The following article is the forth feature in a series written during a visit to Utrecht, in The Netherlands. The piece assumes that you have already read the previous piece in the series, which can be read here.
As I sit down to write this article, the forth day of the Utrecht Sustainability Game Jam is coming to a close, and all of the teams involved are deep in crunch mode trying to finish off their prototypes ahead of judging time. There is still another day left of the Game Jam, where teams will be presenting their final projects, but judging kicks off at 10am, meaning that realistically, any work the teams want to do together in person needs to be done before today is over.
Unlike a lot of high crunch game jams, taking place over a short 48 hour periods with little to no sleep involved, the Utrecht Sustainability Game Jam has strictly kept to operating during reasonable working hours, kicking off at 9am or 10am each day, and running through until 5pm. I’ve honestly been really impressed at how well these teams have all managed to keep productive, making the best use of their time, and their level of alertness and calm as a result really shows. The teams are all well rested and optimistic the day before their projects are due, which is a delight to see. Time management during the game jam has been really impressive.
That said, as I watch the final hours of today draw to a close, my suspicion is that some of these students might make tonight the night they start working outside of hours. It’s natural, there’s always just a few more things you wish you had time to finish before the deadline rears its ugly head.
I spent a lot less time on this final day actually playing people’s prototypes than day three, largely for the sake of the students involved. It’s clear a lot of playtesting on day three revealed mechanical issues with some of their core gameplay mechanics, and a lot of teams have spent the day scrambling for new approaches to core parts of their experience, as much as physically building a prototype that’s ready for public playtesting.
I’ve taken part in game jams before, and I know how in those final few hours developing, post playtesting, the last thing you really want is to get out of that focused zone and show off an old vertical slice of your game, apologising for the things that have already been changed in your new upcoming build.
As today is my final day in person at the game jam, I honestly just spent the day taking in the mood of the room. It’s clear that these University students really care about the ideas they have been working on, and there’s a sense from talking to the students that a big part of that excitement is thanks to the themes and real world stakes the game jam has centred on. These young developers have been given lofty questions to address about our real world, their place in it, and ways things could change going forward. They’ve gone in from the start knowing that people in positions of influence are going to be looking at their games, and judging how they further the conversation on sustainable futures. Honestly, the main emotion in the room today seems to be pride. Every team seems proud of the fact that their game is ambitious, and might make someone see the world in a new way. There’s no cynicism in their approach to design, no fear, and it’s just really refreshing to see.
Tomorrow, I head back to the UK. While I won’t be there in person to see the students proudly showcase their games, which is a real shame, all of the students will be uploading their prototypes to Itch.io tomorrow. I’ll be playing as many of them as possible on the train home from The Netherlands, and likely writing up my hands on impressions next week with links to all the completed games.
Until then, I will leave these students to cram in their last bits of development. Tomorrow, we see if they’ve managed to make games that capture the potential of their ambitious concepts. I sure hope so, as some of these ideas, if properly executed, could really make an impact on not just one city in The Netherlands, but perhaps the wider world too.