At around noon, a changeover takes place, as the students who went home for some sleep start to file back in, relieving colleagues who pulled all-nighters. Jordan Sparks, a 20-year-old visual artist at Ryerson whose wardrobe this weekend appears composed primarily of ironic, Ninja Turtles-themed T-shirts, has managed to complete virtually all the graphical elements for his team, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (makers of the tower defence game). Miraculously, he has done this without the aid of energy drinks, and is now itching to go take a nap. At the adjacent table, team Aardvark is getting close to animating Trixie.
Still dangerously caffeinated, team Bombard powers through, representing the only trace of enthusiasm in what has become a very subdued room. At one point, a particularly animated Bombard member will accidentally smack the team's Red Bull pyramid, sending cans crashing everywhere. He will then giggle uncontrollably for a full minute.
Sunday 3:00 p.m.
After a day and a half of slowly waning enthusiasm, there’s a buzz of excitement running through the DMZ now – partially because it’s the 48-hour deadline is fast approaching, but mostly because in a couple of hours everybody gets to go home.
Team WTF is, for the most part, done, thanks to Mr. Gupta’s programming prowess. The team showcases their app, which pits two players against each other on a chess-like board, with images of office staff representing the playing pieces. The game looks unpolished, and the frenetic work of creating a tutorial mode looks likely to be dashed by the looming deadline, but for 48 hours’ work, it’s not bad at all.
Nearby, team Bombard are ironing out the bugs of what they have decided to call “Weed Wacker.” They have also managed to re-build the Red Bull pyramid, this time seven cans high. At the other side of the room, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are tweaking the cool-down time on their spaceship cannons.
It’ll be another month before any of these teams learn whether they’ve won. The judges will have to sift through some 200 entries from students all over the country before picking a winner of the $25,000 grand prize, the $5,000 second-place prize, and the 10 other sub-categories (whose winners will walk away with a custom Xbox video game console).
For now, the most important thing is to make sure these games actually work. At the team Bombard table, two students are typing and re-typing the same line of code. Every time one of them hits Enter, the programming software returns an exclamation mark and some new and exotic error. This goes on for about 15 minutes straight, interspersed with slightly less profanity than you’d expect. Finally, the software acquiesces, accepting the code. One of the students raises his fists in the air triumphantly and hums the first few bars of the Super Mario Bros. tune.
These last few hours of the appathon are supposed to simulate “crunch time” – the tech industry’s term for the last few hours, days, weeks or months (depending on the size of the project) before deadline. It’s a kind of unspoken rule that employees work even harder during crunch time. In effect, it’s not that much different than what accountants go through during tax season, or chefs during lunch hour.
That said, the tech industry is rife with examples of crunch time run amok. A few years ago, the working hours at Electronic Arts got so bad that some employees’ spouses started a blog documenting them, and several staffers eventually filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits against EA for unpaid overtime.
But there’s something special about video games, something that drives a lot of these students to pursue a career in the industry even if the working conditions turn out to be not all that different from the conditions of this appathon. More than any other entertainment medium (perhaps with the exception of the Internet itself), video games are what a lot of these students connected with the most while growing up. Certainly, the process of creating the finished product is a lot more complex and mundane than the process of enjoying the finished product, but that’s true for just about any creative industry.
And how terrible is a 48-hour coding marathon, really, if it gives you a chance to get your game on people’s iPhones, to get a little bit closer to joining the industry that makes the things you love?
“This is what I want to do,” says Jerome Pamintuan, a 24-year-old video game design student at triOS and member of team Bombard.
“You know how people sometimes get into jobs out of necessity? I don’t want to do that.”