This year's GGJ theme, "What do we do now?", was one of those open ended themes that leave you paralyzed with a dozen ideas, but no definite "this is it" choice. After about 6 hours of brainstorming and clearing through around 10 good game ideas, we finally settled on a concept that we all liked and thought appropriate. But was it doable in just 48 hours by a team of 7 people? Let us take a journey through the dangerous survival game known as a game jam to find out.
This has been the second GGJ organized at the Politecnico di Milano. It was a pleasure seeing all the wonderful people I met at last year's event, alongside new and talented people, coming from different backgrounds. Professionals, hobbyists and aspiring pros united together for 2 days to create something out of pure passion. The unrivaled scale of the GGJ (300+ people and the 4th largest jam location worldwide) makes me feel all fuzzy inside for being part of a such an active community.
The prototype we settled on creating is called En Route and it is a management game with board game influences. You are the commander of a small squad of revolutionary French troops that has fled the battlefield. Your objective is to make them reach a rally point within a few days before they are abandoned and left to die in enemy territory. Can you bring them all back home alive?
Drawing influence from This war of mine and survival games, we tried to create an experience where you care for all your soldiers and have to make tough choices on who you save. You will visit various randomly generated locations, populated by enemies and civilians. With each soldier you can scout an area, pacify it by means of diplomacy/threats/violence and get its resources. You will need medicine and food to reach the objective in time, but what are you willing to do to get them? Killing and robbing innocent civilians is not something your soldiers will take lightly.
What went well
- Distillation of a complex concept into a playable prototype: The initial design was bloated with features and was basically impossible to do in 48 hours. The simplification process made us focus on those elements that we thought were essential to the experience we were trying to create. For example, movement on the map is restricted to a 3x3 board and single soldiers take their actions in turns. Each action has a calculated percentage of success based on various factors. This was much easier to do than an RTS control scheme a la Commandos.
Lots of emergent gameplay: for a game jam entry, I was personally surprised with the amount of different gameplay scenarios that emerged from the combination of different simple rules.
- Few bugs: having a good code base setup from the start helped the project move forward even though the design was not completely clear in the beginning and mutated during development. As did prioritizing important and difficult tasks in the first hours and leaving 'zombie mode' adjustments for the last hours, when sleep deprivation had started taking its toll.
- Nice atmosphere: Personally, I'm a fanatic for revolutionary France. It's an underused era in videogames. Having to make difficult choices in such a unique setting I think was one of the strong points of the game.
What went bad
- Little game testing: Despite everything, this was still the most complex game I have ever done in a game jam, and we just didn't have the time to tweak some of the game parameters like action success probabilities and spawn rates on items and NPCs
- Little to no emotional connection to soldiers: I think the very first objective of the game was missed. But it's not as bad as it sounds. This could be fixed by adding more personality to each character and making their actions clearer to the player. The fact that it's hard to understand what is going on in the game definitely does not help recognize the single soldiers, and that brings me to my next and last point.
What went terrible
- Interface and feedback: "Wow, Unity 4.6 GUI is so awesome, we can do a cool UI in no time" - naive me before devouring enough caffeine to kill a small bovine. Well, apparently tools aren't enough. You need to study a clear GUI to convey information to the player, especially in a game like this, where there is a lot of hidden information under the hood. Throwing in stuff without prior study and a coherent art direction with the game is something I will look out for in the future.
On a more personal note, not strictly related to the game, another important thing I learned this year was that you should always try to meet someone new. Huge events like these are a great chance to meet new and interesting people. Having a few members you like to work with is OK, but don't miss the opportunity to meet the person that could be your best companion tomorrow.
I hope everyone else had as much fun as I did at this jam, and hope to see even more people next year!
[Link to the fantastic soundtrack]