Game jams are fun now. Looks like we’re cancelling a few things! #gamedev

Participating in the Guts for Glory Game Jam taught me a lot about small team game development, especially with regard to dedicating a lot of time to planning (though it saves time to multitask via simultaneously planning and working) as well as sticking to one development role if you can. These two things finally taught me why I haven’t had a lot of fun attending game jams in the past – I not only used to spend insufficient amounts of time being clear about communication and plans with team members, but also overloaded myself as an event planner responsible for the 15-45 jammers present, as an artist/musician/designer on a team, and as a project manager for a team. And when I did that, I had an experience worse than an uninspired 48 hours: I would constantly worry about finishing the project post-jam, expecting my teammates and I to bring something with a bad base to fruition.

I’ve lately been working on being a bit more realistic about projects and how to manage my time in their midst, including the task of officially dropping stagnant projects that were always on the back of my mind. “The Hallway Is Dark, And I Am Afraid” and “Crooked Missile” are two such projects.

The Hallway Is Dark, And I Am Afraid was fun and I’m proud of how much work I put towards it in such a small amount of time, but the project was super discouraging. There were so many things that Yori and I assumed were apparent when we first began to make it, but attempting to explain and show the project became so difficult; it was so hard to help people understand what was going on and why each thing happened the way it did. In addition to the straight up learning curve, there were so many fine-tuning issues with regard to gameplay and art knickknacks that would have taken so much work (and even more work after having implemented fixes for our communication flaws).

After Guts for Glory, I was inspired and came up with some fundamental gameplay fixes that would have allowed easier fixes to follow suit. I made two little slideshows to solve our “in between hallways” interface problem as well as the “this game is really hard because my memory isn’t THAT good” problem. Hard to explain, but click those links and know that the zoomy map in the first and the scrolling pseudo-item-collection mechanic in the second did not exist in our original build of the game. I knew that these fixes were big and that both Yori and I had kinda run out of steam just before our first falling out with the project, but I was also inspired by having come up with what I thought would fix the game. I was fine with either continuing or scrapping the project, and we ended up with the latter.

Then, there’s Crooked Missile, which goes off of a game idea that I’ve had for a little while. It’s a straight up shoot ’em up with one little twist – you are controlling a missile with a knocked-out targeting system, so you must play an ascending “ship” always traveling at a ≈15˚angle. Your movement controls are just right and left, as you’re forced to switch from a right-bearing course to a left-bearing course if the missile drifts too far and becomes threatened with collision.

There was a lot that I wanted to do with weird angular thinking and super thought-out enemies/bosses, but that was the problem: before approaching the team with the project, it wasn’t thought-out enough. To accent that disparity, we started in the midst of a game jam (which I was also busy hosting), which added a rushed “don’t plan, just make it in time!” feel even though we had no time limit. My lack of planning got us a few bare prototypes in, the project stagnated, and it’s been on the back of my mind until now, which marks its move to a cozy, out-of-the-way shelf space. I made some music and learned a lot from the experience at least, so I’m glad it happened.

Since learning a good amount about jams from Guts for Glory, I’ve been pursuing FiercePeg Shootout as a solo project via Fuck This Jam and have been actually making some progress, so I’m on another track to discovering myself as a game jam enthusiast. We’ll see where that ends up..!


Global Game Jam 2012

I hosted Global Game Jam 2012 this past weekend! The event entails a race against a 48-hour clock, where teams of game developers must make a game based on a universal theme by the end of the period. This one’s “global” because 11,247 people participated in 244 locations around the world on the same weekend and following the same prompt! Our local Portland event hosted 41 participants, who formed 9 teams and created 6 playable games! Everyone had a great time, as is expected (/required) of any Jam, and I’m looking forward to GGJ13 as well as a Portland Indie Game Jam I hope to host in April!

The weekend went as follows:

  • Introductions/Icebreaker Activity/Team Formation/Keynote Video
  • Prompt Delivery
  • Brainstorming/Concept
  • Design
  • Playable Version
  • Polish
  • Upload

The later steps had recommended deadlines, which all of the teams more or less followed, but everyone had to go through a similar process to be able to get a cohesive, complete, and working game by the end of these 48 hours of madness (which was honestly cut a bit short due to my being late and the IGDA’s requirement that people upload a bit earlier).

The prompt ^^^

An interpretation of the prompt ^^^ (thumbs fucking up)

My personal experience of the Jam was great. The past month or so was a little cray because I had to do my best to pump us up to our 50 person capacity, coordinate building dealz with the Art Institute and volunteers with the ACM SIGGRAPH, and sift through not-so-efficient communication methods that were provided by the International Game Developers Association, but everything worked out very well during the actual event. I guess my only huge complaint about that last ordeal was the promise that GGJ hosts would receive the keynote video as well as the prompt the Sunday before the Jam (five days), and, after frantically searching for it in the organization’s communication board, I realized it hadn’t even been sent out until 10:30pm the night before. So that was a relief.

But yeah, what a great weekend. I always get super inspired when I’m around a large group of people who pride themselves in creativity and problem solving, and I was completely immersed in these great minds’ entire weekend – a few people asked me about what I actually did, since I wasn’t allowed to make a game due to seeing the prompt ahead of time, and I had ended up just walking around and hanging out with teams the whole time (minus a few alonetimes on the intarwebs). By the time I had spent 15 minutes with each team, it had been an hour and a half since visiting the first one, so I’d start the cycle over again. It was so great to see art, gameplay, code, music, teams, and ideas grow, and knowing that at least 20 people were awake and working at any given time makes a Jam like this so communal and enveloping. I can’t wait for some of my other projects to start getting off the ground, because working with some of these people is half the fun.

So there’s having a good time with everyone, getting swarmed with ideas, and having had the honor to host the Global Gatdam Game Jam, but I honestly couldn’t really name any special milestones that happened at any specific time… I know I cheated and got six hours of sleep on the first “night” and four on the second, I beat my high score in Super Crate Box, we went out for sushi after everything was over, one team fell apart/tears fell hard/they got back together and made a game, SIGGRAPH came in for interviews and brought food, I had a great idea for a video blog, I worked on some Space Eulogy stuff, we went out for pizza at one point, a game developer from Norway stopped by, and… some other stuff. I’m not necessarily sure as to the order in which this took place, but here’s to Game Jams!

Please click on some of the image links to see what they’re all about! You can also view all of the game projects produced at the Portland site by looking under “Game Projects” on the right-hand side of our site’s page, and we’ll be hosting an official, open-to-the-public post-mortem event at the Art Institute sometime in the near future. Show these games some love!