DigiPen game projects typically take two semesters to develop, but during the first weekend of February, students and community members alike gathered to churn out playable games in just 48 hours at DigiPen’s Global Game Jam site. Eighteen DigiPen-based teams developed games inspired by 2023’s theme, “Roots,” participating in the event with 39,483 fellow jammers spanning 108 countries, including some working from bomb shelters in Ukraine.
The 2023 Global Game Jam marked DigiPen’s first in-person, on-campus return to hosting the event since the COVID-19 pandemic. “I participated two years ago in DigiPen’s online Global Game Jam,” says campus jam site organizer and BS in Computer Science and Game Design junior Li Baum. “But once restrictions let up and folks had gotten vaccinated, I really wanted to bring it back to campus since it’s such a different experience.” As the founder of DigiPen’s new Game Jam Club, Baum had already organized his first short six-hour game jam during the annual campus LAN party, the success of which inspired him to go bigger with the 2023 Global Game Jam.
Using DigiPen’s Edison production lab as a main hub with the option to join virtually as well, the campus remained open the entire 48 hours for both students and participating community members during the event. Multidisciplinary teams spent the weekend taking 2023’s “Roots” theme in fun, unique directions. “We had teams take it as ‘routes’ and do train games. We had plant-growing simulators. We had games with carrots, potatoes, and onions as main characters. And we had lots of puzzle games about getting to the ‘root’ of the problem,” Baum says. “There were so many interesting takes on it that were all really good.”
Baum’s own team, composed of fellow event organizer volunteers, crafted a top-down shooter from the perspective of an operating system root fighting against computer viruses. “Our friend wrote the most cursed code imaginable in these little console windows, put a face on them, and made them the enemy,” Baum laughs.
Rather than a stressful mad dash to create a masterpiece, Baum believes Global Game Jam and jams like it are an excellent way to hone a vital development skill. “There are really cool games that come out of Global Game Jam, but that’s not the point. It’s a great production exercise in scope management,” Baum says. “It’s a cool process because you have to learn to be OK with this minimum viable product and make cuts when you really want to crunch and add all these features in. But then during the final showcase when you show it to other people and see how much they love it, you realize how valuable that minimum is.”
Instructor and DigiPen Show host Doug Zwick served as MC during that aforementioned final showcase, streamed live on Twitch, and played through each of the 18 teams’ completed Global Game Jam games (save for one created for virtual reality). “The showcase was great. We gave everyone an allotted amount of time to show off their game, and it went so smoothly. I’d really love to do Global Game Jam again here next year,” Baum says.
Indeed, Baum is already dreaming up ways to expand the scope of Global Game Jam on campus in 2024, with hopes of inviting high schoolers from DigiPen’s WANIC programs to participate as well. “I’d love to get more people from DigiPen involved. My ideal for next year is to match junior devs and artists who have never done this kind of thing before with professors and industry vets who are super knowledgeable on it, and let them mix together,” Baum says. “I loved being a part of the community of Global Game Jam site organizers — I’d like to do as many game jams as I can!”