Here’s what went down at Philly Game Jam 2016

It’s unusually warm outside for November 19th, and most of Philadelphia is seizing the opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy it. Instead, a slew of developers and creatives are packing their sleeping bags and laptops and cramming into the office space of Webjunto in Northern Liberties. This is the weekend of the Philly Game Jam: an annual 24-hour marathon jam organized by Philly Dev Night.

Their task is deceptively simple: draw a word or phrase from a hat, find a group, and spend the night creating a game based off of the themes they receive. As many newly formed teams crowd into their work spaces, setting up stations elbow to elbow, the air begins to thicken with a droning symphony of clattering keys and hushed design work.

In the midst of the serious, intricate work of writing code, the monotony is occasionally broken by a passionate argument:

“every day, you just eat a random body part!”

“You’re just a random torso.”

From the other end of the room, an exasperated voice admits: “farts are the most difficult sound effects to capture.”

The process of making games often involves veering into the silly, surreal, and abstract. Perhaps that unpredictable energy is what keeps Steve Pettit focused on his computer monitor at midnight, building 3D models on one screen with a Google image search of “Manifest Destiny” sprawled across the other. His team is inspired by the story of the Donner Party, and are developing a multiplayer survival game with a somewhat morbid concept of competitively eating your fellow players’ body parts.

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Alex, Steve, Chris, and Corey hold group discussions on story and game mechanics.

Other teams wrestle with the difficulty of multiple teammates writing code over a wi-fi network at brimming capacity. Part of the challenge of a marathon jam is finding creative solutions for the seemingly small hangups that lead to disastrous consequences in a race against the clock. Christian Plummer, an experienced jammer, advises: “USB Thumb Drives are worth their weight in gold when the wifi is FUBAR and all you need to do is move a texture from point A to point B.”

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Cody, David, and Andrew are developing a game about filling a field with colored circles.

Plummer’s wise words went out to the Philly Dev Night Google Group, where curious newcomers were encouraged to jump in on the fun. Another essential element of a marathon jam is the experience of teaming up with creative people you might not know very well. There is lots of potential for learning and making new friends. Who knows–maybe a teammate from a past jam might prove useful down the line, when you’re looking for a sound guy to capture your cat throwing up for your new videogame, and he knows just the way to get it done. Generally, no matter what kind of work you do, it’s always valuable practice to tackle something challenging and unfamiliar in a time-sensitive environment.

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Greg and Rob have a foray into VR!

Although jams happen every month at Dev Night, the entire group typically only meets for the kickoff and judging. The audience gets to evaluate the sparkling final version of every game created, and skips the gritty, behind-the scenes details of how it came to be. By doing all of the work together in the same space, jammers have a chance to observe the actual process, and see how different teams reach solutions for their unique problems.

When the clock hit 2 PM on Sunday, the various teams had produced 7 games. The winning title, selected by a panel of professionals: Manifest Destiny!

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cannibalism for the win!

Honorable mentions went to Dead End for impressive use of VR, as well as Combodrop for beautiful design.

You can check the games out, and even download them to play, here!

Philly Dev Night will hold another marathon jam in January 2017: the worldwide, 48-hour Global Game Jam! Stay connected to our Google Group and Twitter for updates. Or, become a supporter of our Patreon to see behind the scenes of our creative process, all day every day, on Slack!

What If? Jam

For the October jam at Dev Night, we were hosted by another special guest. Jake Vander Ende (Spriteborne) normally makes the beautiful engraved wood plaques that we give out to jam winners. This month, he had the opportunity to curate the theme as well as the prize.

Jake based the jam theme on what-if.xkcd.com. The site has 150 unique questions; like “How long would it take for a single person to fill up an entire swimming pool with their own saliva?” or, “How long could the human race survive on only cannibalism?

He challenged participants to respond to one of the questions with a game.

The resulting entries, including a personal narrative about being a cyborg, and a man with one beefy leg trying to get to work, made us laugh and cry.

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The winners were a team composed of Moore College students Judie Thai and Dominique Evans, along with Rachel Hwang, Almando Santos, and Emanuel Whittington. Based on the prompt: “What if your food came to life when you cooked it?” They developed the multiplayer clicker game, Food Fight!

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See more entries from the What If? Jam here.

As always, you can browse and play games from Philly Dev Night’s itch.io archive here.

Wanna jam with us? Meet us at G-Team Internet Cafe on 1010 Cherry St. on Thursday, November 3rd to learn the theme for November’s jam and find teammates to collaborate with. All are welcome!

Dev Night Games Sweep Nominations for 2016 Philly Geek Awards

The Philly Geek Awards, first held in 2011, highlight outstanding achievements in Philadelphia’s geek community. For the past 5 years, they’ve honored a myriad of comics, films, makers, missions, startups, and much more.

This year, the three nominees for “Game of the Year” were all games created within our very own community. In fact, two of them were created as 2-week prototypes for our monthly game jam challenges: RESISTOR_ by Carboard Fortress and Breaker Blocks by Spriteborne.
The third nomination, Tailwind: Prologue, was created by Cipher Prime, whose studio hosted Dev Night for its first several years of existence.

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Nicole Kline and Anthony Amato created RESISTOR_ in August 2013 as a response to “Oasis Jam”, a theme that challenged its participants to choose an Oasis song title and make a game out of it.

“The song we chose was called “Roll it Over” which was what lead immediately to the flip over mechanic. Anthony’s line of thinking was, what if you had cards that were double-sided, and you had to flip them over to try to connect a line? And what if those cards were in your hand, but you could use yours or your opponent’s?”

– Nicole Kline

After a long road of play testing, prototypes, and production (which you can read all about here,) RESISTOR_ went on to become one of the most decorated games that has ever come out of Dev Night. Cardboard Fortress has visited Philly GamesCon, UnPub 5, GenCon, PAX East, South, and West, Too Many Games, and beyond, to showcase their Oasis-themed jewel and the new projects they have underway. It’s no surprise at all for us to see a game from this powerhouse of a game dev couple in this year’s Geek Awards.

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Jake Vander Ende created Breaker Blocks for the April 2015 “Profit Jam” at Dev Night. The goal was to come up with a prototype in the usual 2 weeks allowed for a game jam, and then spend an additional 4 weeks producing and marketing the game, with the goal of making the most profit.

“My first release was Yomi’s Gate, a tabletop game I started in 2014 and debuted in March 2015 at SXSW where it was nominated in the Gaming Awards.
It was on my three-day drive home that I came up with the foundation for Breaker Blocks based on the community response to certain aspects of Yomi’s Gate. I prototyped in the following few days and released to the public later that week and I’ve been tweaking the rules ever since.”

– Jake Vander Ende

Ever since, Breaker Blocks has exploded in recognition and popularity. Players really take to it–especially at the various places it’s been showcased over the past year. Indie Arcade Coast, SXSW, and PAX East & West, to name a few. We highlighted Breaker Blocks in our own Dev Night Jammy Awards–an internal celebration of our most noteworthy jam games–for the “Hipster Hallmark” award, and are happy to see it on its way to yet another accolade at the Geek Awards.

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One of the last things the people of Dev Night did in the late Philly Game Forge before it closed last summer was to celebrate Tailwind: Prologue‘s release. Cipher Prime worked on this magnificent game for three months, and consistently showed off their progress during our Show-and-Tell hour every week. Dev Nighters had the opportunity to watch this game grow, critique its progress, and play test it all the way to the fleshed-out final version. Tailwind: Prologue was released exclusively in the Humble Monthly Bundle as a Humble Original in April 2016.

From Cipher Prime’s website:

“The whole process was daunting. We started with 1 little promo graphic. This graphic was our touchstone for the whole creation experience. We also wanted to create a story, unlike any Cipher Prime game to date.

This was a process of self-growth and discovery, and we’re unbelievable happy and proud of the experience.”

It’s been a transitional year for Dev Night. We’ve gone through lots of changes, but seeing recognition of the tremendous talents that are fostered within our community is a reminder of just how important one little night a week has been to some people.

Game on, and we’re looking forward to the Geek Awards on October 16th at the Free Library!

Toy Jam

This past month at Dev Night, we shook things up a little! With the help of Mila Pokorny, our guest jam-runner, 9 teams responded to an unusual theme: make a non-game.

Or, a better word for “non-game” that gets the kids all riled up: a TOY! A fun, interactive object or digital piece that has no win conditions or rules. And, boy, could we toy. I’m talking, a farm animal sound generator for sex noises, a scrap foam airplane assemblage puzzle, a music generator simulated by racing cars–really, we had fun!

 

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The winner – Jason! His virtual toy, Animal Magnetism, generated toy animals into a field that could be dragged and tossed all over the place, sticking together in a weird world that will surely keep you occupied for hours.

 

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Play all of the submissions from Toy Jam here!

Our ever-growing archive of all Philly Dev Night jam games is here.

 

Donte Kirby, a writer from Technical.ly Philly, visited us during this jam judging and published an awesome write-up of the entire experience. Read it here!

Mila Pokorny: I Taught at TechniGals STEAM Camp and It Was Awesome

Mila Pokorny is a longtime Dev Night regular and volunteer. She’s an adjunct professor at Moore College, art director at Deerfox Games, and has previously done work for Quadratron Games at the late Philly Game Forge. Supporters of our Patreon might recognize her work from our awesome monthly art packs, which she organizes and donates her artwork to! Mila just finished teaching at TechniGals STEAM Camp, and is sharing an account of her experience.

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TechniGals was a camp I had the opportunity to work for over the course of the previous week over at the Middletown Free Library. This was a camp for young girls (ages 9 ~ 13) where they can explore STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) fields.

During the course of the camp I focused on how games work, writing your own choose your own adventure books (using word webs) and how to translate those word webs into Twine, an interactive fiction tool by Chris Klimas.

Philly Dev Night once had a guest appearance from Chris Klimas via Skype. He talked about tools for game making and accessible materials for all ages. Much of the talk focused on communication of tools, and wonderful digital games/toys made from other tools. Twine was a perfect tool for the class, since the library had to share computers with the Robotics camp that occurred after, and anyone who needed a computer at the time. The “Use It Online” option that allows Twine 2.0 to be used via browser was fantastic. Girls were able to save their work for later, and some even finished their work at home with tutorials.

We didn’t cover much code in TechniGals; our time was limited, and the girls really just had a ton of fun writing and making a grand adventure. We mostly focused on winning/losing conditions and creative ways to end stories. Well, until I showed them how to use an image as a background–then they went WILD. The girls wrote a plethora of fun stories, including: (but not limited to)

– being stranded in the desert and getting eaten by a crocodile

– traveling forward in time to run away from basketball-playing snakes

– trying to survive a plague

– hanging out with Harry Potter

– participating in the Fairy Olympics

A fun time was had by all.

Also during the camp, the girls were able to talk to 1-2 speakers a day. All of them were women in the STEAM fields, who all had the same quote in their presentations: “We didn’t have this when I was your age.” This is a strong note to hit on. It brought me back to my high school days of being the only girl in the Tech Class (commonly known as shop class) because I wanted to build and work with wood, like my dad, who was a carpenter and contractor. It was one of my strongest classes in middle school. My CO2 car got second place among the entire 8th grade class. In the first week of class, I got my period, but didn’t know. There was a spot on my pants. I was bullied and laughed at so much that I changed focus to art. When I got to college, I wanted to be a Game Art Major, but I was too scared of the lack of girls in the classes. So, I just audited classes, and kept my Animation Major.

There wasn’t a camp when I was little to prepare me to be the only girl in the room, and I really wish there had been. Maybe I wouldn’t have been such a loner in school, and maybe I would actually be a carpenter now. I just didn’t want to feel as alone as I did then.

In college, I met Andy Brown and Greg Mirles, who invited me to a game club. It was only through being invited into a community that I began to feel safe and respected. Zenas Bellace was the person who invited Andy and I to Dev Night. Philly Dev Night has been such a fantastic experience, partly because I’m not the only girl there. Actually, some of my best friends were people I met through Dev Night. I wish I had Philly Dev Night when I was in college, or even in high school.

The camp, overall, made me appreciate all the things I have worked hard up until this point to do, and also made me remember how much I like to teach. I return to teaching at Moore College of Art and Design this Friday, and I have never been so excited for summer to end.

Mila’s artwork is here.

Here’s more about TechniGals.