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  • 48-Hour Development Contest: A Word from the Coordinators

    - Paul Skowronek and Mitchell Keith Bloch
  •  The University of Michigan hosts an annual game development challenge, in which small teams of students have just 48 hours to develop a video game. The event is run by the campus' game development club, Wolverine Soft. Mitchell Keith Bloch and Paul Skowronek are the coordinators for this year's event. This is their account of the contest.

    I'm Paul Skowronek, one of the event managers of this year's 48-Hour Game Development Contest. I have competed in the last two contests, but I felt burned out on participating this year, largely because I was awake for the whole event last year. Knowing that this year's event would have more participants from more schools, and that last year's coordinator had a rough time managing the event, I volunteered to co-coordinate with my friend Mitchell Keith Bloch, Wolverine Soft's president.

    Event Planning
    We had discussed the event a little bit throughout the semester, but we only truly start to plan it the Saturday before the contest. Among the more mundane details (for example, Mitchell and I schedule time when we'll sleep), we discuss how to record the participants' experiences. We decide to ask them to keep journals and will further document their work by extensively video recording.

    We also discuss the theme. "Steven Colbert" had been suggested several years ago as a joke; I have a bad feeling about it, but can't think of any compelling reason not to use it. While it would be an interesting change to use a very specific theme, I'm not convinced, and don't finalize anything.

    Both of my roommates will participate in the contest, so when I see them, I pretend that Mitchell and I have not yet discussed the theme.

    During our weekly club meeting the following Thursday, I avoid talking about any games at all. We have to work secretly so as not to give anyone an advantage in the contest.

    Mitchell leaves and then calls me 20 minutes later. Pretending to be meeting with someone else, I also excuse myself and join Mitchell, unbeknownst to the other club members.

    I join him outside at a restaurant. We invent a couple code words to disguise our conversation just in case a participant passes by, and though I still have misgivings, we agree that "Honoring Stephen Colbert" will be the theme.

    The Contest
    The Friday before the contest begins, I grab a video camera. Mitchell and I hang out near the contest room and grab something to eat before the event gets rolling.

    I videotape the room before anyone else enters it as a precaution. It's filled with computers, and if anything is damaged during the contest, we will have evidence of the condition of the room before we arrived. When the contest ends, I'll grab a few more shots of the room to show its state as we left it, too.

    The first hour is fairly hectic. I retrieve a few boxes of prizes from the club office and spend the rest of the hour with Mitchell, registering contestants and setting up teams. Students from Michigan State University (MSU) have come over to compete with us, and I had expected the MSU president to set up the MSU teams (because that's essentially what happened last year). But as the host, Mitchell expected to set up all the teams. This miscommunication confuses us a bit, but we eventually accept MSU's pre-arranged teams.

    Around this same time, I received a phone call. It's a call that I will not actually have time to return until the following Wednesday -- that should give you an idea of how hectic the contest gets.

    After announcing the teams and giving them a moment to find each other, Mitchell gives me one more chance to veto the theme, which I do not.

    At this moment, we make two mistakes. First, I don't have the video camera out when the crowd first reacts to the theme. There's laughter mixed with scattered disbelief and one or two instances of confusion. Second, we had not yet announced any rules, the most pressing of which is "Don't eat or drink anything inside the contest room."

    We're surprised to discover that one of the teams has no experienced game programmers, and that none of the other teams have any to spare. I'm not too worried because some of last year's games were made by rookie teams, and they seemed to manage. But this team doesn't have any idea where to start. Mitchell gives them a short tutorial on a framework he developed.

    I work a nightshift job off campus, so at around 8:30, I take the bus back to my apartment. The buses aren't running when my shift ends at 5 a.m., so I watch a couple movies to kill time until the buses start running at 8.

    Mitchell looks exhausted when I get back, and he sticks around for a little while before leaving. Most people are gone or sleeping, so I take the camera around to anyone who's awake. I also get a shot of everyone who fell asleep in the room because they are hilarious. People don't start returning or waking until 10:30, and nearly everyone returns by noon.

    The next shift switch for me happens at around 4 or 5 p.m. when Mitchell returns.


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