The University of Baltimore’s (UB) Simulation and Digital Entertainment Program, in partnership with The Universities at Shady Grove (USG), hosted a site for the annual gaming industry event, Global Game Jam, January 25th - 27th, 2013, held at the USG campus for the third consecutive year. Six teams totaling more than 30 designers, programmers, developers, and artists worked around the clock to create the most impressive video game possible in just under 48 hours.

Participants at the USG site, ranging from high-school students to industry professionals, worked alongside groups from 319 registered sites around the world to challenge themselves and inject new ideas into the gaming industry. More than 3100 games were prototyped and registered on the Global Game Jam website during the weekend.

USG’s event kicked-off with a keynote speech from John Hawkins, chief designer of self-owned mobile gaming company, Unicorn Infinity. Hawkins delivered a humorous talk about his unlikely journey into the gaming industry and a list of tips to spark creativity in the game development process.

In keeping with last year’s surprising twist, the game jam included a non-verbal theme again this year. For this year’s theme announcement, a recorded sound of human heartbeat was played for all participants. Ideas for application of the theme were left entirely up to interpretation.

Six games were developed, all implementing the heartbeat theme in a different way. Several teams incorporated story lines that pertained to the living and the dead and one team played completely on the emotional association with the heart.

One game, Heart of the Dead, was picked as the winner of the Judge’s Award from a panel of industry experts, including Professor Deborah Solomon, gaming program coordinator at Montgomery College, and instructors in the UB Simulation and Digital entrainment program. Heart of the Dead, a game that challenges the player to survive for as long as possible after being infected by a lethal plague that turns victims into zombies, was selected for its unique features and completeness.

The winning team shared one of the most interesting stories in the competition, as each of them arrived solo for the event, meeting each other for the first time at the start of the weekend. The team consisted of two Montgomery County Public Schools high school students, one UB Simulation and Digital Entertainment student, one teacher at Blake High School in Montgomery County, and one outside computer programmer.

“The best part was challenging our skills beyond our limits. Now that we’ve done this, we feel like we can do more,” says Derek Ritzenburg, member of the winning team and a game development teacher at Blake High School in Montgomery County who is starting UB's B.S. Simulation and Digital Entertainment program at USG in Spring 2013.

Each team had a chance to present their finalized game to an audience of students, friends, and family. Attendees were invited to play the games and voted on their favorite game for the Audience Award.

“Participating has inspired me to be more prepared, and more informed about what resources are out there,” says Brandon Bishop, a student in the University of Baltimore’s Simulation and Digital Entertainment program at USG, who served as the Concept Designer for the audience award winning project Sketches Dream of Love. “This was critical to gain real-world experience.”

Several teams hope to further polish their games for commercial launch, likely on a mobile platform. Whether it’s at next year’s Global Game Jam or during the month’s in between, all participants are looking forward to future gaming projects.