"Why is my heart broken?" asked Dani Belko (ETC'12), a producer at Schell Games, as she played a videogame called "A Plug's Life" on a large screen in Carnegie Mellon University's Hunt Library.
Controlling a small electrical socket (with a comically split heart) around a virtual world, she was play-testing games as part of this year's Global Game Jam, the world's largest game creation event where people created and shared games online over 48 hours. This year's theme was "What Do We Do Now?"
Some 25,000 people created more than 5,000 games in 78 countries Jan. 23-25.
At CMU's Pittsburgh campus, students formed eight teams. The Integrative Design, Arts and Technology Network (IDeATe) served as host, keeping students fed and caffeinated. Tom Corbett, special faculty from Electronic Arts, organized the local event, which served as the first assignment for his course in game design.
The IDeATe Network connects diverse strengths across CMU to advance education, research and creative practice in domains that merge technology and arts expertise. The network includes eight undergraduate concentrations and minors on new creative industry themes: game design, animation and special effects, media design, sound design, learning media design, entrepreneurship for creative industries, intelligent environments, and physical computing. It also includes a professional Master's degree in Emerging Media offered across the College of Fine Arts, School of Computer Science and College of Engineering. The Entertainment Technology Center is part of the network, as is the Integrative Media master's program in New York City at Steiner Studios.
"The opportunity to host the Global Game Jam was an obvious exercise for students in the game programming, design and production courses of the IDeATe minors as well as for students in the graduate program of the Entertainment Technology Center. The jam provided further experience to our students on how to quickly generate innovative ideas in games and prototype them through teamwork," said Thanassis Rikakis, vice provost for Design, Arts and Technology.
Teams received the theme on Friday night and set to work.
"The scope is very important when you only have 48 hours. I showed them 'Call of Duty' and said, 'You're not doing that.' I showed them 'Angry Birds' and said, 'Maybe you're doing one level of this,'" Corbett said.
Teams mixed designers, programmers and artists. The team behind "A Plug's Life" started with a large idea board, where everyone brainstormed and looked for similar themes. They decided to turn the traditional video game on its head.
"You'll actually rotate the entire environment instead of us giving you abilities like jumping," said Jacob Slone (CS'16).
The animated socket begins by falling endlessly into an abyss until the player figures out to turn the screen to land. As Belko noticed, the socket has a broken heart as it journeys to find its true love — a plug.
Another team started its process around how the members wanted players to feel.
"We didn't want frustrated bewilderment, but more of 'What's going on and how do I deal with it?'" said Tom Garncarz (DC'17).
The team created "You Have to Die," a tongue-in-cheek rendering of a character being reincarnated. During one level, players became an ant whose goal was to be eaten by a bird. Another level turned players into a potato that must roll across a counter into a boiling pot.
Most teams pulled all-nighters Saturday. For testing, Corbett pulled in a panel that included Daragh Byrne, Intel special faculty with IDeATe; Matt Stewart (ETC'12), co-founder of Digital Dream Labs; and Belko.
At the end of the weekend, Corbett announced the winners of the audience's and judges' choices. "You Have to Die" swept both categories.
"You all now have a completed game in your portfolio that you can talk about and the battle scars to prove it," Corbett said. "And yes, we have class tomorrow morning."
Check out the games (and play them).