gaming8

Game On

If all goes according to Matthew O’Malley’s plans, by the end of January he and a few dozen friends will be sequestered in a room somewhere on campus, living out a computer-game enthusiast’s ultimate dream: Forty-eight hours of nonstop videogaming.

But O’Malley and company won’t be playing games. They’ll be creating them.

O’Malley, a sophomore computer science major and the founder of Elmhurst’s new Computer Game Developers Club, is getting ready for Global Game Jam 2012, a kind of international marathon of extreme technophile artistry. He has registered Elmhurst as one of hundreds of sites around the world where designers, visual artists, musicians and code-crunchers team up for a weekend of building games from scratch, all based on a secret theme revealed only at the start of the festivities. At the last Global Game Jam, in January 2011, some 6500 participants gathered in 44 countries to produce more than 1500 original games. The theme: extinction.

“There’s a real buzz about it on campus,” O’Malley said one afternoon in a lounge in Daniels Hall, just down a corridor from the computer lab where his club meets every week. The challenge, he figured, will be not just recruiting participants, but organizing them.

“We’ll be working in teams and in shifts, though some people will have to be there continually. That would probably be me,” he said, sounding not a little excited at the prospect.

This is the sort of challenge O’Malley had in mind when he launched the Game Developers Club earlier this year. When he arrived on campus as a first-year student, he was happy to discover Gamers Elite of Elmhurst College, or GEEC. (Yes, O’Malley said unabashedly, that’s pronounced “geek.”) He joined GEEC, but couldn’t help feeling that something was still missing.

“They just play video games,” O’Malley explained. “But I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to create your own games?’”

That’s where the new Game Developers Club comes in. The group meets on Thursday nights in Daniels Hall, and its goal is to produce a new, original Xbox 360 game by the end of the academic year. O’Malley plans to offer the club’s creation on Live Arcade, a service that lets independent game developers share their latest work.

“When I’m playing a game I really like, I’m always thinking ‘How did they create that?’ and “Could I do something like that?’” O’Malley said.

To help him answer those questions, he has been busy recruiting creative talent. His club has its share of computer-science students, yes, but also art majors, musicians, and creative writers. O’Malley said he was in the process of recruiting a history major to help him research possible scenarios for historical games.

“I want to get everyone involved, make it a total campus effort,” O’Malley said.

The idea is to simulate a professional setting, so O’Malley asks the club’s members to form teams, develop projects and set deadlines. At the club’s weekly meetings, he offers tutorials in Microsoft’s XNA game-development system. “Anyone can do it,” he said.

Launching the Game Developers Club and preparing for Global Game Jam (January 27-29), have taken so much of O’Malley’s time that he has had to cut back on his own gaming. Not that he seems to mind all that much. “This is my gaming time now,” he said.

O’Malley already has absorbed one essential lesson of the creative professional. He declined to offer too many details about the club’s plans for its new Xbox game.

“That’s what I love about this field,” he said a little slyly. “The possibilities are just endless.”

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