How a video game design competition opened up friendships and opportunities for UK students – Kentucky Kernel
They met as strangers with a passion for designing video games and left as friends.
Rafael Estrada, Sam Morris, Michael Probst and Caleb Geyer met at the Global Game Jam Event in Lexington in late January.
Probst and Geyer are both current British students, Morris a British graduate, and Estrada a game developer from California. Everyone came from different backgrounds. Yet this game jam on the Newtown campus of Bluegrass Community & Technical College brought together these people, who may have never met, to work on a project.
The Global Game Jam is an event where participants from all over the world create a game within 48 hours from a given keyword. Many well-known games like Surgeon Simulator, Super Hot, and Reflections at Sunset originated from various game jams.
But more than that, a game jam is an event that brings people together, helps strangers connect with each other, and empowers everyone to bring their passions to life in a video game.
These events are attended by various people who may have 20 years of experience in game development or have never played a video game before. Either way, everyone is welcome to participate.
RunJumpDev, a Lexington, Kentucky-based nonprofit whose goal is to cultivate the local game development community, hosted a branch of the Global Game jam at BCTC over a weekend in early February.
Fourteen participants, at 6 p.m. Friday, were given the keyword “Repair” and 30 minutes to brainstorm ideas.
After this period, anyone with an idea had the floor to present their ideas. These ranged from a NASCAR-inspired pit stop management game to a “Metroidvania-like” game (a genre of games inspired by Metroid and Castlevania games) where players collect parts to repair a robot.
Anyone who enjoyed a pitch was welcome to come together with whoever pitched it and form a team. Five teams were created, some participants worked solo while others worked with up to 4 people.
Estrada, 31, is a game developer from California. Estrada is currently working on a game for Xbox called Unichrome.
Morris, 29, is a British graduate majoring in computer engineering and physics. His closest experience to game development was working in firmware development at Lexmark.
Probst, 22, is a British senior specializing in computer engineering. He is co-founder of FricknFrack Games, a game developer in Lexington whose goal is to create fun games with purpose.
“We want to give players a great experience that’s not just fun, but gives them something meaningful. It can be anything from a simulation game where, you know, you learn a new skill …or you know, just basic education, teaching, that sort of thing.
Geyer, 21, is also a British senior, specializing in IT. He is a student at the Science and Engineering Library on the UK campus, who creates small games in his spare time as a hobby.
Regardless of experience, the game jam brought these four together for 48 hours to bring their imaginations to life.
The game that these four aimed to create was called Singularity. The initial pitch was to make a competitive game where one player destroys things and the other player repairs the destruction.
Each task a player completed earned them points to achieve a high score, just like an old arcade game would.
When they came together, each member had an idea of what they wanted the game to be. They have been separated from a first person experience, a 2D game or even a game using pixel art.
By the end of the first day, their ideas had completely changed.
By 10 p.m., after three hours of discussion, the team had reached a consensus on what their game would be.
Singularity would be themed around robots versus humans, with asymmetrical gameplay.
A team would be the human destroyer. A player would be in a first-person environment, tearing through a variety of objects and scenery according to an on-screen task list.
The other team would be the robot repairers. Three players would play with a third-person bird’s-eye view of the game, going through an assortment of mini-games to repair items that the first human destroyed.
After the brainstorming came the distribution of roles.
“Making video games involves working with so many different art forms. There’s the visuals, the art. There’s the music, the programming, the sound effects, the story,” Estrada said. .
“Being allowed to work in a team allows you to break things up and focus on one thing at a time,” Estrada added.
Estrada handled the object and environment modeling himself, while Morris worked on creating the minigames and some aspects of the level design.
Probst and Geyer worked on smaller tasks. Probst worked on keyboard and controller compatibility with their game, while Geyer edited the movement and rotation of objects and players.
Once their tasks were determined, the following days were spent writing more than a thousand lines of code, finding bugs and fixing problems.
Midway through Saturday, the tension seemed to mount as the hours ticked toward their deadline, and each of them typed furiously at their keyboards.
That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun.
“If I’m making a game, I’m having fun,” Probst said.
As they got to work and fell asleep comfortably in their roles, the crew started talking about their work, laughing and having fun.
Estrada, being more experienced in this area of work, offered advice to the other three members, teaching them how to code in the software they were using.
“Being able to work with people who had never used Unity before or had never made a game before and be able to show ‘OK yeah, I really know how to do particle effects…’ and be able to explain that in a way that hopefully you’ll be able to use later. I thought that was cool,” Estrada said.
Sunday as the deadline approaches, the silence of the day before is absent. Team members are constantly discussing problems, solutions, and new ideas that are still being explored.
The lines between the teams are slowly blurring and participants start yelling at each other for advice from other teams in case of last-minute problems. Controller issues, hit detection not working, pieces of programs disappearing.
As all these problems arise, everyone in the room tries to come together to help each other. For an hour, the whole room is a shared community working together on a single project, instead of five teams working alone.
“What I liked least was the last few hours, realizing that we might not be able to get everything we wanted,” Geyer said.
At 6 p.m. Sunday, the team submitted their play, although neither member really wanted it.
In 48 hours, getting rid of every bug was nearly impossible. Sometimes characters would fall through the ground or animations would not work properly.
“Of course, I’m proud of what we’ve done. But I wish there were more,” Probst said.
Although the event has ended, Singularity’s development is not yet complete.
The team has reached an agreement to go to weekly RunJumpDev meetings together and plan to work on Singularity over time, to be a truly finished game at a later date.
And while Singularity may not become a hit game on an official platform like Steam or Xbox, it will certainly unite these four for a long time.