Guest blog by Dr Jacob Habgood, Sheffield Hallam University 

A game jam is an exhausting endeavour at the best of times: coding day and night to try and come up with a prototype for the next blockbuster game—or at the very least—a better game than everyone else in the room. Add a festival launch event for schoolteachers at the start, and an industry Game Republic lecture by Microsoft at the end and you have a game jam sandwich—a rare delicacy which tastes of pizza and smells of Redbull.

The festival launch was for the 2013 Games Britannia videogame education festival taking place at Sheffield Hallam University in June this year. The focus of the festival is about providing hands-on workshops and competitions for schools based around game development. As part of this we run a game design competition for schools, in which pupils redesign classic videogames: last year it was Monty Mole, and this year it's Zool. The 'launch' was all about announcing details of this year’s competition, and releasing the completed version of Monty Mole as a published game (now available on the IndieCity game store in aid of the Special Effect charity). How exciting is that? A chance for schoolchildren to get their game design created and published! BBC Look North obviously thought so as they were there to interview the children about their game and they appeared on TV that very evening!

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Amongst all this media excitement, our own students had been challenged to make a Windows 8 game in just 24 hours using GameMaker Studio (the same tool used to make the Monty game). Fortunately, we had the support of Lee Stott from Microsoft to help the students to obtain free Windows 8 developer accounts via DreamSpark. He'd also kindly brought along a stack of Windows 8 tablets to test the games on and (most importantly in the eyes of the students) he provided the pizza. He was definitely the most popular man in the room.

Students were put into artist/programmer pairs and told that their game had to be a single touch control and based on the meteorologically appropriate theme of 'ice'. As you can imagine, the next 24-hours involved a predictable number of appearances by snow men, ice skaters, polar bears and penguins, with a space man selling ice-cream on the moon thrown in for good measure.

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All of the first year students taking part in the Game Jam had been using Game Maker in one of their modules, but a few of the older students taking part had never used it before. It was a testament to Game Maker's simplicity that they were able to create game prototypes in such a short space of time. It gave the programmers a chance to focus on experimenting with gameplay through simple game mechanics rather than having to worry about the underlying technology for a change.

The students worked incredibly hard day and night to get their prototypes done and everyone was really impressed with their dedication. There were times when you could have heard a pin drop, although that soon changed once the sound effect CDs came out! Twenty four hours may seem like a long time for an event, but it’s an incredibly short time in game development terms and the deadline was soon upon us. Each bleary-eyed team queued up to demonstrate their game to the judging panel and awaited their decision.

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The three finalists were announced as Snow Fight, Ice Fishing, and Sgt. Rick O’Shot. The worms-like gameplay in Snow Fight hit the judges’ nostalgia-spot perfectly and the winding game mechanic of Ice fishing was both impressive and intuitive to play. The bouncing game mechanic of Rick O’Shot was surprisingly simple, but very enjoyable. The final accolade for these three teams was to get to present their game in front of an audience of industry professionals at the evening’s Game Republic event. Lee Stott gave a very informative talk on Windows 8 game development to the assembled crowd of local veterans, before the teams got their chance to take to the stage and show off their achievements of the last 24 hours. Finally the suspense was lifted and Sgt. Rick O’Shot was announced as the winner, for its simple, enjoyable gameplay mechanic. The team received a range of Microsoft goodies, plus access to the Steel Minions studio to finish off the development of their game—so watch this space! Everyone then retired to the pub together for some well earned food and drink courtesy of Microsoft and Game Republic.

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Many congratulations to all our students who took part for showing the kind of enthusiasm and commitment that is essential to get into the games industry! Hopefully we will be seeing completed versions of many of their games appearing on the Windows 8 store in the near future. Having a published game has great value in the eyes of the games industry, and to be able to do this in your first year at university using Game Maker Studio, is an opportunity that every student should jump at. To encourage this, YoYo Games very kindly provided our students with temporary free Game Maker Studio licences, and Lee has set up both local and national competitions to give them a deadline to work to.

Many thanks to everyone for their support with this enjoyable event and we look forward to seeing the fruits of their labour on the Windows 8 store!