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48 Hours Later, Some Thoughts on Molyjam

As hundreds of games begin rolling in, reflection on a wild, tiring weekend.

Braid artist David Hellman wasn't on a team, but he did contribute this fantastic piece, based on a tweet.
Braid artist David Hellman wasn't on a team, but he did contribute this fantastic piece, based on a tweet.
An incredible celebratory drawing by Secret Dad artist Kari Clark. Can you spot the chat memes?
An incredible celebratory drawing by Secret Dad artist Kari Clark. Can you spot the chat memes?

I don’t know where to begin.

I made it home around one on Sunday night, after an hour of throwing cans of Red Bull and throwback Mountain Dew into bags, and wondering whether the building was going to be angry for the cake that had fallen onto the carpet, squished inside the fibers by over a hundred game developers that had gathered for Molyjam.

(So far, I haven’t gotten that angry email.)

Upon reaching my couch, I sent two emails. One email thanked the building staff for being so great to us all weekend, despite the persistent smell of dude everywhere. The other was to Giant Bomb, letting 'em know I planned to sleep in. I barely slept. I couldn’t get the event out of my head, convinced there was another 24 hours.

We expected a couple dozen people to show up for this thing--total. That was three weeks ago, when it seemed like What Would Molydeux? would be a Bay Area party. Instead, we had well over 1,000 game developers, ranging from the amateur to the professional, making interesting, touching, crazy, hilarious video games under the ever present 48-hour deadline that we’d arbitrarily came up with weeks before.

I have never organized anything in my life more ambitious than asking people to show up to my apartment for a party, and since my fiancee entered my life, I don’t even do that anymore. There’s a reason I work mostly solo on Giant Bomb, and why my other jobs had me operating independently. So when I neglected to remain conscious of the fact that Twitter is a public venue and joked with Double Fine gameplay programmer Anna Kipnis about a game jam based on the tweets of Peter Molydeux, I found myself in the middle of something brushing against my worst habits.

Oops.

But it worked out fine, and I'm better for it. Better. Not just in proving I'm capable of organizing an event without freaking out, but a better, more informed reporter, too. I couldn’t be more thankful. Molyjam is one of my proudest accomplishments, professionally and personally. One of the developers queued up to present their game scored a job while waiting in line. More than one told me it was the happiest weekend of their life. It changed mine, too.

I was just a cog in the machine, though. The event couldn't have been success it was out here without Kipnis, Idle Thumbs' Chris Remo, Gamasutra's Brandon Sheffield, and the dozens that worked together worldwide.

There are more than 300 games archived on www.whatwouldmolydeux.com --for now. That number will grow, as some creations were iOS games, and those developers are actually hoping to publish them on the App Store.

There is a common complaint in the press that we are denied proper access required to do accurate, honest reporting. There’s certainly merit to that, and developers have reason to be guarded: most of us have no idea how game development works. Not nearly enough, anyway. Having spent two days with a room full of developers, I can tell you there is a very easy way to better understand how video games are made: go to a game jam. This doesn’t just apply to the press, either; as a player, if you’re wondering how the hell a game is put together, if you want to witness, first-hand, the brutal process of realizing your once-amazing design just isn’t going to work, go to a jam.

I watched this unfold for a team in front of me, a few feet from where Kipnis and I sat at our help desk of sorts. On Friday, there were laughs, smiles, beers and a tangible throwing of caution into the wind regarding their own design hubris. The amount of features they were hoping to have in the game was astounding. On Saturday, the real work began, and...there was too much. They scoped too big. They quickly took a hatchet to the game. Ideas were thrown out, frustration boiled, and tension was paramount. But at the end, they had a game. It received a huge response.

If you scroll towards 2:26:00 in the video above, you can watch what they created.

That’s just one story, too. There are so many stories to be told from just the San Francisco arm of the Molyjam, and I’m hoping to tell a few of them in the weeks ahead.

As developers finished their games, Kipnis and I surprised them with some Molydeux cakes.
As developers finished their games, Kipnis and I surprised them with some Molydeux cakes.

I have a newfound respect for game developers, and a more informed understanding of the creative process. Of course, none of that will not stop me from telling you when a video game is bad, but it's worth knowing. If I hadn’t been so stressed about organizing Molyjam, I would have made a game myself. Make no mistake, I have zero interest in leaving writing to make games, but going through the exercise of creating a game seems very worthwhile.

Since this year’s GDC, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my role in the industry. Besides an obligation to both entertain and inform, I have a big, loud platform, a responsibility I take very seriously. Hopefully, Molyjam is the first step towards...I don’t know? A new way to bridge the player and the developer, an avenue to instill new insight into game development? The idea is a work-in-progress.

I would have loved an open night for Molyjam, and allow anyone to come by and play the games. The space here at CBS is fantastic, and my mind’s already spinning about what’s possible.

I also want to thank the Giant Bomb community, especially the couple hundred folks who hung out in the chat. You did a great job keeping us company over the 48-hour haul. I wish you could have been involved even more, and I’m keeping that in mind for whatever’s next. For now, accept a heartfelt thank you for sticking with us all weekend.

Oh, right, I forgot: the games. I have only played a handful, unfortunately, but that will change over the next few days, and on my flight to PAX East. We’ll be doing a Quick Look with the highlights, but if you’re looking for my recommendations from the presentations last night that are already available on the site, here’s what stuck out:

P.S. Bill Music.

Patrick Klepek on Google+