Author Carren Jao Illustration Graham Roumieu
It sounds a little like rain, the endless clatter of keystrokes coming from a conference room at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. Inside, 16 game developers stare at their computer screens, trying to create the next Tetris or Space Invaders— and to do it in just 48 hours. Soda, coffee and fruit are within easy reach.
These game-design aficionados—most of them male and college-age and older—are among the 4,333 developers assembled in a slew of locations from Denmark to India for the second annual Global Game Jam, an event organized by the International Game Developers Association during which designers, programmers and artists team up to build new video games in caffeinated marathon sessions. This year, 929 games are being created, an increase of almost 250 percent over last year. (Among the favorites: Mr. Mask, Punk Skunk and Kawaii Maximum Overkill, all of which can be downloaded for free at www.globalgamejam.org.)
With blockbusters like Halo 3 costing an estimated $30 million to produce, publishers aren’t keen on taking big risks, so the Game Jam fills an important role as a breeding ground for new ideas. “No toy company is paying you to do what you do, so you’re not beholden to other people,” explains 30-year-old Rob Gordon, game designer for Ship Sweepers of Spain. “It’s just you and your teammates.”
Though operating on just an hour of sleep, 22-year-old Tedo Salim is avidly tweaking the code for One Ninja. “At, like, two or three a.m., you get that feeling in your stomach when your body thinks you should be sleeping,” he says, “yet you still just code away!”