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Calgary participants in Alberta Game Jam created many games worth playing

Whether it was sumo wrestling, trying to keep an airship afloat, competitive teeth brushing, or just trying to keep your pants up, the Calgary contingent in the Alberta Game Jam created some memorable games over the weekend.

The jam, which ran from Aug. 18 to 20, at Platform Calgary and at NAIT in Edmonton, was put on by the Calgary Game Developers Association (CGDA) and GameCamp Edmonton.

Vieko Franetovic, a director with the CGDA and in his day job, head of engineering for Devolver Digital, said that he was pleased to see that of the weekend’s participants, more than 50 per cent were first-time game jammers.

“That’s very encouraging to the things that we are trying to do in the city and in the province as well,” he said.

“The last in-person game jam I did myself was in 2014, so it’s been quite a bit of time since then. I am actually quite surprised with how well we’re doing in Calgary.”

He said that the game development culture has been growing in the city, with more than 1,200 active members in the CDGA—some who have joined the association from other parts of the province like Edmonton.

Calgary had 67 participants, Edmonton had 76, and an additional 41 participants took part remotely.

All of the games from the Alberta Game Jam are playable either through download or through the browser at itch.io/jam/alberta-game-jam-2023.

Games don’t have to be fully finished to be successful in jams

He said that the key for participants to have a successful game jam weekend was just understanding that they didn’t need to have a finished game.

“You have to give yourself a scope that you think is manageable within the limitations, and if that means you’re just gonna have a character run from one end to the other end of the screen at the beginning, that’s perfectly fine. You have already achieved something that day,” Franetovic said.

“You can continue to grow it and you can continue to iterate on it, which is what making games is at the end of the day. It’s taking risks and just working on ideas. Crazy, simple, doesn’t matter.”

He said that one of the games that most impressed him was from a 16-year-old, who created a first-person shooter about hunting rats.

“He’s been doing it since he was eight years old, from what I understand. So yeah, he already has eight years of experience, and that’s quite a powerful thing,” Franetovic said.

“What he came up with, it’s actually a fairly nice finished game. So, I would definitely look forward to playing more of Meth Rat 3D.”

One of the games that got the biggest number of laughs on presentation night was from the team that created Brush Your Teeth: Champion Edition.

The game has the player frantically rushing to brush and save teeth as they become decayed from eating candy.

“We were running around a couple of different ideas, and one of the things was like, ‘hey, everybody ever had that terrible nightmare that your teeth are loose and falling out?’ We thought, well, we could probably make that happen,” said Owen McManus, the artist and animator for the project.

He said that for himself, having done a few game jams before, the key is to create something and trust the process that you’ll have something to demo on stage.

“You’ve got 48 hours so you can you can try to test an idea that you’ve been working on or thinking about, you can try to come up with something completely novel—attempted, maybe not succeed—or you can make something that would be more of a presentation than than a game that somebody will spend a lot of time playing.”

“This game [Brush Your Teeth: Champion Edition] lasts about [six minutes], and that’s as much fun as you’ll have with it, but you might want to show other people. Then they’ll all have six minutes of fun with it, and hopefully pass it on to someone else.”

Tools more sophisticated than ever to create games fast

Franetovic said that the development of game creation tools has become such that even sophisticated-looking games can be created in a short period of time.

He said it also isn’t detrimental to use artificial intelligence or pre-built game assets.

“We’re really trying to highlight the team itself. So if you have a strong programmer, but you don’t have like a strong designer, well go on use Midjourney, put together your art for the game and tweak it as much as you want. And boom, you’ve saved yourself quite a bit of time,” he said.

“You’ve got the point across you can prove your presentation.”

He used the example of a game that featured fighting sumo wrestlers, which used pre-created assets for the arena and sumo animations.

“It’s not that they were lacking a model and texture because all the sumo characters were done from scratch. The point is that they managed to build a four-player game in 48 hours, and how wonderful is that,” Franetovic said.

Franetovic said that for people looking to get into games programming, the CGDA runs a co-working day every Friday at Platform Calgary from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be running the second of their Alberta Games Series in Edmonton on Oct. 13 and 14.