Gaming

Students explore game development at Dal

Dalhousie’s Computer Science Society brought together amateur and professional game developers to create their own video games

Mitchell Maclellan was one of the students creating a video game at the Game Jam.
Mitchell Maclellan was one of the students creating a video game at the Game Jam.   Maia Kowalski

An animation of a hand opens and closes on a computer screen in front of Mitchell Maclellan. He fiddles with the mouse and spins the animation around. Meanwhile, two of his friends focus on their computers, customizing graphics that look like they belong in Minecraft.

“We have the base of it up now, so now we’re just trying to add actual animation to it,” he said, and fiddled with the mouse again.

Maclellan and his friends are working on a video game that allows the user to pick up objects and pile them into a helicopter.

They are some of more than a dozen Dalhousie University students who are clicking away in a small room in Dalhousie’s Goldberg Computer Science Building this weekend as they create games within a 24-hour time constraint.

Saturday was day one of the Dalhousie Computer Science Society’s Game Jam, an event that society president Richard Sage describes as “a weekend where people come together, form small groups and, from start to finish, make a very small game.”

Professional game developers are also at the event to teach and provide assistance to the participants.

“This is an opportunity for them to get a kick start into making games,” Sage said.

Participants started working at 9 a.m. Saturday and worked until midnight. Sage said a typical Game Jam takes up the entire weekend, with participants working around the clock. However, because of security reasons, the event had to finish at midnight yesterday when the building closed for the night.

It picked up again early this morning and will run until 7 p.m.

According to Sage, most students who enter computer science have an interest in game development. However, students don’t have the opportunity to explore the subject until their fourth year. Sage said hosting a Game Jam gives first and second year students the chance to learn how to develop games earlier. But the event was also open to anyone who was interested.

Luke Rideout, a video game developer who works for Alpha Dog Games, is one of the mentors at the event.

“It sounded like a really good opportunity to come in and see people who are just getting into game development, to see what kinds of things they were making and help push people in the right direction,” he said. He added that it was nice to see so many young people so motivated to create games.

Putting “knowledge quickly to the test”

Mark Podrouzek, a third-year student, multitasked between creating a basic Super Mario game and working on homework. He said he “absolutely” thinks the society should do this every year.

Two first-year students, Nicolas Burris and Liam Hartery, were also pleased with the way the event was going.

“I think Game Jams in general are a really good experience because they force you to put all your knowledge quickly to the test and [you are] forced to make a game in about two days,” said Burris.

Brandon Poole, secretary of the Computer Science Society, said he wants to repeat the event next year. He said the computer science faculty is like a family and believes this is part of the appeal of the Game Jam.

“It’s not a competition,” said Poole. “No one here is here to win, because there are no winners and there are no losers.”