Students Take On the Challenge at Global Game Jam

This January a team of Drury University computer science students made a trip to St. Louis to participate in a unique and challenging global event. Global Game Jam is an annual hackathon-style event in which participants collaborate to design a functional video game from scratch in a span of just 48 hours.

This year’s jam took place from January 26-28 at 632 local sites spread out across 95 countries. The weekend kicked off at 5 p.m. on Friday with a keynote address and the announcement of this year’s theme.

One of the things that makes Global Game Jam exciting is that participants are encouraged not to prepare for the event in advance. The reveal of the prescribed theme for the games promises to throw a wrench in any plans that jammers may have going in, as will the ideas and talents of other teammates. Furthermore, participants are encouraged not to come with a team in mind, but instead to form a team with other participants they meet once they arrive on site. 

“I feel like that is the point of a game jam,” says Drury computer science student Andrew Snyder. “You get to network, meet new people, and see what other people are able to do. It was a good place to learn more because if you are just with the same people every time, you only learn your methods, or your school’s methods."

The Drury contingent of students ended up spread out among four different teams. Each team had members who were there to fulfill one of a variety of roles in the game design process. Some participants were programmers who built the code of the game, while others worked as artists or musicians to create the essential aesthetic features. 

The theme for this year’s Global Game Jam was “Transmission.” Once teams formed from the crowd and determined their individual roles, they had to brainstorm how they would design a game centered on that concept. 

“A lot of people did transmission of messages or viruses,” explains freshman Sarah Lester, who was on a team with several other Drury students. “We did transmission of heat for cooking.” 

After determining their vision, teams dedicated the remaining time to making it a reality. For many, it was a grueling but rewarding 48 hours of trial, error, and problem solving. Some participants took breaks to return to their rooms and sleep. Some did not. In the end, many of the teams were able to present their finished game at the conclusion of the weekend. 

“Ours was called Beat Boi Manic Radio,” says Snyder, whose team successfully completed a music and rhythm-based game with point-and-click shooting elements. 

Regardless of whether or not they turned out a finished product, participants were able to make valuable connections and learn lasting skills.

“I think one of the best ways to learn is to actually do it,” says Lester. “Going to an event like this where you only have 48 hours to make a game, you’re doing a lot more programming than you would in a classroom and I think I learned a lot from that.”

For Snyder, the lessons go further than just the keyboard. He believes the experience taught wider-reaching lessons about planning, working with a strict deadline, and being part of a team.

“We really enjoyed it, and we definitely learned a lot,” he says.

Game Development at Drury     Software Engineering at Drury

Story by Bryan Haynes, Marketing & Communications graduate assistant.