Students put their game design skills to the test at Chillennium


Brad Padgett, Marshall Jennings, Kirby Key and Macey McCuller were among the attendees at the Texas A&M Chillenium game jam on April 1.

Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M Marketing and Communications Division

On a recent sunny evening at Texas A&M University’s Hildebrand Equine Complex, four college students sit around a table, quickly sketching out their concept for a new video game.

Their idea is simple: the player will activate a medieval catapult to try to defend his castle against the advancing hordes of invaders. But to complicate matters, creatures attacking castle walls have the power of earth, water, or fire on their side, and players can only defeat them by throwing a barrel containing an opposing element; for example, fire creatures are only destroyed by water.

At the end of their brainstorming session, this team of Aggies — made up of visualization students Macey McCuller, Kirby Key, Brad Padgett, and Marshall Jennings — are excited to get to work. And they’ll have to work fast, because they have less than two days to turn their big vision into a finished product.

It’s the fast-paced world of Chillennium, a 48-hour “game jam” hosted by Texas A&M students with support from the Department of Visualization and its Learning Interactive Visualization Experience (LIVE) lab.

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the beloved competition came back strong last week. Chillennium director Amanda Golla said she was delighted to see the return of this unique hands-on learning experience.

“I want everyone to leave knowing something they didn’t know before,” said Golla, a visualization senior. “It’s a very difficult challenge to make a game in such a short time, and once you do, everyone here will have a bit more knowledge than before.”

In search of that knowledge — along with bragging rights, trophies, and more than $5,000 in assorted prizes — about 130 students set up camp in the Equine Complex from Friday night through Sunday night, armed with pillows , blankets and all the hardware they would need to create their masterpieces. Working in teams of up to four people, they were tasked with creating games that fit into this year’s theme: “You really shouldn’t mix them up!” »

Once certain rules and safety tips were introduced and the theme revealed, it was off to the races, as contestants got to work on projects as diverse as ‘Cowboys vs. Space Vampires’, ‘Bombs & Babies’ and ‘FrostFire’ .

“We didn’t want something that steered someone towards a certain genre or game mechanic,” Golla said. “With that [theme]you can do whatever you want with it, which is great.

Eventually, McCuller and Co.’s rough sketches from Friday night became the action-packed 3D experience “Catamental,” which can be downloaded and played, along with the rest of this year’s submissions, from the Chillennium 2022 page.

“Actually getting a game in 48 hours – being like ‘signing my name here, by Macey McCuller’ – that’s kind of a big deal for me,” McCuller said.

As a technical artist who currently serves as the 3D lead for the LIVE Lab and plans to work in the gaming industry after graduation, McCuller said the challenging and deadline-driven nature of Chillennium made it an ideal setting for the team to hone their skills.

“It’s something that really excites us. Most of my team members want to get into the game design industry,” McCuller said. “[We’re] develop our skills and see where we can push this hard work in 48 hours.

a student works on a computer screen on a video game while sitting at a table surrounded by other students in front of computers

Entrants planned, designed and developed video games from scratch while competing at Chillennium at the Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ’56 Equine Complex on April 1, 2022.

Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M Marketing and Communications Division

A group of dedicated mentors were on hand to help the competitors – industry professionals from across the country who showed up to share their knowledge and offer support to students through the development process. It also makes Chillennium a great opportunity for mutually beneficial networking.

“They’re there to help students, and maybe there’s someone they’ll want to hire or discuss internships with,” said André Thomas, associate professor of practice in the Department of Visualization and director. from the LIVE Lab.

It was Thomas who first pitched the idea of ​​a game jam to a group of Texas A&M students in 2014. They took the idea and followed it, hosting a small but successful event the same year. In 2015, the first official Chillennium was held, and it eventually became the largest student-run game jam in the world. This year’s event drew competitors from all over Texas as well as many others from out of state, including teams from Louisiana and Missouri. Chillennium 2022 sponsors included big names like Amazon Web Services, Electronic Arts, and Epic Games.

“I think what I’m most proud of is seeing this legacy continue and that other students are just as passionate about making it happen,” said Chelsey Gobeli, an alumnus who helped organize these events. originals. Now a producer at SciPlay, Gobeli was one of many Aggies who returned to College Station to serve as mentors in this year’s competition.

As McCuller explained, it’s this sense of community that makes Chillennium an ongoing success and helps make Texas A&M a great environment for budding creators to learn and grow.

“I’m glad I chose A&M,” she said. “The community here, both at Viz and throughout the university, has been excellent in terms of collaboration and community. Everyone is friendly, everyone is great, I can talk to everyone. I never feel like I can’t ask for help.

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