So: Global Game Jam! For those of you who don’t know, it’s an awesome annual event in which you can meet new and exciting people, make fast friends, learn a ton of extremely useful stuff, overdose on caffeine, and hopefully manage to deliver a game in about 48-56 hours of almost non-stop teamwork. It’s extremely fun, and although you have to work really hard, in my experience the general atmosphere is extremely relaxed. There is no competition and no prize besides the recognition of your peers and the good time you get to spend together with like-minded individuals. And the satisfaction of having created something awesome despite any hurdles you might’ve faced.
About five or six years ago, that year’s Global Game Jam was one of my first experiences working as a part of a team to make a video game. I remember that it was one of the toughest experiences I’ve had to date. We had very different visions of what the project should be, and didn’t do a good job deciding on the project’s scope. In the end, one of the programmers just shut off the rest of the team and made what he wanted with the few assets we managed to create together in the span of the last day.
Needless to say, even though I learned a lot from that project, I couldn’t avoid being kind of disappointed in how it turned out. After all, making games was something that all of us on the team were really passionate about, and it felt as if in the end we weren’t really taking part of the same project. I tried working on the myriad mistakes I felt I committed through the year, and the next Global Game Jam was supposed to be the one my team and I would make something really awesome and have a really good time making it.
Except that it didn’t really go that way. Even though my second take was vastly superior - we developed a very clear vision of what our game would become, and managed our scope pretty well, our team had some serious organizational issues. We couldn’t keep the artists interested long enough in our project, and they ended up making a bunch of assets for a different team instead. Moreover, one of the programmers convinced us to pick up ActionScript for this project, in which they were really skilled, but had to drop out after the first day. And for some reason we decided to just stick to ActionScript afterwards.
So we ended up with quite a messy game that, even though managed to demonstrate the idea we had in our minds pretty clearly, lacked a whole bunch of content. The players had just a couple of actions, may be worth ten seconds of gameplay, and that was it. We still had great amounts of fun and learned a lot, but it was far from the satisfaction I expected for my second jam. I took a couple years of hiatus since then - either too busy or otherwise unavailable to attend any more jams. I’ll talk about that in another post somewhere down the line, that’s for sure. But finally, this year I felt like I was ready for a comeback.
And what a comeback it was! I’ll admit, it feels that we cheated a little: two of us had been working together for about half a year, and two other teammates were long time friends of mine. But we did try to get more people in on our team! None of us was actually an artist, so we really tried to do our best to let everyone at the jam know we were looking for anybody willing to make some awesome art for us. Alas, the artists are always in such great demand…
For me, this year’s Global Game Jam was one of the most important tests of my ability to develop games. I’ve been working for several years in software development outside of the videogame industry, and picked up quite a lot of experience working and leading different small teams, creating project specifications, planning out the tasks and the schedule, and keeping my teammates organized. And this experience really paid off!
We managed to get a general idea of what we wanted to make pretty quickly, and got to coding right away. Taking full advantage of Globant’s Global Game Jam site, we slept on some bean bags and sofas the first night, and kept working most of the following day. Somewhere around noon, we had a quick team meeting, and realized that some of the features we had in mind for our game probably wouldn’t be able to make it. Thankfully, we were very quick to cut anything that gave us pause, and continue working on what we knew we would be able to deliver in a day and a half. We also included a lot of utility code that we’d made for other projects, so the development was smooth and pretty fast. There weren’t any artists available, so I just went ahead and made some very simple art from scratch. It didn’t end up any good, obviously, as you can see by yourselves if you give our game a shot, but I had a lot of fun making this programmer art, and I actually recommend programmers to give it a go sometime, even if only to see a project from the artist’s point of view.
The end result was a finished, if far from polished, game, which might not seem like much, but it was the first time I’ve managed to pull it off at a jam, which was enormously satisfying. It was also the first jam for two of my teammates, and they had a great time and learned a lot. Our composer and sound effects guy actually helped out other teams, and got to code a bit for our project as well, which was something he wanted to do for a long time. Our greatest failure, perhaps, was not giving much thought to the game’s tutorial. We threw it together in the last hour and a half after seeing how people testing our game were constantly struggling with its rules, but we went the fast and dirty way of scrolling images and text instead of making it an interactive tutorial. We’ll try to do better next time, and integrate a tutorial into the first minutes of gameplay as best as we can.
All in all, this year’s Global Game Jam was a great experience, both on a personal and on the team level. If you’ve never went to one, I think you should. Even if you know nothing about making games, you are bound to learn a lot in just a couple days (and nights!), and really get your hands dirty with some code, art, sound, or game design. The event has an incredible atmosphere of camaraderie, and all the different levels of skill and experience are more than welcome. We’re definitely going again next year (and bringing an artist with us this time), and who knows, maybe we’ll get to work together with you!
Rule of Shapes
Welcome to Fort de Bois-d'Arcy, Mr. President! Your mission is to transmit your ideas to the people, so that together you may build a brighter future for your country. Also, so they don't kick you out of office. Aided by your council, you have to pick and choose which ideas to spread to just the right groups so that the majority follows your ideals.
Source Files: Rule of Shapes.zip
Executable: windows x64.zip