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