Over the weekend I participated in the Global Game Jam – Melbourne, an event which brings together all types of game developers: programmers, artists, designers, sound engineers etc and gives them the task of forming a small team of 5 or less and taking a game from initial concept right through to playable demo within the space of 48 hours. The Melbourne event was part of a larger global event being held at 244 sites worldwide.
Personally I am not a game developer and haven’t really touched games dev since I was about 16 when I used to muck around with a few game making engines/ IDEs. The contact I have to the indie game making scene is through my brother Ben who recently completed a game dev degree. I have followed his teams game development with interest but always a step or 2 removed from the actual nitty gritty of putting a game together.
Initially I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be much use to a team without knowing much about the techniques being used. I am a programmer with a fair bit of experience in a collection of languages but under the time restrictions I thought picking up enough of the concepts might be difficult. It did help though that our game concept could borrow some code from some of my team members game from last year. Having something to look through instead of starting from a blank slate really helped me pickup the basics.
I ended up one a team with 2 artists and 2 other programmers, one of which was quiet experienced in the platform we chose to develop with (XNA) and the other was like me just getting into it, although with a little more recent game development experience in. Our artists split their workload between background/ objects and the animated characters. Our 2 artists were probably some of the best out of any of the 26 other groups, fairly early on we realised that we were more likely to get held back by programming than by artists.
From the programming side one big misstep we made was not using any version control which would have allowed the 3 of us programming to each work away adding things to our own copy of the game code, having a program do much of the leg work on synchronising our code. I raised this at the start, knowing how important it is in any development, but ended up going with the other programmers who had previously done a Game Jam before and had more games experience. I think we all agree now though that it is a must have for next time.
Part of Game Jam is being given a theme, when this years theme was put up over the projector people were a little confused, what exactly was it? Turns out it was an Ouroboros, I depiction of a snake eating its own tail, in a circle. It was left deliberately vague so that teams were free to interpret the image in their own ways. Whether it be circle of life and death, time travel or as literally of having a rolling circle snake in your game.
As some of the guys in the group had done a bit of a joke game last year we decided to go for something a bit more serious. The concept was that you are a robot that is underground and must constantly mine dig sites around a planet to replenish your energy. What seems like the right action though from the perspective of the miner is actually slowly killing the planet as you see through the multiple stages of degradation of the the core of the planet. Things progress form a very rocky environment with flying rocks whirling past to one that is very organic with geysers constantly firing, flesh head monsters and a planet which is progressively making more painful noises.
The thing about the serious concept is that it really needs to be executed well to create the mood. The sounds must be just right and play at the right time and the music must fit the mood. We went for a very creepy and somewhat disturbing collection of sounds and music. The drilling sounds which was adapted from a dentists drill sent shivers down the spine. The gameplay must be right to, silly bugs like the character fly off in the wrong direction or continuing to drill after you have stopped pressing the button would really kill the mood.
Unfortunately due to the time constraints we ended up with a lot of these issues which stopped us from really nailing the mood and ended with some comical bugs for the judges to contend with. After the event was over and I’d had some sleep I discovered that many of the biggest bugs were in fact one line changes that in our desperate rush to finish the game off and daze of tiredness we had overlooked. The whole team though really liked the concept and we are going to continue development, albeit at a much slower pace.
It wouldn’t be a contest without awards and after the judges were done everyone headed off the the bar for some drinks and the announcement. The winners were:
Overall winner and also Jammers Choice: Omelette Boris
Most Fun: Streams
Most Surprising: Seasonal Sci-Flies
Best Art: Whirlstrom
Best Sound: Burn
Best Teamwork: Harry Lee’s mega team
One game I got a chance to play, Nom!Oboros, had a quiet cool mechanic where you had to kill yourself to the the powers of the last enemy that you killed, playing on the idea of reincarnation from the theme, the gameplay was really polished, could tell the difference it made from something like our game where the gameplay wasn’t nailed down.
I’d talk some more about some more about the awesome games made (apparently there was a massive step up in quality this year) but I just didn’t get much of a chance to give them a good go on the day. I will definitely be finding some time for this in current weeks. Also there will be a night in a few weeks for everyone to show off their games, hoping ours will look a bit more complete after that.
The other game I got a real good look at was Purgatory, the game my brothers group made. It was a battle between life and death featuring split screen gameplay in which you are in 2 overlapping parallel universes. It requires you to look at both your side and the other players each player has walls in different places, allowing each player to tactically hide in the others walls. When one player was out of life, they would descend into purgatory where their movement would be slowed and they would have to try desperately to reach a portal that would bring them back up into the other world while the other player again chased them down attempting to win by killing their foe again before they reached the portal.
Personally I got a lot out of the event and will definitely be back next year. It has rekindled my interest in game development and shown to me that getting the hang of a toolset like XNA and C# isn’t overly hard (although I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface). While in the second half of last year I completed the Stanford online AI course (should do a post on that one) as a side project of sorts I think this year my side project will be further my experience in games development.