Students build wellness-focused games in #GameDIAD hackathon

With little or no experience, teams of students emerged from a weekend of development with working games at Game Development in a Day, or #GameDIAD, held Feb. 4 – 5.

Held at UW’s Stratford campus, the event challenged teams to build a game that addressed wellness, fitness, or mental health in Stratford.

Students attended crash courses in game design Saturday morning and afternoon. Then students got to work using Unity, a free game-building program, to make their ideas come to life with support from mentors.

Prof. Lennart Nacke, the hackathon’s lead organizer, wanted “to get students that were interested in making games and get them making games for a purpose.”

GameDIADDespite many students never having designed a game before, the results were impressive. “I’ve taught game design for five years, and these games are highly impressive for 48 hours,” Nacke said. “It’s amazing!”

Beyond the challenges of co-ordinating art, design, coding, and sound into a product, many participants also had to fight against the weather, with some teams losing members over the weekend.

“Comparing this to other hackathons, the groups were huge,” said Filip Jadczak, 4B Global Business and Digital Arts, who competed in the event. “It wasn’t until later into the event when so many people didn’t show up that they made smaller groups.”

Prizes were given out to the top three games, as determined by judges. The winning team, Make Something Great Again, built Unite, a two player game where each player controls a circle that are tied to each other, so that one’s movements affects the other’s. Players have to work together to win the game.

Sharon Chan, 2A Global Business and Digital Arts and part of the winning team, talked about the challenges of #GameDIAD:

“Thinking of something that incorporated the three themes and Stratford,” Chan said. But the challenge, she said, was worth it: “It was pretty cool, just making it in two days and it turned out better than I thought it would.”

Erica Long, Master of Digital Experience Innovation and also part of the winning team, felt that she learned a lot from the challenge.

“I feel accomplished,” Long said. “I feel good. Everyone got their job done and were great on their own part.”

Developers trying out games.
Photos by Ju Hyun Kim.

This isn’t UW Stratford’s first hackathon-type event. “Stratford usually has these events two times a year,” Nacke said. “We usually have these events geared towards user experience. There’ll be UX camps for sure.”

Many of the students were thinking of taking the skills they learned over the weekend to future projects.

“[Game design] is something I’ve always been interested in,” Jadczak said. “I feel like learning Unity can be used for different things, like VR.”

Long agreed. “I’m thinking I’m going to learn more about Unity at some point,” she said.

“I definitely want to build a game sometime.”

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