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Game Jam Experiences

About a month ago, Nick Uroseva and I participated in the Youngstown Game Dev Game Jam 2016. The game we made is called “Quantum Slip.”

A Game Jam is an event where teams work to create a game over the course of a short period of time (in this case, a single weekend). Generally, the Game Jam will have a theme to use as a jumping off point. The theme at this Game Jam was “Locked In.”

The game that we came up with is, in my opinion, pretty cool. The premise is that you’re an alien who has been captured by human researchers. Your task is to escape. What the researchers failed to plan for, however, is that your species possesses the ability to teleport a short distance. You must use this unique ability to escape your cell and evade capture or death.

The game is a 2D action platformer. The basic platformer controls of running and jumping all work pretty much as you would expect. You also have a dash move that shoots you horizontally and briefly prevents you from falling. If you’re playing the game with a gamepad, you teleport by pushing the left stick in the direction you want to teleport and then pulling the right trigger. If you’re playing with keyboard and mouse, you right-click and teleport in the direction of the cursor. Either way, the distance of the teleport is fixed – all you control about the teleport is the direction, not how far it takes you. The final catch is that if you teleport such that you end up inside a solid object, you die. You need to be careful when teleporting, since a mistimed or misdirected teleport will end with you dead inside a wall.

Building the game over a single weekend was intense. We started working Friday at 8:00pm, and finished Sunday around 4:00pm. In between, I slept about six hours. Thankfully, food and drinks were provided. We also brought plenty of trail mix and energy drinks to keep our energy up.

We had a pretty good plan going in. Nick is a graphic artist and I’m a programmer, so we had a clear sense of the division of labor. We also knew we wanted to make a sprite-based game, which simplified the division of labor even further. We had knocked around the idea of a teleportation-based platformer, so when we heard the theme was “Locked In” on Friday night, we realized that the idea was perfect. We brainstormed out the story and started working on some concept art and basic gameplay goals.

Once we had a plan, we got down to making a game happen. Nick spent pretty much the whole weekend drawing sprites pixel-by-pixel. I started programming on Friday night by using simple placeholder shapes (I mocked up a bunch of differently colored squares in GIMP). Around when I had gotten the basic movement controls down, Nick had finished some more sophisticated placeholder sprites. These sprites were quickly sketched, but included frames to animate walking, jumping, sliding, and other actions in the game. I used these to get the animation in place and timed correctly so that bringing in the final sprites would be a simple matter we could do right at the end.

I developed the game using the Unity engine. Unity is great for a bunch of reasons:

  • The Unity personal license is totally free
  • Unity is a well-regarded, widely-used engine with a huge amount of support and documentation around it
  • Unity can build for an absurd number of platforms with only minor tweaking. I can build for PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox, Playstation, Wii, iOS, Android, and even HTML5/WebGL and really easily.
  • And seriously, it’s free

Anyway, I had done a little bit with Unity before this, but not that much. I was learning the ropes as I went, and I learned a ton. I was also continually impressed by how useful and powerful the Unity engine was, as well as all the documentation and support around it, both from the company and from the wider community.

Once we had the basics of the gameplay down, I spent the last parts of my time building the three levels we wanted to demo. These aren’t really normal levels – I made very little attempt to create a learning curve or anything like that. Instead, I wanted to try out as many things as I could and show off what could be done with the mechanics we had. The last of the three stages is brutally difficult. It took one of our playtesters about an hour to beat it even though the actual distance from beginning to end is quite short.

I encourage you to check out our game. You can download it from the YGD Game Jam page. We’re planning to continue development of the game, so we’ll probably host a more up-to-date version of the game on our site sometime soon. The version on the Game Jam page, however, is the game exactly as it was when we submitted it at the Game Jam. It has a few bugs, so have fun finding and abusing them. Any comments you have can go right here, or you can shoot me an email at tom@projectderailed.com.

Tom Goldthwait (@Authw8)
Tom is a furry woodland creature. At times, he emerges from the enchanted forest to make a new blog post.

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