The Milan JamToday and its freshly baked videogames on food

[quello che segue è il report in inglese della nostra JamToday, scritto per il sito del progetto internazionale. Lo riportiamo anche qui].

Jammers working in the Museum, by night.

The first Milan JamToday is just over and a sense of satisfaction and nearly happiness is still surrounding the participants and all the people that spent those three amazing days in the fascinating Room of Columns of the Museum of Science and Technology. It has been very strange to see in the same place experts on game design, heads of multinational game companies, researchers on entomophagy (yes, eating insects!) or wine, alongside with 18 years old students from hi school. And us, lonely project managers of the Digital Learning and Collaboration Area of Fondazione Politecnico di Milano, that actually organised all of this in a long tiring year.

Picture by The Game Machine

As said, the room was huge, and we got a few participants, only 10 jammers, as another event aimed to indie developers was taking place on the other side of this doomed city full of happenings, especially in this year of the EXPO (actually one of our official supporters). So two groups where made of 5 people each. According to the game jam rules, we separated the friends and made any possible effort in order to have balanced groups including developers/programmers, designers, illustrators/graphic designer and audio experts in each team.

In general, we can say that:

  • Only two of them had experience in game jams;
  • Nearly none heard of serious games before;
  • Only one of them already developed games;
  • Most of them where from the last year of hi school, so the average age was 20;
  • We had only one (very focused and proactive) girl;

Due to the lack of their experience and knowledge on serious games and jams, the Friday presentations have been very useful with the speeches in agenda. Paolo Branca (Playing the Game) told us on tricks and tips on how to survive a jam (“Fight the stereotypes, don’t eat thrash food and find time to sleep!”); Giuseppe Franchi (Event Horizon) surprised the jammers on the role of game design (“It’s a hard job but you’ll eat the carrot one day”); Matteo Uggeri had a presentation on learning through games (“Can you believe that Walking Dead is used to teach religion in Norway?).

Being then “Food for a healthier lifestyle” the sub-theme of our Milan JamToday (yes, EXPO again), the jammers had the opportunity to visit the #FoodPeople exhibition in the Museum, accompanied by a guide that overwhelmed them with suggestions on how food can be considered, loved, experienced and – well – eaten. We all got the opportunity even to play the games developed by Luca Roncella of the Museum itself, and it was great to see how those young students got involved into “Cibo Vivo” (“Alive food”), asking question and even criticising the interface (“We’ll see what you’ll be able to do later guys…”, probably thought Luca).

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The jammers enjoying the Museum’s exibition #FoodPeople

A the end of the day, as said, the teams were formed, and all jammers could start brainstorming on the first concepts and then come back home (we couldn’t manage to let them sleep there for two nights), to be there on 9:30 of Saturday, along with the mentors. God bless them: can you believe it: all these professionals working for free in the week end. Due to the limited number of jammers, the mentor could help them so much in most of aspects of game design and development. We had three mentors from VideogamesLab (Luca Deriu, Andrea Peduzzi and Luca Roncella again), a small institution with a lot of experience in teaching game design at schools, and two from Digital Bros Game Academy (Marco Ribattezzato and Simone Magni), so those jammers couldn’t ask for more.

Both teams worked hard all day, and in the afternoon the concepts started to become tiny cute prototypes of:

– a manager game for mobile phones on how to cope with the right balance of food in the different moments of the day;

– a pixel-art platform quest where you can create the hero with your personal statistics and meals, then obtaining the results depending your eating habits.

There was no way to make the play test at 6:00 as works where far away from being fully playable, but an in depth cross explanation was done for mentors and the teams themselves.

Then the night came. After a quick but strong dinner of Indian take-away and pizza (guys, didn’t you listened to Paola Branca’s hints yesterday?) the work restarted, and the music came. Awkward 8-bit samples where disposed by the dpstudios Audio Desk of Davide Pensato. Afterwars Matteo Uggeri, the Milan JamToday organiser and former electronic musician, helped the teams in building a sort of song with Ableton Live. Then audio effects where produced by dpstudios itself and given to the jammers. The air among the middle age columns was filled by sounds of chewing, spitting, cutting, jumping and – again – awkward 8-bit synthy sounds. Hell must be a place like that for the brave ones who tried to get asleep on the wooden floor or on the plastic red chairs.

Someone tries to sleep, someone still work

Going to the toilet was quite like being popped into a mixture of Indiana Jones and Doom, being forced for a few minutes to get out from the big room and cross the huuuuge empty corridor replete of the ancient machineries of the Museum, always passing under the beckoning glimpse of the guardian (and his gun) (really) (no, listen: really).

WP_20150919_003On the morning of Sunday other mentors came, and a furious debug work begun. One team broke his head against an animation trigger in Unity, at the point that not even all the mentors here could help him in such a short time. We therefore called Turin, where the other Italian JamToday was taking place, in order to find a little help. Indeed an indie game developer and jammer connected with our guys, but he couldn’t manage to solve the bug either.

At 4.00 pm the jam was over, the jury members came and so the Museum visitors got into the big room. Believe me, it was nearly moving to see young children that specifically came to the Museum in order to test freshly baked videogames on food. Can you imagine a 19 years old guy telling to a child that has a half of his age how to play the game he just made in 48 hours? Look at the picture then.

Having only two teams, we decided to let them show their work in short presentations. The idea behind JamToday is clear: game jams are useful for participants in order to let them learn a lot not only in terms of game development skills, but also on competences related to design, team working, networking, and also public speech. So they prepared short PPT presentations and had to describe not only the prototypes but also the backstage philosophy, the aims of their projects and the way the ‘serious’ theme of “Food for a Healthier Lifestyle” was taken into account. Each team put a lot of effort into their work, and they took the theme so seriously that they looked like evangelists of the healthy food (guys, I saw you devouring those pizza’s rotten tidbits last night), so it was amazing.

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Young(er) visitors at the Museum and the jury members are testing the games

But we need a winner.

So the jury members, recruited among all our beautiful sponsors, had to take 20’ in order to fill the evaluation questionnaire, discuss, fight, joke and then say what’s the best Milan JT game. I think that this picture talks by herself.

Left to right: Paolo Branca (Playing the Game), Raffaele Cinquegrana (Console Generation), Luca Roncella (Museo e Videogameslab), Andrea Facchinetti (Console Generation), Luca Deriu (PlaySys), Giuseppe Franchi (Event Horizon), Roberta Franceschetti (Mamamò), Geoff Davis (Digital Bros Game Academy), Claudio Todeschini (The Games Machine) and Ivan Orvieto (CR-Play e Testa Luna).

The role of taking the stage and declare “The winner is…” it’s a hard one, so we invited the guys of the first and best radio show on videogames in Italy, Console Generation, a couple of guys that speak faster than Sonic the Hedgehog and know every game on heart. Then “Cook My Life” was the one.
Applause. Commotion. Happiness.
And pale grey delusion on the other side.

Here are the winners, Nicolas Forte, Lorenzo Trionfante, Francesco Lorenzo, Emilio Imperiali, Daniele Gravina, that will enjoy a free workshop from Event Horizon a course from Render Academy, offered by PlaySys.

We have a LOT of sponsors, not only game schools, but also a crowdfunding agency called Coffee Tree Studio. Unfortunately his master, Davide Migliore, yesterday had a car accident coming from Lucca to Milan (look, it’s more that 280 km!) and couldn’t join here, but the idea was to choose one of the team and see if it’s possible to bring it through a crowdfunding process in order to help the participants to really sell their product. And the jury was very clear on that sense: the game that had the best further opportunities is “Healthy Quest”. So, perhaps, these boys (and the girl) will be taken under the Coffee Tree wing.

A screenshot from “Healty Quest”, the jury ‘special prize winner’.

The jam is over now, but the project doesn’t. We struggled to make it, but it was worth all the efforts. Being our first game jam ever (Fondazione Politecnico di Milano has usually different aims, as you may see here), it was difficult and tiring, but we’re sure next year will be easier after all the knowledge we earned. More than anything else, this jam helped in enlarging our network and establish new opportunities of collaboration, in particular with those sponsors that work also in the field of education such as Digital Bros Game Academy. Moreover, we’ve been more than happy in seeing how good might be bridging between the game development sector and the educational one.
And we had a lot of fun with these young jammers: if all the youngsters would be like them, I think I could believe in a better future… a healthier one perhaps.

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