On-rails: Train Jam 2017

Last month and for the first time, I was honoured to be able to attend Train Jam: the annual, trans-American game jam event which now drops an entire train-load of developers in San Francisco, just in time for GDC. I did so courtesy of the event’s diversity initiative, for which I am extremely grateful. As anyone who knows me personally (and a few who don’t) will have noticed: trains and game jams are kind of my thing.

My usual custom for game jam wrap-ups like this is to go in-depth on some of the lessons learned, explain a bit about the game we made, and try to keep aspects of the journey or the setting either in their own post, or confined within my Flickr gallery. With Train Jam more than most jams though, I feel as though the journey contributed too much to the process to be taken in isolation. So, now that I’ve finally been able to sift through my photographs from this long weekend in the United States, it’s time for a ‘read more’ jump:

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A New Tradition? Nudging the GDC Scholarships Picnic into Being

I kept busy at this year’s Game Developers’ Conference. As well as speaking, networking and learning, I also initiated an international meetup for the organisers and delegates of GDC scholarship programmes – crossing some international divides and experimenting further with a friendly approach to games socials.

The GDC Scholarships Picnic in full swing at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens
The GDC Scholarships Picnic in full swing at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens

For those who aren’t aware: the Game Developers’ Conference runs an annual scheme which helps to bring in student and professional delegates who would otherwise be unable to attend. GDC provides free conference passes, and the scholarship organisers usually work to provide further benefit to those who are brought in – such as bespoke networking and mentorship events. This year, Diversi partnered with King in order to provide one such scholarship for female-identifying students in the EU. We joined around a dozen other initiatives, such as geographical groups from the likes of India and Argentina, and other minority outreach groups – like the IGDA’s women-in-games group, and #INeedDiverseGames.

Soon after Diversi’s scholarship scheme came into effect, I realised (to my surprise) that although such schemes have been running for a number of years, there did not appear to be any precedent for cross-scholarship meetup events. Given the cultural, geographic and experiential reach of these schemes, it struck me as wasteful not to try bringing such a broad range of people together during the conference. So it was that I sought to apply lessons I’ve learned from running LadyCADE to an event which would effectively be co-hosted by up to a dozen people.

The best trick I’ve learned from running LadyCADE events is to apply a delicate touch, and let common sense prevail. Rather than delving down into the minutiae of logistics and rigorous delegation of responsibility, I have found that one can achieve similar results in a much more satisfactory way by empowering people to step up on their own. I then make a point of filling any emerging gaps myself. It’s a philosophy which relies easily upon the fact that everybody’s who’s volunteered to help run an event is already invested in it, and so will already have ideas or experience which they can pull on. Why waste time and trample over that with attempts to provide a concrete plan from the start?

So it was that I began with a series of outreach emails – first to the other scholarship organisers whom I already knew, since I also wanted to be sure that it was an interesting and valuable new idea. Thence to the published list of GDC scholarships, which as footwork goes was a surprisingly chaotic affair. Eventually though, with a little over half a dozen email responses, I could invite the various organisers to a Slack forum in order to continue a more directed conversation.

As expected, the planning of this event basically boiled down to conversations amongst a few of the more experienced event organisers. This was not something I wished to discourage, as our focus lay on having a simple, solid and safe event. With a remit like that, there’s less of a need to ensure that all creative voices are heard. However, it’s worth stating that in any volunteer venture one must still ensure that no-one goes unheard, as it is important for all participants to feel they have agency.

Plans bounced back and forth and arrived at a simple and cheap idea, of arranging a picnic. The details came together relatively late, as we had to contend with interweaving the conference schedules of potentially hundreds of people – a hurdle we’d anticipated well in advance. In the end though, we managed to put together a drop-in event at GDC’s quintessential outdoor venue. We sent details of the meeting spot and times to all those organisers who’d been involved in the planning process, as well as to those who might be able to forward on to the more elusive scholarship organisers, whom I’d failed to reach earlier in the process.

Diversi & Pixelles at the GDC 2016 Scholarships Picnic
Attendees and organisers from the Pixelles and Diversi scholarships, along with industry guest Michel Koch from Dontnod

In the end we drew in organisers and delegates from #INeedDiverseGames, International Ambassadors, the IGDA’s Women in Games SIG, Pixelles, and Diversi – plus a couple of conference associates and other interested parties. Not everyone was in attendance at the same time – we knew that the schedules of individual scholarship programmes and the conference itself would not allow for that. However, the result was still a 3-hour, rolling social event which brought together students and professionals from at least four continents. We gathered during the middle of the conference in the California sunshine, to chill out somewhere friendly and meet new people from similar-yet-different circumstances.

It is my hope that the scholarships picnic will become a regular feature – especially now that the pilot work is done. Its simplicity makes this an easy event to run, and the concept of having delegates bring their own snacks and drinks makes it an affordable one, also free of the sorts of social pressures which may be instilled by meetups hosted in a bar. Finally, it also proved to be a good opportunity for myself and my Diversi colleagues to meet the heads of other scholarships, many of which are attached to diversity interest groups themselves. Although not a formal networking event by any means, it was nevertheless fun, informative and reassuring to have met some of our peers from overseas.

My thanks to everyone else who was involved in the process of founding this event, and to those who came on the day! Suffice it to say: if you’re looking to run a GDC scholarship in 2017 and would like to join in planning for a follow-up picnic, do get in touch!

GDC 2016 Personal Highlights

This year was the first time I’d been able to attend the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco. I went primarily to talk on the subject of women-in-games initiatives and how they make a difference. This panel session – in which I was joined by Zoë Quinn, Rebecca Cohen-Palacios, Sagan Yee and Stephanie Fisher – will be made available on GDC Vault in the coming weeks.

Photo credited to GDC / Trish Tunney
Delivering my micro-talk as part of the “Ripple Effect” panel. Photo credited to GDC / Trish Tunney

I also attended in order to seek inspiration and some new direction, and to meet people working outside of Europe. Although I skipped past many talks in favour of the sorts of activities I couldn’t simply catch up on online afterwards (a strategy I’d recommend strongly to future first-timers), I did nevertheless come away with new insights – some whimsical, and some practical.

What follows, then, is a collection of personal reflections on the talks I saw, along with my tips for recommended GDC Vault material.

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Splash Jam (part 2)

101 jammers, one cruise ship and 1,043 miles of Norwegian coastline – this is part 2 of my Splash Jam recap, recalling a long weekend aboard Hurtigruten’s M/S Finnmarken, travelling from Tromsø to Trondheim. Part 1, recounting the jam itself, can be found here; this post focuses instead upon the game we made, entitled Ardo.

Hello Stranger

  • Game design & UI assets: Gemma Thomson (UK)
  • Programming: Skully Brookes (UK)
  • Art: Rikke Jansen (NO)
  • Sounds: Bendik Høydahl (NO)
  • Music: Almut Schwache (DE)
  • Demo download available at Itch.io

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Splash Jam (part 1)

101 jammers, one cruise ship and 1,043 miles of Norwegian coastline – there were some pretty big numbers involved in Splash Jam, but they paled in comparison to the the scenery around us, and the spectrum of games produced during this long weekend. This cruise-bound game jam aboard Hurtigruten’s M/S Finnmarken from Tromsø to Trondheim was by far one of the most memorable game jams I’ve attended. It’s also one in which I felt most proud of the game I worked on, even if sea nausea robbed us of some significant work time, and therefore impacted our proof of concept somewhat harshly.

As a lot happened during this event, I’ve decided to split my recollections up into two posts. This one addresses the jam itself, whilst this subsequent post looks back upon the game we made, which was entitled Ardo.

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