Global Game Jam 2014 – A look back

GGJ_NL

This year, I attended my first Global Game Jam. I felt like this was my chance to proof myself, and for my team to proof that we were capable of making fun games when we are given the freedom of choosing our own technology. On the day of the GGJ, we all worked on our school project from early in the morning untill 10 minutes before the opening of the game jam. Some members of our team volunteered to help organizing the event, so we all pitched in during the preparation. We got to meet everyone participating to the event, and help them set up waiting for the event to start and to hear the theme.

The beginning – Creating a concept

The moment the theme got revealed, we decided to go out for dinner to think about concepts. The theme was “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”. During our walk we had a idea about creating two different worlds in which two player could switch out of. Switching to a different world would allow a player to retain it’s status, such as velocity and speed, in a different world where it could be used to conquer a roadblock. We set out to create a prototype of this concept that would allow two players have basic platforming and switch position with eachother.

Our first prototype was done within 2 hours of the game jam starting. Some people had doubts if this would turn into something fun to play, but we still decided to continue with this idea. We went straight into production and everyone pitched in idea’s of what to put into the game. With nothing getting documented most of the idea’s were quickly forgotten and never made it into the game. During the first night all 4 programmers worked on setting up a workflow and building up the game at the same time.

Hey look, a light!

As most of the base was being made during the first night, our artists and designer went to sleep. During this night the first problems started to appear. The people who were having doubts didn’t see this as a game that could keep people’s attention. The game was too simple, and at that point they were right. All we had was basic platforming which didn’t feel good, a double jump and a button that allowed two players to switch position. Because our designer was asleep at this time we started to think of any random mechanic we though it might fit the game.

As we added things to the game, I was constantly trying to keep people optimistic about the game. I knew that as simple as the concept may sound, we wouldn’t be able to pull of a highly complicated game within 48 hours that would feel good while playing, is polished, and fun to play. Our chance at creating something nice would be much bigger by keeping the game simple, and spent time on polishing the game in the final hours. We all kept working hoping that I was right in my statement and that the game would pull through.

Hey, this game is actually fun to play

During the morning of the second day as everyone in our team started to wake up, our level editing framework was finally finished. We no longer had to use our hardcoded debugging setup to try out the mechanics. Untill that point we were using any randomly shaped object we could find to test our platforming on, and not the tile based level which our game would become. We were able to create a simple level which allowed the players to walk and jump around in. It was about 15 hours into the game jam, and I hadn’t slept for 26 hours, with only 5 hours of sleep the entire week before. At this point I went to sleep as I was starting to collapse and people started to beg me to sleep. After a 4 hour sleep I returned back to work as I felt like I was letting my team down and couldn’t sleep because of it. When I returned the controls were improved upon, and a basic playable level was made. At this point we as a team realized that this game could actually be fun to play if there were challenging levels where players would get lost in.

Changing roles

Because most of the mechanics were in the game already at this point, and our level editing framework was done, I decided that the programming side no longer needed me to program full time. I assigned myself to designing levels at this point, and only jumping in to programming when we felt the programming side was falling behind. I spent most of the final day designing levels and finding out the limits of what would be possible using the game mechanics that were finished at that point. The first level that was made ended up being the last level in the game. In my first level I wanted to test out if all my calculated limits were correct, and by combining them all in a single level, I had created a overly difficult level in which any player playing the game for the first time would not make it. My co-programmer and I were the first ones to complete the level, we needed about 40 tries before we first managed to complete it. Right about now we decided that the game was nearing completion in mechanics, the game was fun to play internally, but it lacked feedback and explanation within the game for outsiders. As everyone went to sleep during the second night, the main game designer and I would create all the next levels while our sound artist would create our music and sound effects. Both of us had only slept for 4 hours each at this point, and we managed to create 5 levels for introducing different mechanics, 1 level involving a puzzle element, and the final level would be my first level, but then made easier.

Our first playtest

As we finished creating the levels we asked two people who were working on Esquire to playtest the game for us. Even though none of us knew them, they were willing to help out and played through the game. We wanted to let them play the game without giving them any hints or tips on how to play the game, not even basic explanation on the control scheme. What happened was wonderfull, because it was a cooperative game, we were able to hear them explain the game to eachother as they found out how every mechanic worked. As they progressed through the puzzles we were able to hear their thinking process while figuring out the puzzle. The best thing of all, they were having fun from the very beginning and made our first external playtest a huge success. This gave us a huge confidence boost.

toweriser_gameplay_1

The final hours

With our game proven to be fun, we wanted to switch our focus to polish the game. The controls felt good, most of the feedback was ingame, some levels still needed a bit of tweaking. Our main focus was to improve the visuals, we changed the effects a bit, and one of our programmers wrote a script that would place decoration around the level on a procedural way. We added a menu, the game jam splash screen, added some debugging keys, and prepared a small presentation which would explain what our game was, without giving away too much about the puzzle elements in the game.

Conclusion of the event

As the event started to round off, we cleared the table and set up 2 playing stations, with a third screen being a automated slideshow showing ingame screenshots. Everyone perceived the game really well, and at some point we had to ask people to let others try the game as they were dedicated to completing the final level, which was made easier, but was still too difficult for most people to complete within a short time. Some of these people came back after the event was finished asking if they could try to finish the last level.

As the playtest session came to an end, everyone moved down to the announcement area so conclude the event. A good friend of ours managed to claim third place. In the second place came a group of 8 programmers, they managed to create a game based on art without having anyone in the team who had experience creating art, which in itself is a great achievement. As the host was explaining the judging process and describing the reason of why they picked the first place game, I started to realise that he may have been talking about our game. He called it the only polished game, with attention to small details which most people didn’t notice, and if someone told him that this was a complete game, he would have believed it.

He announced Toweriser to be the best game of the weekend. Our first reaction was disappointment, as we were hoping for Pink Rodeo, which is our team name, to be called out. Because of sleep deprivation it took us a few seconds to realise that Toweriser was the name of our game. After a short moment of silence we all bursted out in cheers and ran to the stage. We felt that we had proven ourselves, and our way of developing games this weekend. This was our first chance to create anything we want, on any platform we wanted. And we made something which we were all happy with.

We came into the event hoping to create a game which would be fun to play. We came out as first place winners, and a giant boost in confidence. Our next goal is to try to create more content for the game and attempt to publish the game. For everyone except 1 person in our group, none of us have a game which got published yet, and we all think this game is worth putting the effort into to get it published.

team foto stage

The weekend was a great success and I personally can’t wait for the next Global Game Jam. It was a fun event where I got to meet new people, to see people push themselves to create the best possible game in only 48 hoursControlGameLab_Stage_b