Four graduate students from Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy’s cohort 20, and four undergraduate students from Florida Polytechnic University, took home trophies after winning first place in each division at the first ever FIEA Collegiate Game Jam at Creative Village this past weekend.

A total of 16 undergraduate and 12 graduate/professional teams gathered in the largest classroom at UCF Downtown for the inaugural FIEA Collegiate Game Jam on Jan. 12. Teams made up of artists, programmers and other game developers raced for 43.5 hours with the difficult task of designing and developing a video game based on a theme that was announced at the beginning of the jam: sunshine.

Each team was comprised of up to four undergraduate students or graduate students from universities across Florida, alumni, or working professionals from several tech industries. While many UCF students and alumni participated, others from Full Sail University, Stetson University, University of Florida, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Florida Polytechnic University also participated. At the graduate/professional level, many FIEA alumni and grad students formed teams, as well as grad students from Full Sail. Professionals working at Third Time Entertainment, Iron Galaxy, Electronic Arts (EA), Game Sim, Netflix, Ubisoft Red Storm and other tech companies brought their experience to compete as well.

By 3 p.m. on Jan. 14, all teams concluded development and made their games ready for testing. Judges, participants, and supporters walked around and playtested a variety of games developed during the jam. While most games were developed for PC, a few virtual reality games made an appearance, and one-person team Day of the Dev — represented by Day Cho, a graduate student from UCF — created a game playable and loaded on a Gameboy.

Judges for the undergraduate division consisted of Paul Weiler and Stephen Cano from Iron Galaxy, and Raghib Tyler from EA Orlando. At the graduate/professional level, two judges from Florida Polytechnic, Christian Navarro and Brad Towle, and University of Florida’s Nick Heitzman, stepped in to decide the winners.

“Through all the grind and sleepless nights, we knew that we could trust and support one another, and that was absolutely my favorite part of the game jam.” — Jeffrey Zhang, CAT 4 Team Captain

The first place prize for the graduate/professional division team went to FIEA’s own Cohort 20 team, CAT 4. Team captain Jeffrey Zhang described the object: “In CATastrophe: Sunshine Shenanigans, you play as a pair of greedy cats who are fighting the other cats for the perfect sunbathing spot. Your goal is to hog all the sunlight to yourself by creating a giant Rube Goldberg machine to lure, scare, or otherwise remove all the other cats from the center of the cafe.”

For CAT 4, developing a winning game under such a quick turnaround was no easy feat.

“We had set a goal to include all of the cats of our fellow classmates in the game,” Zhang says. “That sounds like a cute goal, but it’s much less cute when you’re up at two (o’clock) in the morning retopologizing four different 3D models of cats. Programming the game was filled with just as many challenges, like when I presented eight hours worth of work to the other programmer, and he responsed with a simple, ‘Wait, none of that is going to work with what I have.’”

Playthrough From CAT 4’s Winning Video Game Submission

All four members of CAT 4 received a $200 Universal Orlando gift card and a trophy for winning first place in the graduate/professional division. Team Chasm from Florida Polytechnic University took first place in the undergraduate division with a cat-themed game, and each member received a Nintendo Switch Lite. Second place winners in both divisions received $50 Best Buy gift cards, and third place winners received $25 Best Buy gift cards.

“Despite all the hardships, I loved working on this game, and I loved working together with my teammates,” Zhang says. “From the beginning, it was clear that we all had the same passion — not only for cats, but also for creating a game we could all be proud of. Through all the grind and sleepless nights, we knew that we could trust and support one another, and that was absolutely my favorite part of the game jam.”