The Claremont Global Game Jam: Creating a video game from scratch in two days

A blonde girl writes "Game Jam 2020" in cursive on a white board.
Lilly Haave PO ’22 writes a sign in preparation for the Claremont Global Game Jam. (Alyssa Leong • The Student Life)

Video game development typically brings to mind an image of people frantically, silently coding around a hive of computer screens.

But last weekend, Claremont students gathered at the 5C Global Game Jam to create a very different image of game creation. Instead of solely focusing on programming, students also engaged with various other components of creating a video game, from artistic and musical design to writing.

Newbies and experienced video game developers alike participated in the game jam, which took place in the Honnold Mudd Library from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2. Participants had just over 49 hours to plan, create and test their creations.

The Global Game Jam, an annual, worldwide event, began in 2009. This year, the 5C students joined 933 other locations in the two-day “hackathon focused on game development.” Every location across the world, from Shanghai to Rio de Janeiro, produced games that adhered to this year’s topic — “repair.”

Glen Skahill PO ’22, treasurer of the 5C Video Game Club and the 5C Game Jam’s official site organizer, put together the first 5C chapter of the Global Game Jam. He said the event was the perfect opportunity to explore and appreciate many components of video game creation, not just coding.

“There’s a kind of popular misconception around [making] video games, that it’s just coding and sitting at your computer and [the people making them have] mathematical mindsets,” Skahill said. “What gets lost in thinking about video games that way is the beautiful artwork, great sounding music and soundtracks for games … A game wouldn’t be compelling if it wasn’t for [the creators behind it] thinking through design principles.”

Skahill organized the event alongside 5C Hackathon and Global Game Jam’s regional organizers. The 5C event brought together two teams of five, harnessing a wide array of talents, including pixel artwork, creative writing, storytelling and programming — using software like Twine

Participant Nick Yi PO ’21 enjoyed the collaborative and trusting environment the teams provided.

“It was a good experience working in a team because I think when you’re working alone, it feels like there’s so much to handle,” Yi said. “Like, ‘Oh my God, I have to write this and then I have to program this.’” 

Working with a team allowed him to focus on one thing and trust that his teammates would take care of the other components, Yi added.

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Kevin Ayala PO ’22 explained how his team applied the topic of “repair” to their final product, a suspenseful game of robotic surgery.

“For our personal project, we have an Operation-type game,” Ayala said. “So instead of operating on a human, we’re operating on a cyborg, and we have some wacky objects that we’re using. He has a bionic arm, and you’ll still bleed … like a normal human — but he’s got a couple of little quirks that make him a robot.”

Lilly Haave PO ’22, a member of the other five-person team, said they applied the theme of repair by making their game about a character going back in time and repairing their week.

The event was preceded by two talks on game development by Scripps College professor Oscar Moralde and Pomona College professor Joseph Osborn, which aimed to support those with no previous experience in developing video games. The talks detailed the many facets of game conception and production, from planning to writing to executing.

“I think it’s really important to have a newbie-friendly game jam, since we’re all students who want to learn the technical knowledge of game design and game creation,” Skahill said. “As far as I know, of the 10 people who have all [participated], maybe one person has made a game before.”

Ayala echoed Skahill’s sentiment, grateful that the Game Jam allowed him to experiment with concepts he had learned academically.

“I’m a [computer science] major, but I’m only a sophomore … I haven’t picked a track that I’m going into yet,” Ayala said. “[The 5C Game Jam] was just a fun way for me to try out different things.”

Haave said the event itself also helped develop creative writing skills, as her responsibilities were mostly related to the writing component of their game.

“I don’t really do a lot of creative writing, and our game was writing-based,” she said. “So that was really interesting for me to do that. But also, I fidgeted with the program Twine a little bit … I feel like I learned a lot both about writing and technology.”

A showcase at the end of the event on Sunday allowed students to show each other their final products and reflect on their processes.

“It’s really, really amazing what you can learn in a couple days if you really put your mind to it,” Ayala said. “I didn’t know the programming language. I didn’t [even] have the software installed on my computer. So just to go from that to a functioning game … People are so busy in college that they’re always just barely staying on top of [everything], but having a couple of nice free hours to create your own stuff is amazing.”

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