12 June 2011

[myGameDev] Caledonian Summer Game Jam 2011

Over the past few days I've been taking part in a week-long Game Jam, where the goal is to make a game in just five days, organised by the course instructors. This is a small chronicle of what that week was like, and what I think I got out of taking part. If you'd like to download our game, The Rapture, unzip the file here and run the .exe (works best on 800x600 resolution). Comments are very welcome!

Day One - Inception & Design

The first day of the Game Jam involved a good number of students from each year of the course coming in to form teams and begin planning their game. As there were only a handful of first years, most of whom were all friends anyway, myself and the other first years decided we'd band together and make a somewhat large seven-person team: me, Chelsea, Leanne, Suneil, Robert, Reiss, and Alisdair. We were then given a theme which we could build our game concept around - "frenemies: friends and enemies" (though we did not necessarily need to stick to it if we had a game we really wanted to pursue). We were then given a half-hour to generate ideas: Chelsea had come up with the idea of a game where the player plays as God during the Rapture, taking Saints and Sinners from Earth and placing them either in Heaven or Hell, and we happily settled on that idea.

Most of the day revolved around some administration and then designing the game. We made a schedule so that everyone could indicate times during the week where they wouldn't be able to work on the game, as well as setting up an online group for us to contact each other, a shared Dropbox folder where we could pass around our work and share it between home computers and the games lab on campus, and a group blog where we could journal how the game was going. Other teams set up their own blogs too, a list of which can be found on Brian's first entry on the Game Jam here. We also decided on a name for our team - which was "Bodily Harm" until we realised we might get some really weird followers on our blog, until we settled on "Team Nyan", in reference to one of the greatest Internet memes of all time, and a name for our game: "The Rapture." Clear, concise and catchy.

We settled down in the university's social area and threw ideas around, discussed and debated particular methods of gameplay and after a couple of hours decided upon the core mechanics of our game: the player uses the mouse to click on sprites of saints and sinners who are randomly spawn and wander about on the game screen - clicking on them takes them off the screen and sends them to Heaven or Hell, depending on what mode the player is currently in. Sending Saints to Heaven and Sinners to Hell nets you points, but putting Saints in Hell or Sinners in Heaven makes you lose points, and as the levels of The Rapture progress, it becomes more difficult to accurately click on the Saints and Sinners as they mill about faster, or their sprites become smaller, and so on. Players win each level by sorting all of the saints and sinners, gaining points for whether they are in the right place, and advance to the next level; they lose if they are too slow with sorting the souls into the right place and the screen becomes overpopulated. As the game goes on, the player gets access to special effects in the form of "Miracles" which clear the screen of a certain type of soul, or entirely. After this, we made a list of the daily goals we'd have to reach over the course of the week:

  1. Designing the Game
  1. Building a Prototype
  1. Building the 1st Iteration
  1. Testing/ Building the Second Iteration
  1. Testing/Finishing the Game.

Lastly, with our game pencilled out, we went to the games lab, sorted ourselves into roles, and began work. Chelsea and myself worked on game art assets, Suneil and Leanne were in charge of audio, music, and updating the blog, and Reiss, Robert and Alisdair were programming the game itself. Before 5pm, we had already reached the first milestone we had set for ourselves (which was simply to design the game), and had gotten an early start on the next.

Day Two - Prototype

For all of Tuesday, the group worked towards building a prototype for The Rapture. For me, this meant designing the Graphic User Interface (GUI) for the game. To quote what I wrote over on my first post on my team's Game Jam blog:

The Graphic User Interface may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one has to think of what makes a great game - but it can certainly contribute to making a bad game if it's implemented inefficiently. The GUI is what seperates the player from the game itself, and as such it acts as an translator or intermediary: or, in keeping with our theme, an intercessor, allowing for a communication between the player and game. The player must be provided some means of providing an input to the game, and also to have a way to have information output back to them. In terms of our game, our input is mouse-clicks (to select souls to send to Heaven or Hell) and pressing the spacebar (to switch between Heaven Mode and Hell Mode, allowing the player to choose where to send them); our output is the game screen itself (of course), as well as the quantity and type (Saint or Sinner) of souls in Heaven and Hell, the player's score, and whether or not they're in Heaven Mode or Hell Mode. Feedback is pivotal in a user interface, not only in terms of the information about the game session regarding score, time remaining or similar, but also in the way the player manipulates the user interface: if a buttonpress does not come with some kind of feedback, the player will be at a loss to determine if the game actually received the buttonpress - this can be easily rectified by playing an appropriate sound (aural feedback), animation (visual feedback) or physical sensation like vibration (haptic feedback) when the button is pressed. All of these things must be represented in a user interface to make sure the player has the most rewarding experience possible when interacting with the game. Phew.

Day Three - Iteration 1

Day three was more GUI designs: I designed the GUI for the levels themselves, as well as for the menu system.

Day Four - Iteration 2

Day four was yet more GUI work, this time tweaking the numbers for GUI elements' dimensions and co-ordinates just to make the overall layout look more professional.

Day Five - Final Product

The final day went by pretty quickly, helped in part by the fact that we had met most of our milestones during the week. I was half-expecting that by Friday we'd be trying to catch up with the goals we had set, but in fact we'd managed to keep ahead all the way throughout the project, which was amazing. We lagged a bit towards the end of the day - partially 'cause we had finished everything we needed to, and partially because we had a mini group party near the end of the day for one of our team-members, Leanne, who had had a birthday recently. There was cake, irn-bru and pringles involved - afterwards, everyone was too full of deliciousness to feel up to tinkering with the game any further (except Suneil, who spent a while working on an ark with animals inside for the Flood animation).


In summary, I can honestly say without a hint of hesitation that the game jam was not only enjoyable, it was entirely successful too. It was amazing working in a team that didn't flag behind as the days went on, and who were all motivated to making the game the best they could -- part of that was because we had all opted into the Game Jam and sacrificed our own time for it, so the only people there were folk who really wanted to get something done, and I think it really showed.

I learned a fair bit about working in a team - especially since I was working alongside people I hadn't worked with before - and about Unity and Photoshop, as there were various tips and tricks I picked up just from having been experimenting with new ways to get particular tasks finished.

I also learned that I really need to brush up on my visual design skills - the GUI of The Rapture was good in some places, but I found it very finicky designing an interface that would look good in all resolutions; as well as that, while I feel that a number of the textures and icons I designed were good on their own, when they were combined, the overall theme lacked a sense of visual coherence and synergy, and due to the underuse of borders on my part, often looked somewhat unprofessional.

All in all, though, it was a great experience, and were it not for the fact that I'm utterly exhausted, I would take part next week, too - though I am definitely taking part in the Global Game Jam next Winter. So, without further ado, I think I'll get some well-deserved rest. Goodnight!

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