K-State hosts second annual Invitational Game Jam

Nick Boen, graduate student in computer science, works on his team's game during the second annual invitational Game Jam hosted inside Phase IV of the engineering complex on Feb. 6, 2016. (Miranda Snyder | The Collegian)

K-State’s Game Development Club, Department of Computing and Information Sciences and Association of Computing Machinery planned and hosted an invitational Game Jam at K-State for the consecutive second year.

In a Game Jam, participants must develop a game in a set amount of time, usually around a theme which is kept secret until it is announced at the beginning of the jam. The theme this year was “Diabetes.” Games incorporated thematic elements of diabetes and diabetes treatment, such as insulin and the management of blood sugar levels.

Following a kickoff ceremony on Friday, participants had 48 hours to develop a video game from scratch. Games were submitted Sunday afternoon for judging, and teams were awarded for having games with the best art, audio, gameplay, narrative and use of theme.

Nathan Bean, coordinator for Computing and Information Sciences, said a “best overall” winner was chosen, and the winners of this category will receive a license for the game engine Unity. This prize is worth $1,500, according to Unity’s website. Similar to last year’s Game Jam, the licenses were donated by Unity for the event, Bean said.

For their game “Bearing with Diabetes,” Jeff Cook, junior in computer science, Calum Fletcher, sophomore in computer science, Carson Holt, freshman in computer science, and Mark Williams, senior in economics, won the “best overall” category. Aside from Williams, who participated in last year’s Game Jam, this was the team’s first jam.

“This is my first Game Jam, but I’ve programmed games for a hobby,” Cook, who handled programming and gameplay, said. “So I had some experience with game development going in.”

The team members said the biggest challenge they faced in developing their game was creating a game that was consistent with the theme.

“The game doesn’t just have to teach you about diabetes and its treatment, it has to be fun to play, too,” Cook said.

The members also said the 48-hour time constraint was a challenge. For their game specifically, the team faced challenges such as software incompatibility and implementing game-pad support, so the game could be played with a standard controller.

Chad Ostermann, senior in digital media, and James Berck, junior in computer science, were returning participants from last year’s Game Jam. They said they had more difficulty the second time around. Berck, who handled programming, said they moved from 2-D to 3-D gameplay, which brought a whole new set of challenges.

“3-D is a different set of rules, programming-wise,” Berck said. “Everything is much more complex. It went better last year. It was much more difficult this year, but it was a lot of fun and we still learned a lot from it.”

Ostermann, who said he handled the art, said both year’s Game Jams taught him a lot.

“Time management and streamlining the development process were both things we improved on,” Ostermann said.

He also said outside experience helped him.

“I studied abroad in England and learned some 3-D design skills,” Ostermann said. “Switching from 2-D to 3-D let me try those skills out and practice them.”

Bean organized both this year’s event and the inaugural Game Jam last year. Bean said some of what he learned last year led to changes in this year’s event.

“We did web-based submissions for judging, which made judging much less chaotic,” Bean said. “The jam was also much more centralized and more socialized, which is much better.”

Bean said there were 61 participants, which was the exact same number of participants as last year.

“I’d like to see more people get involved with game development at K-State,” Bean said. “It would be cool to see some programs aimed at different aspects of game development, such as art. I’d like to see more multi-discipline teams. Game mechanics can be used to teach people some pretty complex things.”