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February 05, 2013

In a Heartbeat: Five TFA Teams Compete in Global Game Jam 2013

This year, Tribeca Flashpoint Academy once again hosted current students and TFA alumni for Global Game Jam.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a game jam, it’s pretty simple: teams of designers compete to create a game on a given theme within a very short amount of time—usually just a couple of days.  
Game jams are great opportunities for creative minds in game development to come together, and the Global Game Jam is their Super Bowl. GGJ is a worldwide, 48-hour event, with hundreds of teams registered from all across the globe.
In the past, the GGJ Organization Committee has pushed the boundaries of designers’ imaginations with simple themes like "deception" and "extinction," and quotes (such as, "As long as we have each other, we will never run out of problems"). Last year’s theme was an image of Ouroboros.
This year’s theme was one of their more abstract to date: the sound of a heartbeat. With that revelation, our participants (a group of approximately 50 people) broke up into 5 separate teams to tackle their take on the heart beat audio clip—building the titles "Burn Bright", "Fatal Escape", "Glo", and "Heart Attack". Our alumni team built the game "Grievance".

"I learned more during the two days of the Jam about who I am, as a developer, and about game development as a whole than I have through most of my adult life."

- Thom Clancy, First-Year Student
Game + Interactive Media

Experience points: how game jams educate our students
Of course, Tribeca Flashpoint Academy is a school first and foremost. While the Global Game Jam ends up being a lot of fun, it's also quite educational.
Among the participants, there was a common refrain that GGJ taught them skills that were truly relevant to their career in the game development industry. As 2012 alumnus Chris Weiss put it, "I had a wonderful moment where I heard a student say 'You know, I love how the school teaches you so much and we get a lot out of our classes, but I've learned so much over these last 48 hours that I wouldn't have gotten out of this semester.' I remember saying almost exactly that during my first game jam, and I think that's why I value those experiences so much. So this was really important to us as a team and for those of us that were still learning about game development."
The lesson wasn't lost on the current students, either. First-year game student Thom Clancy said that "The most important thing I can say is that I learned more during the two days of the Jam about who I am, as a developer, and about game development as a whole than I have through most of my adult life. It's the perfect example of learning by doing. Every game student should do this, every year. Period." And let's not forget that Clancy has already worked in the game industry at developer High Voltage.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. GGJ is also a great time to try new things, make mistakes, and spend quality time solving problems—of which there can be plenty. As student Kameron Wesley points out, "It's pretty difficult to gauge your skill level if you are never given an opportunity to put them to the test." First-year Teague Fanning confessed that "While my team didn't make an amazing game, the time and effort we put into it is something we can really appreciate. We also built the game using an entirely new program, Unity. Our crash course was both frustrating and fruitful."
Achievement unlocked
So what's the big take-away that occurs in the Game Jam? Max Laskowski suggests that, "It was really fun to experience such crunch time efforts and the ability to see your game unfold in such a short time. I think I can speak for my entire team [when I say] that it was really fun to work in such a large group and see the cooperation among so many people who just want the project to succeed."
Typically, one of the big concerns is that students may not feel they're quite ready to contribute to something as demanding as making a game in just 48 hours. To that, Dylan Snyder says that "... it was one of the most incredible things I've ever experienced, and I learned so much. Any TFA students that feel their skills aren't worth enough to take part are doing themselves a disservice, and the experience you gain from attending is invaluable. Cannot wait for the next Jam!"
But for as wonderful an experience as GGJ is for our Game + Interactive Media students, I sincerely believe that the lessons stood to be learned can be applied to all digital media disciplines. From film to audio to animation to graphic design, every budding digital media professional can find something to take away from this intense, hands-on, no holds barred experience. As George Karris, an Animation + Visual Effects student, put it, "I feel that GGJ was an experience I will never forget. Anyone who missed out missed out on something big. The [first year students] who attended it will be a leap ahead of anyone who didn't. While not every plan came out to perfection during the 48 hours we were given, it was an amazing experience."
We hope we'll see you all at next year's Global Game Jam. In the meantime, play games by TFA teams here.

About the Author: Bob McCabe, Game + Interactive Media

Killian Heilsberg, Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy

Bob McCabe began his career in game development at BioWare, Corp. in early 2000 after graduating from the University of Tennessee with a BA in English.

At BioWare, Bob was a member of the teams that created and shaped such critically acclaimed and multi-million selling titles as Neverwinter Nights, the NWN expansion Hordes of the Underdark, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect. With these projects, Bob served in prominent roles as a technical writer, creative writer, level designer, scripter, senior Quality Assurance (design team), and QA Design Lead -- as well as contributing media/editing to the PR/marketing process, contributing feedback on Baldur's Gate II and Dragon Age: Origins, and earning certified hours as a project manager.

Since leaving BioWare, Bob edited game text on the Motion Twin title Dino RPG, and helped as a beta tester for Tilted Mill's Hinterland game.

Bob has been an instructor at Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy since June of 2010, and through TFA has also been working with the Facebook developer KBooM! Games as a QA Lead and mission designer.

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