Erik Hanson Chicago Game Jam 2011

Chicago Game Jam


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.

Team: XO's
Beast Cannon

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.

Next on Fringe Busters:
This coming week we will be screening our play of To The Moon. Stay tuned to @FringeBusters for details.


Seriously tho, what's a game jam look like? Are there rules? 24 hours, notebooks, and Monster? Do they prep beforehand? How many on a team? I really wanted to stop by this year. Sounds like Occupy with fewer camcorders.

The rules and schedule are on the site.

What it looks like is roughly 48 hours, starting on Friday afternoon, of teams coming together in groups of roughly 5, taking a theme, and working like crazy to have a working game done in time for the judging on Sunday (with some choosing to take breaks for sleep, food, hygiene, and consultations with knowledgable industry professionals). It was a very energetic room, even if most of the sound was the clicking of mouses and keyboards, and Toy Studio's space in Wicker Park is pretty sweet (not to mention right across the street from tasty, tasty Big Star).

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. Here at GWJ, both Switchbreak and I take part in a few of the Internet based Jams. I really love doing jams, so much fun.

Ludum Dare is pretty popular with the indie community and even Notch of Minecraft fame participates. They occur every four months, the themes are submitted by the community and then go through several rounds of voting the week before the event. The winning theme gets announced at 10PM EST and your off to the races. The "compo" event is 48 hours for an individual to make a game, the "jam" event is 72 hours for a team to make a game. It's a fascinating culture because people blog their work on the site, share their successes / failures, ask for help in the IRC channels, capture & share time-lapses of their desktop using Chronolapse. Notch had a live stream of himself coding during the last event that was absolutely AMAZING to watch from a developer standpoint.

Another event worth checking out is the Global Game Jam coming up in the end of January. It's a weekend game jam event with teams from all over the world producing games at the same time. I'm trying to organize a group in Cleveland to participate but finding a decent location is problematic. If you look on the site though, there are over 100 groups world-wide participating.

Flying vampire teeth? Interesting.

garion333 wrote:

Flying vampire teeth? Interesting.

You use the images you can come up with when time is tight.

I mean ... I don't know ... it, like, means something? It's part of the game's overarching existentialist theme?