Last year, I attended the Global Game Jam, and I enjoyed myself so much that I decided to do it again this year. I did things a little differently and went in with a pre-formed team, but the experience was still a blast. There were times when we thought our game wouldn’t see the light of day, but I can gladly say that we made… A game. It’s no Half-Life 2, but it was made in 48 hours, and I’m genuinely happy with how it turned out. We almost lost our minds in the process, but that didn’t make the event any less awesome.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘Game Jam’ and wondering if it’s a strange chutney from Ireland, I almost don’t want to correct you. A Game Jam is a video game making marathon, a little like a LAN marathon, but you’re making games instead of playing them. You show up to the event site, join a group (or float between groups) and work together to make a game. No matter what your area of expertise is (art, design, sound, microbiology), you’ll be able to contribute and help in bringing a game to life. Even if you’re totally hopeless at game design like me, there’s something you can bring to the table, and that’s what makes the event great.
As I said before, I came in with a pre-formed team this year and wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to contribute beyond sound. It became evident right from the initial design phase of the game that I’d be able to help out in a lot of various aspects. Whether it was writing up new mission scenarios or writing a miraculously suitable chiptune for the backing music, I could help out in one way or another. Others had similar trepidations at the outset of the Jam, but everyone had contributed something somewhere by the end of the 48 hours. With my nerves squashed, my team and I started making the skeleton of a game.
Every Jam has a theme, like ‘design a retro game’ or ‘eight gold monkeys’. The theme for this year’s GGJ was “What do we do now?” which was a lot trickier than it sounds. Games tend to make you ask yourself this question anyway, so brainstorming ideas went for quite some time. After much debate over pursuing a game where you fight over the last slice of pizza, we went with a time-sensitive puzzle game that emphasised the ‘now’ in the theme. Once we were settled on the basics, it was just a matter of making the game and fending off sleep deprivation.
The first day went by without too many hitches, but it wasn’t until late into the second day that things both came together and fell apart. While some people decide not to sleep through the Jam, we all knew sleep was more important than making a game about sentient toasters. That said, sleep wasn’t too high on the agenda either. At about 11pm, one of our artists broke, and our programmer started showing signs of slowing. I felt fine because I hadn’t been coding or drawing non-stop for 12 straight hours, but the others’ sluggishness was clearly apparent. So, I took it upon myself to wake them up.
Game Jams can be good exercises for novice studios and managers to see how they work under pressure. Of course, I don’t own own a studio nor am I a manager, but my team needed to be woken up and no one was around to stop me. I decided everyone needed to be reminded that they were doing some exceptional work by showing them how badly I would be doing it without them. One of the icons we (… well, that I) wanted to put into the game was of a squid riding a narwhal. Since neither of the artists was willing to do it themselves, and they looked like they needed a laugh, I made… This.
I might have been a little sleep deprived too, but the narwhal was a tipping point. It was when one of the artists conceded that she needed sleep, and it perked up the others enough to get them awake enough to be productive a little longer. I also realised that I was way better at drawing than I thought I was, but the third day was but a sunrise away and we still hadn’t made a playable game. We were getting nervous just like everyone else, but we knew we were almost done.
After lending my sleeping bag to one of my team-mates and hoping the programmer didn’t crash overnight, I returned to find that we had something playable. It was buggier than that 7 year old cousin that thinks your hair is fun to play tug-o-war with, but it looked good and practically worked. After a couple hours of, “Hey Steve, we found another bug,” followed by, “THEN JUST STOP TESTING OUR GAME FOR BUGS,” we uploaded it. We managed to finish up early, but some extremely red-eyed coders were working to the last minute. Thankfully, no one died before they had to upload their game, and hopefully everyone’s slept enough to forget the pain they just went through.
Our (or, at the very least, my) pride and joy. Operation: Redacted is a time-sensitive Cyberpunk puzzle game where you have to match messages presented to you with images in a case file to, uh, not get killed. It’s only got five scenarios, it’s about as bare bones as games go, but I helped make it, and it’s awesome. I’m obviously a little biased, but everything in the game, from the sounds to the artwork, are all top notch. Just sayin’.
Knights For Hire
Imagine watching four grown adults try to bash each other over small blue gems. This is Knights for Hire: a co-op game where everyone votes on what missions they need to complete. The thing is, everyone’s competing to complete the most missions, so even though you’re all voting with good intentions, you really want to screw over the others. The presentation of the game involved all the devs thrashing one another while also utilising some crude form of democracy to achieve what they wanted. It’s an interesting little game, one that I’d love to see get developed more.
Taking a more political twist on the theme, Mine is a game about Australia’s future. You click on various resources that Australia has (like coal, ore) and watch your surplus sky-rocket… Until you run out. Even though it’s incredibly simple, it does get the point across more effectively than an 800 page meta-analysis on Australia’s industry. It also has spinning Abbott heads. Bravo.
There are way too many games to go over here, but if you’d like to see more, the guys at SK are hosting an ‘After The Jam’ presentation for Fringe on Saturday the 31st! The event itself was, once again, fantastic, and I’ll most likely be back again next year. Who knows, maybe I’ll help make the next Half-Life 2? Either that, or I’ll be making more badly drawn narwhals. It’s a win-win, really!