Game Jam Jammed

Drosophilia clouds


This time last week I was settling into my second ever global game jam, and second ever game jam of any kind for that matter. It just hasn’t been the kind of thing I’ve done much of because I don’t consider myself very good at that very tight timeline kind of programming and making. Nonetheless, went into the Institute of Digital Games at the University of Malta and made a thing with Gordon Calleja (colleague) and Sidsel Hermansen (ex-student from Copenhagen). We’re actually planning on “releasing” the thing we made properly in a few days, so I won’t link it here for now.

Anyway, I feel like this jam went really well for me (and, I think, for the team as a whole) for a few different reasons that I guess I’d aim to replicate in the future. (Since I do think I’d like to do more of this kind of thing in the future, it stimulating and, best of all, you actually get a damn thing done and out the door pretty quick.)

For me the biggest thing was that I decided (as the team’s lone programmer) to use Twine as our engine. This meant that a couple of days before the jam I tried to look at Twine and learn it a bit, but never really got around to it. What I did do was notice all the interesting macros/scripts people have written to extend it in different ways. I fell in love with YouTube background videos and with timers, and so kind of had my heart set on us making a game that leveraged those things. And we did.

Twine was especially great because I spent most of the weekend constantly learning things, rather than doing the same old stuff I would have had to do if I’d used something like Haxe or even Game Maker. Instead I was very often bewildered by how things worked, I had to learn how to use scripts, and then be mystified. I had to relearn my meagre CSS knowledge for the umpteenth time. Eventually I even had to learn enough JavaScript to hack away at a couple of macros so they worked in a way more accommodating to the project. (Notably, I altered a couple of timer scripts to take variables for time limits instead of hard-coded numbers.) Anyway, all that learning kept me on my toes and made sure things were never dull.

Twine was also good because it needed writing and, given that my teammates were busy with visuals and audio, I ended up being in charge of the writing as well. I’ve fancied myself a writer in the past, even tried to be a Writer, and so it was fun to dust of my fiction fingers and type some stuff in. The text in the game is really pretty restrained, but it has a couple of interesting things about it that I enjoyed doing. It was especially fun interfacing with some of Twine’s features, such as cycling link sets and a replacement macro for some more dynamic text effects.

Working in a team, which is not something I’m accustomed to in the slightest, worked out really well too. It meant there was always company around during the boring stretches, and it meant that there were talented people taking care of things I can’t necessarily do. Audio is the most glaring example of this, since I can cobble together graphics. Sidsel was really impressive at putting together soundtracks and effects and the audio is really perhaps the largest part of the game in a lot of ways. We also had Gordon constantly turning out oil paintings in the team’s work room, which added a terrific level of physicality to what we were doing. It was all very avant garde, dontchaknow?

Anyway, as I said, maybe the best thing about it all was that we finished a (very small scale) project over the weekend. It was completely playable at the demo session, and we’re just polishing it up a bit (but not too much) before setting it loose. I came away very impressed by my teammates and very pleased with Twine, which I shall certainly work with again.

31 January 2014
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