Tuesday night at the 360iDev conference in San Jose, around 60 developers gathered in a room on the eBay campus around 8pm as security locked them in for the night (one developer joined the group via Skype -- that's him on the big screen above). Their goal? A game jam. Before 8am the next day, they would put together working prototypes of games, either based on their own ideas, or revolving around the night's theme of "Tiny." Not all developers were there to make new games -- a few were there to work on current projects or offer up their help to others. But up until 2am and beyond (that's about when I chickened out and let them work), the room was full of developers punching away on their keyboards, writing code, designing art, and, well, developing.
I originally thought that it was just a lark; a fun project that gave everyone an excuse to spend the night on the eBay campus. But no, this was serious stuff -- apparently at least one App Store game has its origins in past game jams at these conferences. So while developers were just testing their skills at putting their ideas into motion, it's possible that we may see some of these prototypes show up on the App Store eventually as working products.
After the break, we'll provide a look at what a few developers were up to at Tuesday's game jam.
Touch Arcade sponsored the event, and they set up a forum specifically for developers to post and document their ideas as they put them together. So you can see a lot of what happened over there, as developers put together various random posts and concepts and works-in-progress. Most of the time during the event, things were actually pretty subdued -- after an early introduction by everyone involved, most all of the developers got down to work. There were various murmured conversation snippets occasionally ("What kind of game are you working on?" "We have no idea yet." "That's the best kind of game!"), and every once in a while, you'd hear a developer testing some music or adding in some sound effects, but for the most part, it was steady work all around.
Here's a few of the developers in attendance and a look at what they came up with. Again, some of these were based on the theme of "Tiny," but they didn't have to be.
A software engineer (and former programming intern) at Tapulous named Rob used the night as an opportunity to try and build a particle system on the iPhone -- he walked around and took pictures of developers' faces (including mine, although I never saw it pop up in his app), and then built this simple application that guns down a random developer from the game jam. It's not exactly a "game," but the particles do look pretty good, no?
Aurora Feint's Jason Citron and Jakob Wilkerson went all out -- early on in the night, Citron described his idea to us as "a multiplayer version of Scorched Earth that will have you shooting at each other between planets," and as you can see above, they pulled it off pretty well after bringing the whole thing to a chalkboard motif. They were pros, too. Citron wrote up a design document for the app while his engineer started coding. This probably needs some nicer assets put in (and it's not like Citron isn't busy enough with his app and OpenFeint), but this might actually see release someday.
Nathan Eror of Free Time Studios (makers of SlapHappy!) put together a clever little game called "Kayak King" (a pun that I really enjoyed, though it may have been because I was staying up late and going on caffeine at that point). The screenshot above is just cobbled together from Google Image Search, but he showed me that the idea was to swipe down either side of the screen to "row" the kayak. Apparently he finished with 25 minutes left -- it was an intriguing idea, and hopefully we'll get a chance to play it.
Finally, two speakers at the conference, Owen Goss of Streaming Colour Studios (who had wowed attendees with a "make a working prototype in 80 minutes" session a day earlier by making a game about bacon farming) and Mike Berg of We Heart Games (who spoke at the conference about outsourcing game programming, and actually got to attend the show thanks to a very generous last-minute fundraiser) put together a game called Atomz which had players matching up variously colored atoms to cancel out their valences. This game was probably the most "finished" that we saw -- each of the atoms above are actually a 3D model designed by Berg, and Goss used his proprietary game engine (the same one he'd been able to prototype a game in 80 minutes with the day before) to build it out quickly.
There were a lot of other great games on display. You can see Touch Arcade's rundown for more, and here's some video of the final showcase posted by Parth Dhebar of Simple-Reviews.com.
It was very impressive to be in the same room as all of that creativity and brainpower. We heard a lot about how to design games and software this week, and there was a lot of talk going around about the right way to market and sell games and apps. But the game jam was a frenzy of exactly what a conference like 360iDev was made for: developers getting together and honing their craft as a community.