About the Game Jam
This weekend I took part in the global game jam. In case you aren’t familiar with the lingo, the global game jam website describes itself thusly:
The Global Game Jam® (GGJ) is the world’s largest game jam event (game creation) taking place around the world at physical locations. Think of it as a hackathon focused on game development. It is the growth of an idea that in today’s heavily connected world, we could come together, be creative, share experiences and express ourselves in a multitude of ways using video games – it is very universal. The weekend stirs a global creative buzz in games, while at the same time exploring the process of development, be it programming, iterative design, narrative exploration or artistic expression. It is all condensed into a 48 hour development cycle. The GGJ encourages people with all kinds of backgrounds to participate and contribute to this global spread of game development and creativity.
The structure of a jam is usually that everyone gathers on Friday late afternoon, watches a short video keynote with advice from leading game developers, and then a secret theme is announced. All sites worldwide are then challenged to make games based on that same theme, with games to be completed by Sunday afternoon. In January 2015, we had over 500 locations in 78 countries create 5439 games in one weekend! GGJ 2016 is January 29-31 at a location near you… if not you can make one of your own. The jam is known for helping foster new friendships, increase confidence and opportunities within the community. The jam is always an intellectual challenge. People are invited to explore new technology tools, trying on new roles in development and testing their skills to do something that requires them to design, develop create, test and make a new game in the time span of 48 hours.
The GGJ stimulates collaboration and is not a competition.
We had a team of five people working on a game. The team’s name was “Perplexed Morlock’s Fancy Principum Chips”. We had to come up with a name when we took a team photo, so we each chose a random word and stuck them together.
I originally had planned on using a handmade 2d game engine (mostly a thin wrapper around SDL). It’s probably a good thing I didn’t considering it’s buggy and kind of half-baked. We made use of the Unity game engine to make the game, which I personally didn’t have any experience in.
GGJ 2016’s theme was “ritual”. We came up with a game called Torchlight Tango. It is a two player cooperative game (although it works with one player as well).
You can find a link to the executable at the bottom of that page.
The left and right sticks each control different flames. One flame is red and the other is blue. The object of the game is to have each of the flames light the similarly colored candles on the screen. As you light candles, more appear on the screen. If you don’t move quickly the existing candles will burn out. Around each flame is a “spotlight” of the opposite color of the flame. If the red player moves right, the similarly colored spotlight around the blue flame will move left until the edge of the spotlight hits the flame. Movement is confined within the area of the spotlight. The effect is that if both players move in the same direction, they will get stuck. This forces the two players to coordinate with each other so they can get where they need to go. Once you finish lighting the candles, your score is based on the number candles that are still lit.
torchlight tango – an earlier screenshot from the level, “love”
My role on the team was mostly that of a musician. The event started Friday evening, which I was unable to attend most of. Saturday morning, I lugged my giant desktop computer along with a midi keyboard, and some microphones to the game jam site. The team I was on caught me up on the details of the game and I worked on a song to use in the main game-play. I was going for a lighthearted, but upbeat song to fit the low-stress contemplative feeling of the game. I spent most of the afternoon recording the song. I think it came out well. It has a catchy laid-back melody with a luscious big sounding arrangement of synth and orchestral sounds. There is a quick moving synth bass that complements that melody.
I also did a small amount of work creating a few sound effects for the game. I had two sounds “success” sounds I made when a player lights a candle. I made them by programming a synth. The sound effect is a chord that is played in the key of the game’s background music which makes the effect very pleasant. I also attempted to program a synth sound for the candle going out. After spending a long time failing to come up with something good, I stuck a microphone in front of Ben. He made a “tsssss” sound in one take, and in half a minute we had a finished sound effect.
I then spent some time fumbling around Unity and eventually with the help of my teammates I got music and sound effects into the game along with a crash course in how unity generally works.
I was then tasked with making two new short pieces of music, one for the title screen and another for the completion of a level. I made a quick synth-driven upbeat funk song to match the cheery playfulness of the title screen art that was so graciously donated to us by a member of another team.
Then on completion of each level, we needed victory music. I was really happy how this turned out. It really gives off a celebratory vibe.
I shoved the remaining music in the game and then moved onto game development. I was much less useful in this regard compared to other team members due to my inexperience with Unity, but I helped out where I could with small additions, bug fixes, and testing.
We worked late into the next morning and went home around 4am with a very close to complete game. We came back later in the morning tired-eyed and sleepy-tailed to place the finishing touches on the game before we demoed it in the showcase. We rush fixed several bugs at the last minute which was somewhat nerve racking.
The showcase was a lot of fun. We got to walk around the room and find out what all the other teams had been working on all weekend. That room was certainly filled to the brim with talent and creativity. It was also neat to observe how people reacted to the game we created.
You can play games created at the location I was at here. Or if you want to browse games that were uploaded globally, you can find that here.
I hope to do more game development in the future. GGJ was a really fun experience.