Global Game Jam takes Portland

Nearly 100 game makers crowded into the Art Institute of Portland on Friday, Jan. 23 for this year’s Global Game Jam. The jam is a global event, but the Portland chapter was organized by the Portland Indie Game Squad.

Participants were given a theme around which they built either a board game or a video game in 48 hours. This year’s theme was “what do we do now?”

“The thing that separates Global Game Jam from other game jams is that over 500 sites from around the world will all be doing this at the same time,” said Will Lewis, lead community organizer for PIGSquad.

Like musicians jamming, a great deal of improvisation is required to make a video game or board game in such a condensed period of time. Participants bouncing ideas off each other is key, as well as the ability to work with available resources and within limitations.

When the event ended, successfully finished games were uploaded to the jam’s website where they became downloadable to the public. They can be found at: Games from the jam can be developed further by their creators, at which point they can be sold for profit.

Most games created ended up being 2-D due to the time restrictions, but some adventurous groups did attempt 3-D games. Lewis said some participants even attempted virtual reality games using Oculus Rift, a head mounted VR system.

“Good teams tend to be two to four people,” said Dylan Bennett, a participant in the Global Game Jam and a member of PIGSquad.

“You can certainly have more, but it can get unwieldy having too many cooks, so to speak,” Bennett said successful teams generally need people who can do either 2-D or 3-D art, music, programming and game design.

“Come Sunday, as the deadline approach[ed], we had a ton of work to do,” said Daniel Langley, whose 13-member group produced a 3-D first-person dog simulator called Pugsley’s Great Adventure.

“Luckily, this [was] when our professionalism kicked in and we all kept our heads,” In Pugsley’s Great Adventure, Pugsley wakes up hung over to find his girlfriend (also a pug) missing. The player has to answer what happened while he was blacked out.

“Our project developed as the weekend went on and changed so much from what it was when it started,” Langley said.

Everyone’s experience at the jam was different. Each team had a different set of challenges, a different number of team members and a different dynamic.

“I would like to learn more about game development tools and coding before coming back next year,” said Jeremy Dunlap, who did some of the graphics and made the music and sound effects for his team’s game Robot with a Flashlight. Dunlap used a Gameboy to produce the music.

One card game was created at the jam. Space Goats Galaxy to Galaxy requires players to acquire resources, including space goats. It combined a smartphone app as a part of the gameplay.

“My personal focus, and PIGSquad’s majority, is in video games,” Lewis said.

“We have had at least one board game made per jam we’ve hosted, though, and I’d really like to see more members take up the goal of creating more tabletop friendly conversation, events and resources.”

A few teams attempted virtual reality games using Oculus Rift. One was called Facing Death VR.

Facing Death VR was a demo comprised of four levels in which players are put into situations where death is imminent unless they make the right decision very quickly. In one scenario the player is tied to train tracks with four items next to them: a vial, a chainsaw, a bomb and a torch. How will you escape?

There were no restrictions on content for the games. One game was called Crapsylvania, which put players in control of a feces-throwing man, who is running from poop, jumping atop boulders of poop and then inevitably being consumed by poop.

Umbilicus, a four player co-op game where everyone is connected by a space suit air hose, challenged players to work together to survive.
“When we showed it off Sunday night people seemed to be having fun playing it, so it was all worth it,” said Corey Warning, co-creator of Umbilicus.

For those interested in attending a Game Jam or other event, find information and sign up at