boston game jam january 20-21, 2007

Overview of the Boston Game Jam.

boston game jam - 8 games in 36 hours
a short postmortem by duncan watt
photos: darren torpey

Over the weekend of January 20/21, fifteen professional Boston-area game developers got together under the great gold dome at MIT to try and create a variety of working, usable games in only 36 hours. Featuring luminaries from such successful companies as Turbine, CogniToy, Iron Lore, SolidWorks, Demiurge and Funkitron, the developers worked either solo or as 2-person teams and completed eight games, which (as anyone who's worked in game development knows) was quite a feat. The theme for the Jam was "shift", and it was fascinating to see how each team interpreted the idea.

The "audio studio"I was invited to be the 'floating music and sound guy' for the weekend, providing all of the music, sound and dialog/voiceover for the games. In keeping with the spirit of the Jam, I brought only a minimum of equipment - an iBook, a MIDI keyboard controller, a decent mic and pre, a handheld field recorder and an assortment of small acoustic instruments (ukelele, irish whistle, hand percussion, acoustic guitar, etc). My goal was to hand-make all of the music, VO and sound design right there at the Jam, which turned out to be as much of a challenge as I thought I was going to be. Seeing as we were at a beautiful college, I was hoping to find a nearby classroom to set up shop in, but the entire building we were in was, for all intents and purposes, shut down tight - I ended up setting up in the same room as the rest of the developers. With no studio and nothing but my iBook and a pair of headphones to work on, it became apparent early on that time was going to be a major factor, and the teams with the most foresight would end up with the most extensive music/sound. My good friend Kent Quirk and his son Lincoln (who made the game "Slidewalk") literally met me at the door as I walked in, with a detailed list of exactly what sound and music assets they expected to need. This allowed them to create a game with a basic interactive score (percussion track throughout, with crossfading "lightside" and "darkside" ambient music tracks), player 'effort' sounds, multiple 'conveyor' speeds and four different player deaths/re-materializations! Their ideas and the resulting game were simply amazing. Al Reed & Alex Rice (who made the game "Squish") took the other tack - they told me how they wanted the player to feel during gameplay, asked for a couple of specific sounds, and let me go for it. The result was hands-down the 'fun-factor' game of the Jam.

Duncan Watt and Katelyn Olmstead working on voiceoversGlobe-trotter Philip Tan made a great mobile phone game ("Nightshifted"), which needed flight-attendant VO and in-air sound effects, so we pressed an empty cubical into service as a vocal booth and Katelyn Olmstead (pictured) handled the dialog in fine style. As the weekend went on, many of the developers got to feel what it was like on the other side of the mic as well. Eric Rosenbaum and Jonah Elgart made a strong attempt at the most ambitious game of the Jam ("The Rhythm Machine"), a Flash-based puzzle game in which the solution is a rhythmic pattern - just a great idea. We were all disappointed they couldn't quite get the coding together in time, but it's a testament to their sheer will and expertise they got the game to work as well as they did in the end. Jonah has such a wonderful art-style, I really hope they'll follow their idea out and finish the game someday.

But Sunday afternoon came up fast, and we all began to run out of time - I ended up going to one of my sound libraries for 1) an antique cash register ring (for Dan Roy's "Conflict Diamond"), 2) a huge explosion (which became a cool flash-bang after some tweaking) and 3) a little clip of a speed-metal piece I'd written earlier in the week (both to finish up "Squish"). With minutes to go (just like on "Iron Chef"), I found myself out in the hall, sitting on the floor, banging out a quick guitar track so Darren Torpey and Dave Ludwig would have something to go along with their presentation of "Buddha Quest", when Jam organizer Darius Kazemi dropped the hammer - it was ovaaahhhh...

Hard at work on SundayIn the end, two of the developers eschewed audio altogether - Max McGuire made an astonishing game about global resources and relationships ("Shift"), and despite thinking he wouldn't have time, Darius Kazemi ended up building a clever puzzle game ("Maze") for the GameBoy Advance...! I had no idea what he was doing, and Sunday afternoon he comes by my table where I'm editing furiously on headphones and asks me if he can borrow my DS Lite - he pops a card in, messes around a bit, then proclaims "yeah... it works". My jaw almost fell out when I saw his game running on my DS - I knew he'd brought a card-burner, but I'll admit I didn't think he'd get it up and working - man, was I wrong.

Being a part of the first Boston Game Jam reconfirmed my thoughts about the game industry in the short time I've been involved in it. The people I've met are overwhelmingly welcoming and willing to help, and most of 'em are pretty funny, too. Everyone seems to remember that at the heart of things, we're all toymakers here - and this is one of the best jobs ever. The Jam was an opportunity to step away from the business for a moment and revel in the joy of making fun things with a bunch of great people. I can't wait to do it again.

- Duncan Watt

More photos: There are a number of photos up on Flickr here
Want to hear some audio from the weekend? Listen to the clip below.


boston game jam audio clips
all music/sound/voiceover: duncan watt

(audio montage, 2:52)
download mp3 here

Play the games:
Downloadable games, screenshots and more information at


fastestmanintheworld - voice: 603 686 0033 - fax: 603 297 4958 - email: - IM: kanubadigital