A CRUISE SHIP GAME JAM

The two-day Norwegian game jam takes place aboard a ship beneath the Northern Lights.

Splash Jam isn’t like other game jams. The 48-hour event takes place aboard an eight-deck cruise ship, for starters. It travels 700 kilometers from Troms, Norway—the third-largest city north of the Arctic Circle—to southern Trondheim. Towering fjords and snow-capped mountain ranges frame the voyage, and meteor showers are as common as the clean sea air due to the lack of light pollution. You might even glimpse the Northern Lights if you’re lucky. Balancing inspiration with distraction can be as difficult for game developers as producing the games themselves.

Splash Jam 2017 is the event’s second annual gathering, inspired by Train Jam, a 52-hour trek from Chicago to San Francisco. Runa Haukland, a co-founder, adds, “I adore the notion of doing a game jam aboard a train.” “However, Norway’s longest railway ride is only eight hours long. Even then, you’d have to change trains, so this wasn’t a viable option. This boat can accommodate a large number of people, it can travel indefinitely, and it also allows us to show off our wonderful country.”

“Sure, it’s a little outlandish,” Haukland’s colleague Henriette Myrlund adds, “but Splash allows us to focus on Norway as a game producer.” Also, jams in other parts of the world are more commercial. Exploration appears to be more significant in Europe.”

From the beginning of the jam, there is a sense of suspense. The ‘kickoff,’ which takes place at a small Norwegian alehouse just off Troms’ main strip, sees participants—who are all strangers at this point—forming groups and drafting ideas. The jam’s ‘rotations’ topic offers ample fuel for thought, from the sublime to the absurd. Projects are hazily described after four hours and several pints of craft beer, and it’s time to board the MS Finnmarken shortly after midnight. The jammers’ first significant decision is going to bed for a new start or relaxing in the ship’s on-deck jacuzzi.

Day one is all about turning yesterday night’s thoughts into reality, whether you’re bleary-eyed or bushy-tailed. Excessively ambitious concepts are pared down, and some initiatives are completely abandoned. Jammers work in the conference center and at home, three-course meals in the dining hall, and sightseeing on the viewing deck throughout the day. This balance is occasionally disrupted by group stretching exercises or inter-team brainstorming beside the ubiquitous coffee machine.

Despite the limited nature of these events, the jam’s theme has a wide range of interpretations. The intricacies of language are mocked in a tourist simulator. Players control individual car wheels in a local co-op game, which is funny. A carousel in a top-down Hotline Miami-style shooter randomizes weaponry. A Tinder-like app examines how sexual assault is depicted in the media and society as a whole.

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