Space-themed hackathon has come a long way since 2014 debut

It would be tough for Kunal Patel to have known what he had started when the Indiegalactic Space Jam started in 2014.

But perhaps it was a sign when he walked into the hallway to take a phone call and saw a game developer’s makeshift recording studio.

He had a microphone up to another developer, who was playing the French horn.

“It sounded like John Williams was creating a film score,” Patel recalled. “It was impressive to see the effort and willingness to do big things. That stuck with me.”

Seven years after that episode, Patel is preparing for the next Indiegalactic Space Jam, which starts on Friday night at Orlando Science Center.

Patel spoke with Orlando Tech News in advance of the event, which will kick off an ambitious series of events.


Q: You’re set to host this event on Friday and, like in past years, you have NASA professionals buying into what you’re trying to build. How important is that?

A: It’s extremely important. You need the professionals within the industry to share the real-world challenges they are facing. They can also validate that game developers are building something both scientifically accurate and that will solve or visualize problems. In turn, we hope space professionals walk away impressed by the group.

Q: What can the developers who attend get out of NASA’s buy in, if anything/

A: They gain an understanding of space and a problem set to solve for. Meanwhile, the space professionals leave feeling amazed. They are seeing and playing with something fun, interactive and visualized, potentially billions of dollars or decades before it’s done in real life.

Q: What’s it like when you see this event you started really grow into something useful and respected?

A: I feel very proud. Eighty percent of success is just showing up, really. But when the people that show up are bad asses, the potential for impact is great. There are businesses, people and industries that don’t know what’s right under their nose.

Q: How do game developers benefit here?

A: As a game developer, you may only have a narrow view of your skillset as entertainment experiences. But those same skills can be used to solve a problem for 10 other industries.

Q: What is it about game developers that makes this kind of event successful?

A: They truly are a special breed. They are great problem solvers that make this feel easier and faster. Rapid prototyping, iteration, that’s in a game developer’s DNA. When you bring that into other fields like space, it’s amazing the leaps that are made in one weekend. The space industry is used to long waits but you can get to 80 percent of a goal very fast with 3D games and simulations.