August 27, 2014

On July 26, programmers, animators, modelers, musicians, sound effect designers, game designers, space industry professionals and other interested parties gathered at the Orlando Science Center for the first annual Indie Galactic Space Jam. The event was comprised of teams racing against the clock to build the best games they can in 48 hours.

The event was planned and organized by UCF School of Visual Art and Design Assistant Professor Peter Smith, CEO of Phyken Media, Kunal Patel, and CEO of ThatWhichIs Media, Corey Cochran. The local Orlando gaming community from IndieNomicon, and the Orlando IGDA also pitched in to make the event a success. Representatives from the space and tech community were also present, including representatives from NASA, SpaceX, and Rocket Crafters. Without their support and subject matter expertise many of the games would not have been possible.

Of the 100+ participants, 25 pitched ideas for new games, focused on outer space, Mars, rockets, STEM education, and space exploration. All of the developers were asked to pursue serious games, or games that go beyond just pure entertainment and include real space science where ever possible. The participants voted on their favorite ideas and 12 teams were formed, while a couple of lone-space-wolves decided to develop their own games, solo. Each group had 48 hours to take their game from idea to playable.

“It is inspiring to see so many traditionally entertainment focused designers attempting to build something educational. Getting more developers to understand the value of serious games is powerful,” said Jam organizer, and Assistant Professor in the School of Visual Art and Design (SVAD) at UCF, Peter Smith.

By Sunday at 5pm, 20 games were playable. The outputs ranged from a space shuttle simulator to a dating game, developing sustainable life on Mars and roving the planet to removing space debris. Each game used accurate physics and aerospace principles.

The self-selected teams ranged from 1-8 individuals, who each brought a certain skill set. Whether they were creating 3D models, asteroid trails or sound effects, each team sat together in the Center’s Clubhouse, many tables are “home” to multiple teams.

Participants brought their own equipment. Some had a simple laptop while others had a full-blown 3-screen desktop. A Sense scanner (3d scanner that “takes your physical world to digital”) and Oculus Rift goggles (virtual reality headsets for 3D gaming) were commonplace, and nearly half-a-dozen were strewn across the tables.

“Gaming is one of best ways to engage with people, to educate people and there’s a chance for the space industry and the gaming industry to become better friends, and I think it could help everybody” said Jam organizer Kunal Patel, president of Orlando-based gaming studio Phyken Media.

UCF School of Visual Arts and Design Director Byron Clercx concurs, “The excitement and relevance of serious game design research and play in academia and industry is growing rapidly at UCF and throughout greater Orlando. Professor Smith and his CAH digital media colleagues are building key industry alliances and advocating for increased student participation in major gaming events like the Indie Galactic Space Jam, Otronicon, and I/ITSEC that help prepare the next generation of SVAD game design students for evolving and lucrative careers in game theory, design, and production.”

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