Hackathon vets build video games for armed forces: ‘This is my sporting event’

Nicholas Walton has been building video games since he was 13.

So, spending his weekend at Central Florida Tech Grove creating a game for Indienomicon Foundation’s Armed Forces Jam was exactly where he wanted to be.

“I just love making games and being with the people in the community,” said Walton, now 20 years old. “I love having an idea and then seeing it on screen.”

By Walton’s count, he has participated in eight hackathons.

The events bring teams together to build a video game or tech experience in a weekend.

The organizers behind the second Armed Forces Jam partnered with Orlando’s military community to create challenges teams could tackle during the weekend.

Among them were creating a Metaverse experience, gamefying military recruitment and creating a sensor-based digital twin.

“It feels great to work on a team, get to know each other and learn to trust each other,” he said.


An enthusiastic fan of the process

Walton’s enthusiasm for game jams, generally, and Indienomicon, specifically, earned recognition from others.

Participants at Indienomicon’s Armed Forces Jam built games for several platform, including virtual reality-based products.

Chad Hoover, one of Indienomicon Foundation’s organizers of the jam, said his presence helps keep the event fun and interesting.

“He is a key piece of this,” Hoover said. “He can support teams in a unique manner having been a veteran in the game jam space.”

Indienomicon Foundation has been hosting game jams – which challenges teams to build a video game, usually one related to a theme, in a single weekend – for eight years.

Along with the Armed Forces Jam, the group hosts hackathons with health and space themes.

At the end of the weekend, winners receive cash prizes and, at least for the Armed Forces Jam, will show off what they built at the huge industry conference I/ITSEC.

Last year’s winners said they landed contract work based upon their experience at I/ITSEC.

“They stepped up this year,” Hoover said of the region’s military community. “Because it’s the military, they needed to figure out how valuable this event was [during the event’s inaugural 2021 year]. They are able to light fires and were really supportive.”

Roughly 100 people took part in the Armed Forces Jam this year. That is about double the number of attendees to a health-related event in the summer.

‘This is my sporting event’

The Armed Force Jam drew about 80 attendees to the Central Florida Tech Grove.

Another regular at the events is Juan Rivera, a media design instructor for the Orange County library in downtown Orlando, said the jams represent his way of enjoying himself.

“This is my sporting event,” he said. “I do it for fun and for training my skills. It’s a good way to learn new things.”

Rivera often teaches younger people at the library’s digital tech-focused learning space known as Melrose Center. He said seeing students like Walton, who attends Valencia College, at these events represents its positive impact on the community.

“It’s great to see people who are not just trying to learn but putting it into practice,” said Rivera, whose mine detector game for virtual reality platforms took this year’s top prize.

For Hoover, having advocates and supporters like Walton and Rivera create a base of people he knows will push the organization’s message beyond his own networks.

“He embodies what a game jam is in its truest sense,” Hoover said of Walton. “He uses his core skillset, is usually a lone wolf. His projects are usually close to his heart, very retro and unique. He really knows how to use his skills, which makes his games stand out.”