Every now and then there is an event or moment in life you know was impactful and will be a part of the story of who you are for some time to come. This past weekend was my very first Game Jam, and I’m pretty confident in saying this will be something of a personal touchstone of some significance for years to come. For those not familiar, Game Jams are gatherings where game enthusiasts with some interest in making honest to goodness video games collaborate to make working prototypes within a set amount of time. In this case, the Global Game Jam is a 48 hour challenge centered around a theme that thousands of people in dozens of countries participate in. This year’s theme was the sound of a beating heart, and to take part in the massive brainstorming session that kicked off the event was so overwhelming I actually got a bit queasy immediately afterward and spent my first night of the event sick in bed (pro tip: Vicks works wonders).
The subsequent 32 hours or so was the crashiest of crash courses in the bizarre and wonderful process that goes into making games. Yes, it is absolutely a highly abstracted microcosm of the real deal, but I still feel much more enlightened about the myriad of strange decisions, regrettable cuts and tiresome work that goes into making pixel representations of anything move around on a screen in conjunction with inputs from a gamepad/keyboard. I’ve detailed the development of the project I was a part of, Cupid Crusade (I came up with that title! ME! Alliteration y’all!) on this past week’s podcast, but I want to link to some other curiosities I witnessed this past week, both from the Jam site I was at (YYC represent!), and some others my attention was drawn to.
This was easily the highlight at the YYC Jam for me, mostly because it had such a cohesive look and tone to it. The gameplay is explained in a very minimalist way, with the tutorial simply consisting of a keyboard graphic with the relevant keys highlighted at the onset before being presented with something that reminded me of Electroplankton on one hand but with some of the quiet pondering that takes place in an art gallery on the other. A big part of this game is simply looking at paintings, in a sense, and then figuring out what rhythmic input is required to proceed. I’m not sure the team succeeded in creating something I’d reflect on long afterward, but it was certainly an eye-catching and smartly put-together piece that is made all the more impressive given the manic and rushed story of its development (remember people, two days).
Then comes the project Jim “Twinbeard” Crawford worked on, which I admittedly sought out in light of my love of Frog Fractions and our conversation with him some weeks back. This game probably wouldn’t have meant much to me had I not started my first for-realsies relationship six months back, as it focuses on the juggling of daily activities a couple engages in to keep a relationship enjoyable for both parties after being together for five years. Each activity is represented by a simple mini-game (well…still haven’t figured out the nuances of “cuddle”, but that may be by design…and not necessarily eerily true about real life experiences), often with one party enjoying the activity while the other passive-aggressively puts up with it (there is a meter representing each partners current level of satisfaction displayed on the left and right sides of the screen). I enjoyed the observation regarding a trip to IKEA and the subsequent setting up of furniture, as that was a daily activity I engaged in personally some weeks back and did enjoy, though perhaps after five years of routine those meatballs would lose their luster. If I have one criticism, it is that the game seems to assume you are male when playing it as if the male character leaves the game declares “You Left” while should the female leave “She Left” appears onscreen. Still, it is neat to see a game with such a strict time constraint convey some of the nuances of human relationships and I salute the effort.
Kyle Pulver, the man behind Offspring Fling and Snapshot, and one of the more engaging personalities I encountered at this past PAX Prime, worked insanely hard and had the foresight to chronicle the whole thing in the above video. The platformer he created hasn’t been released for tinkering yet, but its just insane how much he single-handedly did to make something of a Metroidvania (is that really the best term for that?) game in that length of time. I’d also just listened to an Infinite Ammo interview with him, so it was neat to see the kind of work and design ethic described summed up in a five minute video.
There are tons more out there though, after all, over 16 000 people participated this year. So comb through the massive list yourself and post your discoveries in the comments or @ me on twitter.