Waterloo Game Jam - Disrupting the game design world

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Waterloo Game Jam Poster
Card games, board games, video games, and digital games — a plethora of different games and people came together for the annual Global Game Jam. Packed away in the Quantam Nano Centre, fueled by candy and Subway party subs, eager game designers, both young and old, new and veteran, toiled away all weekend with the sole purpose of crafting an original game.

True to the idea that anything can be made, games at the event were as diverse as the people who created them. They ranged from digital action puzzle games to dating sim card games.

Although game creation is often thought of as a computer science or tech-heavy endeavor, the Game Jam was filled with people from all fields, ranging from computer science faculty members to fine arts students. Rina Wehbe, PhD student at the Games Institute and member of the International Game Development Association, said: 

Unlike the Game Jam that the Games Institute runs every semester, the Global Game Jam is a weekend dedicated to crafting new, original games on a global scale...

...a Game Jam doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is a programmer, we have people who are doing narrative, people who are doing … game design… So it’s really interesting to see the diverse skill sets…. Everyone’s welcome, and that’s a huge message.

This event follows the creation of the newly offered digital arts communication course “Introduction to Game Design” that introduces arts students to the world of game design. With these new courses and clubs like Game Dev and the Games Institute on campus, a new breadth of students are being exposed to the exciting world of game design.

Regardless of the roots of the students, faculty, or community members at the Game Jam, each of the design teams were coming up with new and unique ideas.

David Deschamps, a fourth-year CS student and member of the Game Dev Club, shared his team’s game concept:

Our game is called and it’s an idle game with a whole bunch of players at once where you make lumberjacks and you try your best to cut down an entire forest … We came up with this a while ago and thought this would be a fun idea to do at a Game Jam and filed it away until there was a Game Jam.


As for why he shows up every year, Deschamps summarized the mood of the entire room, especially where he sat trading jokes with his neighbours. Deschamps said:

Making games is fun, playing games is fun, sitting in a room with a bunch of people trying to do cool stuff is fun.

Not all games that are created are full-length games, though. As the weekend only consists of one full day and two half days to work on the game itself, Victor Cheung, a veteran of Game Jams warned:

We usually recommend to start with a smaller game. Some people will come in and say, ‘Oh I want to make the next ’ and this is not going to happen in one weekend. So we always recommend them to start small. Some people will try to make a level only.


Starting small and working up was the approach of Lawrence Folland, the technical manager at the Cheriton School of Computer Science, and his team. They created an action puzzle game with the same name as this year’s theme, Ritual. When asked how long they had stayed at Game Jam on Friday night, he responded:

I was here until 10:30 or quarter to 11 last night. We got it to where we had something that we really liked and today has been trying to pull it all together and flesh it out and hopefully we turn it to where it’s a game with levels.

At the end of the weekend, creators and any other interested parties are able to move around testing out the newly created games. Awards are usually handed out as well. If there is an award for the most original game I Heart Harems Everyone Finds True Love Geometry could be a contender. Semple described it as being about, quite terrifyingly, “dating and murder.”

Many interesting games will count Game Jam as their birthplace and as the Waterloo-based faction of the Game Jam participates globally, Wehbe’s goal of creating a “place where lots of people can get together and work on games and form this game design community in KW,” might just be a reality.

So whether your interest is in turning harem tropes to violence or watching widespread digital deforestation, there is a little something for everyone at Game Jam.

Come check it out next semester and bring your ideas, and some caffeine!