the team was working. It's over, OK? Anyway, in this game, you race around the city, lobbing fire at buildings while evading hazards and the cops. I've been unable to win thus far, but the core gameplay is truly solid, and the games are short enough that I keep wanting to try again.
Team: The Hats (no, not "Hattes")
Spirit of the Game Jam winner
The world has been blown up, but your repair robot lives on, struggling to put things back together. You can push and shoot floating structural bits to move them into place, but beware flying vampire teeth and bombs, which will explode on impact with your structure. This one's challenging nature really struck the right emotional chord with me to match the narrative and the jam's theme.
You hold in your hands a cast-iron cannon, which lobs living cannonballs at oncoming enemies. If you miss, the cannonball will land and start marching back at you, apparently upset at your lack of skill. Keep advancing to reach the finish and avoid the wall that pursues you.