NJIT Hosts a Site for the 2016 Game Jam

Sophomores Monica Nelson (right) and Danielle Archibold designing a game during the 2016 Game Jam.

Once again NJIT was host to a large group of students, faculty and alumni during the annual Global Game Jam.

This year, more than 36,000 jammers across 93 countries produced almost 6,800 games, which represented more than a 20 percent increase in worldwide participation and output.

Held the last weekend in January every year, 2016 marked the sixth consecutive year for NJIT’s participation. Hosted by the School of Art + Design, the event represented continued collaboration between the Digital Design and Information Technology programs. Coordinated by Associate Professor Andrzej Zarzycki, NJIT played its part in the increase by expanding to a new record high of 126 registered participants at NJIT -- an increase over its previous high of 105 jammers.

“This year's jam was incredibly fun,” said Monica Nelson, a sophomore in the Albert Dorman Honors College who majors in digital design. “I worked on two different games that were made specifically for mobile devices. I was the lead digital designer on a game called ‘Oh God, Help Me!’ Additionally, I worked as the lead designer on a second game titled ‘The Beating at the Gates.’ Working on the teams was an amazing experience and I will not hesitate to participate in next year's jam!”

As Nelson’s comment shows, interest in game design on campus is strong.  So much so that NJIT was the fourth largest site hosted by a public university in the United States, and the tenth largest site (in terms of participation) in the country. Other sites hosting participating groups of jammers were held at universities that included: Carnegie Mellon, Michigan State, MIT, Northeastern, NYU, Purdue, Rochester Institute of Technology, Savannah College of Art and Design, University of California at Berkeley, University of Southern California, University of Denver, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech. 

The program started on a Friday evening with introductions and welcomes from David Ullman, CIO and associate provost of NJIT, and Glenn Goldman, director of the School of Art + Design. Their talks were followed by a screening of the keynote addresses delivered by Siobhan Reddy, co-founder and director of the video game development studio “Media Molecule,” and technologist and author Ramez Naamand. After the theme for the jam was announced, different interpretations and suggestions were presented to the group by Professors Martina Decker and Taro Narahara. University Lecturer Marc Sequeira then gave an overview and visual history of past games created at Global Game Jams by NJIT participants. These faculty members were joined by adjuncts Jessica Ross of Digital Design and Eric Nersesian of Information Technology to help organize the people who had come together to create games.

And finally, the participants started jamming by breaking up into small groups led by faculty and alumni to brainstorm and pitch game ideas. Teams were formed, and everyone started working on games – generally two or three. In a manner that closely resembles how professional teams create games, different persons and groups brought their skills to projects in a multi-disciplinary effort that often required coding, environment design, character design and more.

This year, NJIT teams produced 23 games of various types: 2D games, 3D games, platformer games and even a mash-up of games that turned into a series of five mini-games, one of which included a hamster driving a tank and fighting missiles and rockets in outer space. The games were uploaded to the event’s website by the Sunday afternoon deadline.

Each year, the jam has a different theme, or prompt, around which participants must create their games. The theme for this year’s jam was one word: “ritual” -- a theme that allowed jammers to become philosophical and introspective or to explore demons and satanic cults. The group produced a number of three-dimensional working games like “Funkalicious Shamanism” and “Arena Souls.” Religion and ancient gods also proved a fertile topic in a game such as “Oh God Help Me.” Underlying many of the games produced at NJIT this year was a sense of humor – both in the process and products. The 48-hour event ended with all teams presenting their games.

Tiffany Barnes, a sophomore majoring in digital design, also enjoyed the jam. This was her second jam -- she did it last year -- and she also joined two teams this year, where she did sketching, 3-D modelling and artistic concepts for both games.

“I had a blast at the game jam and learned so much,” said Barnes. “I couldn’t wait for this year’s jam. I’d want to work in the video game industry, so it was great to get a feel for what I might be getting into.”

By Robert Florida