COLLEGE STATION, TX — Reeling from too much Red Bull and bleary-eyed from sleep depravation, a diminishing horde of student game designers, arms laden with computer equipment and unraveled sleeping bags, lumbered out of the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University last Sunday night, bringing a quiet end to the spectacle that was Chillennium 2017, a world record-setting, student-led game design competition hosted October 13–15 by the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M University.
The fourth annual 48-hour contest drew 311 student gaming enthusiasts from 32 schools and two countries to the Texas A&M campus, setting the Guinness World Record for “Most Participants in a Game Jam,” a time-constrained battle royal between game developers. The competition drew a diverse group of students eager to develop software skills, meet fellow game developers and network with industry professionals while competing for high-powered, professional-grade gaming software, cash and several highly coveted Chillennium trophies.
Excitement was palpable Friday evening in the MSC’s expansive, dimly lit Bethancourt Ballroom as participants eagerly awaited the contest theme announcement, their faces illuminated by a sea of computer monitors. Clad in T-shirts from their respective universities, the jammers enjoyed a bountiful smorgasbord of junk food, tweaked muscular computers and haphazardly stowed blankets and pillows under tables, though sleep, at this point, was far from their minds.
At 5:30pm, with a drumroll the competition theme, “role reversal,” appeared, amid a flurry of fanfare, on giant screens around the commodious room. Eyes lit up, ideas started flowing and conversation roared, overpowering the ambient thrum of hundreds of computers as throngs of students enthusiastically gestured, firing off game scenarios to their teammates.
“What if we had a vampire and a werewolf?” Kyle Toom of Kansas State University proposed to his teammates, all game jam veterans. “If we switched their environments, it could be a double role reversal.”
Brainstorming in a circle on the floor outside the ballroom, Toom enthusiastically spitballed ideas with teammates Briana Priddle, Lilliam Fulton and Nathan McClain, all sophomore computer science majors. Earlier this year, the team won first place at a Witchita game jam and earned third place in a Kansas State competition where teams from Texas A&M took first and second place.
“This jam is much larger than anything we’ve done before,” McClain says. “Our strategy is to perfect a 3-to-5-minute game because the judges have a short time to play each entry. At other jams, we’ve done multi-level 15-minute games, but that won’t work here.”
The judging panel, composed of gaming company experts, software engineers, game developers and kids, rank games on innovation, quality, completeness, design and sound.