This weekend, January 20-22, 2017, I had the luxury of going to either one of the two local Philly sites for the Global Game Jam (GGJ) or PennApps. Both are venerable events, with the GGJ being the world’s largest game jam event, with devs at hundreds of sites worldwide making thousands of games on a single theme – all in 48 hours, and PennApps being the nation’s first college hackathon held at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as being one of the biggest, with over a thousand students from all around the US – and from countries like Switzerland, Canada, England, and Singapore coming together in a celebration of innovation, creativity and technical skill.
In considering which to go to, I took a look at a number of factors, including theme, amount of people on site, whether there was food, and of course, distance from my residence (in case of inclement weather).
First, the theme:
As revealed at the tail end of the GGJ17 keynote video, the theme that the games are being developed around this year is “Waves”, and all the things it connoted, from waves crashing on the shore, wind making grass and leaves ripple and wave, humans surging forward in a frenetic wave of activity, sound waves vibrating along a guitar string, and even animals waving. All things considered, it was a pretty rich theme to unpack, but…
The theme for PennApps was ad astra, which for those of you who don’t speak Latin, means “to the stars.” And while I am big on philosophy, understanding the world, and other things involving human nature, I’ve always been a sucker for anything related to space. I did study Aerospace Engineering back in undergrad, after all, before I went over to making games and working as a registered nurse.
The number of people at each event might not seem important at first, since once you join a team, you’re going to be working with that team, frenetically trying to finish a project in 48 hours, not walking around and talking/networking with everyone. However, the more people there are, the more ideas tend to pop up, and the more ideas, the more likely that there will be an idea one finds acceptable (or even enjoyable). With that in mind, I checke out registration numbers.
There were 50 people or so were registered for each Philly GGJ site. Not a bad turnout, especially for the city with the fewest number of game developers per capita, but easily dwarfed by the amount signed up for PennApps (and more are always possible, since Penn students can sign up until the very last moment). Given the higher numbers, and the fact that participants at PennApps have been known to run the gamut from high school students to adults, I thought there might be more creativity there – plus more equipment available for checkout, especially if I wanted to do a hardware hack, not just an app.
The presence of that many people, including students, generally guarantees food, unlike the GGJ sites, where food was the responsibility of the jammer (not a good thing in my case, as I’ve been known to forget to eat or drink without prompting when working on things, leading to me wondering why I’m on the verge of collapse hours later), so that was a definite point in Penn’s favor.
Perhaps the clincher, however, was the fact that PennApps was within 15 minutes of where I lived, by walking, while I’d have to take the train to get to either of the other sites. And with protests and marches going on this weekend, I rather thought there might be a bit of congestion or delays, especially around the Philly Game Forge (one of the two sites), which is located just a few blocks from City Hall.
And thus I find myself at PennApps, where I’m writing this on a break from feverishly hacking together an IoT utility to help with accessibility at home for those with disabilities. Stay tuned for more!
Disclaimer: No penguins were harmed in the making of this post. This writer does not work for, nor has received any payments from Red Bull, the energy drink that since 2014, doesn’t give you wings (anymore).