The secret theme was “metamorphosis” – the keyword that the entire competition would be centered around. Last Saturday, artists, writers, designers, programmers, hackers, and game enthusiasts all joined together at The Bemis Underground Arts Center to participate in a ten hour game development competition called Games++.  Starting at 9am, participants began to develop their own games from scratch (using all of their own hardware and software) with checkpoints throughout the day to ensure progress. At 7pm, the participants would set their mice and pencils aside so the public could not only test out the finished products, but also vote for their favorites.

The event was curated by artists, Alex Meyers and Jeff Thompson. Alex Meyers, an Assistant Professor and Program Director of Game Studies at Bellevue University, mentors at the Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Arts and speaks at workshops about games, interaction design and new media art. Jeff Thompson, an Assistant Professor of new genres and digital arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is artist-in-residence at the Holland Computing Center and also runs an art gallery called Drift Station in collaboration with Angeles Cossio. Games++ was an intense gaming challenge that drew in roughly sixty registered participants, shattering last year’s head count of about thirty people.

Participants, fueled by lots and lots of pizza and excessive amounts of coffee, could hardly spare the time to look up from their works in progress – not with prizes to be won and a quickly approaching deadline. Six trophies were awarded as well as achievements for Best Sound Design, Best Graphics, Hardest Gameplay, Audience Favorite, First to Beta, Most Meaningful Gameplay, Innovative Interaction, Weirdest Concept, and Best Glitch. They were given ten hours to form teams and draw, program, paint, and write their games, by which point they would finally get to relax and play see what other groups had created.

Gamers brought their computers, art supplies, keyboards, creativity, and determination to the art gallery where they were given the secret theme to be used in the creation of their games, and their ingenuity was not lacking. While some came to the event with brand new technology, such as a full-sized graphics tablet, others were armed with self-built computers and even an old TRS-80. Other participants ditched the technology altogether and busted out their paintbrushes, glue, and colored pencils to create full board games, complete with clay game pieces.

Tyler White was one participant who I found busy designing the characters and world for the Wii strategy game that he and partner, Lucas Hartman, would later call Morph City Monsters.  The game revolved around several diverse characters that could morph, stretch, grow, and shrink in ways that would help the player advance through each level.  With such big plans and a quickly ticking clock, the idea seemed a bit overwhelming to me, but when asked about anxiety he was feeling, White simply offered a wry smile and said, “We can do it…if I have enough cigarettes.” At the end of the night, Morph City Monsters had no shortage of interested gamers, earning both White and Hartman a shiny trophy for the game with the best graphics.

When I first met the group who aspired to create a game with an ancient TRS-80 computer, I admittedly had no idea what to expect, but by the end of the night, they had created a “Choose your own story” game full of warped plot twists and a storyline that was somehow both depressing and hilarious.  They asked me several ridiculous questions (for example, if I would eat my frogs raw or fried, and keeping them as pets wasn’t an option) and the computer would determine my fate based on the answers I gave. I wasn’t the only one intrigued by it; they received awards for both Weirdest Concept and having the Most Innovative Interaction. They weren’t the only group to recieve multiple awards – Super Massive picked up three: Best Multiplayer, Best Glitch, and Audience Favorite.

An enthusiasm for gaming, especially when it’s concentrated on actual game development, typically doesn’t provide many chances for collaboration in a casual atmosphere, which is what makes events like Games++ such an exciting opportunity for like-minded gamers. The number of participants doubling between events is further proof that Omaha gamers are craving awesome competitions just like this one where they can expand their ideas and learn from their peers while having a blast doing what they love to do. More information as well as updates for future Games++ events can be found at

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