With Pi Jam coming up this Friday, I sat down with organizer Anna Prein, a fellow 2013 Women in Games Scholarship recipient and current Vancouver Film School student to find out more about the jam, as well as the history of Hat Jam.
So what’s this thing you’re organizing?
It’s called Pi Jam. It’s a 48-hour game jam. It used to be called Hat Jam, VFS Hat Jam, but now we’re doing this with Microsoft so we wanted to change the name.
Our class (GD33) has finally moved to the 2nd floor! This means we’re back to 12-hour days of classes and work, but most of this time is now dedicated to our final project games, instead of assignments. It’ll be busy, I’m sure, but sometimes we spend so much time thinking about where we’re going that we neglect to appreciate the journey there. So: our team has decided to document our game through weekly devlogs*!
* Provided at least one team member has the energy and time remaining on each Friday to write one. As you might guess from the title, we didn’t really have time the first two weeks.
Following the success of the first Hat Jam, myself (Anna Prein) and classmate Michelangelo Pereira Huezo banded together to organize the second incarnation of this VFS game jam. Leaping Coyote Interactive also generously offered to sponsor this time, meaning that we could provide some food, snacks, donuts, and lots and lots of coffee.
If you already know what a game jam is, go ahead and skip this paragraph, but otherwise — a game jam is an event (usually over 48 consecutive hours) in which teams create a small game from start to finish. Game jams are increasingly more popular these days, with events like Global Game Jam, Ludum Dare, and Indie Speed Run! Some have prizes, but all game jams are fundamentally about the same core values of teamwork, creativity, and passion. They’re also a great way to learn, as GD34’s Daniel Garma will attest to: “You learn so much by jamming. People don’t even know. They don’t even KNOW.”
This time around, nearly 30 VFS Game Design students and TAs participated, creating eight fabulous games. Each team drew a theme from our fancy hat; themes were produced by the Video Game Name Generator. From there, it was a grueling 48 hours of work, work, work, and temporary periods of sleep-deprivation-induced madness.
GD34 students Semin Sim and Scott Thompson, looking pretty relaxed.
New Term 1 students from GD35 also joined us! From left to right: Emiliano Guerrero, Emilio Pelaez, and Matt Holland.
A Dark Room came to me right after last month’s Full Indie, where I discussed with a few people about why I don’t play many text games. As an artist, I am deeply invested in visuals and find it difficult to get into games with poor graphic styles or games that are text-only — not to mention that despite being an average writer myself, I’m harsh on other people’s writing. Well, that was silly. It seems like I was playing all the wrong text games.
The only visuals you’ll find in A Dark Room are very minimal ASCII, in what I assume is a later part of the game. Or is it only the beginning? The appeal of this game lies very much in how much it doesn’t tell you.
Hat Jam is a game jam held at the VFS Game Design campus by students, for students of VFS. Not just for GD students either, but students from all programs at VFS.
What is a Game Jam?
A game jam is a period of time where small teams make small games, according to a theme. These games can be any kind of game, be it a board game, 2D side scroller or full 3D adventure.
When is Hat Jam?
Hat Jam will be taking place this weekend, from 5pm Friday, all the way to 5pm Sunday. Students from other campuses may only stay until 9pm each night, however GD students may stay all night if they wish. Friday night will be team forming, Sunday will be the awards ceremony, where people will vote for the various games made at Hat Jam.
So, What is the Theme?
Hat Jam’s theme will be individualized for each team by drawing the themes out of a hat, hence the name Hat Jam.
Cool, What do I Need?
Nothing! ….well except for your creativity, but we are art students, so that shouldn’t really be a problem.
Awesome! How do I Sign Up?
All you have to do is contact the lovely Anna Prein at gd33anna_at_vfs.com with your interest
What are you waiting for? Come down to the Game Design campus at 88 East Pender and make a game. Come and Have fun, and don’t forget to meet some new people.
Recently several VFS students including Anna Prein, Alberto Mastretta, Michelangelo Huezo, Marcus Lembi and myself attended a local game jam hosted by iamagamerand supported by a myriad of local companies including East Side Games, Silicon Sisters, Radial Games, Indie House, and many others. Several VFS grads, many now working in the industry, also attended including Mario Gonz, Jess Garcia, Kramer Solinsky, Carl Graves, and TJ McLain.
All the teams got 48 hours to reach the same goal, to create a game with a strong female protagonist. The Centre for Digital Media was kind enough to provide the gymnasium where teams set up not just laptops and tablets, but computer towers, doubled monitors, speakers, and recording equipment. Across the table from Marcus and I, another team had a cello and a ukulele. The passion that the teams brought to this event was just as inspiring as the weight of the props they carried.
When students first come to VFS one of their major worries is often: will they be able to handle the coding? The answer to me is obvious – and it’s almost always a resounding yes! That is because the curriculum at VFS has been designed to teach everything you need without prior knowledge of coding.
People also ask me a lot – don’t you get bored teaching introductory programming in term 1? The answer is definitely not. The more advanced classes are great fun too, but for me my favorite class is week 7 of Programming 1. Seven weeks earlier, twenty or so students start my class; most with no experience coding. And seven weeks later they are producing group projects with thousands of lines of code. Seeing that transformation and their confidence developing never gets old.
Coding is not for everyone though and some students decide in the end it is not a career they want to pursue – so does that mean they can’t make games? Absolutely not – there are so many different disciplines that go into making games, from art to design, audio to production. However even if you choose one of these other great avenues, you will benefit from the knowledge you gained about what programmers do and how they work. That is why it’s a core part of the curriculum that everyone learns in their first term. If you want to learn more then you can choose to go deeper in later stream choices.
But I’m biased – don’t take my word for it! Here are the thoughts of three students from last term that have just finished Programming 1:
If you know what I’m cheering about, congratulations, because I don’t (yet). After the happy-fun-bonding times of Term 1, where we had relatively few assignments and spent hours playing Super Mario Bros. WiiU (which, by the way, is fabulous, and I encourage everyone to check it out from the Resources room… if our class hasn’t taken it already), Term 2 is like a road into darkness.
I don’t mean to be ominous or anything, but when there are instructors approaching you with warnings about the increased workload, you start to worry. We’ve seen first-hand what Term 2 does to people, too. The class before us, Game Design class 32, started it off cheerily enough, popping into our room to say hi on a near-daily basis. Then they began to disappear. We’d pack up to leave at 10 pm, and find them in the kitchen, preparing for an all-nighter — and that was only half-way through! Spottings of Moustafa grew fewer. The circles under their eyes grew darker. (But we love you, GD32!)
It’s Week 5 of Term 1, and we thought it was about time for us to sit down and have a chat – “we” being Janel Jolly and Anna Prein, from VFS Game Design‘s Class 33. Being both recipients of the Women in Games Scholarship, we wanted to learn more about each other, and what we thought of the program. So, let’s start!
Janel Jolly : Hey Anna! I’ll go ahead and start with the first question. What attracted you to the Game Design program at the Vancouver Film School?
Anna Prein : I’ve been living in Vancouver for about 5 years now, and a former roommate actually applied for the same Women in Games Scholarship a few years back. Once I had finished having my existential crisis about doing an unrelated undergraduate degree and then committed to pursuing game design, VFS was the first school I thought of.
In the past year, I started actively going to events in the community here, like Full Indie, and I kept meeting VFS Game Design graduates who were all intensely positive about their experience and who urged me to apply. I think that was definitely the biggest push! What about you?
Each year VFS awards an outstanding candidate the Women in Game Scholarship to the Game Design program, which sets them on the way to being next generation game designers. But this year, for the 5th Annual edition, there is a bit of a surprise — the candidates were so impressive that we awarded it to four of them!
Pictured above, from left to right are: Janel Jolly of Canada, Jaymee Mak of Australia, Anna Prein from Russia and Nicha Jaijadesuk of Thailand.
Two winners will be arriving in April, and the other two will be arriving in June. All of the winners of the scholarship will be sharing their experience with everybody by way of blog posts to Arcade. You can read the posts of the current Women in Games Scholarship winner Kristina Soltvedt from Norway (who will graduate from VFS this June) here. Previous winners Shannon Lee of Canada, (now at BigPark Games), Annie Dickerson from USA, (currently at Grantoo), and Larissa Baptista from Brazil, (who won a Unity Award for best Student game and is currently with DeNa Studios) have graduated and are now making their mark in the games industry.