Gamers brainstorm design ideas at the beginning of the 2012 Global Game Jam on Jan. 27 at UMSL. The annual competition challenges thousands of game designers and enthusiasts to bring video games from concept to realization within a 48-hour timeframe. (Photo by August Jennewein)

It wasn’t just any weekend. It was two days to create the ultimate video game. More than 100 programmers, artists and designers descended upon the University of Missouri–St. Louis on Jan. 27 for the 2012 Global Game Jam.

The annual competition challenges thousands of game designers and enthusiasts to bring video games from concept to realization within a 48-hour timeframe. This year’s jam, a project of the International Game Developers Association, pulled in more than 11,120 participants from 46 countries at more than 240 sites who created 2,220 games.

The games were established around one central theme – Ouroborus, which signifies the cyclical renewal of life.  With this theme in mind, participants began brainstorming and broke into teams.

UMSL information systems students Nijaiananth Sivagurunathan and Robert Perez were a little apprehensive. As new programmers they weren’t sure if their skills could measure up.

“It’s a little intimidating,” Perez said as he sat by his classmate Sivagurunathan and watched the large room in the Social Sciences & Business Building fill up with talented participants. “We’re ready. We’re just not 100 percent sure what to expect, but it will be an experience we can’t get in the classroom.”

And he was right about that. Sometimes referred to as a condensed internship or an extended job interview, the Global Game Jam brings together young and old with varying skill sets.

Dinesh Mirchandani, associate professor of information systems at UMSL, organized the UMSL event. He said it’s an exciting experience for all involved

“For our students it’s an opportunity to gain real-life experience, to learn from skilled game developers and to deal with the high pressure of tight deadlines,” Mirchandani said. “For the community, some who may have never been to our campus, they get a chance to see our beautiful campus and top-notch facilities, as well as how capable and well prepared UMSL’s students are.”

Sivagurunathan and Perez became part of a the nine-member team creating the game “Snake Bite.” The player, who is a snake, must bite its own tail to survive. Biting off too much, however,  can create new snakes, which in turn become a danger. The shortest snake left standing wins.

“We wanted to work on this game because of the concept and the idea behind making yourself less instead of more,” Sivagurunathan said.

With other skilled programmers on their team, the two were able to learn several new techniques and still create parts of the game.

“It’s such a great opportunity,” he said. “To really get in there, do the work, create a game and have that experience that many other students don’t have. I would recommend participating in the Global Game Jam to anyone with an interest in gaming, programming or just the idea of creating something new. I’ll definitely be back next year.”

UMSL alumnus Dave Derington, MS chemistry 2002, is a seasoned game jammer. He has participated in several over the years.

“Anyone with an interest in game design or programming should take part in the Global Game Jam,” Derington said. “I’ve done several and I still learn something new each time. To have the opportunity to work with so many talented people, as well as up-and-coming ones, is great. Also, many of the companies who sponsor the jam, use this as an opportunity to find new employees and interns. It’s an internship in action. It’s like the ultimate job interview.”

Click here or below to watch a video by Alicia Hottle about the 2012 Global Game Jam at UMSL.

Jen Hatton

Jen Hatton