I’ve always been an avid video gamer, but didn’t realize I was capable of making my own video game. Last month I decided to give it a shot and made a game with a group of people for the Portland Global Game Jam.

But wait, what’s a game jam? Game jams are similar to hackathons or start up competitions where people come together to plan and design games within a short period of time, usually between 24-72 hours. The Global Game Jam® (GGJ) is the world’s largest game jam event that takes place around the world at physical locations. PIGSquad hosted the jam in Portland, while about 90 other countries were doing the same thing. After volunteering with PIGSquad for over a year now, I thought it would be a good time to test out my skills, and get a hands-on experience on how we support our local game dev community. I’ve also always talked about how I wanted to make this game, so I needed to finally do it.

Most people go into jams without a concept, and usually there is a theme provided by the host to build upon an idea (this year’s theme was “waves”). However, I was already set on my concept. Designing the game came from a few insights. There is a lot of nostalgia for the classic Oregon Trail game that many remember when being forced to play it in school computer labs, so I wanted to bring that nostalgia back and build upon the idea. I also love my city, and feel that learning about Portland should be more fun and interactive- That’s how The Portland Oregon Trail was born.

It was a blessing to have Simon Bielman (developer) and Wesley Mueller (music and art) on my team. While the original concept was my idea, Simon and Wesley were an integral part of building upon/refining the concept and producing a fully functioning game. It definitely helped that this was not their first game jam. Wesley turned out to be not only a music composer, but a stellar pixel artist. Simon taught me a lot about game logic, how all the pieces of the game fit into the code, and it was fun watching him furiously type code.

In the game you start at Pioneer Square and have to make it around downtown Portland’s famous landmarks without running out of time, all while keeping your morale, energy, and health up. In traditional Portland fashion, you keep the meters up by consuming beer, coffee, food, and always having rain gear on you. A lot can happen to you before you make it to the next landmark— you may encounter naked bike riders, a protest, getting lost in a brewery, etc. The rain is also notorious for making you lose morale and health, always bring a rain coat!

Play it here: http://theportlandoregontrail.com

Building a video game with a team in a 48 hour period was demanding but also rewarding. I still haven’t decided if I’ll make another video game, but first I want to polish this one up. I’ve always been interested in product design- from designing my dress and now this, so I’m trying to figure out what’s next. A video game dress? I’m just glad to have worked with a rock star team, that I gained a whole new skill set in game design and UX, and got to see what kinds of tools and resources our community provides so we can support each other.