Major Canadian software developer Ubisoft, the company behind hits like the Assassin’s Creed franchise, recently opened an office in Winnipeg. Ubisoft has brought blockbuster video game development to the city, but Winnipeg’s independent game community has a long and thriving history, thanks to events like the Winnipeg Game Jam, a concentrated weekend of video game creation.
Dylan Fries started hosting jams in 2014.
“I’m hesitant to take credit for founding it, because there were jams before I started doing it,” Fries says.
“I sort of rebooted it. There hadn’t been one in a few years. It started out because I was like, ‘man, you know what would keep me on track making games is if I went to a game jam.’ I started asking around, and no one was really doing it anymore, and no one was really interested, and I thought, ‘maybe I’ll just host one.’”
His first event was a surprise success.
“Honestly, I expected a few people to come out,” Fries says.
“I thought it would be a small event. We ended up selling out in a day. The first one, we had 50, 60 people at. It kind of hit on a nerve.”
Daniel Voth is the joint co-ordinator of the Winnipeg Game Jam, which now hosts events three to four times per year. Programmers, musicians, writers and designers are all welcome to sign up. Participants are then divided into small teams that strive to complete a simple game over the course of a single weekend.
“I typically use the music jam analogy,” Voth says.
“Most people can conceptualize what a music jam is. You have a bunch of people from different backgrounds, different musical instruments ... and they get together in a room ... Everyone is there for the same reasons, they’re passionate about music, and they collaborate.”
Voth says that while events are guided by a theme, participants are largely left to their own devices, to let their imaginations run wild.
“There’s not too much structure to the event,” he says.
“There’s no formal teaching. It does take a certain degree of self-directed learning or focus ... Throughout the weekend, you’re developing, then towards the end, what we’ve started to do is have an around-the-fire vibe where everyone starts to wrap up their project, and we start informal presentations. We throw up a projector, you have an opportunity to show your game, whatever state it’s in.”
Fries emphasizes that jams create a fun and supportive environment for developers at all skill levels, whether they be accomplished game makers or just getting started.
“Some of the favourite (games) I’ve seen are actually (by) people who have the least experience, because they tend to pick something very small and manageable and often have great success at it,” he says.
Voth echoes Fries’ sentiments, saying that with events like the jam or the Winnipeg Game Collective’s monthly casual meet-up, Winnipeg’s game community is an inviting and supportive one.
“The community in Winnipeg, particularly for the game jam, feels very much like a family,” he says.
To find out more about game jams in Winnipeg, head to pegjam.com. For a more casual introduction to the local indie game development community, go to the Winnipeg Game Collective’s next meet-up at Yellow Dog Tavern on March 26 at 7:30 p.m.