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Art Institute of Pittsburgh to host 48-hour Global Game Jam workshop

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A 48-hour computer gaming marathon this weekend is billed as the world's largest game-creation event.

More than 130 students, professional game developers and enthusiasts will work around the clock at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, taking an idea for a video game and turning it into a playable prototype.

Similar events will run at 100 other locations worldwide. About 10,000 people in 47 countries took part last year.

The Downtown school will host the 48-hour Global Game Jam Pittsburgh for the second time in five years, and provide coffee.

Computer gamers, called “Jammers,” enter the challenge individually and pick teammates during the contest, or arrive as a group. Either way, they'll get a theme when the event starts at 6 p.m. Friday, then start brainstorming.

In contrast to the jam's two- to five-person teams working at a frenzied pace to come up with a rudimentary game, slick, multi-feature games released commercially may involve 30 to 100 people working for a year or two, said Sabrina Culyba, who coordinates the event for the Pittsburgh chapter of the International Game Developers Association.

The video game industry is big. For all of 2012, total game sales topped $13.2 billion, despite a 22 percent decline from the previous year.

The industry is changing rapidly, as more game enthusiasts move from PCs and laptops to online or mobile play.

Global Game Jam Pittsburgh is not a contest per se, although sponsors will provide prizes such as tablet computers or software when the event ends on Sunday night.

“The event is about the participation and the game industry as a whole, experimenting together for the weekend,” said Culyba, a game developer at Schell Games LLC in the South Side.

The Global Game Jam, billed as the world's largest game creation event, starts when a secret theme is revealed. The 2012 theme was a drawing of a snake eating its tail.

Jammers are asked to refrain from talking about the theme on social media websites until the last group, in Hawaii, gets it at 10 p.m. Eastern time, Culyba said.

Participants use their own laptops, or Art Institute computers in classrooms. They work on Apple Macs, Windows PCs or other platforms and decide whether their game will run on a game console such as X-box or Playstation, the Internet or a mobile phone. They're urged to bring sleeping bags, deodorant and extra clothes.

Young jammers have the chance to network with industry professionals.

“Last year, I know three or four of the jammers got hired by one of our judges,” Culyba said.

Enrollment for the game challenge has more than doubled from about 50 people a few years ago, said Hans Westman, chairman of the game art and design and media arts and animation programs at the Art Institute.

Most jammers are students, with heavy participation from the Art Institute and Carnegie Mellon University. Technology companies Mozilla and Google are among the sponsors.

The Art Institute has about 265 students studying game design and related fields, Westman said.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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