Global Game Jam 2017 at TAG

Global Game Jam at TAG

(Photo by Sophia Lim.)

It was the Global Game Jam over last weekend and we had a site hosting the jam at TAG. I had very real hopes of participating this year and working on something small, but by the time the jam rolled around I’d only just put the finishing touches on SNAKISMS (out Wednesday!) and just felt too tired to think about making something at fast pace (not to mention I count Sunday as a working day, compressing time more).

However, I did get to serve on our local jury for the jam, and thus was able to come in on Sunday and play all the games (bar one, which had to leave early) and have a think about them with my fellow jurors. So for my words today, here are a couple of thoughts about the various games (which you can find most of here if you want to play them).

KOJO. Impressive for being really quite and coherent game in the time frame. It’s a platformer-with-a-twist kind of thing, with the game taking place on the sides of a cube which the player can rotate to view aspects of the level. The other twist is that when you jump and hit something you create shockwaves and this turns out to be how you move objects around the level (e.g. stepping stones etc.). Aesthetically I was most struck by the model of a tree that sits on top of the cube and grows as you progress – it was very Francis Bacon somehow, which I approve of.

ideation. A Twine game about suicidal ideation, and so obviously quite an intense thing to play (and also an odd thing to play in the environs with people chatting away and happy post-jam). It’s related to Depression Quest in that it plays on the idea of agency by altering the options you have at each step of the game. Except in this case it adds options to commit suicide in a variety of ways, and these build up over the course of the day the game represents, which loops at the end to point at the endlessness of these kinds of experiences. I think it could have been really interesting to let the suicidal thoughts mount up in an even more oppressive column through consecutive replays.

Rustle Your Leaves to Me Softly. This was an ASMR Plant Dating Simulator. Most interesting for using arduino to make it possible to interact with plants directly with your hands. You hold a cup with a plant in it and touch/caress/do things to the plants leaves/steps/etc. and it reacts to this through a generated soundtrack in your headphones. I didn’t actually get to play this one (though I will do), but I think it’s conceptually really quite interesting and is in tension in some good/challenging ways. Notably it complicates the idea of a “controller” which is the traditional thing you’d create with an arduino – the plant isn’t really a controller for a game, the idea is you’re interacting with the plant itself. It’s clearly flirting with (or completely falling into) erotic overtones, and (again not having played it) it did seem like it might create some genuine sense of intimacy (or at least a simulation of such intimacy, since it’s presumably one sided?). And most importantly, I guess it raises questions about “using” a plant in this way – its very acknowledgment (in its narrative and in the care instructions) of plants as living things simultaneously makes it maybe weird to be instrumentalising a plant for a human experience like this (again, alongside philosophical/biological questions about what plants experience of course). So, plenty going on there.

Sing Pong. This is the game from the picture above. A very ambitious sound game in which you play pong with someone using sound matching. The core mechanic/idea is that there are two channels of music – yours and theirs – and to successfully “hit” the ball moving toward you you need to make your channel match theirs across about five different variables (distortion, rhythm, etc.) at about 12 different settings each. Needless to say it’s incredibly hard to do this by ear, but in challenging myself to do so I really did find it incredibly engaging to focus hard on the sound of two channels of music and trying to manipulate mine “the right way”.

Recycle Bob. From the creator of ideation, a much simpler action game in which you need to choose whether to recycle, compost, or bin various items falling from the top of the screen. It was mostly notably for being insanely hard in its current incarnation, which was kind of a funny rhetoric to feel around recycling – a game setting means you need to make it tense and “difficult”, which is exactly the kind of relationship we probably don’t want to have to those things. The art style in this was super charming.

Lil Otto in the Oceam. (I think I’m spelling that right?) Very cute game for kids in which you pretty much just touch things on the screen as they drift by on the water and they make nice musical sounds. Now and again an adorable otter comes and chats to you. He has great comic timing (which I think is an under-done thing in videogames, still). The weirdest thing about this one was hearing it was implemented with the level rending on the inside surface of a rotating sphere in Unity to get the idea of a scrolling scene! Whoa.

Make Some Waves. This team used a Leap Motion device to create a whole bunch of WarioWareish minigames around ideas of sustainability, such as spinning wind turbines, doing recycling (again!), fanning the earth to cool down global warming (hmm), and “waving the haters goodbye” (I guess this was the self-care angle on sustainability). They did a great job getting the Leap Motion behaving itself and it really worked well. The highlight for me, somehow, (other than the fact I was pretty good at the games eventually), was how you had to make the “ok” sign with thumb to tip of index finger to say “ok” to the game in the menus. Really satisfying.

The Social Ripple. A very intense twine about being a social influencer and how your decisions affect issues like sustainability, the economy, your personal happiness, and more. It’s written in a strange voice that can get quite didactic, but is also sometimes really evocative, or post-modern, or other things. It has so much content for a game jam game it’s kind of terrifying. I really enjoyed how weird this one made me feel.

Squirrel & Vac. This one was pretty borderline in terms of actually engaging with the game jam and its theme, but was a kind of interesting two-player infinite runner idea. I most enjoyed determinedly trying to steer my character off the track, at which point he would job along gamely in the air. I even managed to shock the developers when I caused the avatar to grab onto a ledge. I pride myself on doing things like that.

That’s it. Check them out. Sorry I wrote so many words! But if you read them to here it’s kind of on you! Ciao!

23 January 2017
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