Game Jam highlights student developers from all levels

September 19, 2014

Staff Reporter

Jerry Berg, Bossier City Arts Council

Jerry Berg, Bossier City Arts Council

For many people who play video games, it is all too easy to see a finished game and forget about the people behind the scenes who put in all the work.

This past weekend, in collaboration with the Bossier City Arts Council, Jerry Berg educated the students of his game design class on the rigors of the development cycle by hosting a Game Jam.

Berg, an associate professor of art, said the rules of the Jam were designed to challenge his students.

“The various teams have 48 hours to create a finished project based on a theme that they won’t know until the event commences,” he said. “This is a very good way for them to test their problem-solving skills, as well as learn about themselves as developers.”

Berg, who was also one of the judges of the event, recruited some industry veterans to assist with judging the games, including Nolan Baker, a professional software engineer working for Twin Engine Labs in Shreveport.

Baker said he had participated in over 100 game jams and he believes the events are an invaluable teaching tool for anyone looking to become a developer.

“I personally think that game jams are what made me successful in my career,” he said. “Software development is not something that has an ‘exactly right way’ to be completed like the college classes will tell you.

In reality, it’s more like, ‘Oh, we were supposed to have this done yesterday,’ and Jerry and I want to teach these kids that working under pressure is an invaluable skill.”

Baker said that the development field is very competitive, so aspiring developers should strive to make games in their spare time.

“Some kids go through the college experience and come out thinking they have a guaranteed job,” he said. “Game development is a cutthroat field. There are people who can make wonderful games, but never get a chance because competition is so stiff. As if you were an artist, a portfolio of your work is essential to show potential employers, and game jams are a great way to fill said portfolio.”

In addition to Tech students, high school students could also compete. One such group was the team of Trent Robichaux and Gavin Jones, both 15-year-olds from Caddo Magnet High.

Robichaux said they wanted to take full advantage of the theme, which was “exploration into the mind.”

“Our game was called ‘Guru Meditation,’” he said. “The object was to rid yourself of ‘bad thoughts’ using ‘enlightenment rays.’ It was based off of an existing game called ‘Color Sheep.’”

Jones said he greatly appreciated the chance to learn under a professional developer.

“Nolan looked at our game and instantly thought of mechanics to add that never crossed our minds,” he said. “I aspire to work for Rooster Teeth in Austin, Texas, one day, so his advice about the industry really means a lot to me.”

Berg said the final projects would be featured at the Digifest South Tech Expo on Sept. 17-18, where the winner will be announced along with a People’s Choice award.

“The Expo is a huge benefit to these students,” he said. “In addition to my class, Tech will be represented through the School of Design. I enjoy seeing the work these students have been able to produce, and I am excited for what the future holds for them.”

Email comments to ije001@latech.edu.


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