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I'm Making a Game Part 3: First Game Jam

This is the third of the series of blog posts I will be writing that will cover my first attempt to make a game. This post covers the results of my my group's first meeting and the game jam that we had this past weekend as a team building exercise.

To anyone who may have been waiting for this, I apologize for not writing it sooner.  Life has kept me from having the time required to post on here until now.  That being said, let me share with you all what I have been up to for the last month.

Nearly a month ago, I managed to get almost all my local team members together for our first rally.  We had 11 people show up to that meeting.  Since everyone knew me, but not not each other, I had them introduce themselves and get to know each other a little bit.  We discussed our backgrounds in terms of our professions and skills and also in terms of our backgrounds as gamers.  We also laid the groundwork necessary for our group to communicate and disseminate information.  We established a google sites page to act as our central repository for information, and we set up a google group in conjunction with that site so that we would have a means of communication.  Then we set about scheduling our next big event.  Because I wanted to have the team get together and work on something for a short period of time, we scheduled a game jam that happened last weekend.  Each team member was also charged with writing a one sentence pitch line for a game they would like to see the team make at the game jam.  We gave ourselves a week to write pitch lines.  After one week I had nine pitch lines.  Then I opened up voting.  The voting was a simple one vote for one pitch to be e-mailed to me.  Due to some confusion and errors on my end, we wound up extending the voting to about a week and a half.  The winner at the end of the vote was this pitch:

Your boss at Monstrous Abominations Inc. is expecting an important file from you today at a big company meeting and no amount of roaming monsters and backstabbing coworkers is going to keep you from getting to that meeting on time.

This pitch was actually mine, so I was suprised and happy to see it win because I pretty much had the idea down and all we had to do was make it.  Skip ahead about a week and a half and we find ourselves at the game jam.  The first thing to happen once everyone got there was that quite a few people expressed disappointment in the winning pitch, so we did a revote using a different voting system where you can cast a vote for as many pitches you like.  The winner of that vote was this pitch:

Scrappy is a robot on the verge of a breakdown, but parts falling off just make room for new arms and legs for him to lasso, shoot, or jump his way to victory!

And so we set about making this game.  While I have to say I was completely unprepared for this, I didn't let it phase me, because the whole point of this game jam wasn't what we made, but that the team made it together.

At the suggestion of one of our programmers, we used cocos2d as our engine and used github for source contol.  Our producer set us up in an agile method with various tasks being assigned to 'sprints'.

After deciding upon our tools and pitch, we set about doing some brainstorming and laying down some rough assets.  By the end of the first night we had about a minute worth of loopable music, some rough art assets for a level, and the barebones code for the game.

Having only been to one other game jam before--the IGDA GameJam--I assume that all game jams work similarly to that kind of process where people don't sleep much if at all.  Our game jam--on the other hand--actually saw people getting decent amounts of sleep, eating regularly, and taking showers. 

Not everyone on the team stayed in our jam location for the whole event though.  Several people didn't show up until Saturday--day 2--and some could not spend the night there, but were there during the day for Saturday and Sunday.  This caused a slight problem as our producer was one of those who couldn't stay for the whole event.  This saw me stepping in to fill his role and make sure that everyone was on task when he wasn't there. 

Going into day two we added more music, a placeholder level and art assets, and better code(you can tell I'm not a programmer) to what we already had.  Morale stayed high and people were generally enjoying themselves.  Towards the end of the day though, I did have a long one on one discussion with one of my programmers who was about ready to kill one of my other team members.  Fortunately, I defused that situation somewhat, and it actually wound up fully defusing itself later in that the person that was irritating one of the programmers decided to quit the team after the game jam.  At the end of the day, though, things were still going very well overall.

Sunday came and we managed to get a finished level in the game, but we were unable to get a collision map in, so right now Scrappy just falls through the world to the bottom of the level.  We also got more music and we got started on animations for Scrappy as well as enemies with which to populate our level.  It didn't help that one of our programmers--the one that knew cocos2d the best--decided Saturday night that he did not want to continue the project with the group.  Our two other programmers were still learning the ropes of cocos2d, so it slowed down our production on the programming end quite a bit.

At the end of the game jam we had an iPhone game which--by definition--runs.  It still has a long way to go before it could be considered anything of note, but it is a definite start.  We had 12 people show up, with 10 being the largest number of people present at any one time.  The team is presently holding steady at 10 people who after a weekend of working together are all very friendly with each other and willing to continue working together with each other.  So I would say that I certainly accomplished my mission to get the team working together.  Overall, I would say the things that went well are that we got the team working together, everyone likes everyone else, and we have a running game at the end of the weekend.  The thing that I thought could have gone better--not that it went poorly, but there is definitely room for improvement--is workflow. Right now, as a group, we move as though we are a machine with the rust of ages upon us.  But, after we've had some oil applied to the right places, found the right missing pieces, and buffed out a few rough patches, I think we'll be just fine.  I've tasked the team with writing post-mortems, and the next big task is for me, our producer, our creative director, and whoever else wants to join in to go over them, implement any changes we feel we need to make, set up a schedule for continuing work on this game, and then setting about doing it.  We've made a good first step as a group.  In the weeks to come, I hope to see us making a few more.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to leave any comments you might have. 

Allen Antoine

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