You have 48 hours to make a game. A few thousand other teams are doing the same thing, and none of you know what your game will be about until the clock starts ticking. This is a game jam. Have fun.
Game jams are all about bringing people together to design and create a game in a very short amount of time, usually just a couple of days. Writers, programmers, artists and designers work in teams to put something together before the clock runs out.
Global Game Jam took its lead from previous jams like the Indie Game Jam and Nordic Game Jam, but none of the others are on quite the same scale. Kicking off on January 20 and running through to January 22 is the ninth event in GGJ's history, and, at the risk of cliche, it's the biggest one yet.
"Our main goals are always innovation, collaboration and experimentation," says Giselle Rosman, executive producer of GGJ. That's the closest thing the not-for-profit Global Game Jam has to a manifesto.
It's hit a milestone 100 countries for the first time this year, including sites in a Swiss castle, an underground bomb shelter in Amsterdam and an old prison in the Netherlands.
"We're constantly looking for growth," says Rosman. You can't say Global Game Jam hasn't found it.
Strap yourself in for some numbers. The first Global Game Jam in 2009 saw 1,600 people make 370 games in 53 sites across 23 countries, all based on the theme of "As long as we have each other, we will never run out of problems."
This year's theme is a tightly guarded secret and won't be unveiled until things are in full swing this weekend, but Rosman points to the 700 sites around the world, estimated 7,000 games that'll be made and the 40,000 people making them to show how far Global Game Jam has come since then.
Based on participant surveys, around half the jammers every year are first-timers. This year, there's a push for more virtual reality content, but there's also a surprising bid for more board and card games on the low-fi end of the spectrum. It means teams without coding skills are welcome and can still make a game.
"There's a rush to having a hundred or more people around you as you each struggle to make something work the way you want it to," says Krister Collin, a repeat jammer and indie game developer based in Sydney, Australia. This year will be his sixth GGJ.
From the participant side of things, he says that jams are about community, about railing against strict deadlines and getting something made.
"Because you're thrown so many limitations, a weird theme and are working with people you might not know well, there's a real need to get clever, creative and weird."
That's a common theme. Not just for the jammers, but for the organisers too. "Last year in China, we couldn't speak directly to our regional organisers," says Rosman. "Our regional organiser duplicated our website and put it up on Weibo [a blogging site available on the other side of the Great Firewall]".
Rosman and her leadership team are based around the world -- in England, Ireland, Amsterdam, Melbourne, the US east coast and Brazil. Getting together is a "scheduling nightmare," she says.
Once the weekend actually kicks off, Rosman will have her own site to manage in Melbourne. That's where the bananas come in. Teams of game developers working a full weekend of crunch don't maintain the best diets. It's a lot of energy drinks and takeaway, says Rosman.
"I'm such a mum. Your game will be worth it even if you sleep. No game is better if you stay up for 48 hours. Drink water, eat food, sleep. I ordered 60 kg of bananas for my site. The bananas are there because by the second day, people really just want something that isn't pizza. And we learned that oranges are too messy."
"I like to see good, creative spaces where jammers can try some zany ideas," she adds. "I don't want them to say 'Oh, this won't be commercially viable'."
That said, there have been some runaway hits born at GGJ. "Quite a few games have continued on to success and critical acclaim," says Rosman.
Screencheat, a multiplayer first-person shooter won several awards at the 2014 Global Game Jam and put local studio Samurai Punk on the map. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a genius cooperative bomb defusing game, came out of a playable build made at GGJ 2014. The biggest hit is probably Surgeon Simulator. You can guess for yourself what that's about.
For the first time, GGJ is being broadcast live on streaming platform Twitch. You can tune in this weekend to see jam sites around the world.
Between wrangling 800-strong collaborative Slack channels, new sites in tumultuous areas like Palestine and Armenia, coordinating a globe's worth of timezones and managing a worldwide volunteer effort, I asked Rosman if it was worth it. It's an unreserved yes in reply.
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