I like to think I’m a pretty creative guy. If you give me a concept, I’ll riff with you for hours on end until we exhaust it to it’s logical extremes. Give me a musical scale, I’ll write you a song. Give me a Gameboy, I’ll… Still write you a song. I’m a chiptune artist, albeit one who’s creative edge was lacking. I knew what all the commands did, I can recite every musical mode and their note patterns, but for some reason I couldn’t write anything worth listening to. I found it disheartening that I couldn’t translate my usual creativity into one bleepy song, so I decided it was time to force myself to be creative. Enter Game Jam.
If you’ve never heard of a Game Jam, the premise is a lot like a LAN marathon… Except instead of playing games, you make them. You arrive with your tools (computers, drawing pads, Gameboy, Oculus Rift, etc), join a small team, and design a game within 48 hours. The only real rules are that your game must tie into a theme presented at the Jam site, and no pre-existing game designs or ideas are to be used. There are a bunch of different Jam events across the globe every year, and Perth got a piece of the Global Game Jam over the Australia Day long weekend. So, naturally, as someone with no game design experience, I decided to take part in it. It was frustrating, tiring, and totally jammin’!
Friday: Meeting & Planning
The event kicked off at about 5pm in a computer lab at ECU. I nervously shuffled past everyone that had already arrived, clinging to my shoulder bag filled with clothes and supplies like a seven year old going to his first sleepover. The turnout was quite remarkable, somewhere in the 60-70 range including hobbyists, developers, and myself. Groups had already formed, obviously friends or co-workers that were teaming up for fun and skill-building. I eventually took a seat near some nice-looking peeps and watched a preparatory keynote presentation before being hit with the cryptic theme: “We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
The presentable dudes and I decided to team up, proximity being the determining factor for us and a few other impromptu teams. As we all explained what we did and what programs we used, divvying up the workload between us, a shiver of anxiety crept through me. When it was my turn, I pointed at my Gameboy and said, “I make music”. This apparently made me the second coming of Christ. The rest of the night was devoted to planning, prototyping, and walking around the room offering my services to other teams, usually to the response of, “Man, that’s effing sick!”
Saturday: Constructing & Rejecting
As I headed into day 2, I had promised 4 different teams chiptunes. I felt quite lucky in that my skill set didn’t require me to stay committed to only one team, but this seemed to be a common state of affairs. People from other groups would often check up on each other’s progress and lend a helping hand where they could. The coders were obviously a bit limited, but artists, modellers, and a couple other sound guys were bouncing around from table to table. There was a wonderful atmosphere of creative camaraderie, sometimes mixed with nervous haste from the ever-looming deadline.
Most teams spent the day building up from prototypes and creating the core of their game. Some groups even had playable demos; they crashed 50% of the time, but they had them! Other groups scrapped projects entirely and started again, often due to overly high ambitions or sleep deprivation. There were also optional SCRUM meetings throughout the day for teams (or in most cases a delegate) to discuss any difficulties they were having, and how to go about fixing them. Of course, if you didn’t want to go all out on a project, you didn’t have to.
My own group had decided to create a shape shifting game, where you must copy the appearance of others to win, but the sheer diversity of projects being developed was astounding. People were working on things like a story-driven noir detective game where you played a man and a little girl, a FPS perspective shifting game where you possessed animals to progress, and even a top-down shooter with 3d anaglyph support. Regardless of their progress, everyone was creating something unique for the group presentation tomorrow.
Sunday: Uploading & Presenting
With the deadline lingering closer than your friend that doesn’t understand what personal space is, everyone was working hard to make sure they had something to show for the last 40 odd hours of work. The distinction between those who had slept at all and those that dedicated the last two nights solely to working out the kinks in their game was apparent just by looking at them. One of my team mates had slept an hour over the entirety of the event, and talking to him had become a lost cause, but we had something. All that we needed to do was upload it and present it to the rest of the jammers.
Once everyone had uploaded their final builds, we all gathered around the front projector to marvel at each others rushed creations. Shock horror! Half the games were unfinished and rough around the edges, but it didn’t matter in the slightest. The quality of the final product wasn’t the point, it was what you took from the theme and created from it, and some of the concepts were magnificent (Dwarf Squad, Carry The Fire, and Alpha were notable standouts for me). Watching everyone’s works in action just made me want to make more stuff, whether it was at another game jam or in my free time.
Overall, the event was a breath of fresh air. I exited the building abound with new ideas, and I don’t even make games! I met a heap of like-minded people, including a guy from Poland (I think? The accent was too beautifully distracting), local devs, and plenty of hobbyists that were just happy to be involved. While most people I talked to were leaving their games as one-offs, others were walking away with the intent of further developing them. It was a wonderful experience, and I’ll definitely be attending whatever jams I can find this year because of it!
You can check out the games here: http://globalgamejam.org/2014/jam-sites/lets-make-games-ggj-perth/games