Feature Stories

NJIT Game Jam Is a Success: Seven Games Created

The NJIT Game Jam was a success, with seven working games created.

UPDATE:

The NJIT Game Jam was a smashing success, with seven teams creating seven fully functioning games. And they had only a weekend to work. The theme around which teams had to design their games was subjectivity: "We don't see things as they are; we see things as we are."

Students, alumni and outside participants divided into teams of about six members -- but two teams were solo and one had 10 members -- and got to work Friday night. Some slept; some didn't, but by Sunday evening their work resulted in seven working games. NJIT was part of the Global Game Jam, which had 18,000 participants at more than 480 locations in 73 countries. On Sunday evening, all of the teams had to upload their games to the Global Game Jam site. It wasn't a contest so much as world-wide opportunity to create games under deadline pressure.

One of the games developed at NJIT is called "Insight." The team had six members of various majors. Jonathan Martin, a digital design major, said he slept Friday night but not Saturday night and that the sleeplessness was worth it.

"It's really rewarding to have a created a final product -- a game that is playable,” said Martin, who worked as the team’s lead artist and lead developer.

One of his teammates, Ken Schlatmann, a junior with a double major in computer science and science, technology and society, agreed. This was Schlatmann’s second time at the jam and he said his team was more focused this year, which allowed it to create a better game. Having developed a playable game, he said, will also help him and his teammates professionally.

“When you are staring out as a gamer the biggest hurdle is to create a working game that has an end and is complete,” said Schlatmann, who worked as the team’s sound and music designer as well as a designer. “And this game will be part of our portfolios, which will help us when we interview for full-time jobs.”

Nate Solo is a freshman at NJIT and this was his first game jam. Despite his youth, he came up with an idea for a game – “Brain Slug,” that six members helped him create. As he and his teammates presented the game Sunday on a projector in Weston Hall, the audience laughed as a yellow slug affixed itself to a character’s brain and took control of his mind. Solo, a digital design major, said doing the jam gave him a glimpse of what it’s like to work as a real gamer under deadline pressure.

“I felt as though the game jam was a particularly fun and insightful experience,” said Solo, “as it allowed me to get a glimpse into what the game industry is like and the amount of work that goes into making a game. I love gaming, and being involved in the development process this weekend was a wonderful experience. I could definitely see myself doing this again in the future, perhaps even as a career."

And what he’ll remember most about the jam was the emphasis on team work.

“I think the best part of the jam was seeing everything come together,” added Solo. “There were times in which the programmers and artists on the team had some creative struggles and couldn't compromise. But once everything was resolved and the game began to come together, it was a very fulfilling feeling.”

Glenn Goldman, the director of the School of Art + Design, said what was different, and superior, about this year’s jam was that in the end all of the games worked. In previous jams some of the games had the misfortune of not fully functioning, he said.

“But this year all the games worked,” added Goldman. "The students weren't attempting to make games. They created working games. That was very gratifying to see and the game jam was a great example of students from different colleges at NJIT, and of various majors, working together to develop working games."  

Only one 3-D game was created this year, but it was a good one. Titled "Happy Place," the main character must avoid various pitfalls that can catapult him into a house of horror. But if the game player is good, the character will instead be launched into various happy places, such as a rainbow-laden playground or the sweetness of a baker's kiitchen. 

Rocco Ricciardi, a junior majoring in IT with a specialization in game development, canme up with the idea for the game -- and idea that was enticing enough to attract  nine gamers, who joined his team and helped to create "Happy Place."

"We had a great team that made a great game," said Ricciardi. "Just as the character is about to face a horror, the player can jump him into happy place. You must strike a balance between having the character be in the gruesome world or the happy world -- that's the theme. It's a great game and we welcome everyone to play it."

(By Robert Florida)

Story from Janaruy 23, 2014

If you love video games and want to learn how to make them, or if  you'd like to work in the gaming industry and want to know how to develop a game, then the place for you to be this weekend is NJIT.

The university is a host site for the Global Game Jam, a weekend-long marathon that offers students, alumni, professional gamers and others a chance to design a video game as part of a team under deadline pressure. It's open to anyone over 18 years old.

The Game Jam starts Friday, Jan. 24th at 4 p.m., and ends Sunday at 6 p.m. The jam is free and parking is also available free in the NJIT parking deck. To register, sign in at this website and add NJIT as your local site. You may also contact Andrzej Zarzycki, an associate professor of Architecture and Digital Design in the College of Architecture and Design who is the regional coordinator for Global Game Jam. The jam will have hundreds of electronic sites in more than 60 countries. This is the sixth annual Global Game Jam and the fourth time NJIT is a host.

NJIT is a key site for Northern New Jersey. Last year, nearly 100 students participated in the NJIT Game Jam, making it one of nation’s largest sites. Such success was unsurprising since NJIT offers two game design programs— COAD’s Digital Design Program, and the Game Development Specialization within Information Technology, part of the College of Computing Sciences. The Princeton Review rated this winning combination as one of the nation’s top spots for studying game design and development. 

Louis Saporito, a senior at NJIT majoring in Information Technology (IT), did jam last year and is signed up to jam again this weekend.

“I like the Game Jam because it's a great way to connect with other people who all share a love and passion for games and game development,” says Saporito. “Also the 48-hour time constraint and interpretive themes produce some really interesting and experimental games. I signed up again because of how awesome an experience I had last year.”

In brief, the jam works like this.Gamers gather in Weston Hall on Friday afternoon. NJIT signs onto the Global Game Jam site and gamers watch a video about rapid game development. A well-known professional game designer usually gives a brief talk, after which an official announces the game-development theme. It’s usually a one word theme, such as “extinction, “apocalypse,” or “heartbeat.” Teams then begin building games around the theme.

Some gamers arrive already on a team. But it’s more likely that teams form on the spot, with programmers mixing with artists, writers, audio people and animators. Some could also join a few different teams. The deadline is Sunday at 3 p.m., when games must be uploaded to the jam site. From 3 to 4 p.m., NJIT professors and staff informally review the games and jammers can play each other’s games. The jury panel then reviews the games. There's a panel discussion from 5 to 6 p.m. when awards are given out.

The Game Jam, though, is not a contest. It’s much more than that, says Glenn Goldman, the director of the School of Art + Design who helps organize the NJIT jam.

“The jam attracts all sorts of interesting and eclectic people,” says Goldman. “Some are beginners and some are professionals. Jammers work in teams, which is the way  games are developed in the industry. People participate because they love various aspects of gaming – they don’t do it for credit. Our digital design students work with students from the IT Gaming Specialization and all get a sense of what it’s like to make a game as part of a team under deadline pressure. And it exposes participants to industry professionals, some of whom attend every year."

Some of the gaming professionals who attended past jams were later hired to teach in the area of Digital Design, says Goldman.

Kunal Majmudar, for instance, participated in the first NJIT Jam. He’s a professional gamer who worked so well with students at the jam that NJIT later hired him to teach classes in music and digital audio in the Digital Design Program. Another professional who attended a jam, Jessica Ross, was later hired by the program to teach linear art, storyboarding, and 2-D character design. And yet another professional who did a jam, Brad Chun, now teaches entrepreneurship in Digital Design.. All three initially met at the Global Game Jam. Having professioal gamers teach at NJT benefits the students.

Majmudar, for instance, owns a small gaming company called SWDTech Games. And working for that company now is Stephen Haddock-Weiler, a recent NJIT graduate (2013, Diigital Design major) and avid gamer.

Haddock-Weiler studied with Majmudar, who was so impressed with his class work that he hired him. Haddock-Weiler now works part time at SWDTech as an environmental artist, which means he helps to visualize a game’s environment – the buildings, the streets, the interiors. 

“It’s a foot in the door to the gaming industry and I would never have had that opportunity without the Game Jam, which I'll do again this year," says Haddock-Weiler. "If you do something out of passion, you learn far better. I recommend the jam to anyone interested in getting into the gaming industry; coming to the jam is an excellent first step.You meet students from different majors and professionals who could one day be your employer. If you are passionate about gaming, the Game Jam is the place for you.”

Rocco Ricciardi, a junior majoring in IT who specializes in game development and is signed up for the Game Jam, says he loves designing games because it allows him to enter other worlds -- namely, the world of his imagination.

"The best part of gaming is accessing a media that allows your mind to submerge into a world quite unlike what we each individually live on a day-to-day basis," says Ricciardi.  "What I actually love about building games is that the world people dive into when they play is just a mere representation of my imagination -- the world I personally live in every day.”

By Robert Florida