Where does inspiration come from? Most would agree that it comes from a variety of sources, some easily identifiable as being the within the realm of the artist (a chance encounter with a person, place or object which resonates for some mysterious reason; an event in the news; an emotional state; a fragment of music or dialogue from a film) and some of them a little more prosaic (“I got paid to do it”; “We had a time limit”). Out of all these forces, some pretty amazing stuff can emerge!

Which brings me to the point of this little missive. A few weeks back I was lucky enough to take part in The Halifax Game Jam, an event that falls, inspiration-wise about 50% into the first camp, and about 50% into the latter (at least the “time limit” part; not so much the “getting paid” part). The Game Jam (brought to Halifax thanks to such sponsors as Twisted Oak Studios, Longtail Studios, Silverback Productions, Codapop Studios, Huminah Huminah Interactive, theREDspace, Nova Scotia Business Inc, The Hub, Redline, The Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship, and Community Business Development Corporations) is a 48 hour event that brings together game designers, coders, graphic artists, musicians, and game aficionados for a 48-hour challenge: to create teams to build functioning games within two full days. I took part in my first one of these in the summer of 2011, and had a terrific time (the results of that weekend can be seen here). I think the best way to describe the weekend is alternately exhilarating (“Can we get this thing done in time?” “Hell yes we can!”), frustrating (there’s nothing like the reality of what is actually doable in 2 days bumping up against your ambitious Friday night brainstorming), and humbling (“Holy crow, there are some talented people out there!”).

Here's the poster for the event...sexy, mais non?

There are very few ground rules other than the time limit, although there are attempts to set certain parameters around the games (e.g. certain themes that the games should try to implement). In this year’s session, the themes randomly drawn included: “fantasy role play”, “beatmashing”, “show tunes”, “coyotes”, and, most enigmatically “divide by zero” (which only now makes sense to me; that’s why I write this stuff, so I can make sense of my world). This year’s crop of games addressed these strictures in a variety of fun and creative ways – and I have to say, one group even defeated assumptions by creating an old-fashioned card game, not a computer game!

Teams are formed in various ways. In some cases the teams come together because people are friends and co-workers in their day jobs (the event has a great blend of game development professionals, hobbyists, and students), and in some cases they end up working together as a result of a kind of frenzied “speed dating”/”networking” where people try to snatch up enough people for their teams to make sure that all the bases (programming, visual design, game play, story, and music and audio) are represented. We lucked into a couple of folks who more than ably handled the programming end of things, my old friend and fellow New Brunswicker, Mike McGraw from theREDspace and Alex MacCaull. And I should mention right now, that a huge debt of thanks is extended to the lovely Ms. Angelina Coccimiglio, whose boundless energy and photographic skills captured all the activity all weekend!

Mike McGraw, Team Kpinga's Game Engineer! Tooot tooot! (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)

Alex MacCaull, Team Kpinga's Sound and Credits Wizard

Alex McCaull, Team Kpinga's co-coder, and Sound and Credits Wizard (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)

Next to come on board was Gavin Crawford, who brought the concept for the game. In fact, he came prepared with a complete Power Point presentation about the Zande warriors of the Congo, and of their weapon of choice, the Kpinga (the construction of which is part of a Zande’s rite of passage into manhood). His research became the core of the project, and gave us all the focus we needed. His friends Jay and Jericoe States also contributed some very cool ideas around the structure of the opening screen music! Finally, we were fortunate enough to collect Ms. Courtney Johnson into what became “Team Kpinga” and we were underway with the development our game, which Mike coined “Kpingapong” due to the way a player was ultimately able to bounce the weapon off of elements in our young protagonist’s environment.

Gavin Crawford, Researcher, Story Creator, and Weaponsmaster (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)

Courtney Johnson, Visual Design Queen with Her Court Assembled (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)

And so we set to work -the details of the next two days really wouldn’t be all that compelling a story to those who weren’t there, but I can tell you a few things I took away from the experience. Not so much things I learned, as things that were reinforced.

1. Teamwork is essential; what we did as a group, with everyone pitching in wherever they could, whenever they could, yielded a great deal of success!

2. Patience and a sense of humour is indispensable. We all learned a lot from one another, and had a ton of fun in the process!

3. I felt that I created some appropriate music – with more time there would have been more variability and different themes and tempos, but I’m pretty fond of the little sonic world that Alex and I (and our other collaborators, Jay and Jericoe States, who brought some great ideas to the music you’ll hear at the very opening of the game) created. Given the visual charm of Courtney’s work, I feel like the music is at times a little too serious and epic, but that’s where working in the same room with your collaborators can make a difference. I created the music in the studio, and was so immersed in my work, I had only the broadest sense of how the game would ultimately look, so I was scoring the game in my head, not the one on the screen. Still and all, things came together far better than we could have imagined, and you can download the game to play on your own machine here.

Although it looks on screen (it is the third game down) like you can either play it directly on your browser or as a download, for the moment you can only download the game as a .zip file. Simply download, unzip the folder someplace where you can find it, and click on the file called “KPingaPong”. It will then open on its own in your browser. If, however, you’d just like to hear the music I put together, you can find that right here!

If you’re curious about other stuff I’ve been up to, you can find some that here in my “Samples” section – you can hear stuff freshly uploaded if you visit me on Soundcloud (or “Like” my Evil Twin Music page on Facebook).

4. It’s not always easy to keep within the assigned themes, but we did our best. While I never quite accomplished “beatmashing” in a true DJ sense, I did create something of a “dance mix” of the theme starting at around 1:58. For the record, I also did a “show tunes” version of the theme, but out of respect for the estates of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein (and Canadian copyright law) I am not sharing that version online. I’d be happy to play it in person for you, though. ;^) Major kudos to Courtney for managing to insert a giant coyote into the “you win” screen (and there’s your incentive to download – and beat – the game!).

And so, another Game Jam came to a close – here’s a final shot of Team Kpinga, tired yet victorious! Here’s to the team, and here’s to inspiration coming from unexpected places!

Hail Team Kpinga! (Photo courtesy of Angelina Coccimiglio)

I’ll be back soon talking about the other amazing event I took part in this month, Women in Film and Television – Atlantic’s Women Making Waves conference. Until then, friends!

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