In the past few months, there has been continuous effort at grassroots level to fan the flames of interest in Lebanon’s video gaming industry. In a bid to bring together those with the desire to build games and share ideas about launching and monetising products, MEGAplay, the brainchild of AltCity, has emerged as a support group for this small creative community. The project started with seed support from the Netherlands Embassy in Lebanon, and the group states that it “works with various partners to organize activities, events, competitions, and more.”
These events are frequent and open to everyone and anyone with an interest in gaming. To complement their lectures, discussions and workshops, MEGAplay in September hosted a ‘game jam’; 48 hours of non-stop game programing judged by a panel from Lebanon’s Wixel Studios. Powered by an endless stream of cake, coffee, and naps on the sofa, eight teams set up camp in AltCity for an entire weekend, and competed in the event to produce a game which reflected the theme of ‘light and dark’. Given the task on Friday night, teams were required to brainstorm a premise and design, and spend the rest of the weekend implementing their ideas on a chosen development platform.
Although some contestants chose to take a break and spend the nights at home, many camped out on the sofas around AltCity, fully dedicating themselves to the game jam experience.Throughout the weekend teams interpreted the themes differently, with some taking on ambitious projects to develop a full scale game and others choosing to focus on full development, with sound and music, of a single level. The judging panel had required teams to demonstrate ‘light and dark’ in any creation, and a variety of products were developed. Groovy Antoid, a three -man team, designed the 2D game ‘Doom Sprout’, with a vine growing between two skyscrapers, drawn towards a light source operated by the player. The object of the game was to eat as many humans as possible leaning out of the tower windows, whilst avoiding those wielding chainsaws. ‘Blink Reflex’ was produced by one man team Hosni Auji and incorporated a timing element into the gameplay, requiring the player to collect tokens within a head before the human owner blinked and turned the screen dark. Other teams ventured into 3D, with T-Sleye using game designer Unreal Engine 4 to build ‘Glow’, a pitch-black maze through which an illuminated runner moves and collects batteries in order to remain lit.
Raja Riachi, MEGAplay coordinator at AltCity was extremely pleased with the event, saying that, “People showed creativity and enthusiasm, and I felt that people adapted quickly to the rhythm dictated by the game jam.” Several teams were formed on the Friday night, as participants signed up for the event as individuals and without any previous experience in game development. “What is really impressive” adds Riachi, “is that not only did people work well as teams, despite never collaborating, but also those without game programming experience still managed to have a product to demonstrate to the judging panel”.
Riachi added that the next round of game jams, which he wants to become a future recurring event, will learn from the round in September. “This was meant to be a test run for people to get used to the vibe. We’ll be adding a competitive element next time”. He also addressed the gender disparity of the all-male competing teams, and hoped to attract more women to future MEGAplay game jams with the initiatives AltCity are running in future months. “We’ll be working with women in the industry to ensure more women get involved, starting with a Women in Gaming talk scheduled in October.” Timely, as the next game jam is scheduled for the weekend of 13 November.