Game Jam Writeup

So last weekend I took part in Game Jam Sydney, a chance for crazy people nostalgic for university assignment all-nighters to get together and spend 48hrs straight designing, creating and making games.  The entire event was a phenomenal success, massive kudos to the incredibly talented organisers Dan Graf and Malcolm Ryan – and to the Powerhouse Museum for happily locking us up for 2 days straight.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first showed up, but once I walked in the many computers sitting on desks all in one row had the LANner in me feeling right at home, and I quickly made lots of new friends.

After some security briefings (the pies are good, apparently) and a quick bite to eat, we all headed down to the main foyer where the 80’s are back exhibition was officially opening.  Steve Wang from Microforte gave an interesting talk about what Game Development was like in the 80’s; I love that they bought a machine, spent days making a game prototype using it, then returned it to the store once the prototype was submitted!  Classic!  After that it was time for us Jammers to head up to get locked in.

Finally, we were given the theme: Deception.  What?!?!  It was quite a difficult theme to try to include in a game concept, and we had a few secondary themes as well: sewing, snowing or rowing; plus trying to work in an 80’s theme, style or reference.  I ended up brainstorming with some graduates of QANTM Sydney about a game involving sewing body parts of 80s celebrities together; unfortunately we couldn’t turn it into a game in our heads.  Our first real playtest was with a game played in a sweatshop, where the player needs to deceive inspectors into thinking they’re running a decent business, while making profit by running sweatshop conditions in other rooms.  A quick paper and pen playtest showed that it wasn’t much fun to play, so we dropped the concept.

Our next playtest was based on being a student trying to disrupt a classroom without being caught – using spitballs and rulers to deceive the teacher into thinking other students were responsible.  Oh, and it’s a sewing class :).  A quick playtest showed that this idea had potential, so we set about making it happen.

As our own design unfolded with the help of our unwilling sprite artist it was fascinating to walk around and see how other jammers ideas were coming together.  Most, like ours,  took a few hours to evolve to a playable state and a day or so to actually be a game with win/lose conditions etc.  Towards the end of the second day, there was some strategy in our game, and most (but not all) of the bugs had been ironed out.  Menus, sound and splash screens were quickly added, and all too soon our game – Class Act – was packaged up and submitted.

The best part of the Jam happened next – being able to go around and try out everyone elses games!  The sheer amount of skill, design and effort that went into these games was mind-blowing.  There were spy-games, games of hide and seek, stealthiness, bloody carnage and even a rhythm game.  And the quirky and awesome GNILLEY.  We had plenty of people play and comment positively on our game as well, which was a great feeling.  In the end we all voted for our favourite choices and headed off to the public presentation.

The public presentation was very quick: we only had a couple minutes each to present our games, and the judges never played them.  Embarassingly, I lost while trying to show off the deception aspects of our game and wasted our chance to win some judge lovin’.  Some other games, like the fantastic SpyWear also fell foul of the presentation – it really only worked with 4 other people playing simultaneously.  Once the judges had announced their choices we headed back to the Jam room, grabbed our stuff, exchanged contact details and said goodbye.

It was an amazing weekend, testing the limit of most of my abilities (including sleep-resistance), and I met some fantastic people and made some amazing new friends.  I would highly recommend it to anyone like myself that’s looking to get a foot into the Indy Game Industry.

Post-mortem on the game we created next week.

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