I was fortunate enough to take part in the Global Game Jam event which took place in Hull on the 24th to the 26th January 2014. This was to be my very first ever jam. As such, going into the event, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. What was to follow is quite possibly the most hectic two days of my life to date.
Every game jam has to have a theme, and this one was no different. The theme was quite a tricky one. It was “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”, which I thought was a bit unlucky given that this was my first jam.
Nevertheless, we at this point were free to choose teams. I found myself grouping up with 5 Computer Science students from Hull University. We set up in a free room and started throwing ideas around.
There were a few decent ideas floating around. One of the more memorable ideas was a platformer which involved the player/players selecting two colours at the start. Each level would be made up of certain paths which were colour co-ordinated with the colours you choose at the beginning of the game. Therefore, you could only take the paths which corresponded with your colour. In hindsight, we may have been more successful if we’d have picked this idea, as it would have been ultimately easier to implement than the idea we eventually went with.
I suggested the idea of exploring human growth (both physically and mentally) and how obstacles and challenges in life are made easier and less significant as you learn how to do them. This would take game form as a platformer which put the player through phases of growing up (Baby, Child, Young Adult and Adult). The puzzles would be persistant, but would indicate that they were simpler and more insignificant the older the character got. For instance, they may shrink in size or actually become easier to complete.
The group seemed to like this idea a lot and went with the idea, which pleased me greatly at the time. On reflection, I think my idea was probably the weakest, as it was too ambitious for a group of six people to complete within 48 hours.
Once we agreed on the idea, we got to work on creating the game. There were aspects of our work which I feel went well and others that didn’t. I feel that the initial planning was very good. Below is a photograph of the white board where we created our large plan that we worked from.
As you can see in the above photograph, it was very clear as to what we thought could be in the game and what we needed.
I also feel that initially, we were fairly well self managed. We each picked tasks and got on well with them. I initially started creating prop and object art and went to do other things during the event including some scenery art and also researched and attempted to create some music for the game.
Finally, I feel that everybody in the team was incredibly talented at what they were doing. For instance, we had two guys who had never done pixel art before and he was able to create some very good pixel art character sprites, which I was very impressed with. The programmers in the team used a framework from Microsoft called XNA, which they weren’t too used to and managed to create the beginnings of our engine, which I was also very impressed with.
One of the things that didn’t pan out so well was a lack of direction in terms of design. We started to manage ourselves well. This unfortunately didn’t carry over to the rest of the event. This can also be chalked down to a lack of experience from the team, but I feel as though I must ultimately take responsibility for this as I was the only Games Design student on the team, I should have taken a stand and lead the team in terms of design direction. Because of the lack of direction, we ended up having some bits of art that conflicted with the style that others were working towards.
I also feel that the idea we picked was far too ambitious for a six person team to finish in 48 hours. We ended up giving ourselves too much work to do and as a result of this, we were unable to complete several important tasks. There were some levels missing. A lot of the features that were planned had to be cut and as such, some of the art that was created by myself and others could not be implemented. This means that perhaps our time could have been better put to use by figuring out what we could realistically do in 48 hours and then focusing on those.
It is also worth bearing in mind that we were all first years of our respective courses and as such, it is entirely possible that we may have planned to include things that were maybe slightly out of our grasp in terms of skill levels for first years.
We also lost a member of our team after the first day. This further gave the remaining team members more work to do to compensate for going down a man.
So, everything taken into account. Here is a summary of the main points I have learned for the next time I enter a game jam.
- Be ambitious, but realistic.
- Keep It Simple, Stupid!
- Take the opportunity to become design lead. The team works better when it works in the same direction.
- Consider others and their skill-sets when planning.
I really enjoyed the jam. I met a bunch of awesome and talented people. I had a lot of fun and hope to work with these guys again some time.
To conclude, you can download and view what was created below.