A number of University of Minnesota independent game designers joined hundreds of other makers, doers, and thinkers from the Minnesota gaming community at this year’s GlitchCon. Held in McNamara Alumni Center and organized by U of M graduates, including CS&E students and alums, the festival-like conference offered attendees a weekend filled with workshops, panels, tournaments, and, of course, plenty of gaming.
GlitchCon is the brainchild of U of M graduate and Co-Founder of Glitch Evva Kraikul. The seeds of this event were planted right here on campus while Kraikul was a student. While here she found that there were no real resources for the gaming community on campus—a community she came to love while learning programming and building websites in her free time while pursuing a degree in neuroscience. Driven to build this community, she and Nic Vanmeerten established the Glitch student group in 2011.
“Nic and I often talked about how great it would be to find a way to not only educate ourselves and find others who were passionate about gaming, but also connect with those working in games here in Minnesota. So, we started Glitch,” Kraikul said.
The U’s student group infrastructure was important in helping Glitch develop early on and gave Kraikul the push she needed to pursue her dream more seriously.
“The fact that we were a student group at the U really helped. We got our first $30K because of that. That’s insane. That’s a lot of money,” said Kraikul. “It was an initial investment in my ideas and the things that I was passionate about and something that we had to offer the U that it didn’t already have.”
Partly due to the early investment of the grant, Glitch has grown to become the successful nonprofit it is today, which strives to educate, inspire, and equip emerging makers in the digital game and simulation fields.
“One thing that makes game programming so special is the ability to combine technical computer science knowledge with personal creativity,” said CS&E Professor Stephen Guy who also serves on Glitch’s advisory board. “Glitch, and GlitchCon, gives student a wonderful opportunity to connect with others who are technically oriented and artistically talented.”
GlitchCon is Glitch’s annual premiere event. For two days attendees participated in activities that ranged from unique challenges and quests to immersive experiences including Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. The conference also offered panels, discussions, and demonstrations that covered many topics, including creating pixel art and learning professional skills like search engine optimization. There was music, late night karaoke, a medley of nerdy activities, and a kick-off performance by soundtrack composer and hip hop artist Richie Branson. The popular gaming magazine based in Minneapolis, Game Informer, cordoned off McNamara’s Heritage Gallery to revisit games from that past in an unscripted and hilarious show called Super Replay, LIVE! Keynote speaker and creator of the legendary game Oregon Trail, Bill Heinnemann, spoke on the history of the game’s development and inspired attendees to continue creating.
"Personally, I find the wide assortment of fun and exciting projects from our students and alumni amazing,” Professor Guy said.
One of the centerpieces of the conference was Minnecade, a one-stop arcade to play independent games and chat with creators organized by Glitch intern and computer science major Michael Wang. Many of the creators showcasing their games were much like Glitch founder Kraikul. They shared her enthusiasm for the community, the games they made, and made similar leaps of faith into the community, some choosing between a stable career and pursuing what they love.
U of M alum Shanti Pothapragada worked for Cryptic Studios out in Silicon Valley for two years until he went to IndieCade, one of the largest independent gaming festivals in the country. There, he saw motivated young developers creating games on their own and he was inspired to do the same thing.
“I saw people with as much programming experience as I had setting out to make games,” said Pothapragada. “After about six months working on my own, I came home to Minneapolis and found an artist and composer team to work with me at North Games, LLC.”
Another U of M alum and full-time designer at Intropy Games Lisa Walksoz-Migliacio left her long-time career in software engineering to pursue game design just two years ago. Gaming was a passion that she held since her childhood and she found herself working around the industry until she finally made the leap in a big way. Last year alone she made six games. One of them, Astral Breakers, was an official selection at the Tokyo Game Show.
“No one gets into gaming the same way and women definitely don’t get into gaming the same,” said Walksoz-Migliacio. “I had a PC. I loved playing video games where you could build things, like SimCity. I’ve been playing games since I was young—at sleepovers with other girls. This got me into computer science and games got me into technology.”
For more information about Glitch or GlitchCon, please visit their website. Glitch offers many events throughout the year and they welcome all game enthusiasts to their home offices in Minneapolis. To learn more about U of M student groups and how to start one, visit Student Unions & Activities.