Interview: Anna Prein, Pi Jam Organizer and Time-Travelling Unicorn

PiJam

With Pi Jam coming up this Friday, I sat down with organizer Anna Prein, a fellow 2013 Women in Games Scholarship recipient and current Vancouver Film School student to find out more about the jam, as well as the history of Hat Jam.

Anna_PiJam_Photo

So what’s this thing you’re organizing?

It’s called Pi Jam. It’s a 48-hour game jam. It used to be called Hat Jam, VFS Hat Jam, but now we’re doing this with Microsoft so we wanted to change the name.

What’s the theme of Pi Jam?

The official theme is the mathematical constant pi [π]. But we’re also welcoming people to use edible pie. Go wherever you want with ‘pi’. If you know somebody named Pi, go make a game about them.

Why ‘Pi’?

The jam takes place on March 14th, and that’s three-one-four, the first three digits of pi. Three point one four.

How did the partnership with Microsoft come about?

One of the teachers [at VFS], Chris Mitchell, talked to Microsoft at [the 2013 Unity conference] Unite and he mentioned that we were doing this game jam at VFS. They came forth and said, ‘we’d be interested in sponsoring’ and we’ve been talking with them since late summer.

What’s Microsoft’s role in the jam?

Microsoft is actually letting us use their development centre for the entire weekend. They’re bringing in a few extra people for security purposes. They’re providing lunch for us and coffee and drinks and fruit, which is pretty amazing. Food is a really important part of jamming. Some people will realise this very soon. It’s cool to have people on board to help port people’s games over devices.

Do you know what food they’ll be providing?

Well, I’m hoping for pie, personally. Pizza pie, meat pie and fruit pie.

Is the jam being run as a competition?

Yes it is, this time. You’re welcome to not enter it, but the prize is five Acer Iconia tablets, one per person on the winning team, up to five people.

What’s the judging criteria for Pi Jam?

Part of it will be games that actually do have ‘pi’ in them.

Who’s judging?

One of our judges is Alexandre Mandryka. He knows game design inside and out. He does game design seminars. He recently did one at East Side Games, with Josh Nilson and a bunch of industry folk.

How did you get into running jams?

In my term two, I was like, ‘Yo guys. Game jams. I like game jams. We should all game jam.’ But nobody wanted to because they thought it was inconvenient, or they didn’t have the tools. So Jesse Bardell and I decided to have a game jam at VFS and originally it was going to be just us jamming, but then we decided to make it an event and people actually liked it.

And then Mike [fellow VFS student Michaelangelo Pereira Huezo] became my organizing partner throughout Hat Jam 2 and 3 and so forth. And then we had Tyson [Bednar] doing all the art for it. So like, three-fourths of my final project team is actually the Hat Jam team.

What was Hat Jam, thematically?

We didn’t know what to do for the game jam and Jesse Bardell really likes hats, so we had the idea of drawing themes out of a hat.

Does Jesse Bardell really like Team Fortress?

Yes, I think so. I suspect.

So what jams had you participated in before you started organizing the Hat Jams?

I did 2Jam at VFS. Which Chevy [Ray Johnston] organized. The theme was two people, working on a two-minute game for two-players. And then Global Game Jam, Iamagamer Jam – mostly local stuff.

What do you like about game jams?

I like working with new people. I work really fast if I do art, and usually if you work in a normal environment with people, they don’t really know what they want yet, so they say, ‘oh I think we’ll need this’ but nobody gives you huge details so you spend a lot of time floating around on a cloud hoping that you’re doing the right thing, waiting on other people.

But in a jam you pretty much have creative freedom so you do a lot of stuff really quickly and then the best part of it is that if you don’t like it, you never have to see it again. You can throw it away. Forever.

Would you encourage people to work with new people at game jams?

Definitely. I mean, at first I just wanted to make games and do art and make stuff but afterwards I realised it was actually a really good networking opportunity. Just to make friends and get to know people who make the same stuff.

How would you encourage people to form new teams on the day?

We’ll do the usual, ‘artists who need a team raise your hand’, ‘programmers who need a team raise your hand’, and try to match-make on the spot there. That’s the best we can do, other than drawing names out of a hat.

Why should people join Pi Jam?

‘Cause no other jams are really happening around this time in Vancouver so it’s a perfect opportunity to test stuff out. To know some people. If you aren’t going to GDC it’s like a GDC pity party.

Pi Jam takes place at the Microsoft Development Center in Vancouver, BC, from 6pm Friday March 14th to 6.30pm Sunday March 16th, 2014.

For more information and to register as a jammer, visit http://pi-jam.com/index.html or contact Anna Prein at gd33@vfs.com

 

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