Later that morning, one of the developers guides everyone in a series of morning stretches and exercises inspired by Japanese salarymen. We lunge, arms helicoptering, and so on. Only small breaks to view the scrolling panorama are made throughout the day, those endless, identical mountain ranges punctuated by the occasional munching moose or water-skittering cormorant. Splash Jam suffers from ludo-narrative dissonance in terms of game design. People have come to sit and play games, but the sight outside the room has an enticing pull. The most common issue I hear is that Splash Jam is just too distracting for game development.
At first, the great natural beauty serves as a source of diversion. Then, after we’ve entered the water properly, it becomes a source of nausea. To an Englishman, the Norwegian sea has a hyper-reality that seems unearthly. I disembarked at one of the ship’s frequent stops at several small coastal towns (a blonde giantess on the door scans your boarding card with a beep and the bored but courteous smile of checkout girl). I was standing on a neighboring pontoon, in the middle of yet another postcard scene, looking down at a swarm of fish, all slow-motion glides, rhythmic spins, and silvery lunges. The water evokes only stereotypes: it’s clear, deep blue, crystalline, and still. Unless, of course, it’s none of the above. That happened on the second night of Splash Jam, when the water, which had been blackened by night, was changed into a black, hazardous, and unpredictable substance.
Gravity is distorted by a ship in a storm. You’re weightless for a brief moment. The next binds your knees with a strange weight. You’re surfing a sine wave, and several Splash Jam participants decided it was time to put their laptops away. Due to a lack of participants, a late-night mingle session was canceled. Some of us went up to the top deck to watch the water in the outdoor pool slosh over the edges (it had to be drained later after one of its up-lighters smashed, and its wires stretched like jellyfish tendrils into the water). If you go too far here, you’ll freeze in minutes, and it’ll take days for them to find you. Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ came on the bar stereo later, when things had calmed down a bit, a song that, given its cinematic overtones, is an inappropriate selection on the ship’s playlist. Many of the jammers, who were sick and confined to their beds, did not notice.
Those who had been knocked out by physics and then resurrected by the delectable buffet breakfast returned to the conference room the next morning. Why would you want to be stuck on a boat with all of its distractions? When Haukland met Adriel Wallick, the organizer of Train Jam, a train ride from Chicago to California for 120 game developers en way to the Game Developers Conference, where 30,000 game industry professionals gather for a week in San Francisco, the idea was born. “I intended to bring Train Jam to Norway,” Haukland explains, “but the longest train journey takes only eight hours here.” That isn’t long enough to get into a bind. Still, the concept of traveling while producing games appealed to me. We considered submarines and airplanes, but a certain amount of time is required to allow personnel to begin functioning. In Norway, this is a well-known vessel. The trip is eleven days long, which is far too long. However, we were able to find a suitable distance.”
If it can be called that, the trend of making games while on real voyages is maybe a way to restrict the unpredictability of the creative process within strict constraints. Everyone begins and ends at the same location. There’s no time for your game to be delayed when you have to get off the boat at 10 a.m. on a Monday or risk ending up in some isolated Norwegian town. Technology advancements in the last two decades have gradually removed the limits that once constrained game designers. A 48-hour game jam reintroduces some useful constraints, none of which are related to money. Then there’s the social factor to consider. “I’m a lone wolf,” says a 3D modeler from Denmark. “However, I enjoy the rush of being around a large group of people for a short period. It’s a method for me to push myself to be more outgoing.”
Swimming in a hurricane is not a good idea.
In the early hours of Monday, the MS Finnmarken arrives in Trondheim. At 3 a.m., just five hours before everyone is supposed to check out, one group of Swedish students, whose members have spent most of the weekend exploring and playing Magic the Gathering, begins work on an altogether new game idea. It appears that changing directions in a game jam is never too late. We depart, bedraggled and groggy, and begin a twenty-minute walk through the lovely city to our final destination, Work Work, another shared workspace loaded with video game memorabilia – Tetris oil paintings, LAN-connected PS4s playing Rocket League. After everything has been settled, it’s time for everyone to show off their hard work. To enthusiastic whoops and acclaim, each team connects their laptop to the ten-foot projection screen and plays through what they’ve created.