Thus, on a wintery Friday morn, we decided to throw our own in-house Games Jam, with 5 TD staffers and Thought Den’s unofficial mascot, Mr Hawkins.
From l-r: Templelegs, Of Course, Rowe the Ship, AK47+n, THE Peter and Hawkeyes
A games jam, for those that don’t know, is basically some folk attempting to take a game from concept to execution in a very short period of time. We gave ourselves 8 hours, assembling at 8:30am to eat bacon rolls and decide on a theme for the day. Onto the whiteboards went random words from books and random words from heads – to reach a decision we played a furious round of ‘catch the boardrubber and remove an idea’ leaving us with…”Don’t be boring, go exploring!”
A quick game of Jungle Speed and deciding on some optional limiters (Nicolas Cage in 3D, RIP Whitney, Use a bean bag, Card game, Outside of the box, Checkpoints, Iranian, best use of Gordon Brown) juiced the teams up, and the Jam proper began at 10am, with agreement between the teams to meet again at 11 to help with each other’s ideas.
Let’s hear from some of those intrepid explorers right now:
Team: Michael Stipe’s Crazy Tractor
Members: George Rowe – Studio Manager
Game: Party On
Platform: HTML5, created in GameSalad
GR: Having taken part in a couple of jams before in big groups, I decided it might be fun to try and do something completely on my own. And what fun it was! Like kicking a wall repeatedly!
My ethos was: keep things simple!
Over-complexity is what generally scuppers these kinds of thing, so a basic fixed screen platformer was in the forefront of my mind from the outset. The theme screamed out to me: a platform adventure explorer game, set at a trendy party. Obviously.
Level creation fail.
Gamesalad was great, though using a new program meant I spent quite a while marvelling at what it did, rather than focusing on making the important aspects of the game (e.g. how do you get someone to STOP jumping?)
Thoughts for the day:
- Even a simple platformer has a lot of components to it. Especially when trying to do them all yourself in a short time. Teams, collaboration and specialisation are good!
- Do not spend the bulk of your time creating relatively unimportant elements. Game mechanics and playability first, spinning menus second.
- Gamesalad is a great little engine, though I did have some problems authoring the ‘finished’ product.
You can watch an awesome walkthrough of the game here:
If you want to play it, which you probably shouldn’t, go here: PARTY ON
Team: Brown and Cage
Members: Dan Course (Tech Director), Peter Simon (Design Intern), help from Hawkins (Mascot)
Game: Exploring Good Conversation
Platform: A multiplayer card game
Team Brown and Cage: no, that doesn’t count as a limiter
DC: Making a new card game is neither quick nor easy. Our original concept, an ambient game to explore the joy of saying stupid and challenging things to people, rapidly evolved in too many directions and left us a little confused as to what our game actually was.
We were good at iterating to improve on a concept quickly, trying out a mini new rule and commenting on how it would affect the game, but not strict enough limiting the extra elements we decided to bring in.
A good rule of thumb is to focus on one specific mechanic and explore the fun and possibilities of that, but we got wrapped up in the excitement of the day and tried to include too many features for the very short time frame. Mouse Trap wasn’t invented in a day.
Thoughts for the day:
- Respect the time frame, no matter what size it is. What can you realistically create in the timeframe?
- Begin with a template. Don’t be afraid to borrow good simple ideas from games you like (and try and improve them) as a jumping-off point.
- Once you have your concept, work on taking things away, rather than adding more elements. Less is more (sometimes!)
Helping out with ideas at the 11am chat
Team: Laser Knives of Babylon
Members: Ben Templeton (Creative Director) Antoine Kougblenou (Junior Developer), Help from Hawkins (Mascot)
Game: String Theory
Platform: iOS and pervasive/outdoor
AK: First of all, Ben and I focused on ‘boring’ and ‘exploring’; what those two words meant to us on different levels (visually, mentally, physically).
Then we tried to think more outside the box, trying out The Art of Game Design inspirational card deck. We found the idea on which we would work for the rest of the Jam: an outdoor game where the stage would be filled with entangled strings, and the user would have to find items while making contact with the ropes using hands only: String Theory.
My job was to code a widget that would allow the ‘games master’ to send sounds to the player’s mobile to guide and inform him. That part of the game turned out to take a long time to put in place and didn’t quite get finished in the short time I had, but it looks good and has potential!
BT: A thought on making time fly – try and do more than is humanely possible, and you’ll end up working at warp speed. Despite our best efforts to keep things simple (our game even used string and chocolate bars!), we were still a little over ambitious. Taking time out to step back from the project and assess it as a whole is important, even in an 8 hour design and build.
A thought on brainstorming – I’m usually a big fan of techniques that help you think clearly and creatively, but for this game it was a classic technique that lead to our winning idea: come up with a stupid title and you’ve got yourselves a game. There was born String Theory – a game powered by string, blindfolds and a Quasi-Autonomous Personal Audio System (QUAPAS). That didn’t quite get finished 🙁
A thought on rapid prototyping – failing fast is a great way to test your project. Being able to set up quick and clunky prototypes for play testing is essential. Using this to guide your iterations means that you don’t come into the final furlong with loads of untested elements. We tried a few rope courses, a few reward mechanics and a few jeopardy items, settling on what we thought was most fun.
A thought on the day as a whole – By parring down the whole creative process into just 8 hours it really magnifies which parts of that process are the MOST important. Rapid prototyping + play testing, feasibility and FUN should first and foremost guide the development of your game.
A link to the micro site: String Theory
Most Commercial Value: String Theory
Best Original Music: Party On
Hero of the day: Matthew Hawkins, for helping everybody!
Funniest: Party On
Funnest: String Theory
Best Game: A DRAW!
Though it was certainly a tiring (and in some cases stressful) day, we learnt stuff and we had fun. Lots of it. And that’s the point of games right? And why we make them.
Why not organise your own games jam ey? WHY NOT?