Makin’ games, makin’ memories: NAG Jam winners and final thoughts
Are you suffering from post-rAge depression? I am.
For all the stress it generates here at NAG, rAge is always a magical, magical thing to be a part of. Walking through the Dome late Sunday afternoon after all the visitors have been ushered out, it’s eerily quiet compared to the thunderous bustle that permeated the show floor just hours before. There’s a sense of silent (and sometimes not-so-silent) jubilation as the exhausted exhibitors slowly empty their stands, eager to head home and regain some semblance of normalcy after a manic, but brilliant weekend. It’s a lot like the morning after a wild night: the world’s spinning, you can barely remember a thing, you’ve got a weird rash on your nipples and you’re left wondering how it all happened so fast – but you know you had a great time. It’s intensely bittersweet.
See, rAge is naturally inspiring. It effortlessly generates unforgettable memories, and if you let it, it’ll introduce you to countless new people and experiences, and remind you why the local games industry can be a wondrous thing. If you need proof of that, just look at the inaugural NAG Jam.
Fun fact #1: Most of the games made for the NAG Jam were made in Unity. Only one of the entries was made in Game Maker. It’s quite surprising, given that Game Maker is often said to be more conducive to rapid development.
We’ve never played host to a game jam before, which means the whole thing has been more than a little bit scary and chaotic – but with the help of the awesome team at Intel SA, we somehow managed to pull it off. And it’s been an extraordinary experience.
If you’re scratching your head and saying, “Wait, what’s a NAG Jam? Can I lick it? Does it smell bad? Where did I leave my shoes? PLEASE SEND HELP,” read this to catch up on things. Essentially, we challenged people living within the SADC region to create a game within 72 hours. The best of those games would be showcased at rAge 2015 and could potentially win their share of a R15,000 prize pool, which Intel kindly sponsored. We received an unexpectedly large amount of entries, and were blown away by how inventive many of them are.
Before I get into how that all went, here’s a list of the jam’s winners, which were announced on the main stage on Friday afternoon and all of which were playable on the Intel / NAG Jam stand at rAge:
First place: Thumbper by Kobus van der Walt. Kobus bags himself R7,000 and our eternal admiration/envy.
Second place: A Hands-On Experience by Andrea Hayes, Benjamin Crooks and Sean Goncalves. They’ve now got the mathematically awkward responsibility of splitting R4,000 three ways. GOOD LUCK.
Third place: No Touchy (originally called Don’t Touch That) by Pieter Visser, Ivo Sissolak and Morne Booysen. The team wins themselves R3,000 which, unless someone gets weird about it, is far less OH NO MATHS WHAT WILL WE DO to split between the three of them.
Fourth place: Royal Smash Royale by Steven Tu. Steven is now the newfound owner of 1,000 sweet, sweet South African rands. Take good care of them Steven, and they’ll take good care of you.
There were many other games that thoroughly impressed us and as much as we’d have loved to showcase every game that was submitted, we had to make some tough choices about which ones to make playable on the Intel / NAG Jam stand. We eventually settled on a variety of games that would give people an example of the sort of things that are possible within a viciously strict time limit. Those games were:
Nope Evaders by Shaun Kichenbrand and Sashen Reddy
Daji Kono by Timothy McBride and Nicholas Lambropoulos
Flatland Racer by David Weatherhead
Don’t Touch That Treasure by Johannes Nienaber
WenWu by Justin Guedes and Brandon Moore
Happy Volcano Friends by Givi Woodley and Dane Remendes (hey, that’s me!)
Fun fact #2: Many of the entries were submitted by students hacking and slashing their way through the Wits University game design degree. It’s almost as if their education is paying off. Almost.
As you can see above, NAG also had its own game at the stand, which myself and extremely talented artist / graphic designer / occasional psychopath Givi Woodley created for the jam. Obviously we weren’t eligible to win any cash, but we had a ton of fun making Happy Volcano Friends together. Seeing people screaming with laughter while playing it was a surreal, oddly moving experience, and it was definitely worth all the lost sleep, hilarious faux-drama and extensive emotional bruising I may or may not have suffered at Givi’s hands. Thanks again Givi! WE DID IT!
Obviously, with this being our first attempt at something like this (not to mention the fact that games made in 72 hours are often reliably unstable), we ran into some unexpected problems when it came time to actually get the games up and running. Nope Evaders – which was working fine when we tested it at the office – somehow broke when we ran it at the show and the controls went completely haywire. Sorry Shaun and Sashen!
We replaced Nope Evaders with another excellent jam entry: The Pressure Is On by Bracken Hall, Kevin Macfarlane and Joshua Gossman, which we had originally considered for rAge because it’s an excellent concept and definitely one of the best submissions we received, but we ultimately decided its design was too complex for easily-distracted visitors to quickly and easily grasp within a few seconds of picking up the controller. Which, after watching people play it, turned out to be completely accurate.
We also hit a bit of a mood-dampening roadblock on Friday when we realised that the Intel Compute Sticks we were using to run some of the games couldn’t actually power multiple Xbox controllers, which meant that we had to get really creative with hot-switching peripherals and where we put which games. The Compute Sticks are really nifty devices, but we and Intel quickly learnt that they’re not designed to drive something as intrinsically chaotic as a game jam. Thankfully, Intel were quick to respond and by Saturday morning they’d put together a few more of their impressively capable Intel NUC mini PCs, which worked really well and had no trouble seeing us through the rest of the weekend.
Fun fact #3: Andrea Hayes, Sean Goncalves and Ben Crooks secretly hate fingers. The only reason they tolerate their existence is because nobody’s yet discovered a way to make games without them. When that day comes, you may want to hide your hand-sausages, lest you suffer their wrath.
In spite of those few minor hitches here and there, we had an absolute blast at the NAG Jam stand. These weird and wonderful creations put many smiles on many faces, and there was genuine amazement when we told visitors all the games had been made in 72 hours. More than a few people (who had no idea game development is so accessible these days) vowed to go home and learn how to make their own games so they could enter the next jam, which is exactly the sort of response we and Intel aimed to inspire. I also had the pleasure of meeting many of the people who put these delightfully strange, furiously imaginative experiences together, and they’re every bit the fun, colourful bunch I expected. I’m super excited to see their future projects, and to work alongside them on future NAG Jams.
Yes, there will be future NAG Jams. Everyone who entered the inaugural jam is so unexpectedly appreciative and supportive of this thing we did (as are many people who didn’t enter it but love that it exists) that it’d be hugely irresponsible of us to not do more of them. That, and it was just so much damn fun. We’re hugely excited to see what people come up with in future.
I’d like to give massive thanks to Intel South Africa, specifically Jacobus van Rensburg, Natanya Pillay and Mohammed Fareed. You’re all awesome and without you none of this would have been possible. It’s encouraging to see a company like Intel so eager to promote game and software development in Africa. I’d also like to thank Michelle, Geraldine, all of Intel’s student partners and everyone else who helped us on the stand – you lot are the best.
Finally, I’m sending out mental high-fives to everyone who participated in the jam. You should all be proud of yourselves, and we hope to see you all at the next one. Thank you all so much!