Reflections on Hawaii’s 2015 Global Game Jam

GGJ_round_logoI turned my phone off as soon as I finished work on Friday at 4:30pm. My entire weekend was booked solid. I would be helping to facilitate  the Global Game Jam in Hawaii at The Sullivan Center at I’olani School from January 23-25, 2015.

I was inaccessible. I was busy. I was at the Global Game Jam.

The Global Game Jam is the largest game jam in the world.

The Global Game Jam (GGJ) is the world’s largest game jam event (game creation) taking place around the world at physical locations. Think of it as a hackathon focused on game development.

It is the growth of an idea that in today’s heavily connected world, we could come together, be creative, share experiences and express ourselves in a multitude of ways using video games – it is very universal. The weekend stirs a global creative buzz in games, while at the same time exploring the process of development, be it programming, iterative design, narrative exploration or artistic expression.

It is all condensed into a 48 hour development cycle. The GGJ encourages people with all kinds of backgrounds to participate and contribute to this global spread of game development and creativity.


All photos were taken by Gabriel Yanagihara

Lessons Learned

Video games are the quickest, most satisfying, hands-on way to learn how to code.

Video games give you instant feedback. There is no need to parse the output. It either does what you want it to do or it does not. You can see it if you programmed visuals. You can hear it if you’ve added sound. It’s an animal that comes to life like Frankenstein. The game’s not sure of its conception. But it’ll be damned if it will not tell you it’s arrived.


After work, I biked down to the Sullivan Center at Iolani School and was surprised by how many people were there. Last year we had about 12 participants. It was an older crowd. This year we had around 30. The group was a mixture of middle school, high school, college students, and adults there to complete.

Great ideas floated around the room. There was a buzz that wasn’t there last year. Most of the participants knew how to use Git!

The theme of this year’s jam was “Now what?”

At the beginning, the most important thing in game development is just showing up. Here are a few lessons I learned on my journey as an independent game developer:

  • Start from where you are.
  • Always do the shitty first drafts fast.
  • Compile, play, test, iterate.
  • Everything is built little by little.


No one needed help with their code. So I watched How to Draw a Bunny a film about Andy Warhol’s lesser known contemporary, Ray Johnson. I loved his obsession. Everything is a performance. Ray Johnson’s life became his collage. He remixed everything. There was no line between art and life.

I looked around and realized I was in the middle of a million Ray Johnsons. Everyone at the GGJ was remixing. Remixing code. Remixing visuals. Remixing ideas. It was beautiful. There is power in making video games.


We announced, “One more hour!” Then, “10 minutes!” And soon it was over.

Everyone uploaded their games to the Global Game Jam server and we gathered in the presentation room. Each team had 5 minutes to present their games. Some teams has finished and some learned that they had been too ambitious. A lot of people said it was their first game jam. Everyone was smiling.

I got to announce the winners.

I had the participants drum on the tables to build up the excitement. I shook hands and congratulated the teams on successfully creating their playable games in 3 short days. I teared up a bit as I handed out the mini 3D printed joystick trophies.

2015 Global Game Jam – Hawaii Winners

  1. Best Overall#Awkward
  2. Best TechnicalDoc2Game
  3. Best VisualsLil’ Gitz’ Lootin
  4. Most CompleteJigDraw

Are you interested in participating next year?

Contact me and I’ll email you a reminder to register next year.

Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.