Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Global Game Jam 2010: Post Mortem

I had a great time at last weekend's Global Game Jam 2010. Team Mound of Awesome managed to pump out a Flash stealth game in the 32 hours we had UT. The final build can be found here. For more games from the Austin location, check out the GGJ site.

This year's theme at our location was Deception involving a Man, a Plan, and/or a Canal. While we were forming teams, I had a few choices. Since I'm interning at Gendai Games, I would've been able to contribute to the their GameSalad team. However, I didn't have a Mac, and I didn't want to be limited by my computer. I had a little experience with XNA and plenty of experience with C# but I wasn't sure I'd be a good fit with that team. Unless I wanted to spend the weekend learning a new language, the Unity and Lua teams were out of the question. The OpenGL, C++ guys were nuts. So I settled on the Flash, Flixel team. Turns out they were three programmers who drove in from the SMU Guildhall in Plano, TX.

Even when I told the guys I was on board as a programmer, I had some doubts. Who were they? Their initial pirate vs cops SHMUP idea seemed too complex. Thanks to a brainstorming exercise proposed to all the teams, we ended up with a better game idea.

Each team member would spend 15 minutes brainstorming terms and concepts. Then the next 15 minutes would be spent organizing those organizing this disparate ideas into game concepts based on three core values. Each team member then pitched their concepts and we picked from the best sounding

Our game ended up being this:

  1. Aesthetic: The art and visual style of the game. Without a solid artist on board, we settled on pixel art to begin with.
  2. Mechanic: The core gameplay that the game is based around. While throwing together words our pile of ideas, I came up with deceiving enemies with masks then donkey punching them.
  3. Flow/Story: How the game is structured. Is it a traditional arcade game with levels and a boss? Is it an endless game where the player goes for the high score? We decided our game would consist of a series of rooms and then a boss at the end. We couldn't decide why our protagonist needed to donkey punch people yet.

As Friday the weekend went on, I learned a few things about making games in such a fast paced environment.

Don't plan far ahead.

Our team didn't fall into this trap but I saw that other teams in our location did. One team planed on a very complex puzzle game based on 3D rendered cubes that would determine what direction a ball you threw at them would bounce. They ended up with a 2D action game about knocking over boxes. Another team thought up a robust storyline about a spy who was going to be betrayed in the middle of the game and then he would have to fight his own people who knew all his tricks. By Sunday, that team had barely gotten then engine in place to develop basic gameplay.

Our team set smaller goals as we met them. We had to come up with story and solutions to problems as we created the game. After we implemented the stealth mechanic, we found that the game was fun enough without the donkey punching. We hadn't figured out what our final boss encounter was going to be till Sunday morning - and we couldn't. We knew wanted to throw a surprise at the player for the final encounter but not much else. By Sunday, we settled on Mr. Mask meeting the CEO of Mask Wax Co., Barry Boss. Players would have to figure out how to get Billy to follow them into a manhole. It was a reversal of the player's need to stay away from the enemy's view circles all game. Suddenly, the player must use them to his advantage. In order to come up with that, we had first to figure out the foundations of our story and what our core mechanic would even feel like.

Pick your battles.

Towards the end of the Game Jam Sunday, I applied the Flixel logo to our game and made it red to match our Mr. Mask title screen. This is what this logo is all about. A cacophony of colors merging into the color of our game's logo. With this much mental investment in a logo, I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened later in the day. Another team member changed the logo from red to white. From within me, I felt a boiling rage bubbling. Wait, I told myself, you're being crazy. Let it go. You have a game to finish.

Tools are only as good as how much people use them.

The shear collaborative power of Wikis, forums, or even Google Wave is meaningless if no one uses it. The lesson is something I've also learned running GamesPlusBlog. Our team needed an information radiator to communicate what tasks needed doing. So we started a Wave and slapped on coding and art tasks we needed into it. It became very apparent that some of our group members were using it and some weren't. The art list simply went ignored and the coding tasks simply weren't complete. The idea behind an information radiator is so people don't have to spend time asking what there is to do. You simply look at the Wave/whiteboard/Wiki/what-have-you and you know. It's particularly effective in long term projects where people may be working remotely. But this is a Game Jam. We're all working around the same table over the course of three days. Asking your team members what needs to be done is 'information radiation' enough. That being said, the Wave was useful for communicating which levels needed to be created because our level designers were using to store a large amount of info that would have been hard to keep track of.

At the end of the day I'm proud to say TCAOMM was one of the most polished games at our GGJ2010 location.


Phillip Knoll said...

Misson Complete

Will said...

It's interesting to see our production from a unique perspective. I very much agree with the pick your own battles section. Working on creative project's in a group is always difficult, especially when you think you have a good idea and it gets left behind. I thought the SHMUP was a solid idea and not overly complicated, though maybe I wasn't communicating it well. I think we could have made it, but the game would have been less polished since we were planning on doing levels procedurally which are rarely as interesting as designed levels. Still, it's an idea I'll probably come back to in the future. I think in the end it was mostly you and I using Wave, but it ultimately helped keep me straight and organized even if no one else was using it. I would have preferred if it was used more, but we were a group with little trouble communicating so I don't think the lack of use held us back much.

Anyway, I'm happy you chose to work with us. I'm a little surprised our initial crazy ramblings didn't scare you off, but happy they didn't.

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