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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Echo
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Press Start: students participate in 19th GameJam

Event lets students improve game design skills

From April 27-29, Taylor’s computer science majors had the opportunity to level up their game design skills thanks to the 19th semiannual GameJam.

With April 27 set aside for more brainstorming, designers had just 24 hours to develop a functioning game starting the following evening at 6 p.m. By Saturday night, games were submitted and ready for playing and judging.

“Not only do you have the game factors (like) what’s interesting about (the game), what are the mechanics of the game and is it just fun to play, but there are some really challenging computer science problems in there as well depending on the type of game that you’re playing,” Jon Denning, department co-chair and associate professor of computer science and engineering, said.

Denning is approaching ten years at Taylor, and GameJam has been an event he’s hosted ever since arriving in Upland. Denning himself became interested in video games and what it takes to develop them after encountering hit 90s titles like “Doom” and “Wolfenstein 3D.”

Each GameJam comes with a theme, and for spring 2023 that theme was: color in everything.

It explains why one submission was titled “Chicken Time Color Climb” and another “Hue Blast.”

The former — which let players control a bouncing, token-grabbing bird — was awarded first place. “Sppidor” (a puzzle game) and “Stide & Steek” (a take on cops and robbers) were also awarded miniature arcade cabinet trophies.

“We’re taking it seriously, but not to the point of where we’re getting mad at each other,” sophomore Tavin Reeves said.

Reeves served as an artist on “Chicken Time Color Climb.” Aside from the games being created from scratch, many featured original artwork and music.

And while winning is fun, he said the most enjoyable part was just getting to eat snacks and laugh with his friends for 24 hours.

This wasn’t the first time competing in GameJam for Reeves and his friends, but it was for senior Charlie Mikels.

He’d wanted to build games in the past but had never gotten around to it.

“This was a ‘I’m free this weekend. Might as well (try it), you know?’” Mikels said. 

Video games may be a multi-billion dollar industry with entire conventions dedicated to them, but Denning said the majority of people are unaware how much work is actually required to produce a working video game. There’s a lot that goes on under the hood, he said.

While 24 hours isn’t enough time to develop a “Red Dead Redemption,” Denning appreciates that students are still able to produce quality games.

“It’s not too long (that) you tire of it, but it’s not too short that you don’t have enough time to get something done,” he said.

Denning hopes that students who participate in GameJam develop some skill related to the development process, whether it’s working with graphics or basic game mechanics.

GameJam takes place twice annually, once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester. Students interested in learning more or participating can email Denning at jon.denning@taylor.edu