A couple of weeks ago Southampton hosted one of the Global Game Jam events (#sotongamejam). The Global Game Jam is a series of events across the world where amateurs and professionals work alone or in small teams and try to complete a game within 48 hours, the Southampton event happened in the ECS labs, involved around 100 people, and was sponsered by local games companies (including BossAlien, who also attended and made a really interesting game). The theme, announced on the Friday according to timezones, was ‘Ritual’.
Due to an infestation of small people I was unable to attend the whole event, but following on from our success with Critical Admission last year I set myself the challenge of building a game in roughly the same time frame as those at the jam (around 24 hours, although in my case spread over 2 weeks), and managed to get along for the last afternoon to talk to some of the teams and take a look at the games themselves. There were 33 of these in the end, a mixture of board and digital, and you can see the full list at the main gamejam site. However, some of the standouts for me where:
- Exorcist – built by BossAlien themselves (who as games developers clearly have no business developing a game) seems like a good idea, that on deeper inspection is a great idea. It’s for two players, one of which is on a PC the other a smartphone. As an elemental demon rises from the alter, the players have to work together to work out the correct spell word (looked up on the smartphone with info from the PC) and then type it in before it steals the player’s soul. I really liked the dual nature of the gameplay and the tension created between the players, but more than that I love the fact that it uses as a mechanic one of the hardest things to do in the world. Type in front of an audience :-)
- Set In Stone – a fantastic little puzzler put together by some of the folks from our lab. You have to get your people to the church, by setting a series of edicts. For example, ‘Blessed are the Rocks’ will cause your people to head towards rocks, ‘Shun the Flowers’ will cause them to avoid flowers. By ordering these edicts you create a theological program, which you then execute to see if it correctly guides them to the church. It’s a fun programming related puzzle game, with a lovely sense of Life of Brian, and my vote for people’s game of the Jam.
- Spell Shapers – was a great little PvP game written by some of our UG students, where each player uses their character to draw out spell sigils to attack the other player. I loved the Gauntlety vibe, crossed with a bit of Arts Fatalis. A really novel mechanic.
- Inhuman Resources – gets a nod for it’s great writing. A bit like a Papers Please that fell into the Hellmouth, you play a recruitment specialist for the cult of infinite darkness, vetting CV’s for their suitablity for various nefarious job roles. Spotting the links between the array of personality defects on offer, and the humiliating and debased posts you need to fill was difficult, but the only game in the jam that made me laugh out loud.
- And honourable mentions to Fatal Smarties for writing a Mega-Drive game (and battling 16-bit hardware limitations), Vikings vs Gods for being too damn ambitoous, and Tiles of Doom and Apotheosis for being beautiful.
(Although to be honest there were so many fun ideas that there’s not the space for them here – check out the full list).
For my own effort I went for a simple action puzzler based on a ritual circle. You play a Wisp, forced to activate runes at your master’s bidding by rotating the layers of a ritual circle, with less and less time to achieve each combo. Points are awarded based on the time left on the clock at the end of each summoning. You can play Wisp online here (it will prompt you to download the Unity web player, which is not supported by Chrome) – put the sound on, it’s my one and only attempt at voice acting!
Wisp: Spiritual combination locks – or something
I learnt a couple of useful things. Firstly, I learnt the hard way that Unity does not autosave scenes (I know, I should know better, but its 2016 for heavens sake!). Secondly, I seriously underestimated how long it takes to turn the basic mechanical simulation into a game. Getting the basic rune, rotate and activiate mechanic going was about 8 hours work, the rest was building the game framework around this (menus, scoring, levels, etc), polishing (graphics effects, audio), and gameplay tuning (which I could have done more of).
Drawing the line at 24 hours was tough, games are the crack cocaine of programming; there is always a tweak, always a little extra. Originally I wanted to use the Angerth runeset (to hard to play), then multiple runesets according to difficulty (to hard to programme in the time limit). I also had to drop a third inner circle (ran out of time to incorporate it), gates which limit where you can cross (started and gave up as it was taking to long) and obstacles that you’d need to jump (didnt even have time to explore it).
So it’s finished. Testiment to the fact that modern games enviornments (I used Unity 5 Personal Edition) enable even rusty old code curmudgeons like me to build something that is playable.
My next task is to inflict a similar experience on the students on our own Games Design and Development module (slides on EdShare here). The students have to make three playable prototypes (one exploring mechanics/dynamics, one exploring interactive narrative, and a third on innovative games) and have about the same amount of time that I had for each one. Following the GGJ16 experience I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do!