Game development crash course events Decon and GameJam come to DePaul CDM

Students socialize and look for teams for the game jam. (John Scovic / The DePaulia)

Students socialize and look for teams for the game jam. (John Scovic / The DePaulia)

DePaul’s Computing and Digital Media was host to not one, but two exciting gaming events for DePaul students this past weekend. Formerly two separate events, this year’s event weekend contained a series featuring industry speakers, known as DeCon, and a crash course in team-based game development called a game jam.

Run by DeFrag, DePaul’s academic video game development club, the event kicked off Friday night with DeCon.  Students piled into the CDM building to hear talks from local industry professionals about their experiences making games.

“This year we’re focusing more on technical skills in our talks rather than ‘games are fun,’” DeFrag board member Chris Wade said.

These talks focused on specific technical skills that each developer has used in their published and unpublished games given by representatives from four Chicago-based development studios: Trinket Studios, Synapse Games, Benedict Fritz and The Amiable, a studio formed by 2013 DePaul graduates. Each talk was followed by a question and answer session, and most developers mingled with afterwards students at greater length about the trials and tribulations of becoming a successful game developer.

The advice and tips the developers gave became all the more relevant leading into the second event of the weekend, called Fortune Cookie Game Jam. Compressed versions of game development, game jams allow teams to develop a game from scratch in a short period of time based on a given theme or prompt.

For this game jam, the entire development process from concept to completion took place over two days of frenzied work on Saturday and Sunday. After Friday night’s talks, students formed themselves into teams and received a theme from Wade. Most game jams have students compete with the same theme, but during this event group was given a fortune cookie with a theme printed on the inside. The randomized themes forced each to flex their creativity, and helped to alleviate any overlap between different groups’ game ideas.

Following team formation, each group laid claim to a computer lab in the CDM building for their brainstorming session. Each group tried to have a wide variety of students from different game development disciplines including art, design, programming and sound. This diversity in team composition ensured that each team considered a wide spectrum of ideas before deciding on the game concept they wanted to commit to for the weekend.

The next morning, teams met early to begin on their games. Among the 50 or so attendees, nearly half of them had never participated in a game jam before. The more experienced developers in each group worked hard to teach their less experienced peers about the process of game development.

“Game jams give students an opportunity to be self-motivated outside of class, and 48 hours of beating your head against the wall trying to solve a problem is the best kind of learning,” DePaul alum and faculty member David Laskey said.

After an intense 48 hours, attendees were excited to show them off in front of their peers Sunday afternoon when the event concluded. Each group took the stage and discussed how their games fit into the theme they were given, as well as what they learned at the game jam.

The games ranged from a rhythm-based game about a one-man-band’s journey to Hell to save his bandmates, to multiplayer card games where players use human souls as a resource to fight each other. Whether their games were finished, unfinished, or completely broken and non-functional, many student said they gained valuable experience from the event. The crash-course style of learning a game jam provides is hugely significant for aspiring developers to learn technical skills as well as team communication skills.

The next game jam event hosted at DePaul will be January’s Global Game Jam, which will have prizes for the games judged to be the best after the 48 hour development period.