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I’d like to think of myself as a Game Jam veteran at this point. This was my third Global Game Jam, and as always, it was a thoroughly enjoyable romp into the world of game design and sleep deprivation. I didn’t quite finish my game per se, but when has anyone really finished a game at a jam? Apart from the guys at my jam site that came out with finished games, no one! It was, as usual, a fantastic weekend to take part in, but if you’re thinking I sound like a maniac for playing with jam, it’s not that kind of weekend.

Jam is a spread, but game jams are an event, like a sports show or The Fine Bros’ fiasco. At a game jam, people will come together to make games within a certain period of time that link into a common theme. This year’s theme was “Ritual”, but other jams might want to see you use public domain IP or make something educational. Some people go in with a team, others go in with a goal, and some people just go in without any planning whatsoever. I went in with a team last year, so this year was going to be a solo affair.

 
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Instead of going in with a team, I went in with a goal: to learn the hell out of Twine. If you have no idea why I was interested in playing with cheap string, Twine is a story-telling engine that’s designed for people that don’t know much code. The idea is that you create passages (ie, nodes) of text connected by links, so you can easily make a choose your adventure game or visual novel without making a new engine. I’m no master of designing games though, and when I started throwing ideas around to make a game in Twine, the feedback I got was simultaneously frightening and enlightening.

One of the reasons game jams exist is to bring people together and allow them to collaborate in a common space. So, when I pitched the idea to some friends that came along, I immediately learned not to give too much credence to anything I thought up. One of the first ideas I had was to make a branching narrative about someone who was becoming a cyborg, so every major choice would involve the ritual of visiting the doctor to replace a limb. I thought I was a genius, but when one of my friends asked me, “Why are you becoming a cyborg?” I couldn’t come up with anything better than, “Because game”. Then came the problem of whether or not this even was a game.

 
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I thought making a choose your own adventure story would count as a game, but my fellow jammers disagreed. After some long discussions on what elements were required for games to be games, I eventually caved and opened my mind to the other ideas on offer. Stats systems, a focus on mechanics instead of emotional resonance and avoiding lengthy philosophical ideas replaced my original ideas, and looking back, it’s all for the better. There’s no frakkin’ way my original idea would have been remotely completed within 48 hours, so taking on the advice of the others was seriously helpful. This took the whole first day, but with the concept down pat, making the game would be easy, right?

Looking around a room full of animators and programmers made me think that writing a game would be nothing compared to what they were doing. Day two showed me how wrong I was. Once I started putting my ideas into Twine, I realised just how impossible my original ideas would be. Even making a game with a few choices would take me hours to implement, and if wasn’t for that earlier collaboration, I would probably still be working on my original idea. It seemed like a common problem around the room, with ideas that seemed achievable becoming nightmares down the line, but what we finally made was pretty impressive.

 
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All through days two and three, everyone was hard at work, and as the final hours closed in, it was a mad dash to get everything sorted and ready to play. I barely worked the kinks out of my game in time to upload it, so I can only imagine how everyone else was coping. All I needed was a spell checker; they needed to deal with logic. Still, when presentations came, everything that was shown was incredible considering the time constraint. I’m really proud of my ~6,000 word game, but some of the other stuff I saw was downright fantastic!

If you want to validate my claim, you can check out the games from both the ECU and Murdoch campuses. If you just want to know what I liked, here’s my picks:

Bathtime Exorcist

Download: http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/bathtime-exorcist

One part ridiculous, another part brilliant, Bathtime Exorcist is a game all about exorcising the demon from that guy in your bathtub. The game has you search your house to find ingredients that match up with the instructions in your exorcism booklet at the bottom of the screen. It’s a ridiculous little game that’s as much about decrypting instructions as it is about appreciating it’s utter stupidity. Well made, demon jammers. Well made.
 
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Break Out

Download: http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/break-out

This was one of the many games that had the player ‘break out’ of ritualistic behaviours. You’re presented with a maze, and you’re told to solve it as fast as possible. You can watch your ghost behind you, but that’s not the point of the game. Without spoiling too much, once you figure out the trick, it leads to… Well, it’s magnificent is what it is. Definitely give it a go, and don’t forget to scream, “WAKE UP SHEEPLE!” at the screen when you break out.

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Inti’s Trial

Download: http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/intis-trial

While it’s not a particularly incredible game, the reason this is a standout to me is because of who made it. The game is a simple maze-runner where you navigate down a totem to get to the fire. The thing is, the game was made by a father and son, which is really cool to me since you don’t typically hear about father-son duos in gaming. It’s a testament to the openness of the gam dev community, but I probably won’t bring my dad to a game jam any time soon.
 
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Banishment

Print and Play: http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/banishment

One of the nice things about game jams is that it’s not just about video games; tabletop games are free reign too. Banishment is a card game about casting rituals to banish the demon (who is one of the players) from the game, and it looked pretty solid. Cards can either be used to cast rituals or activate effects, different demons have different abilities, and looked like a near-finished product when it was presented. There’s plenty in thee for a game made in two days, and I’m definitely going to print it out at some stage!
 
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Once again, I had a lot of fun at this year’s game jam. I went in with a goal and came out with a newfound knowledge of how hard making a relatively simple game really is. If you’re even slightly interested in trying to make a game, I’d highly recommend taking part in a game jam. No matter what you can bring to the table, there’ll be someone out there who you can work with, and you could come out the other end with a great game.

… Oh, and before I forget, if you want to come check out the games and meet the people involved in real life (gasp!), a selection will be on offer at the next Playup Perth!

Nick Ballantyne

Nick Ballantyne

Managing Editor at GameCloud
Nick lives in that part of Perth where there's nothing to do. You know, that barren hilly area with no identifying features and no internet? Yeah, that part. To compensate, he plays games, writes chiptunes, makes videos, and pokes fun at hentai because he can't take anything seriously.
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