Thought Den at the Bristol Game Jam

Last weekend about twenty of Bristol’s finest game designers, developers and associated talents sweated blood, sweat and more sweat (the PMStudio is WARM) at Bristol’s leg of the Explay Game Jam. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of the games jam, let me elucidate the rules slightly in a dramatic film style….

24 hours. One theme.  Some people. Their mission: make a game.

That’s about it really. No stifling rules on programming language, group size, games mechanics or the like. The games don’t have to be screen based, and the attendees don’t have to be in the games industry. What results is a rather lovely hodge-podge of talents, working styles, crazy ideas and heavy drinking.

Arriving on Friday evening, after a brief round of “I am X, I do Y and my favourite game is Dragon Ball Z” (not originally a game, but the pun doesn’t work otherwise, pedant) we split off into teams. The two Thought Denners in attendance, Technical Director Dan Course and Studio Manager/misc George Rowe were two facets of ‘Team Disco’, a six headed hydra also including sound designer/father Owen, film maker/Mohawk enthusiast Sy, script writer/games designer/sarcasm aficionado James and illustrator/dinosaur impersonator Nat (who also wrote a blog post about this).

Team Disco in full effect: misc, sound, develop, film, program and draw

Ben Rhinehart of Mutant Labs, who are part-organisers of the Explay festival, then proclaimed the Jam’s theme to be ‘mirror’. While we reflected on this (ho-ho) we were also treated to the first of Jam’s amazing meals, a home cooked Indian feast.

Curry + beer = ideas

Much post curry brain storming ensued, with different coloured pens and post it notes in full effect, and after a couple of hours of solid synapse bashing we had whittled our ideas down to a streamlined game of disco themed British Bulldog with Medusa and vampires which happened in a temporal cycle of light and dark, with a dating element that also used Chat Roulette and AR…

We quickly adjourned to the pub before our idea got anymore out of hand, where we discovered another team were working on EXACTLY the same idea (well, it had Medusa in it). What to do?

Saturday dawned, and we discovered James had been up all night with our idea spelled out in scrabble pieces, a common practice in the game script writing paradigm. Fortunately, it turned out that our original idea was an exact anagram of ‘turn-based game that’s a bit like Frogger with bugs, but they have mirrors and are being attacked by an angry kid with a magnifying glass’. Who knew?

The place was starting to look like a morning at Thought Den

With the final idea down on paper, another amazing meal, and late comer George arriving with a mirror ball, the stage was set for some serious game creation action. James and Dan cracked on with creating the game in Unity (which Dan had never used before), while Nat started drawing some lovingly detailed bugs and Owen attempted to create the loudest laser/klaxon noise he possibly could. Film maker Sy decided to document the whole game creation process and managed to create a great five minute snapshot of the event:

What was the resulting product? Well, I think Nat described it very well in her blog post on the day:

You are a bug trying to reach the discarded sandwich, but a kid with a magnifying glass stands between you and the gingham paradise, trying to fry you to a crisp (with an entertaining fizzling sound, thanks Owen) It’s a tactical multiplayer, each turn a player moves forward a small distance and positions their mirror anywhere in a circular radius around them, once all the players have moved you hit a button and the kid with the magnifying glass randomly spawns and sends out a ray of sunshine-death which can either hit a bug directly or bounce off another bug’s mirror and potentially hit a rival. The first to the sandwich wins.

It’s not exactly ready for release, but what do you expect in one day? We had a lot of fun making it! You can play it here:

Some quote highlights from Team Disco:

“But I supplied the graphics to you beautifully?”
“Yes, but what YOU fail to remember is that I am massively incompetent”

“Guys, you know how our game is like Frogger but with bugs? Would anyone be offended if we call it Bugger?” [Bugger was later contracted to Buggr to make it well currentz]


Our rival teams created some fantastic little games in their time. Team Mirrornaut created ‘Mirrornaut’, a side scrolling 8-bit platformer programmed in C Sharp. It’s a bit like Canabalt but with a button to swap to a mirror image of the level. The character also looks like he has an awesome afro, though I think that is just the Team Disco influence and it’s actually a helmet. The graphics are really cool, as is Nick Dymond’s soundtrack, and the whole game is very polished.

Team ‘Late’, as they were dubbed in the DropBox race to the finish, decided to show off and create two games in the 24 hours. One was an iOS app for two players created in GameSalad, based on reading mirror images of words, and could quite easily have been submitted to the app store at the end and gone on to international acclaim. Their second game was a 3D affair, where you play Jason (of Argonauts fame) who must fend off the deadly gaze of loads of attacking gorgons; it left us both awe-struck and a little scared of David from Echoic’s “Medusa, give me back my fleece!” sound effects (though I don’t think they remember the story of the myth quite correctly!)

The Bristol Game Jam was a fantastic event, and we met a lot of great people who do and love similar things to ourselves. A massive thank you has to go to Debbie Connor and Tomas Rawlings of Aurochs digital for their hard work in organising the Jam, everybody who attended and contributed, Korash, Ben and Ella from Explay, Debbie’s neighbour for the amazing food and Lethal Bizzle for providing the post jam entertainment (seriously).


One Reply to “Thought Den at the Bristol Game Jam”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *