World-famous game creations in 48 hours

The Games Institute (GI) Jam at the Univeristy of Waterloo is a tri-annual event, bringing together videogame lovers, programmers, writers, and music and visual artists from within Waterloo and beyond to create workable and innovative digital and tabletop games in a 48-hour weekend. While participants at GI Jam were not required to submit their games to Global Jam, all games created and completed over the Jan. 23-25, GI Jam weekend were eligible to do so. 

This Jam was Waterloo’s fourth Jam and the “best Jam yet,” said John Harris, UW doctorate student and chair of GI Jam. About 70 participants with a variety of academic backgrounds — software engineering, computer science, visual arts, geography, and environmental management — and game-making experience were present, but all had a shared passion for gaming. 

The weekend also coincided with the Global Jam, the world’s largest Game Jam event that in 2014 garnered 488 participating sites (such as the one in Waterloo) from 72 countries. The standard game engine (game-building software) for the weekend was Unity. A 30-day trial of Unity Pro was opened up for the weekend (and is still obtainable from the Unity website at 

From the most experienced programmer to a complete beginner, most of the room found themselves learning Unity from the roots up. With lots of passion, teamwork, two light meals of cheese, cookies and fruits, and the in-between pepperoni pizza, people found themselves learning and using Unity within hours. 

Also included throughout the weekend were tutorials held by Victor Cheung, a doctoral student and award-winning instructor, on basic programming using the free programming language processing, and tutorials on using Unity held via creating a game of <em>Snakes and Ladders</em> by local game developer and designer Mike Brown.

What came out of the weekend were dozens of games of limitless variety and ingenuity &mdash; multiplayer games involving players tied by a scarf, games using controllers, digital and tabletop-integrated games, and even a high-end brick-breaking game using the Oculus Rift and the player&rsquo;s face as a paddle.

&nbsp;GI Jam also features awards: the People&rsquo;s Choice Award, the Game Institute&rsquo;s Imagineawesome award, and the Meeple Syrup award, which is meant to recognize the best hybrid digtal game. This years winners were <em>Joined at the Hip</em>, <em>SNAFU</em>, and <em>Starhub</em>, respectively. The winners walked away with both the award and something to put on their morning toast; each of the awards came with jam or maple syrup.

Honourable mentions of the weekend included <em>Sumashoot</em>&nbsp; and <em>Smiley No More</em> for sticktoitness, <em>Garden Guardian</em> &mdash; a multiplayer game to plant trees while chopping down the opponent&rsquo;s &mdash; for polish, <em>Aliens</em> for cuteness, and <em>Destiny Drawer</em> &mdash; a single-player, points-driven game of a girl looking for a place to live while jumping upon visual strokes of her creativity, eventually reaching an infinite rainbow of self-discovery &mdash; for story.&nbsp;

Waterloo&rsquo;s Winter 2015 GI Jam and its predecessors would not have existed without&nbsp; Harris who, in addition to being GI Jam&rsquo;s chair, completed his undergraduate degree in mechatronics engineering at UW and is conducting research as part of GI. This jam was Harris&rsquo; last time to chair, and he&nbsp; invites all avid gamers and leaders to apply to be the next chair of future Waterloo game jams.&nbsp;

GI, located in East Campus 1, &ldquo;is a research centre that is open to all games-related research from any and all academic disciplines,&rdquo; said Dr. Neil Randall, director of GI.&nbsp;

According to Randall, the Institute was &ldquo;formally approved by U.S. Senate in June 2011,&rdquo; and its goal is to &ldquo;advance games research in a truly interdisciplinary manner.&rdquo;

&ldquo;We wish in particular to fully explore the concept of &lsquo;games for good,&rsquo; including games for health, education, social interaction, and more &hellip; we also examine games as media, subjecting them to the kinds of deep analysis more typically applied to literature, art, film, television, etc.,&rdquo; Randall said.

GI hosts Play Nights every Thursday at 6 p.m. to try out&nbsp; games made at the Winter 2015 and previous GI Jams, and to hear tutorials and make games with other game enthusiasts. Ladies&rsquo; Game Night is every first Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m.

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