It’s Thursday October 17, and the sun has already set.
As day quickly turns to night outside, what remains of the students of San Jose State University slowly scatter indoors to attend whatever night plans they have, be it evening club meetings or evening classes. It’s a common sight to see a few strays wandering about on their early evening walks, whether its exercise or just for the sake of enjoying the cool autumn weather.
Tonight wouldn’t be one of those nights for the fine folks of SJSU’s Game Development Club.
Inside Room 213 of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Public Library, a crowd of students are huddled around their laptops and 3DSes, busy playing computer games for the sake of charity. In one side of the massive room, piles upon piles of junk food lay scattered on top of several tables, a junk food buffet composed of whatever munchies one could possibly imagine save for a couple of popular energy drinks. On the other end of the room, a group of four students are busy playing a quick round of Project M, a popular modification for Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Doug, an employee from a nearby used game store, is discussing today’s Nintendo Direct with a fifth-year student named Casey. Both are expressing disappointment over the announcement of Mewtwo as a DLC character for players who owned both versions of the latest title, something that might be considered to be ridiculous to pay for as extra DLC.
“All I’m just saying is that people shouldn’t have to pay for two games just for the sake of DLC,” Doug mutters. “It’s crazy that Nintendo would consider such marketing tactics to be ethical.”
“Who cares?” Casey replies. “It’s just business.”
While the guys are keeping themselves busy, most of the attention is drawn towards the front of the room, where three large projector screens sit. Two of them are dominated by footage of Black Ice, a Steam Early Access title that the game’s developer Garrett Cooper is streaming with a member of the Game Dev club. Garrett claims that the game is “a Cyberpunk FPS RPG thing about computer hacking with elements of hack and slash games.” It resembles a cross between Tron and Dejobaan Games’ A Reckless Disregard for Gravity. There are also neon spiders involved.
In front of those screens is programmer Daniel Evans, busy blasting away at random baddies with his shotgun. He’s been spending the past hour streaming the latest Borderlands title on his Twitch page, hoping to drum up some additional viewers for attention/charity. Nearby is Angelica Cabanlit, the club’s president. She just announced that she was going to head back to her apartment to pick up a costume for later. Apparently, she and her boyfriend Byron were going to stream BattleBlock Theater the following day while cosplaying as Sora and Shiro, the protagonists of a popular anime called No Game No Life. She seems a little frustrated.
At this point, you might be wondering to yourself why I would be spending my time documenting this informal LAN Party of sorts. You could say it’s out of curiosity.
The Game Developer’s Club was formed back in fall 2007 by faculty advisor John Pierre and student Edgar Miranda, who went on become the club’s first president.
“Membership was kind of in flux that first year,” recalls Pierre in an interview. “Back then, most of our members came from the Shrunken Head Man (SJSU’s animation/illustration club) as well as some new media art majors. Over time we got some heavy Computer Science majors and art majors. Now it’s pretty much composed of students interested in Computer Engineering.”
“And how many games would usually come out of this?” I asked.
“Depends how major or how small you want to count it,” replies Pierre. “I feel like usually about six or seven fully fleshed out games come out of semester on average. It's probably more now because we have grown a lot in the last year, but every now and then they'll be game jams where people put out as many games as possible in 24 hours.”
“Pirate Cart, Glorious Train Wrecks, Global Game Jam, you know, that kind of thing.”
In addition to game jams, the club has played host to a variety of guests in the indie game field, ranging from programmers such as Braid creator Jonathan Blow and Ian Stalker of Escape Goat fame, to even the lead sound designer behind FTL. They’ve also received visits from Blizzard Entertainment and Cryptic Studios, and have even visited the Game Developers Conference on a number of occasions.
“Those trips are semi-sponsored by the Associated Students, so they would usually give us a set sum, split based on the number of people interested in attending,” he explains. “Because so many people want to go, it’s become more of a discount, really.”
Six years later, this is the first time they’ve ever actually attempted an Extra Life stream. And so far, the atmosphere feels really laid back, for now at least.
As the night rolls on, the crowd continues to party well into the night, still high on what could probably be attributed to a mixture of coffee and soda. The air smells of blood, sweat, and tears, most likely due to the ever growing groups of people playing Super Smash Bros in the far left end of the room. Replacing Daniel is a different girl, attempting speedruns through Portals 1 & 2.To mark the occasion, she even goes so far as to cosplay the game’s protagonist, Chell, complete with a working portal gun prop. She appears to be doing rather well, garnering a respectable amount of views and donations.
Eventually, the party atmosphere begins to die down, with students starting to retire to sleep in another classroom across the hall. Of course, sleeping in a classroom feels kind of weird, lying down on the cold hard floor, trying to get a few winks in, and yet still with the thought of gaming fresh on your mind. Not many people seemed to have any use of the room during the first couple of hours, though around three am, the room started to show signs of use.
Back in the main room, it’s pretty clear that the noise levels have started to die down. No longer is there a loud roar like before; instead, it’s become more of a low buzz. The streamers in the room across from us have now moved on to horror games, and are playing through Alien: Isolation in the dark. It’s funny trying to watch these kids try to mimic the likes of Markplier and PewDiePie, seeing them lose their shit over the sudden appearance of a random Xenomorph from out of nowhere and cuddle into a ball of fear and shock.
At the center of the room, a group of students have gathered around a makeshift table to play a round of Star Munchkin, a popular card game that’s usually played by anyone who is usually not distracted with Cardfight Vanguard or whatever other TCG that’s big these days. I have no idea who is winning or losing, but the game appears to be rather lively, if not a little tiring. I think I saw the Portal streamer from earlier playing in this round, though I can't be sure in my drowsy state. I’m already half-asleep, and I decide to head back to my sleeping bag for some additional shuteye.
The first time Angelica joined the Game Dev club, she randomly entered the room based on a friend’s recommendation. “I would usually hang out there for a while,” she recalls. “We used to have sixteen members and we’d usually hang out around the student union prior to the renovations.”
According to John Pierre, the Club has gone through a variety of presidents over the years, most of whom are voted on each year via election. Initially the club had governing board of sorts, but it didn’t become fully functional until fall 2008.
As for becoming the club president, that idea seemed a bit too good to be true: “One day, Gavin was all like ‘You should be president!’ and I was all like ‘Okay!’ and that’s what happened. Now, we’re at about almost 100-plus members meeting on a weekly basis.”
As a new day breaks over campus, what was once a wave of busy excitement has turned into something of a hangover.
Getting out of the sleeping bag, I feel extremely exhausted, no thanks to the fact that I’ve woken up at least two or three times over the night. It also doesn’t help that the floor was rather uncomfortable, a giant spillproof rug similar to the ones you’d might encounter at a regular office.
Stepping back into Room 213, the crowd is in a similar predicament, the room empty save for at least seven or eight people. The rest were probably asleep, no doubt exhausted from the five-hour Munchkin game that occurred earlier. It’s strange, really, seeing the room in somewhat of a dilapidated mess: laptops still on, people slowly walking about like the undead. It’s like waking up to the post apocalypse, expect that everyone is hung over from that massive party that went all night, which has turned their brains into the equivalent of scrambled eggs with swiss cheese on rye.
Several hours later, and after a filling breakfast, the room is back in full swing, sort of.
Some of the students have begun packing up their gear, while others have jumped back onto their laptops for another LAN session in Minecraft
Angelica is panicked by the fact that her wig is not straight enough, and is in dire need of some gel. In about thirty minutes, she and Byron are going to stream Battleblock Theater, and she’s something in a mixed state of panic and excitement. “I think she is over preparing herself,” replied Byron, dressed as Sora.
In the end, the team managed to make $1025 via donations, a commendable amount for a first-time stream, but low compared to the likes of some of the more famous faces who dominated this year’s streams. The experience was rather exciting, with the party atmosphere providing a liveliness of sorts, tempered only by the fact that I was unable to get enough sleep. Nevertheless, I would love to come back next year, and look forward to seeing what the team has in store for the next Extra Life.