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Aspiring developers utilize Buffalo Game Space 'game jams' to hone skills

Buffalo Game Space is a non-profit organization that is trying to get more people into tech through the lens of game development. This past weekend it held its 13th local game jam. It’s an event where game developers have 48 hours to conceive and bring a game into existence.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO
David Rood presenting his game Sunday night

Tucked away on the fourth floor of the Tri Main Center for the past four years, Buffalo Game Space aims to teach people programming, digital art, modeling, animation, music, sound design and writing - all the things that go into making video games.

“Games are a unique medium in the sense that they take multiple different disciplines to create as opposed to being a painter in traditional media, where a painter can paint a painting or a musician can write a song by themselves,” said Buffalo Game Space Board of Directors President John Futscher. "Traditionally, games are a collaborative medium that take many different talents to create. So we teach a little bit of all of those things.”

Futscher said game jams, like the one this weekend, are amazing opportunities to learn a lot in a very short time.

“In two days all these people here will walk away with a game they created themselves and they can put it on a college application, their portfolio, or just share with their friends,” he said.

Games can be made by a team or an individual. A secret theme is announced at the beginning of the event. This weekend’s was "wonder." Participants then brainstormed as a collective.

“How about a Buffalo wonder game. How long will winter last?” said one participant.

A few other thoughts included navigating a world with no visuals and just sound, wandering through infinite doorways and inevitably several joke ideas followed. These included an idea for a Guitar Hero game with Oasis’ "Wonderwall" being the only song.

But with limited time, you couldn’t take too long poking fun at music-based games and "Wonderwall." The group got back on track in due time and continued figuring out their concepts.

“It’s a one player game where one player is Santa, one player is a kid and the kid is trying to catch Santa and Santa is trying to break in to the house,” one developer brainstormed.

“You mean deliver presents?” someone else asked.

“Nope. He’s breaking in,” he replied, as the room broke into laughter.

“Lock-picking skills!” yelled a man in the back, which generated even more laughs.

Not everyone in the room knew each other. These kind of interactions got participants talking and sharing new concepts.

“Once people have been thinking about it for a little bit they start coalescing around different ideas. That’s when you see teams start forming up,” said Futscher.

David Rood has been fooling around with coding and making games since the early 1980s, but has taken online tutorials recently to improve his skills. Game jams have helped him test out new ideas.  

“The first one, I had no idea what I was getting in to. I had some fun with it and I learned some new techniques,” said Rood. “The last Game Jam I came in and I had a new programming tool. Rather than coding it, it was all visual coding. I learned it from scratch and did that in the game jam and my daughter and I made a game together. It came out pretty cool.”

There were a couple fathers with their daughters making games at the event. For Rood, it has become a yearly tradition.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO
David Rood and his daughter working on making their own games

“She thinks I’m crazy because I sit at my computer and just stare at the screen making games and not really getting anywhere. So now she’s getting a taste for it,” Rood said. “First time we came here, she made her own game from scratch. Had it up on the screen I was quite proud of that. Last jam we did a game together and this time her and her boyfriend are going to do a game together.”

Buffalo Game Space Board of Directors Vice President Chris Langford said often after a larger turnout, for the first night people start to drop out, but most stayed until the end this year.

“It kind of tapers off. It kind of whittles down to the people that are really in to it,” said Langford.

By Sunday night, more than a half-dozen games were presented. Langford said the marathon process is exhausting but satisfying. Most of the participants still had to work the next day.

“You’ve been up late Friday night. You’ve been up Saturday night. You’ve been running 110 percent the whole time just trying to get this thing up and running and working. If you succeed at that, you’re going to be exhausted, but it’s a very gratifying feeling because you’ll have actually made what you thought of as just an idea on Friday, it’s actually come to fruition by the end of the weekend. It’s something not only you can see and play with, but you can actually share and show other people and have them play it too,” Langford said.

Whether it’s for fun or a career, Langford said practice leads to growth.

“The skill set that they have has increased tenfold just by attending these events and participating in them,” he said. “Art improves. Technicality and the skill in programming shines through and the mechanics (are) becoming more complex, the game is becoming more involved. Music quality improves. Audio quality improves. Writing improves. All of these skill that are required to make a game. You see people who do it again and again, they get better at it. It’s very exciting to see.”

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

As Buffalo Game Space has grown over the past half-decade, the game jams continue to connect people interested in making games. Futscher hopes to continue seeing new faces.

“The only thing keeping us from growing even further is that people don’t know we’re here. So we try to get the word out to as many people as possible,” he said. “We’re constantly finding new folks who are interested in making games. There’s really infinite ways to engage to make games if you have an interest in any of the disciplines that go in to it.”

A global game jam is being held later in January next year. Buffalo Game Space is the representative for Western New York.

More information is available at Buffalo Game Space's website.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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