One open-source game engine, teed up for mobile devices.
Game designers, bring it on.
For the next two days, Helen C. White Library is ground zero for some serious mobile game app development. It's all part of the ARIS Global Game Jam, an event organized locally by a group of six graduate students from the Games, Learning and Society research group, a subset of the UW-Madison School of Education Sciences.
The concept is similar to the blitzkrieg events Madison's Mercury Players Theatre has held in recent years. Participants download the ARIS Mobile Editor, a game engine the GLS group spent the last two years developing. They then have 48 hours to develop a game on it. After participants play-test the entries, on Wednesday, a panel of judges will select the best and brightest. Madtown is actually one of many registered locations that will participate in the jam. Similar jam competitions will also be taking place in places like Spain, the Netherlands and Los Angeles.
The GLS group designed ARIS to be as user-friendly as possible.
"We wanted it to be a quick-iteration, kids-play, do-it-fast kind of thing," says Seann Dikkers, one of the GLS grad students who helped put the event together. "We put it up online two months ago, and 30 different groups, plus hundreds of people signed up to begin using it."
So far, those people have taken ARIS in a wide array of directions, using it to develop smartphone apps like ShadowClicker, which teaches basic photography skills, or Bikebox, an app in which players share stories about their favorite biking paths. Through a separate grant, Dikkers' group is using the engine to work with the Minnesota Historical Society on a mobile game that uses World of Warcraft-style hubs and quests to engage users with exhibits.
The engine's game-editing tools were built to be flexible enough that even middle-schoolers could use them to design games. Because it's an open-source engine, DIY developers don't have to worry about raising cash to buy; they can just download and begin tooling around.
Dikkers is stoked to see how the competitors will use ARIS to use and convey information and stories in interesting and interactive ways, bringing even the dullest subjects to tech-fueled life.
"Dude, I used to teach geography. I know exactly how boring that can be," says Dikkers. "This is a powerful way to think of mobile technology. As academics, we were in good position to have figured this out."
The GLS group is hoping to see at least 75 user-created games come out of the Jam. Not all of them are going to be four-star efforts -- or even fully playable -- but Dikkers knows the global percentages are on their side. "The thought is, if we get 1,000 games built, ten will be awesome," he says.
The winners, including one champion and several best-of-show entrants, will be announced on Wednesday, after which they'll be made available on the ARIS servers for public download. Check back in later in the week to see results.