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UniJam 2012. The Writer’s Debrief.

November 19, 2012

Uni jam 2012 logo

So what was it like to be a writer at UniJam 2012? Quite honestly, ignoring the programming side of it, the event was rather like nanowrimo (national novel writing month) crammed into 24hours.

Screengrab showing coding and the finished phone game.

Screengrab showing coding and the finished phone game.

For many competitors the initial process seemed no different than my initial workings out of a new story. One table was engaged in a lively debate about evil pandas plotting to take over the world and how they might be defeated. Airships with something that looked like a galleon strung underneath dropping bombs was deemed to be the answer, but then the nurse pandas with enormous syringes could be deployed to heal any of their injured comrades. It was the beginning of fight against a relentless evil if I ever heard one.

A first think through.

A first think through. Recognisable to any writer.

Many aspects of the planning stage were similar to writing a graphic novel, because pictures were needed both as a background and part of the story. For example jumping on crate made it explode and catapulted the character higher onto floating islands or clouds that could move the character around the platforms and out of the way of the rising water.

Team members worked together on different aspects of the game. Some produced pictures, others wrote codes to animate characters or drive the game. One team actually scored their own guitar soundtrack. This is not unlike putting an anthology or magazine together. Certainly it would be familiar to anyone working in the publishing industry.

Competitors scoring their own soundtrack.

Competitors scoring their own soundtrack.

Sound was an important part of the mix. Haunting flute music added poignancy to a ninja game where betrayal lay at the heart of the story. At the other end of the scale loud crashing roars of explosion accompanied by a shuddering screen, providing a very cinematic, disaster in an underwater laboratory experience in the lecture theatre where the games were presented for adjudication.

The cinematic experience of a platform game set in an underwater laboratory.

The cinematic experience of a platform game set in an underwater laboratory.

A type of multilingual skill was needed because different devices require different codes. It was the only time I regretted having an IPhone because I would have demanded an immediate download (the phone games that had been created would only work on Windows based android phones).

That there were different programming platforms highlighted the fact that the competitors were not into playing safe. I saw them push themselves beyond the boundaries of what they knew as they tried programming environments they had no previous experience with. One team also discovered how difficult to was to code for an undulating environment, which eventually came out looking very angular. However, that was the point of the competition; to see what they could do in a very short space of time and what they could take away not just in prizes, but also experience.

What surprised me the second day was that, despite being very tired, the students were all still so enthusiastic and working hard to solve ‘bugs’ that had occurred in various programs.

I was amazed when I asked if it would be all right for me to take pictures of what they were doing or if I could talk to them, that I was always welcomed and nothing seemed to be too much trouble.

So if a writer asked me whether a gaming programming competition like UniJam 2012 was worth covering, I would have to say yes. Even if you know nothing about computer programming there is plenty of material to write about and makes for a very interesting weekend that goes far too quickly.

If you want to find out more about the weekend, you can follow the history of the events by using #UJ2012 on Twitter. @DevSoc ran the event.

UniJam 2012 Competitors.

UniJam 2012 Competitors.

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