In a hurry to laugh, Global Game Jam teams at VCU create humor on a tight deadline

February 5, 2024
The team that created

Timing is a big part of comedy, and participants in the recent Global Game Jam 2024 found themselves laughing in the face of pressure.

The free event, held worldwide, brings together video game creators for a creative sprint: They had only 48 hours to develop original games based on a secret theme. This year’s was “Make Me Laugh” – and they did.

This past Sunday evening, local Game Jam participants – professional developers along with Virginia Commonwealth University students, alumni, staff and community members – reassembled in a James Branch Cabell Library classroom to show off their work. The eight teams, which began working together on Friday evening, included programmers, artists, audio editors and voice actors among the roles.

The appropriately named game “Tough Crowd” featured a smug comedian who taunts his audience, and the player has to lob tomatoes at the comedian. The creators of “Blobulous Ball Blast” elicited smiles for focusing less on gameplay and more on the fantastical world they established.

“We all like making weird little dudes,” said Rachel Sheeran, a VCU School of the Arts and Brandcenter graduate who directed 3D character design. “There’s no point to the game.”

Even a simple line – “Where am I?” – got a big laugh when uttered in a game called “Official Clown College Training School,” which also scored with its sound effects for success and failure.

Local event organizer Momin Kahn, a member of the RVA Game Jams organization, asked each team questions about the experience of creating computer-generated games in just 48 hours. And VCU senior Blyth Feuzeu, a special education major who joined the jam just for fun, got a knowing laugh from the crowd when she noted that editing 72 audio files for her team’s game was no small feat.

Kahn, a game developer and software engineer, and co-leader Valentina Hawes, a 3D artist, collaborated on the event with Oscar Keyes, the multimedia teaching and learning librarian at The Workshop, a space for creative technologies in the lower level of Cabell Library. They also worked with the Game Creators Coalition, a VCU student organization that was key to outreach.

A photo of six people working at two tables. Local Global Game Jam participants included professional developers and local community members working alongside VCU students, alumni and staff. (Oscar Keyes, VCU Libraries)

The Global Game Jam teams included at least one experienced leader and at least one VCU student, and to help participants get rolling, organizers offered workshops on Friday that were a part of the regular Cabell Library programming Workshops @ The Workshop.

Keyes developed and led a workshop introducing virtual world building in Unity, a popular real-time gaming engine, for a class taught by Semi Ryu, Ph.D., of the VCUarts Department of Kinetic Imaging, which was opened to the public so more people could learn the skills.

Keyes also led a “Bitsy for Beginners” workshop focusing on terrain-building tools and how to navigate first-person controllers with materials developed by digital media artist and game developer Tamara Duplantis. Bitsy is a free, web-based gaming engine,

The training led to impressive – and funny – results just two days later.

“I was so blown away by the work. The art was amazing,” Keyes said after Sunday’s presentations. “I had been trying to find connections with the RVA Game Jams group. This was an opportunity to collaborate, and it was one of the biggest events this year. It was an amazing turnout, and the organizers were a delight. I was laughing a whole lot.”

VCU seniors Abby Downes, a communication arts major, and Rachel Scott, a computer science major, helped organize the event as members of the Game Creators Coalition. They noted that Global Game Jam was different from game design class, because in the event’s short time frame, participants had to quickly find common ground.

“It is a good experience to put in a portfolio,” Scott said. “It shows you know how to make things, and this kind of event is helpful for me to network with people working in this field.”

Downes said the showcase highlighted how the effective collaboration among organizers encouraged participation and commitment to the event’s goal – a sentiment 3D artist Hawes echoes.

“What we want by holding game jams is people willing to show up to try,” said Hawes, whose love of game creation inspires her to help organize intensive events. “It’s a great outlet, and it helps artists finish things. It’s motivating to have a time limit.”

Organizers said the Global Game Jam at VCU was the biggest turnout the local group has seen, with the school’s support helping bring many newcomers to the event. Several of the teams used The Workshop’s audio recording facilities and powerful computers.

“The art was so good,” Kahn said. “And that’s not always certain.”

An illustration of a jester character dancing while crying. Purple and yellow text reads \"Dance Fool!\" to the right of the figure. There are three yellow boxes each that say \"Start\" \"Tutorial\" and \"Credits\" in black text.
The start screen of the game "Dance Fool" by team G at the Global Game Jam at the James Branch Cabell Library. Screen drawn by Vivian Trinh, a communication arts major in the VCU School for the Arts.

Vivian Trinh, a senior majoring in communication arts at VCUarts, was on the team that created the game “Dance Fool!” She had some experience in game design, and the weekend jam was a chance to build on her interest.

“I met a lot of people and got to work with other people in the field of game design,” Trinh said.

And there could be more opportunities. RVA Game Jams is planning additional game-creation events this year.

By Dina Weinstein. This article first appeared in VCUNews.

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