The Global Game Jam (GGJ) is an international game jam event that tens of thousands of game developers around the world would gather together and develop games in just 48 hours. The last weekend, Jan. 24 – 26, Pittsburgh 2014 GGJ took place at ETC and it was my very first game jam experience.
How to make a game in JUST 48 hours?
The essence of game jam is to compress the whole game development cycle, which normally takes 1 to 2 years, into a very short time period, usually ranging between 24 to 48 hours. So, the first question for all game jam newbies would be: "How can we make a game in just TWO days!!???” Based on my first game jam experience, my answer would be: “Scope.” The essence of game jam is not to make an AAA game, with complicated background set-up, fancy visual effects, or delicate 3D models and textures in 48 hours. The key is to come up a simple game design idea and implement it successfully. Game jam events try to pull game developers back to very question about making a game: “What is fun?” Although there are different ways to describe what “fun” is, they are all about how to provide an engaging gaming experience for audiences. The most engaging thing in a successful game, whether it’s an AAA game or not, is not the variety of assets or the complexity or the balance of your game system. It’s all about the unique gaming experience from your game.
In summary, what we are going to do in a game jam is not to develop an epic AAA game; instead, we are going to find a single interesting idea, stick to it, and then construct a fun experience to sale this idea. So, how to make a game in 48 hours? “Just for fun!” Doesn’t it sound possible!?
What did you do in Pittsburgh 2014 GGJ?
We made a game, of course!
My friends and I first decided to form a team when we signed up for the 2014 GGJ event. In the first section of 2014 GGJ, Friday night, we did the brainstorming for this year’s specific theme individually for 30 minutes. Then we gathered together to pitch our own brainstorming result to each other and mixed feasible ideas up and picked up the most favorite one.
The reason why we separately do the brainstorming at the very begging is based on what we’ve learned from last semester’s Building Virtual Worlds (BVW, one of ETC’s fundamental courses. It emphasizes teamwork and rapid prototyping by utilizing novel technologies). During BVW, we find out the most efficient way to do brainstorming is not have a group meeting right after revealing each topic. Instead, if all the team members could take rest to think about the topic and do brainstorming by themselves at first, the first brainstorming team meeting will become smoother and be able to come out with much better solution. This solution may not come from one single person’s idea in most cases. It is usually a mixture of several ideas or even from a pup-up idea during the group meeting. It shows that the efficiency of the first group meeting after individual brainstorming depends on how familiar with this defined topic your teammates are. The reason sounds trivial but it’s so hard to push everyone to think deeply about a certain topic.
After our first group brainstorming we came out with three different ideas for this year’s topic: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
- Play with Shadow & Angle:
The shadow would be a solid platform that can be taken as a bridge for your minion. Also, you can rotate objects or environment to form different shape of shadow.
- Play with Projection:
Moving objects would transform into your projections if they are closed enough to you. You can switch your conscious between your projections and yourself to control different unities.
- Play with Imagination:
You can assert any object on the stage is something else if they have similar shapes. Then the object or the combination of objects would become whatever you claimed to make your imagination right. For example, I can claim the hill over there is a giant elephant, and then the hill would turn into a giant elephant and become alive.
Considering the scope and uniqueness, we finally choose the idea of “Play with Projection” as our main gameplay. In the next 40 hours, we implemented this idea into our first game jam product: Watashitachi.
What is Watashitachi?
The word Watashitachi comes from the romaji of Japanese term “私たち”, which means “we” or “us”. We want to interpret this year’s topic in a direct, literal way (or might be quite special in some way): All the things we can see are part of our self. Since our original idea sounds like the Kagebunshin from Japanese anime NARUTO, we decided to focus on Ninja and Japanese culture as our theme design.
As the basic idea of “Play with Projection”, our main Ninja character would transform any animal in his view field, indicated as a yellow halo, into his “Kage”, “shadow” in Japanese. “Kage” would have Ninja’s appearance and physical properties, for example, weight, and would hold its own view field, which could be taken as an extension of Ninja’s view field, until “Kage” turns back its original creature. Also, the range of Ninja’s own view field would depend on the number of captured animals in his own view field. Most of the time, “Kage” would just stand there and be affected by gravity and other external forces. It could move only when Ninja projects his conscious onto it, and at the same time, the original Ninja would stop moving at present position. “Kage” would transform back to its origin if it is out of Ninja’s and all view fields of the other “Kage”. The transforming-back animal would continue its movement before.
The goal of the game is to use those “Kage” to support the origin Ninja to go through each stage. Although the level design in Watashitachi could be improved more, my teammates and I are all proud of what we’ve done in this crazy 48 hours. We tried our best to transmit our gameplay idea via this 48-hour project, and we think we practice the very essence of game jam: “Just Have Fun!”