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October 2, 2012 / marvinhawkins

Things I learned from the IGDA Chicago Game Jam

Even Jack Bauer would struggle with something like this.

This past weekend I took part in the Chicago Game Jam. A game jam is basically a sleep away camp for nerds. No, A game jam, is like two episodes of ’24’ taped together. The main idea is to take a game idea from design to conception. While there were prizes, the ultimate prize was finishing a complete game. What follows is sort of a break down of the last 48 hours.

7:0o Eugene Jarvis, Industry legend of Robotron fame gives us an awesome speech about games and creativity. He pumps us up for what’s sure to be a great weekend. The line that made the most impression to me was, “Simplicity thrills, Complexity kills”

The Game is up and running on iPad

8:00pm Friday: The theme of losing is given. Oh did I mention that you can’t make what you want? A game jam usually has a theme. Our theme runs counter to everything we know about games. After the theme is announced, the meta game of picking the perfect team happens.

9:00 By nine we have our theme, and start to decode the theme. My head hurts as the idea of losing to win, kind of messes with your mind. We come up with some ideas, toss them out, come up with more, laugh. Rinse, Repeat. We finally settle on the theme of self sacrafice. Our original idea was to use human bodygaurds to protect something else. We decided that this was too boring, and possibly too offensive. We went with the only other options, Elves martyring themselves to save  Santa, From Space aliens.

Happy with the theme, I go home and lay down. Confused as to how it’ll all come together, but pumped to do it.

10 am Saturday. So we started at 8am. I was late because i stopped at the store. Sidenote: If you plan on staying up late, you should drink plenty of water and eat non greasy things. This will help with the grind of work that lies ahead. So after discovering that our engine doesn’t allow for project sharing (GameSalad) Me and the other programmer make a list of to dos. The other programmer comes up with a brillliant idea, we list out all global variables, so that we don’t knowingly break each other’s code.

12:00 noon. We hammer out a few game details including how the player operates his characters. With a lot of help from Zach, our other programmer, and our artist Eric, we got the selection system going. This is a huge system, and we can focus on the control.

Meanwhile, our sound guy Adam, got some great Sound Effects going. Eric is drawing elves, we’re rolling. One of the best thing about our group is we are communicating, and we’re focused.

1pm. We go and get lunch. it was a nice chance to refresh, just chill and not stare at a computer screen for an hour.

2pm. After lunch we come back focused. Zach gets the player movement, i start working on the collisions. I also kept updating the to do list. We put together our first build, because we have a meeting with an industry professional. It’s early, but using a system like Gamesalad allowed us to have a working copy of the game going fast. In a jam situation, this is great, because you don’t know if  an idea works, if it doesn’t work.

2:30: We’re not where we want to be, but we have a ton to show. Adam has the theme done, and starts thinking up funny elf noises. Again, the team really showed its choesiveness. For every design, thought, and gameplay idea, all had input. After a helpful meeting with a design advisor, we set out to implement more of the question marks.

3:00 – 7:00 Eric starts doing some of the animation, and gets those going on iPad. It’s cool to see the game going on our target PC. it only motivates us more. By 7, collisions are going and we put more effort into being social. It is a game jam after all! By 7, the food comes. It becomes an all out party. It’s great to see that the teams working so hard. Being around other game developers gritting it out only motivates me more.

9:00pm We get back to work on a new build. Progress is slower, bugs start to crop up. Gamesalad is an engine for creating games. It is easier than programming for scratch, but it is not a silver bullet. It doesn’t code the game. Zach starts to code solutions that are crazy, but his skills as a hard coder helps us get around some big issues.

10;00 Zach starts coding up a win condition, I get going on a loss. We got elf sounds going on the ipad, and they’re now splatting, thanks to Eric’s animations.

11:00pm Sleep needs start to set in, but we continue by trying to get the control pad to start working. The game is getting there, but we need to start putting it together. We have two parrallel builds, one art and sound, one new gameplay. We’re starting to get there.

12:00 midnight. More collisions are in, we start to get the score going, but later take it out, because it doesn’t do much.

1:00-7am. I’m really not sure what happened. I defer to Zach since we couldn’t really share builds. He went into hero mode, and starts compiling the final build. Around 5am, I start helping Adam record sounds for Santa’s voice over. At some point, i think i figured out the list of screens we’d need for an interface/start screen. Eric starts drawing this out and a bad ass boss monster. By 7, the need for food and sleep is high. We decide to go get breakfast.

8:00am Sunday. We have two hours until hands off time. We put together the final conditions, we even try to put in a difficulty system. It didn’t really work, so we spent the last hour polishing it up for ipad/presentation.

11:00am. We start presentations. We are exhausted, my team picked me to present the game, but we all end up speaking. We’re fired up, and running on pure adrenaline. Caffine stopped working hours ago. We decide to go twice, after 30+ hours of work, we have to present our fun in 5 minutes. This in itself is a challenge. The sound and the art gets the laughs we wanted, and just like that we’re done.

For the rest of Sunday morning we sat back, and watched the other presentations. Seeing the creativity of the other teams was great. After the winners were announced, we dispersed. I decided to lay down for an hour, I slept for 16 hours on Sunday afternoon.

My team really operated well. Less than 2 days ago, we didn’t even know each other. Since then, we have a game, and access to a huge community of talented artists, programmers, and sound designers. Chicago used to be a development hub. After this past weekend, we’re headed to those glory days again. Special thanks to IGDA Chicago. For putting this together. Jay Margulus, Jared Steffes, and Josh Tsui for the Monster, which came at the literal 11th hour. Our game is out online (post coming soon). I can’t recommend doing something like this enough. If you even THINK you want to make game, this event is well worth your time. Also, special Shout out to Zachary Cassity, Adam Marks, and Eric Shofe. This game wouldn’t have happened without you all. 




One Comment

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  1. Christopher SuperVillain Irving / Oct 2 2012 5:23 am

    good stuff. We need to talk about the global variable thing for our project,I mentioned something similiar before, but you have experience in it now. After reading this, I am definitely hitting the next jam

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