In the most basic terms, a game jam is a trial-by-fire for developers. Teams of varying sizes lock themselves away for a weekend and emerge two or three days later with the telltale signs of sleep deprivation and – hopefully – something resembling a completed video game. It’s as crazy as it sounds, but the chaos also serves as a source of inspiration for those willing to make the sacrifice, and that, in turn, makes the game jam an important part of any developer’s creative schedule.
After participating in one such game jam as a sound designer, Troy Morrissey felt that he just had to do more to contribute to the Toronto development community. He’s consequently mobilized the team at his DARC Productions sound studio and is now directing Game Jam: The Documentary, a film that attempts to chronicle the unique experience of the game jam both in Toronto and beyond.
We took the opportunity to speak with Morrissey about his latest project and his plans for the upcoming Game Developers Conference (GDC), so keep reading to find out more about Game Jam: The Documentary and the phenomenon that is the Global Game Jam.
Dork Shelf: Let’s start simple. What is a game jam, and how would you describe one for the uninitiated?
Troy Morrissey: A game jam is an event where game developers, designers, programmers, writers, artists, and composers meet to create games, usually within a specific time frame and a theme they must adhere to.
DS: How did you come up with the concept for Game Jam: The Documentary?
TM: I co-organized a Toronto chapter of Global Game Jam 2012 where I had complete control of the venue, and that was the catalyst for principal photography. It was easy to tell the story of this jam, but we’re not telling the story of all game jams, so our hope is to travel to jams all over the world to better document the process.
DS: It’s obviously a work in progress, but is there anything specific you know you’d like to communicate with the film?
TM: It really is very early, but the positive aspect of open source learning is one subject we hope to touch on in the film. There are already so many personal stories and triumphs. A jam is an educational session with your peers and you get to see what you can accomplish. If you don’t learn something from a game jam you’re probably not pushing yourself.
DS: You’ve participated in game jams as both a developer and a filmmaker. Are those experiences different or is one more stressful than the other?
TM: Totally different, but like all things it depends on your team. You need to have a reliable team that you can trust to handle the task at hand.
DS: Are there any particularly crazy and/or hilarious stories you’re willing to share?
TM: I don’t know what to say. Umm…Jim McGinley is hilarious…and TOJam is crazy!
[Ed. Note: Jim McGinley is one of the co-coordinators of TOJam, an annual weekend-long game jam that takes place in Toronto.]
DS: Why are jams so exciting for developers, and how can these kinds of events advance gaming as a medium?
TM: Game jams are a phenomenon. Even when I was looking in from the outside, I was able to identify with that immediately. But there’s a good and bad side to that type of rapid prototyping. I like a lot of the games I play from game jams, but I’d also like to see some of those ideas evolve into more polished games. We talk a lot about that in the film.
DS: The game jam scene is especially vibrant here in Toronto. Is there a particular reason for that connection? Does the city itself play a role in documentary?
TM: The Toronto game developer community definitely plays a huge role. They’re the people that inspired me to organize a game jam and start this documentary. We need a global perspective to fully document game jams and having a healthy community here in Toronto provides a great base for that story.
DS: Describe your own involvement in the community. What kind of support have you received from other Toronto developers?
TM: ‘What kind of support haven’t I received,’ would be a better question. Game Jam: The Documentary is happening because of the community here in Toronto. I’m just the person capturing it. As for my involvement, DARC Productions Inc. and I are always helping, volunteering, contributing, donating and participating in events with game developers here in Toronto.
DS: Following in the wake of Indie Game: The Movie, there seems to be a growing interest in the process and the people making games. What sets your film apart from all the others, and why has the games industry suddenly become such attractive source material for filmmakers?
TM: I sat down with several people in the film industry prior to any filming for Game Jam: The Documentary and they told me to start feuds between the teams we were following. Create drama. Create a story. I wouldn’t and couldn’t allow that to happen. It became evident that if someone who didn’t care about the game dev community were to make this film, they’d fabricate parts of it, so I [chose to make] the film myself. As for anyone else making films about game development, it’s probably because game development is an exciting, action-packed adventure that just has to be documented!
DS: Double Fine recently made headlines after their Kickstarter campaign pulled in $2 million, while you’ve turned to Indiegogo to help fund the GDC leg of the documentary. How does crowd funding benefit a project like Game Jam: The Documentary and how will these sorts of initiatives change the games industry moving forward?
TM: I think crowd funding is amazing and I can’t see it doing anything but good. It has in the case of Game Jam: The Documentary. I do think all crowd sourcing websites need to have an admissions process for campaigns or public interest will eventually wane because of over-saturation.
DS: What are your plans for GDC? How will the conference add to the story in the documentary?
TM: Getting a global perspective at GDC is important. Game jams are different from place to place and participants have different reasons for participating all over the world. I’ve set up interviews with people from Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Germany, Spain, and America, and I’ll hopefully talk to lots more people while I’m there. Plus, GDC will help me recognize what game jams I should travel to for the film.
DS: What can people do to get involved and help you realize your goals?
TM: Check out gamejamthedocumentary.com to see how you can help. If you care about the game dev community and have an idea to get involved please contact me.
DS: When and where should people expect to see the finished film?
TM: I’d like to aim for late fall of this year, but truth be told documentaries are pretty organic projects so we’ll have to see where the world game jams take us.