Global Game Jam: Belfast to take part for first time

Farset Labs interior The Belfast event is being hosted by Farset Labs, a self-styled "leisure centre for geeks"

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Is it possible to create an entirely new computer game from scratch over the course of just one weekend?

To come up with an idea, create a design for the concept and then to develop and test the software in a time span of less than 48 hours?

Cutting it fine may seem like an understatement, but this weekend, games developers and enthusiasts from around the world will get together in small teams to do exactly that.

It is known as the Global Game Jam, and Belfast is among 300 international locations that have registered to take part in the 2013 event from 25 - 27 January.

Secret theme

The Global Game Jam (GGJ) brings together a broad range of people with creative and technical expertise, both amateur and professional, for a brief but intensive brainstorming session.

Spontaneity and synergy appear to be the key factors - the developers are all given the same central theme on which to base their game, and this is kept secret until they gather in person at each location.

Farset Labs interior Farset Labs hopes to become a focal point of technological experimentation

The organisers also discourage participants from forming their teams in advance, thus bringing together a dynamic mix of artists, writers, graphic designers and coders to share fresh ideas.

GGJ was founded in 2008 and over the past five years, the number of people getting involved has grown significantly, making it the biggest event of its kind.

'Technological community'

In its first year, more than 1,600 participants produced 370 games. Last year, more than 10,000 people took part, creating over 2,100 new games in a single weekend.

This year, Belfast is taking part for the first time and the local event is being hosted by Farset Labs.

The facility, based in Weavers Court business park just off Sandy Row, was co-founded last April by Andrew Bolster.

The aim was to create "a focal point of technological experimentation" and to foster "a better technological community for Northern Ireland".

Officially, Farset Labs is a charitable enterprise described as a "hub of creativity, technological innovation and entrepreneurship".

However, Mr Bolster said it could equally be seen as "a leisure centre for geeks".

'Playground'

He said they had also toyed with the tag-line "gym for geeks" but abandoned it, not wanting to conjure up false expectations of treadmills with iPads.

"In terms of atmosphere, it sits somewhere in the triangle of incubator, research lab, and playground," the team said.

So who can take part in the Belfast GGJ?

Mr Bolster said they would welcome participants from all backgrounds, those with expertise and those who want to gain it, from graphic designers and storyboard sketch artists through to programmers and audio engineers.

He added it would be interesting to see what could be achieved when groups sat down together for 48 hours and explored their collective imaginations.

A number of experts from the local industry are also due to attend to offer help and advice.

'Hackathon'

The GGJ games can be designed on a wide range of platforms, from consoles to mobile phones to web-based applications.

There is also scope for more traditional forms of entertainment such as board games and even cards.

The 48-hour, so-called 'hackathon' begins at 17:00 GMT on Friday 25 January.

Applications will be considered until 09:00 GMT on the day and the suggested minimum age limit for the Belfast event is 16.

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