Global Game Jam 2014, Karlsruhe

So the dust has settled, I’ve had a good night’s sleep and some good food. Time to write a little recap of the Global Game Jam from my point of view.

Joachim and me again attended this years GGJ at the HFG Karlsruhe (University for Design). We really enjoyed it last year and decided to join in again. Primarily because it’s a great time but also because I was itching to do something besides game design for a change. And lastly the both of us were looking for some inspiration. We’ve been struggling with the search for a new project for a while now.

I’ve got two out of those three, so that’s not bad. Find out which ones below.

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Brainstorming

After the keynote, when the theme was announced you could hear a lot of mumbling in the room, as people were trying to figure out what it meant to them. A small group formed and we sat down at a table going for a round of brainstorming. We initially just discussed the theme, coming up with ideas of what it could mean or how we could interpret it. Then in a second round we tried to create actual game concepts out of this mass of ideas.

Global Game Jam 2014 - Brainstorming

Sticky note brainstorming

Here’s a few of our more fleshed-out ideas:

Familiar Perspective

The game is about a few siblings and their different interpretation of their shared experiences. The player explores the history of the family through their retellings, playing different scenes from the different perspective, trying to figure out what actually happened. Maybe there’d be an inheritance involved or something.

Voicelight

A first person game where the environment is invisible at first. Now as the player makes sounds into the microphone he “feels around” the air, temporarily uncovering parts of the map. Maybe high sounds light up walls and traps at the top, while low sounds show what’s on the floor. It might be about escaping a maze and the fact that at some point the player might have trouble with his voice from constantly making sounds would be part of the experience.

WordChain

Here the game is a network of words, that the player navigates through, quite similar to the Visual Thesaurus. This audiovisual experience changes as the player moves through the network, based on the area the player is in. Because you will have different associations than other people it would be your unique path. At the end the game would create a video or replay of your personal experience.

Word Network Graph

Word Network Graph

Reverse Empath

In this game the player can project the emotion of his character on the other actors in the world. That way he can get them to behave a certain way and to achieve his goals for him. The perspective would be a simple top down view, and it was intended to be more of a sandbox than a real game.

Joachim was really fond of this idea and even though no one else was really inspired by it he decided to try to go for it on his own, while the rest of us kept looking for more concepts.

Rohrschach Test

Here the game would be a sort of funny and interesting psycho quiz. The game would present the player with an inkblot picture and let him pick something that he associates it with. We discussed ideas of drawing on the inkblot to show what it reminds you of. The game could possibly be multiplayer with one player rating the others drawing and interpretation among a few psychological axes.

Concept Roadblock

So we had a bunch of ideas but they didn’t really stick. Two hours after the start of the game jam we had a public round of pitches but I was still unhappy with everything we came up with. In the end we struggled until about ten o’clock, growing more and more frustrated. You can clearly see our exasperation in the picture below.

Global Game Jam - Discussion

Late night concept search

I’ve been thinking about why it seemed so difficult to decide on a concept, even though we had a few clearly workable ideas. I’ll have to shoulder some of the blame for that: I’m generally a very critical and vocal individual. Both are pretty good attributes for a game designer but I can sometimes come across as dismissive. By itself that wouldn’t be a problem but as of lately it’s been very hard for me to be enthusiastic about my own ideas, and this very difficult to inspire others.

That means if there’s no one else in the group who’s crazy about their ideas that it will be very difficult to settle on something. Eventually though I turned off the criticising part of my brain and, we managed to find a concept. We went back to some interesting shapes that Wendy had scribbled and all of us liked. We wanted to see more do more of those so we came up with a concept around that, inspired by the awesome Moon Waltz.

StarChild

In StarChild you take care of an unformed being. At the beginning the being has a lot of potential. As it progresses through the world you can decide with what stance it deals with the challenges it faces: Forceful, Creative or Thoughtful. As you overcome challenges the StarChild crystalizes, it’s potential diminishes as it develops in a certain direction. The more challenges you face the more you will advance, reducing your potential. At the end of the level you will feel like you have a unique being, but after the reaching the goal you’ll find out that you’re just like many other people.

StarChild goals

StarChild goals

Building it

By the time we had that concept though most of the other people from the intital group had already found another project to work on. Who remained was Wendy (art), Martin (sound) and me. Since I was the only one with some coding experience I took on programming duties. I decided to go with flash because it was perfectly suitable for the project size and even though I hadn’t used it in a while I was familiar enough with it to be sure that I could deliver.

We then set down to building the game. With the help of the awesome Avoider Game Tutorial I quickly got started on the game and already had a playable, albeit ugly, version running by late afternoon on Saturday.

Global Game Jam - StarChild in Progress

StarChild in Progress

From the on I was able to do some code polishing, adding a music system, menus, score tracking and an animation system for the obstacles. Most of Sunday was then spent on moving assets into the game. Unfortunately we had some incompatibility issues, with me using Flash CS3 and Wendy using Flash CC.

StarChild screenshot

StarChild screenshot

In the end we had to cut a lot of our planned content because we simply did not have the assets in place. We wanted to go for seven or eight possible final-forms but ended up with only three.

Presenting it

By the time we got around to presenting it to the other jammers I already had a few beers on a mostly empty stomach so I’m afraid I rambled a bit. Regardless, the presentation was fun and people enjoyed finding out how the different obstacles reacted to the three approaches. There was definitely a sense of exploration and discovery at work, that tells me that the concept was a good idea that could be explored further.

The team: Me, Wendy, Martin

The team: Me, Wendy, Martin

In the end I am very happy with the result. I’m pretty proud that I managed to code a fully functional tiny game in flash in 48 hours, considering I have no formal education in the field at all. I think that it would simply need more content to properly transport the idea behind it but I think what’s there is pretty good for a small game jam team.

Play it



Game Jam Resume

So, as mentioned in the beginning, I participated in the Global Game Jam for three reasons:

  1. To have a good time
  2. To do something besides game design
  3. To get over our inspirational hump at Sharkbomb Studios

After the grueling concept finding phase was over I got to delve into programming. I really enjoyed the challenge and opportunity and had a lot of fun with it. So the first two conditions were certainly met. But what about the last one?

Well, that didn’t really happen. Since Jo and I went on different projects we, as Sharkbomb Studios, didn’t really get what we wanted out of the Game Jam. Our inspirational hump is still there, but that’s a story for another time.

- Martin