Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, May 17, 2008.]
It's not Grand Theft Auto and that's the point
Last weekend, in the secluded corner of Eastern Avenue and St. Lawrence, an eclectic mix of programmers, sound technicians and graphic artists attempted to break the world record for most participants at a video game jam.
Although it fell shy of its goal, TO Jam attracted more than 125 people, who took part in a unique challenge: to create a video game in three days. TO Jam began three years ago and attracts what organizer Rob Segal described as, "a mixture of industry people, students and people who are professionals but make video games on the side."
People filled the second-floor space of Innovation Toronto early Friday afternoon and by Sunday night had created 37 games, including Cheeseblaster Extreme 2500, Here Be Dragons and Lactose Intoler-ants! Although, it wasn't recommended, some participants, such as Shawn McGrath, pulled consecutive all-nighters to create their game.
"I had 17 energy drinks and three cups of coffee over the last two days and I'm surprisingly fine," he said.
For professionals like McGrath and Firetoad Software co-owner Nathan d'Obrenan, the event provided a welcome respite from their day jobs. According to d'Obrenan, the event also sends a welcome message to aspiring professionals.
"It challenges anyone that's thinking about making a video game in Toronto to make it now," d'Obrenan said.
Microsoft developer advisor and first-time participant Jean-Luc David was impressed by the proceedings. "The games are really amazing for the span of time that people spent on them," he said. "The variety out there and the creativity that people put into the games are impressive."
Volunteer Charlene Balldacchino was also enamoured. "Nerds are hot," she said. "It's the perfect balance of geekiness with innovation."
All TO Jam games will be available at tojam.ca. A public arcade, where all the games will be available, will take place at the Blue Moon Pub on Queen Street East on June 2.