This post was first published on my personal blog.
A year gone by and it is time again for Global Game Jam here in Kuala Lumpur. At thousands of locations around the world, people got together in small teams to create a game from scratch in 48 hours. In Malaysia 15 teams totaling around 70 people took part. This included me.
Together with four teammates, we created EAT! (the source and windows executable can be downloaded here). A game about deciding where to eat when everyone wants something different. It is quite simple. The 4 friends walk down the street and the player presses space to enter a restaurant as they pass. The happier the friends are with the food available, the more points and more time you have to play.
I've never been to a Game Jam in another country, but I think things run a little different in Malaysia. For a start, jammers here actually have closer to 36 hours to create their game rather than the headline 48 hours. For instance, so that people could come after work, the jam actually started close to 7pm local time (rather than the normal advertised 5pm).
Once the theme was announced we all went to dinner in small groups. I only knew one of the people in the group I ate with. Thus conversation started slowly, but soon we were all bouncing ideas of each other on the theme "What do we do now?" I particularly liked the idea someone suggested of starting the game with "Press Space to defeat the Final Boss!" and then the player having to deal with life after where a game normally ends. My idea was based on the earlier discussion of where we should eat dinner. It was suggested this could be very Malaysian, as going out for good and diverse food is a strong aspect of Malaysian culture (at least I think so). It was also the result of purposefully trying to think of a very simple idea considering the stress of last year's overly ambitious game jam project.
After dinner everyone reconvened in the KDU library (a large space easily big and comfortable enough for everyone). Here the jammers split up. Most of the jammers were current or recently graduated KDU gamedev students and they all knew each other. So despite a request not to preform teams, over 2/3 of the the jammers were in one of the 10 preformed teams of (presumably) university friends. However, to make things a little more difficult for these people, they had a special extra rule applied to them. Their game had to follow the theme, but also had to have a randomly generated name. So each of these teams came to the front in turn and used The Video Game Name Generator (try it!) while the rest of us marveled at how "Sleazy Burger Overload" or "Bigtime Crowbar Babies" could possibly be made into a game!
Now the 20 or so individual jammers (like me) had to decide their game projects. After some time to refine our ideas, we each had 5 minutes to pitch them to the rest of the group, followed by time for discussion. Then it was time to vote on the ideas. As usual the group was programmer limited. so it was decided there would be 4 ideas made and we each placed little stickers on our top three ideas. There were some excellent ideas on the theme, and some good ambitious ideas. I voted for simple ideas that could be expanded if time allowed (an anti Shark Fin Soup game; a Telltale-like moral choices game; and, my own idea), based on my top 3 lessons from my first Game Jam last year:
# Bring earplugs/headphones
# Bring a towel - you always need to know where your towel is!
# Don't try to do too much - start small and build up
Last year my idea got 0 votes. This year's idea accumulated 11 and was one of the four chosen to be made (it is the one in the centre of the photo above). Actually, all the ideas I voted for came out on top and were made, but since it was originally my idea, I thought I should join the EAT team. Another programmer, two artists and a game designer also joined the team. Below is how we looked on Sunday just before submitting the game. Finally we got to start work around 2am. The idea was quickly fleshed out and a task list written. The artists began sketching 2D sprites for the friends and buildings, while the game designer worked out a matrix of food desires vs restaurant satisfaction levels. The other programmer and I started work on the skeleton of the code. However, I was already feeling the late hour and making silly mistakes. Luckily, Daniel, the other coder was more awake ("I'm normally up playing DOTA at this time of night") and completed the basic project structure while I had a nap. After that we sometimes pair programmed and sometimes worked individually while the other was busy with something else. The task list was swiftly diminished.
By Saturday night our original plan for the game was largely complete apart from some final 2D art. We had time to take a look around at the other ideas and chat. Like last year, the jammers as a whole were a friendly bunch. Everyone, including the preformed teams, was happy to talk about their games, how they had achieved various effects and the pros/cons of what they were doing. All you had to do was walk up to them and ask how they were going. I find this camaraderie one of the highlights of the GGJ process. Everyone is present because they like making games.
With the final artwork in place we still had a few hours left. So we play-tested and brainstormed about ways to make our game better. One of the main issues was the randomness of the game - often ending with players scoring negative points. This could especially happen if the player was unlucky enough to have one of the in-game friends desiring desert, as such people would always be unhappy with any another option. "People wanting desert are such a pain!" We soon came up with a page of ideas and added the buffet (a wildcard) and restaurants that served two types of food. The game became much more playable as a result.
Then it was time for pizza and a group photo. After the pizza the teams submitted their projects and demonstrated them for all the participants and some others who came to see what we had done. No prizes or awards, just the games themselves and the people who created them - it felt right to me that way.
I had a great time at this year's jam and am immensely proud of the game we created. It may be small, but that just meant we had time to play with other ideas and build upon it (and we finished it!). I can highly recommend attending if possible - even if you don't know anyone else going. In fact, especially if you don't know any other local gamedevs.
Thanks to all the other participants and organisers - well done to everyone. You helped make an enjoyable 48 hours.