Global Game Jam 2014

Last weekend was GGJ 2014, and this time our team was insanely large. In total I think 12 people were interested in joining us, and in the end we had 8 on the final credits, but I am jumping ahead. I was very concerned about organizing this, and my biggest concern was about finding a common project. What would happen if we can’t find a game to make we all agree on?
I was prepared to just simply split the group and go with who ever wanted to do what I wanted to do, but that luckily wasn’t necessary. This years theme was as usual introduced by three motivational keynote talks, which were quite okay, but they all tried to convince the participants to do something out of the box, something unprecedented, and experimental.
I agree, novelty is good, and in a game jam you can try things you usually don’t try. But for me something else is very important too: I want to have a playable finished game at the end. I have about 200 game prototypes flying around on my hard drive that will never be released, while game jam games (until now) all see the light of the world and get at least tested by others. Anyways, this years theme was:

We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are!

Gasp – Global Game Jam did it again! Two years ago the theme was a picture of an Oroboros:


and last year was the sound of a heart beat:


A theme that could literally mean anything! After thinking about this for quite a while I come to the conclusion that the ones who come up with this themes don’t understand the difference between inspiration and creativity. Our creativity is a tool to make up solutions on fly when we run out of existing ones. Clearly we evolved to be creative to overcome problems we never encoutered before. Inspiration is the is a motivation to overcome those problems. If you want to see novel, unique, and unprecedented solutions you have to provide a problem to overcome, which requires an exact definition and clear boundaries. Our mind can be most creative when the problem is recognized. Inspiration let’s us continue to look for a creative solution even if it seams hopeless. The last three themes were inspirational, but did not encourage creativity. They were awkward at best.
Us talking for four hours in a our brainstorming session without finding a good game idea is indication enough. We stopped looking to find something that matches the game after we took a vote asking if we prefer “fun” over “theme” and we chose “fun”. At least we coaxed the game idea into a topic somehow, by claiming that the humans don’t see the things the way they are, but that the alien antagonists in our game indeed do – so much for that.
I am not going into the details of the game, I will make another post just about the game soon, but I want to discuss what I think went wrong, and what we should do differently:

  • We used too much time for finding the game, and didn’t define the actual game mechanics. It is not clear to me if this causes us to all pursue different goals or that due to a lag of planning we produced components that in the end did not fit together?
  • Instead of using assets that were made already, we again made assets from scratch. I think it is okay to do new title screens and such, but not 3d models. I agree that the ones we could have downloaded were not exactly super posh, but at least we would have had them from the beginning.
  • A 3D model that I get 4 hours before the deadline that still requires code, play testing, integration, and a round of reviews is not only useless but also causes frustration. The programs waits for something that doesn’t work, an empty or dysfunctional element remains, and on top of that, the one making the model is frustrated, because the work was for nothing, in particular because we ended up using only a third of all assets. Mostly because the way they were constructed didn’t fit the game mechanism.
  • Never do something you never did before … we again reinvented the wheel for the UI. Luckily not in vain, because now we have a GameManager class that works and is general enough to simply function. I look forward to use it next time!
  • The interface we laid out for some of the classes and their objects to function were okay, but we sort of forgot to assign all functions. We ended up having three different lines of code which either hacked each other, or managed to not implement core functions. In the end, I simply added code where it was needed, not where one would have put it if the object hierarchy made sense in the first place.
  • Winter sucks… the logistics were just off putting. I was very concerned about us traveling through the snow in these conditions. Nothing we really could do about the weather, but it still sucked.
  • One thing I was thinking in the end was that if we had spent the time on our other game “One Torch” we would have been much happier and much more productive.

For the next game jam these are the guiding rules that will not be broken:

  • If you can use a primitive – use a primitive
  • If you can’t use a primitive, find a way to use a primitive
  • If you can’t find a way to use a primitive you find a free one from the internet
  • If you can’t find a free one you are allowed to make it, but only if it is absolutely essential
  • Function before look
  • The game has to be done after 24h, the rest of the time is there to make the game better
  • Update unity beforehand
  • If you don’t have a stand in generic human figure that can stand, walk, run, jump, sit, die, and “use”, don’t even participate
  • Before you make a new class define what it’s purpose is, define how it is used in the game and how it should function together with other classes
  • Before you make a new class explain to everyone how it is supposed to be used
  • Never rename axes
  • Create something that works right away, and then increase it’s functionality
  • Set specific deadlines where all resources are pooled
  • You are not allowed to commit more than 1MB at a time – commit often!

I seam bitter at times which I feel sorry for, and I have to point out that I enjoyed myself and the Game Jam, how can making games not be fun? I also enjoyed the interactions with my team. Everyone was enthusiastic, engaged, and nice to have around – it was just too messy to be successful and defeat is part of the process.

Cheers Arend

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