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Mind Candy's Game Jam

Moshi Monsters creators, Mind Candy, team up with creative industry members and amateur developers for Game Jam. The goal? To make games in just 2 days!

Moshi Monsters creators, Mind Candy, team up with creative industry members and amateur developers for Game Jam. The goal? To make games in just 2 days!

Getting into game development has never been easier, apparently. But rather than just rely on that tired phrase, we decided to attend a game jam hosted by Moshi Monsters' Mind Candy to see what the real deal was.

Partnered with the likes of Autodesk, Marmalade, Simplygon, AMD, and 3dtotal, the event was a chance for indie developers in teams or alone to come together under one roof and tinker, prototype, make games, chat and learn. And, truth be told, it was really good fun even for a novice spectator

"They were eager, full of enthusiasm and showing frankly shocking levels of creativity"

They'd been given just 2 days to create a game in its entirety with the theme of British summertime, but the 13 teams (some made up of just one person) at Mind Candy's Great British Summer Game Jam weren't perturbed. Actually, they were eager, full of enthusiasm and showing frankly shocking levels of creativity.

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There was no animosity, no negative feeling - everyone was keen to help each other and learn from other projects.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

All part of the plan, according to Autodesk's sales development manager, Kevin Booth: "I've been so excited by the response we've had it was probably our first game jam on this scale at least," he told us, "Where we've worked with a customer and other tech partners to provide a very easy way for participants to get involved with our technology, working in nice surroundings, in comfort, and let the creativity flow. It's certainly something we'd want to roll out again and again."

The comfort of Mind Candy's office, located around the Shoreditch area of London, isn't something a lot of beginner or upcoming developers have access to. You can tell just by looking at those beavering away at their Maya LT, Marmalade, Playcanvas or whatever other creations one even a physical mystery-based card game that it matters.

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Teams like this one, which finished early, were even able to take part in a spot of posing. Though it's not exactly Vogue.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

Bringing the indies together like this isn't a new concept game jams have been big news on the scene for a number of years now, with many projects coming from game jam backgrounds into the world of full releases- one of the most famous examples being Mike Bithell's excellent Thomas Was Alone.

"The major players are paying attention and providing the tools and encouragement necessary to cultivate the next generation of game developers"

But to see companies like Autodesk and Mind Candy involved is big news the major players are paying attention and providing the tools and encouragement necessary to cultivate the next generation of game developers. As Booth explains: "The idea of the game jam is to give people the awareness that Maya LT is something that they could easily bring in and also to find a way of finding that indie consumer in the first place.

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Mind Candy encouraged a sense of fun in the games being made, though a fair few managed to make fun of our changeable British summer time.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

"A game jam is a good example of a place where people come in and want to use a technology actively rather than just trying it out on their own time so it's a good forum for Maya LT because people can download it, work with it and see the sort of results they can get with it, and come out with a good looking game or prototype or whatever it might be at the end of the day."

Obviously these setups are of benefit to the companies involved in them in the case of Mind Candy's Great British Summer Game Jam there were a number of development and artist-related companies offering up prizes and support.

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Drinks and snacks? Obviously the most popular area of Mind Candy's offices, once they were brought out. Note also: Pimm's on hand.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

One such development resource was Playcanvas, a development tool that allows teams to work together wherever they are in the world, so long as they have access to a browser. As CTO and co-founder of Playcanvas, Dave Evans, put it: "One of the things we like to think of Playcanvas as is a mash-up between Unity, Github and Google Docs. We have the toolset of Unity, the social profile and the social collaboration of Github and the real-time collaborative features of Google Docs."

But while Playcanvas is a tool designed for game developers, Evans sees it having uses elsewhere especially with its integration of WebGL 3D rendering: "I think that's going to be massive for the way that 3D stuff is shared on the web," he said.

"It's something people haven't experienced before - you see a link in Twitter, you click it, it opens up your browser and you've got an interactive 3D something"

Dave Evans, Playcanvas

"It's been possible on desktop up until now, but once it hits the browser I think it's going to be huge. It's something people haven't experienced before you see a link in Twitter, you click it, it opens up your browser and you've got an interactive 3D something, be it a model viewer, a game, an architectural rendering or anything from all that spectrum of stuff."

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Two days of work, a lot of stress and even more tinkering it all came down to one showing in front of industry judges
Photography by Ian Dransfield

But this is a game jam, and that's what Playcanvas is being used for on the day at least by one team. The manner in which it allows people to work together via browser is certainly impressive it's the democratisation of games development, after all and it's not hard to see the uses the tool can have for those wanting to get into making games and then there's a strong community element backing it all up, offering help and support where necessary.

"We're focused on forming a community around game developers," Evans explained, "You're a programmer, you're a game designer, you're an artist, you're anywhere in the world, you can get together with like-minded people who want to build the same things as you and it doesn't have to be in the same town as you."

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One game didn't even bother with the whole 'video' aspect of things, instead being a (rather good fun) physical card game.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

One of the biggest obstacles facing independent developers these days is simply being seen. It's a crowded marketplace out there, with only very few games ever making it to the top of the pile on the App Store and Google Play.

This is something those making the tools are all too aware of, and software like Marmalade includes features that might just help out the upcoming indie. The tool can package up finished products for most major formats in order to get a game out to the widest market possible.

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Mind Candy's own people were involved in the action, creating a game where you had to throw things at the band Nickelback. Obviously.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

As Ryan Gilmour, SDK product manager for Marmalade, told us: "It's interesting just because a marketplace isn't making front-page news every day doesn't mean it isn't a valuable channel through which to distribute your apps."

That's a definite concern and it's great to see a piece of software that addresses it so simply, but on the day of the jam making money is the last thing any of these spirited up-and-coming developers is thinking about. They're just there to make games, and there's nothing on show that isn't impressive in at least some way.

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Almost the whole of Mind Candy's sizeable office was open to be used, with teams spread across an entire floor in their varying numbers.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

But all too soon it's over. The Jam progresses, games are tinkered with, laughter rings out as a game featuring a bee pooping on things is shown to judges from TIGA, UKIE and other industry types and the general mood changes from one of diligent (though fun) work to one of curiosity, socialising and congratulations.

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Judges were looking not just for the most fun and well made game, but the ones that were accessible for those with disabilities too.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

A winner is announced one BitmaniaK for his accessible game of clicking or typing Tapping on the Beach and... well, that's about it. Prizes (software licenses, books, a trophy and more) are given out, people are congratulating one another, decisions are made to go to the pub and around 20 hours of total development time is up. Projects might be abandoned, they might develop into something more but everyone seems to have had a good time.

"Exploring every part of development in a game jam is one of the best things
you can do"

BitmaniaK, jam winner

As BitManiaK told us, a game jam is one of the best things you can be involved in as an aspiring developer, artist, programmer or any of the other disciplines involved in game creation: "Exploring every part of development in a game jam is one of the best things you can do. My recommendation is to try and participate in any jam as many jams as you can, because you can get a lot of feedback and you can improve your knowledge for every part of games development. "But you need a lot of time... and it's not for everyone."

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When development was over, people were keen to try out everything that had been made over the weekend.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

Pump up the jam?

There's a clear set of reasons why game jams are incredibly popular with independent developers: they offer a social, helpful space in which to tinker and experiment, to create and learn. They're collaborative and incredibly helpful, and as mentioned have produced a number of projects that ended up being turned into full games.

Even as a total novice it would be worth your while if you want to get into games dev to go along to one. Join a team, make some friends, learn a craft. Even if you don't get a finished product out of it, you'll get invaluable experience. Far more than you would simply by sitting at home and learning on your own.

You can find more info about the event on the Facebook page, along with links to more videos and images of the jam in progress.

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A successful event all-round, everyone involved in its organisation seemed positive about holding more in future.
Photography by Ian Dransfield

Related links:

Learn more about Maya LT
Check out Marmalade
Find out more about Playcanvas
Discover Simplygon
Check out Allegorithmic's indie pack

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