JMC Academy was home to hundreds of game industry folk over an exciting weekend as Melbourne’s 10th Annual Global Game Jam commenced! Over the years these Jams have brought so many talented creators to the mainstream and it’s always a thrill to see what will come out of them. Events like these give developers making their start the opportunity to work in an open, non-judgemental environment and simply create!

The theme for this year was Repair, which stirred up a lot of excitement amongst attendees. Once jammers had established their teams and chosen rooms to hibernate in for the duration of the weekend, crunch time had begun! Everybody had such unique ideas and it was interesting to watch how these concepts evolved and changed over the course of the event. 

Creating a game from scratch over a three day period is not an easy feat and it was quite amazing to see what everybody managed to pull together by the end of it. Although some teams I spoke to didn’t manage to complete their games to the capacity they wanted, it’s still a huge accomplishment and one to be proud of. Above all, the main take away from these jams is to have fun and enjoy the process of making a game!

Diversity In Games

Each team had such individual approaches to the concept of repair. Some took the literal route, where elements within their game had to be destroyed and rebuilt. Whereas others adopted a deeper mindset and explored what the term repair meant to them. Jammers were definitely not short on ideas and each group managed to put their own spin on the theme and make something that was completely their own. 

The group behind Ship The Animals (Phoebe Ho, Lily Huynh, Liam Houston and Claire Peta) took on the idea of re-pairing escaped animals together in a Noah’s Ark inspired game. Another standout was the dating simulator Hey, We Need To Talk, developed by Ella Lowgren, Kerstin Evans, Matt Pulsford and Ceri Hutton. The game took the player through the trials and tribulations of a broken relationship in the style of a visual novel, where they had to make choices that would influence the direction of the story. 

Pictured: Ceri Hutton planning out a branching narrative tree for Hey, We Need To Talk

One team even built a Dance, Dance Revolution inspired LED mat called Repair Stomp. The mat was programmed to change colour when stepped on and gave the player the objective of bringing each tile back to its original state. The board itself was also broken to begin with so the team had to repair it. Very meta indeed!

Jammers play testing Repair Stomp!

There was such a difference in play styles in the games presented as well. One stand out was Mind Garden, developed by Ben Nauls and Sara Dimech-Betancourt, which acted as more of a peaceful art installation than a traditionally playable game. There was such diversity in how each game was brought to life and I was in awe of just how much everyone could create in such a limited amount of time.

The Support For Indie Devs

Nick Fowler, one of the developers on All The King’s Horses was kind enough to give me a deeper insight into Melbourne’s indie gaming scene. This space is saturated with young, enthusiastic developers and quite often it’s hard for anyone to make a start. This is in part due to accessibility issues and lack of proper funding, as many indie studios rely on external grants in order to operate.

“I remember back to when I was at uni, we had a presentation given to us essentially telling us that the majority of us would not get jobs in the industry… It was a disheartening, but necessary reality check,” Fowler explained, illustrating just how difficult gaining employment as an indie dev is when starting out. Even after formal education, the real world experience is what gives a lot of people a jumping off point to further their careers. This is why Global Game Jams are so vital, not only are these games great pieces to add to a portfolio, but creating them gives real insight into what working in a studio feels like. Because of time constraints, jammers needed to be brutal with what they left on the cutting room floor and it’s a big learning curve for a lot of people in finding out what they’re capable of.

Pictured: Liam Houston & Phoebe Ho working on Ship The Animals

Game Jams are not only a fun way to spend a weekend, they’re necessary for people in this arena to build their confidence and feel seen. I only hope to see turnouts for these Jams grow in the future and for large sponsors to continue supporting these wonderful events as the years go on. 

It’s A Team Effort

My favourite part of the weekend was the people I met. Everybody had such different backgrounds in game development and it was encouraging to see how welcoming everyone was to people of lower experience levels. Attendees spanned from members of established studios such as Samurai Punk, to university students who had never attended a jam before. 

The environment was so collaborative and it felt like there was a true sense of camaraderie amongst attendees. Tamara Partridge and David Weaver are partners who worked as music and sound engineers at the Jam. They assisted on site with everybody’s games as so many teams were missing elements of an entire dev team. They also provided voice acting when needed and took part in recording “neighing” sound effects for All The King’s Horse’s. All 150 jammers participated as well and every audio clip was included in the game. Huge thanks to Tamara and David for providing some levity and being such a massive help over the weekend!

Pictured: David Weaver & Tamara Partridge

The couple working on the local multiplayer Tower Tussle (Olivia Ong and James McGinnes) were attending the Jam as a team for the very first time! The game tasked one player with the role of wrecker and the other fixer and made for some interesting combat. Seeing how each team worked together and planned how their games were going to come together was really cool, especially since so many jammers had never met each other before.

Another thing I loved was the difference in skill sets and ability levels amongst each team. Kim Niemann, one of the developers working on Deep Dive, had the chance to learn a new animation technique from one of the team members at Samurai Punk. It never felt like there was a sense of hierarchy or competition amongst anyone, everybody was there for the same purpose and working towards the same end goal. Game Jams are the perfect place to not only hone your skills as a developer, but meet others who share your mindset and passion for making games.

I had an absolute ball at the Jam this year and would highly recommend signing up for the next one to anyone who’s interested in game development.

Melbourne has such a beautiful gaming scene, from big events such as PAX Australia to more intimate events like the Melbourne Global Game Jam, there is so much diversity in everybody that attends and all are welcome. Big thank you to Microsoft and Big Ant Studios for sponsoring the event and to Giselle Rosman for being such a wonderful host.

For those interested, there will be a Play Party taking place on the 18th of February at the South Melbourne Town Hall at 6pm and will be free to all attending. You can also visit the Official Jam Site to download and play all of the games created!

Thanks to everyone for a wonderful Jam this year!